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The Whole Group, No One But

Emily Flake

By Mink Stole | Posted 5/21/2003

My soon to be 7-year-old son is in first grade and belongs to an after-school playgroup. There are 10 kids, including my son, in the group. My son's having a birthday in a few weeks, and we were planning to invite the whole group over for a backyard party. The problem is that there's one boy in the group who my son doesn't like, so he refuses to invite him. My husband is siding with my son and says he should be able to invite whomever he chooses--on the grounds that it is his birthday and his party. But I think if you're going to invite the whole group, that means the whole group, and that leaving one kid out would be cruel. Who is right?

Mom Against Cruelty to Kids

You are. Anyone of any age who ever waited hopefully for the invitation that never arrived can tell you that being left out sucks. You get over it, sure, but you never forget it. Your husband may not be so eager to defend a 7-year-old's rights if it were his kid being deliberately and pointedly excluded.

There's no nice way not to invite one kid. Even if all the invitees were sworn to secrecy--which would put them in the ethically and socially uncomfortable position of being de facto co-conspirators--the uninvited kid is going to find out. He's going to know there's an "in" group and that he isn't in it. And so will everyone else. Kids that age haven't developed intellectual filters yet. They soak up information indiscriminately like little paper towels. If you teach them that one of their peers isn't as good as they are, they'll believe you. Thus, the seeds for some of our nastier "isms" are sown.

There's at least one very good reason for inviting the kid. Unless your son is the luckiest guy on the face of the earth, at some time or another--just like the rest of us poor slobs--he's gonna get stuck socializing with people he'd rather jump in front of an express train than share air with. It's never too soon to learn that sometimes you just gotta do what you don't wanna do. And you gotta do it nice.

You could talk to the play-group supervisor to discuss a way to resolve the situation. But if it can't be fixed, and your son remains adamant, or if this is all more "life lesson" than you feel up to dealing with right now, scrap the party plans and come up with something else. There must be loads of things a 7-year-old boy would love to do with one or two pals that wouldn't make anybody else unhappy or ruin his own celebration.

I'm a single mom with a 4-year-old daughter. I wasn't married to her biological father; he disappeared as soon as he learned I was pregnant. His name is on her birth certificate, but he's never wanted anything to do with her. From the time Sophie was 6 months old, I lived with another man, who she called "Daddy." Well, he started drinking heavily and was becoming abusive, so I left him and moved to a different town. He was always really good to Sophie, but, because of the abuse and since he's not her real father, I decided it was a bad idea for him to stay in her life. She missed him at first, and asked a few times where "Daddy" was, but she seems to have gotten used to not having him around. I adore my little girl, and will do my best to be the best parent I can be, but I don't know what to tell her about her father.

A Good Mother

Dear AGM:
Kids have a way of not asking for more information than they can handle. She'll probably start with something simple like: "Where's my daddy?" or "Do I have a daddy?" You can answer something simple like: "You don't have a daddy. But you--you lucky little girl--have a mommy who loves you very much." That should satisfy her while she's still little. When she's older and starts wanting more details, be honest with her, but don't tell her more than she wants to know. Always reassure her how much you love her. When she's ready for the whole truth, she'll ask for it. The definition of "family" is so expansive now, it's hardly likely she'll be the only kid she knows who's not in an original, biologically intact, nuclear family. Those days are over for good, and good riddance!

Leaving an abusive relationship takes courage and self-respect, which are great things to teach your daughter. She's young enough that she'll probably forget all about that "daddy" pretty quickly, so I wouldn't worry too much about having to explain him. In the future, however, if you're going to continue to date--and there's no reason why you shouldn't--it'd be a good idea not to have her call any of them "daddy" unless and until there's a marriage or adoption in the works.

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