Monday, November 29, 2010

Making nice at birthday parties

Remember when you were a kid and your parents took you along to barbecues and parties with other families? You would be expected to make nice with the other kids. Whether you knew them or not. Whether you had anything in common or not. Whether you liked them or not. And, somehow, it all worked out.

Then you grow up and, for the most part, you choose your own friends. Right up until the point when you have children. Suddenly, you're going along to birthday parties and you're expected to make nice with the other adults. Whether you know them or not. Whether you have anything in common or not. Whether you like them or not doesn't even enter the equation.

With both boys in full end-of-year socialising mode, I find myself in this position on a regular basis. Mr3 went to a party at an indoor play centre recently. Not only did I not know the parents but I have my doubts as to whether or not Mr3 actually knew the birthday girl.

"Whose party is it, Mum?"


Pause. "Oh. From my preschool?"

"That's right."


I'm not sure how other parents feel about these occasions, but I feel obliged to pull out my smiley face, and prepare a Charm Offensive. (I should mention that this is only after I discuss the option of taking a book along with The Builder. He never thinks this is a good idea. This is only because he's not the family representative at these occasions.)

On the downside, all that charm can be exhausting. On the plus side, you do learn a lot about the school system in Fibrotown. I'm always particularly excited to meet parents with high-school-age children. They may not be as excited to meet me, particularly after I spend an hour or two peppering them with questions about their child's high school. But, then, one thing I have discovered in my years as a journalist is that people do like to talk to people who are genuinely interested in what they have to say. It also helps to be a good listener.

So I go along, I smile, I ask questions and I listen, while the boys eat themselves silly on cake and run themselves ragged. And somehow, it all works out.

{image: JaimeMancilla/etsy}


  1. Ha! Touch green- I'm writing something very very similar right now but took a break to read you! I've just had my 4th birthday party, and joy of joy, I'm missing the next one because I'll be flogging myself on the Sussan classic (and I haven't trained...) so The Man has to go with the cherubs. He'd rather stick a fork in his eye than do small talk...

  2. I am soooo bad at small talk, I find it very uncomfortable. I have been known to bring a book and go sit in the car. Can't do that when they are young though. Never thought to get info on schooling etc, I will practice that the next time:) Jen

  3. I have to perfect this as we move interstate every couple of years. I have my small talk down pat & find as a very chatty person, i ask a lot of questions. I also like chatting to the mummies with older children than mine to get ideas on what's happening next. You can chat to me, i'm about to be a high school mummy. I also find weekend parties are a great way to meet the working mums who you don't see at school. You'll get your blurb sorted, doesn't hurt to have an escape plan ready or book to read in the car as back up. Love Posie

  4. You are kinder than me, Al. I "lose" a lot in those invitations.

    I do RSVP properly, but decline most. Shameful, but the kids do not appear to notice or care...

    That said, I was forced into a Christmas Picnic 2 years ago and met, through the charm of small talk, a lovely Mummy who has become an amazingly close friend.

  5. I think you have it completely right Allison. Questions for sure. Everyone loves to talk about themselves, or at least their kids! But oh, the temptation of taking a book along...I'd want to do that as well :)

  6. Hi kiddo. If you think those parties are trying, just think about being a face painter for 30 years. Do you know just how many little kids and parents that I had not only to speak to but actually smile at- even when they coughed or sneezed on me? Well over 100K. It was exhausting.

  7. I used to actually bring a book with me but it always got left in the car. I never had the nerve to bring it in with me to the party.
    I do try the charm approach as well and sometimes if I'm really lucky there is wine served for the grown ups. Somehow the parties are more fun then ;)

  8. Oh man! I'm rubbish at making small talk, and when I try to come off as friendly, I just scare people. I'd hoped this awkward thing would be gone after uni, but no such luck!

  9. I bring my book. I bring my newspaper. And I don't look at either. I work very hard at making conversation. Sometimes this is no problem. Other times it is quite painful. But I am not yet brave enough to just slink off to a corner and read. And I always interrogate the parents with highschool kids!

  10. Just think, most of us are like the rest of us. Probably most mums at the parties think they are no good at small talk and are apprehensive about being there! Thinking about who else may be nervous may help us to put other peoples minds at ease by asking questions and listening! I don't think the scariness really wears off when you get the invitation, only when you're there and things go ok.

  11. I am glad that Mr3 is getting some guernseys! Doo Dah had a couple this year but it has mostly been Nug who has had invites and they are of the 'drop and go' variety. All good!

  12. I don't remember ever staying at a party the kids went to. Back then it was drop them at the gate, wave bye-bye and pick them up 2 hours later. Also back then, parties were smaller, none of this invite the whole class business. Most kids didn't have invitation parties until they were school age, until my youngest was in Kindy, then I noticed that kindy kids did parties now.

  13. I find the nana, she always has a story to tell, knows where the tea and grown up biscuits are and forgets me when I leave.

  14. At my ten year old's last party, she put a sign on the door that said 'Parent free zone. Please drop your child and go home!' I gotta tell you, I was pretty happy that for the first time in ten years, she didn't get to choose who I socialised with.
    Oh and I've just 'broken up with' one of her friends' mothers. She wanted a bestie, I don't have the time, she was always disappointed, I explained it to her, she cried, and then the same thing happened two months later. It sounds harsh but I am a grown up and I want to choose and not be chosen.
    Oh my goodness, I had no idea I was in such a mood. Off to bed with me. X

  15. You need to borrow a baby and take him with you to the parties. "Oh, gee, I'd love to stand here and make small-talk with you, but the baby needs [fill in the blank]." Works great! At least, um, that's what I hear.


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