Birthday parties beget birthday party anxiety.
Birthday parties should be fun but sometimes, they’re a source of anxiety. My son’s birthday was yesterday. He turned 15 and was so excited about celebrating with his friends. Because of his autism, he’s had social skills issues throughout the years. He’s overcome so many but each year, we approach his birthday party planning with a little hesitation. Will kids come? Will they not? That birthday party anxiety is a real thing.
A couple of years ago, we had a huge party planned. Two kids came. We had invited 30. I spoke with his caseworker at school who refused to help us, despite social skills being part of the plan. We asked her to remind the class about the party a couple of days in advance: “We can’t do that, some kids don’t celebrate birthdays.” What the heck? I confirmed with the school that there was no policy — it was her excuse for dropping the ball — but by then, it was too late, her damage was done, and he remembers the feeling.
Last year, we invited 10 of his closest friends from school to a party at an indoor trampoline place. We were beyond thrilled – maybe more than him – that 8 of them came! We assumed as he got older, birthday parties would get easier, but combine a kid who refuses to actually take a paper invitation to anyone because “Mom, this is high school” and kids who aren’t raised with manners enough to RSVP and parents who are too busy to take the time to transport kids or think about the birthday boy, and we ended up with an empty house this year.
That’s when we decided to take a different route. We quickly made reservations for a restaurant that served food from his wildest request, and for him, that was lobster. Watching him order steak and lobster and all the trimmings was such a treat and I may have gotten a little teary watching him begin to feel better.
What he didn’t know is that while we were at dinner, his sister was pulling together a surprise party. We gave her very few directions but by the time we returned home 1.5 hours later, we had around 30 people, including all his siblings and their significant others, in a house decorated with a football theme, including football-themed food, presents and Mountain Dew Pong out in the garage.
Watching him walk through the garage into the house, seeing him jump back in sheer surprise…Dad and I both got teary then. Our anger towards rude kids was replaced by happiness and thankfulness to our supportive friends who jumped in to help.
As I’ve learned this past year, throughout the time when the husband was out of work, people come in and out of your life. Not everyone will be there for you, and we want him to realize that this isn’t about him personally. Not everyone will even remember your kid’s birthday or take one minute out of their day to post to a Facebook thread or to text him, and others will make no excuses but instead drop everything to make food, buy a gift and decorate your house. Those are the people you hang onto and those are the people that teach my son how to be a friend.
He learned that you don’t need to know someone forever to form a bond and that people don’t need to be your same age to become a close friend. He learned that selfless people are out there and he doesn’t need to rely on a group of kids to make or break his birthday. He had an amazing weekend and now he can remember to be that person for his friends when they have birthdays. He received and now he can give back. If your kids are invited to birthday parties, help your kids be that person, too. They will grow up to be the people that show up and spend time, too.
Thank you to everyone that changed their Saturday night plans to be there for him. We are more grateful than I can write. <Sniff.>
And if you or your child is suffering with birthday party anxiety, don’t give up. There are ways to make positive things happen.