By Sheila Hageman
I have three kids and am still smack dab in the middle of the birthday-party-where-moms-are expected-to-stay phase of motherhood, which means enduring multiple parties a month in places like a cavernous room filled with enormous, noisy bouncy houses or a studio-like hall with blinding disco lights and blasting stereo sound or a ginormous gymnasium filled with a kids’ obstacle course where kids fling their small bodies into huge pits of foam rocks.
If you have a typical child, what I just described is probably enough to light your kid’s eyes up and instill sheer excitement and pure joy from simply standing at the entry of one of these destination birthday parties.
If your kids are like mine, what I just described makes your child quickly dash behind your legs to hide, cling intensely to your body and refuse to have fun.
I can’t be the only mom who has kids who only go to parties for the pizza, cake and goodie bag, but sit out most of the festivities with Mom. We are always in the bleachers, or the audience, or in some way off to the side of the main event.
At first, I fought my kids’ resistance. I pushed, pulled and prodded to get them out there like all the other kids.
“Look at how much fun they’re having,” I exclaim with a sing-song voice. “Don’t you want to play with your friends?”
Instead, this attempt makes them cling tighter and huddle closer to me.
I feel embarrassed when other mothers come up to me with sad eyes and try to entice my kids onto the dance floor. One. Two. Sometimes a host tries up to three attempts to involve my children.
The first few times this happens at a party, I play along and say, “Yes! Let’s get you out there! Mommy will play, too!”
Sometimes this tactic works and then I, of course, end up being the tallest party-goer, teetering on a Styrofoam balance beam with a bunch of five-year-olds. I then try to sneak off once my child is engaged, but that never works. As soon as I step away from the festivities, my child screams, “Mommy!” and comes running after me. Many times, I notice that I can’t blame my child for not wanting to participate in the potentially painful party “experiences.”
Is it really so odd that my shy six-year-old doesn’t want to sing karaoke into a microphone with fifty other kids? Or dance like a baby rock star to the latest Taylor Swift hit? Or enter a huge, whirring bouncy house with twenty other kids hurling their bodies madly at each other?
I try to not let my opinions and feelings affect them—I don’t feel good in crowds of people, nor do I want to battle with others to prove I’m the better dancer or singer. But I don’t announce my hesitations to join in on party celebrations to my kids.
I do my best to be an involved parent and attend school and community events. I encourage my kids to do the same, but not in a competitive way — rather as a way to be an active member of society.
But I had an epiphany when I made the choice to not attend a party this past weekend because I knew I’d feel awkward, out-of-place and helpless. I turned down the invitation because it was going to be a large crowd of people I did not know and instead of forcing myself to try to fit the mold of a happy party person, I chose to do what I really wanted to do for the weekend: stay home and relax.
It’s OK to say no to group activities. I gave myself the power of not doing what I knew wouldn’t make me feel good and I want to do the same for my kids.
So, instead of RSVPing yes to every party invite that comes home in my children’s backpacks, I now explain to them where and what kind of party it is going to be and ask them if they’d like to attend.
For the latest Karaoke invite that came in, my son politely told me that he did not want to go and I felt immensely proud of his ability to recognize what he does not want to do.
No, it doesn’t mean I won’t give it a go to get them excited about parties where they may have to step out of their comfort zone a little, but I will teach them to respect their own feelings. And when we do end up at parties that intimidate them, I’ll encourage them to get out there and be involved, but if they say no a few times and seem happier sitting off to the side, I’m not going to guilt them, or shame them, or even push them that hard.
I will sit with them and support their choice. And if that means my kids don’t grow up to be the teens who must be at every party, following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing just because, I think I can be more than OK with that.
About the Author
Sheila Hageman is an accomplished women’s issues, body image, health, yoga, parenting and lifestyle writer, a teacher and an author. Sheila’s freelance work has appeared in Salon, Yahoo, Your Tango, Mom Babble and others. Her memoir, Stripping Down is a meditation on womanhood and body image and her novel, Beautiful Something Else, is a contemporary romance with smarts and humor. To learn more about Sheila, please visit www.SheilaHageman.com, or Facebook, or Twitter and Instagram: @SheilaMHageman.