Birthday Party Etiquette: How and When to RSVP No (Thank You)


Like most, I shudder at the 10 pm email. But for me, instead of a cry of panic from the office, mine is the cry of the birthday party invite waiting for an RSVP. After learning things the hard way (hectic weekends filled with non-stop cake, gift wrapping, and cranky kids), I learned that sometimes you really do just have to RSVP no (thank you).

The swarm of invites

My eldest received seven invitations over five consecutive weekends. At first I thought it was nice for him to have something to do while his younger brother napped, and I was also pleasantly surprised by the sudden influx of attention (is my little bookworm popular?). However, my positivity soon turned to dread. How was my 5-year-old supposed to be in three places at once?

Our typically uneventful Saturdays consist of squash followed immediately by swimming lessons (read: drive through town in a mad rush), and then lunch at Nana’s. As the invitations poured in from his classmates, the class next door, and his cousins, I started doing what my therapist (okay bestie) refers to as “the crazy dance.”

The crazy dance

The crazy dance is me figuring out how to get my son to appear at each event, appropriately dressed for each party – which can be very specific depending on the theme or planned activities – while navigating the streets of Toronto, from East York to North York to Fort York, without being reduced to tears (me not him).

And did I mention that he has a little brother who likes his afternoon naps at home in his crib?

To continue the crazy dance reinforcements would be required, but Nana has a bridge tournament, Pop-pop is at the farm, and the babysitter has a wedding shower. So I had no choice. There was only one thing I could do. I had to RSVP no (thank you).

The reality of the situation

Imagine the disappointment from the view of a 5-year-old. Two? TWO birthday parties would be missed! But how to choose? Classmate over cousin? Cousin over classmate? What parent does that? Who says “no” to a birthday party?

As horrifying as it seems to deny my son endless parties of birthday job, it stemmed from experience, wisdom, endless amounts of tissue, and a full school year of doing “the crazy dance.”

I learned that there is nothing worse than spending Saturday in the early evening with a child who has appeared at multiple birthday parties only to return home crusty, contagious, and cantankerous.

Any thoughts of Mommy going out for her own playdate on Saturday night were whipped away after dealing with the latest rash of whatever is going around, trying to avoid it from spreading to the remaining members of the family, and navigating cryptic answers to my queries of “what did you eat?”

How and when to RSVP no (thank you)

I love a good birthday party, especially one where my son has fun, stays active, and hangs out with his friends while having a cupcake or two. But I also know and respect my son’s limits; one party is perfect, two is pushing it, and three is a disaster.

When you push your kids too hard, it often backfires in your face. And if the only reason they are attending the party is that you are afraid of saying no, then you are the only one to blame when your kids are exhausted, refusing to eat dinner because they are still full of cake, and are unable to get to sleep because they are wired from all the excitement. Choose your events wisely and keep them to a minimum.

Take my advice: If you’re over your limit, just send a gift and RSVP no (thank you). Sending a gift will show that you really wanted to attend, but just couldn’t make it. Your fellow parents will understand, and they might even be glad to have one less goodie-bag to fill. Keep the tummy aches, mad dashes across town, and the latest round of germs at bay. Or at least cut them down to once a weekend.

In this over-scheduled world, doing less really can be best. Pick one party and let your child enjoy it; everyone will be happier in the end.


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