Care and Feeding

My Daughter Keeps Getting Excluded From “VIP” Birthday Slumber Parties

I think these sleepovers are tasteless, but my husband says they’re no big deal. Am I overreacting?

Photo collage of a girl slumping with her chin in her hand next to a group of girls having fun without her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Siri Stafford and yacobchuk/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Since my daughter was 8 (she’s now 11), she has been invited to five birthday parties that are actually two separate parties. The first part is your typical party where six to 15 kids are invited to some venue (bowling alley, activity center, the birthday girl’s home) in the afternoon, e.g., from 3 to 6 p.m. Then the second part is when only a few or half the girls go to a sleepover at the birthday girl’s house. My daughter has been on the main guest list for this type of party four times but has only been on the VIP sleepover guest list once. Each time this happens, it causes all sorts of hurt feelings for her—“Bethany was invited to sleep over, but I wasn’t”—and frankly I can’t understand why any parent would allow their daughter to have this kind of party. There are obviously two different invitations, the main one sent to all invitees, and a second “secret” invite only sent to the VIP list. But it’s not possible to keep this secret forever: Some of the kids will show up to the main party with their overnight bag and pillow while the others won’t, kids talk, parents talk, and social media gives it all away in a second.

I understand that birthday parties in themselves are exclusionary, but that’s just a given—it’s literally not possible to invite every kid you know to your party past the age of 5. And I do understand wanting your kid to have it all, but if the parents can’t or won’t host the entire guest list for a sleepover, then my feeling is either cut the guest list way down or just drop the sleepover part all together. Allowing the birthday girl to have the main party and a VIP “after-party” turns something so nice and celebratory into something so tasteless and nasty.

My husband says it’s no big deal and to get over it, the same way you’d need to get over not being invited to a party at all. But I just find this type of party so distasteful (even the time my daughter was included on the VIP list) that I would never for a second consider allowing my daughter to host this kind of party. Am I overreacting and this is just the new party trend that is perfectly acceptable?

—Is This OK?

Dear Is This OK?

Hell no, that’s a real dick move. NO one should throw a party like this. It just amplifies and encourages cliques and hurt feelings. If you must, have a sleepover a week later so it’s not incredibly obvious who the Chosen Few are. Do not host such a party, and even though you will indeed have to “get over it,” I would speak to the hostess the next time this happens and request some ways to make it less alienating for the B-list crew. Whether that’s (as I suggested) separating the two events on the calendar, or arranging a different way to drop off sleepover stuff so the other kids don’t notice.

It’s rude. You are not wrong. I’m sorry.

Dear Care and Feeding,

The other day my BFF said to his daughter, “No hitting ever.” I thought nothing of it. His house, his rules, etc. Then I was daydreaming about what I would say to my own daughter, who is about to turn 1 and has started kind of swiping my face and laughing. Do I actually believe “no hitting ever”? I don’t think I do. Maybe as a woman I don’t like the idea of encouraging my daughter to think she can’t defend herself. I myself was more the type to pummel a bully for teasing my little brother. As kids grow up, how do you navigate this balance? That violence isn’t the answer except when there is no other alternative? I personally believe those situations do and will happen to some if not all of us. Or maybe I’m just wrong and we should all be teaching pacifism? Please enlighten me—I have the sense that I might be on the old-fashioned end of the spectrum here.

—No Hitting EVER?

Dear No Hitting EVER,

This is an evolving conversation. For a 1-year-old, “no hitting ever” is perfectly sufficient. When your kid reaches grade school, you may want to transition the message to “no hitting ever, unless someone hits you and you need to defend yourself.” When you have a teen, get them in a self-defense class.

Kids are also much less likely to wind up having to pummel bullies than they were in your youth. There’s better supervision, and these things are taken more seriously, partly because the last generation or two has been both saying (and modeling!) nonviolence.

Your BFF is doing the exact right thing for his child, at this point in time. I think you’ll find the right time to talk about the gray areas here.

• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My older sister and her husband, “Dan,” have two kids, “Timmy” (age 8) and “Julie” (age 3). From the time Timmy was a baby, my mom has been making “jokes” about his dad being very upset if he ever discovered Tim playing with dolls, wearing a tiara, liking anything “girly,” or generally demonstrating anything other than heteronormative tastes and behavior. I’m a straight, mostly cis aunt, but I’m pretty involved in the LGBTQ+ community. I happen to be visiting my parents over Pride weekend, and my mom made another one of these “jokes.” I decided to finally stick up for my nephew. I figured now’s the time, before it stops being a hypothetical scenario and he starts genuinely figuring out his identity.

Regardless of how he identifies in the future, I can’t help but feel like it would be harmful to continue a family “joke” about how his father would disown him if he ever demonstrated anything other than straight, cis, heteronormative identity. Obviously this became a fight, with my mom practically nailing herself to a cross over what she thought I wasn’t “allowing” her to say or do. All I wanted was to point out that these “jokes” weren’t funny, as I’m aware of LGBTQ-identified folks who’ve committed self-harm over similar “jokes.” All I want is to know that if the day ever comes when my nephew or niece comes out to their family, they will find love and support, but my own parents are accusing me of trying to start fights and making them feel guilty. How can I look out for my nephew and niece while maintaining family harmony?

—It’s Not That Funny

Dear INTF,

Jeez, tell your mom to get off the cross—we need the wood. When she makes those jokes (especially in front of the kids), feel free to eye-roll and say, “Are you still obsessed with this? No one else thinks it’s funny.” Spend your energy developing the kind of relationship with your nephew and niece that will create a space for them to talk to you about this stuff.

It’s as unhealthy for straight kids as it is for queer kids to hear shitty things about the queer community, so you can tell them your opinions and beliefs freely. I’m glad they have you.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I don’t have children of my own, but I’m the very proud godmother of my friend’s two children. Their mom is one of my best friends. I like her husband. I love the kids.

The trouble here is my immune system. I don’t have a diagnosis, but my immune system is wonky. And the boy goes to nursery school. Even though he just hugs me (if he remembers) and then hangs on my husband’s leg, I’ve been getting sick about every second time I see the family. Since we see them at least every two weeks, the last few visits have felt like a risky gamble. Of course, Mom and Dad have been getting sick too.

The dilemma is twofold. 1) How do I see these family friends without getting sick? I can’t tell the difference between allergy sniffles and sick children. And 2) my husband and I have talked about having our own children soonish (I’m 35), but wouldn’t it be horribly irresponsible of me to have a child if I just get sick all the time?

—Snotty and Besotted Godmother

(See how Jamilah Lemieux answered this question!)

Dear SaBD,

Just talk to their parents. Explain you have a wonky immune system, and that if they have any suspicion their kids are sick, you’d rather Skype or FaceTime or have a visit where there is no touching. That will get better as they get older for three reasons: 1) They’ll understand; 2) they’ll get sick less often; and 3) they’ll glom on to you less in general.

The second part of your question is for your immunologist or other specialist. It’s very true that the first cold and flu season after your kid enters preschool means you’re sniffling from November to March. I cannot lie about that. Is that a reason not to have kids? Not necessarily. Sick and disabled people have kids every day, and they can parent like champs. You are not a lemon! You may just need more support.

Cheering for you!

—Nicole

More Advice From Slate

My very dear friend and her husband asked me and my husband to be the guardians of her three young kids if anything should happen to them. After a lot of thought, we declined. We have four kids of our own and we couldn’t afford to take proper care of her children, though we do love them. Since then, my friend has totally iced me! She literally pretends that I’m not in the room, and she won’t ask me for any favors. My husband learned from her husband that they have no living family anywhere close, and they now believe that we don’t care about them or their kids at all. I’m tempted to just apologize and agree to be the guardian, rather than lose my friend. What should I do?