MomTalk Talks Sticky Social Situations: Getting Left Out Hurts
This week with school in full-swing and parties and gatherings happening right and left, we tackle the topic of sticky social situations and what to do when you or your child are left out either intentionally, accidentally or categorically.
No one likes to be left out. From the mothers who are left out of the Father/Daughter dances in Rhode Island, to the kids not invited to a birthday party at the elementary school, it hurts to not be included. With the prevalence of Facebook, it seems that nothing is private anymore. The exclusions sting and are often in your face. If your child can't go to the Father/Daughter dance because he's your son, or your daughter can't go to the slumber party because she's not in with the in-crowd, how do you explain it? When you see the photos, status updates and check-ins, what do you do? What about when it's YOU and not your child? The Mamas and the Papa share their feelings this week.
I learned a tough lesson when first at my son’s elementary school. In a moment of conspiracy-theory-esque “Why do they need all this information about us for the directory?” I opted to leave my email address out of the school directory. I did not think ahead to realize that many busy parents would send evites for birthday parties instead of mailing traditional paper invitations. There were two particular occasions when my son insisted that he was invited to so-and-so’s birthday party and, not having received notice of these parties from the parents, I assumed he hadn’t been invited but had instead heard of it through the party child or other kids talking about it. Concerned that he would be inviting himself or trolling for an invitation, I reminded him that it was our family policy that any plans not arranged between parents were not, in fact, legitimate plans.
Now, three years later, this son is much harder to reason with since he already knows everything and I have the intelligence of a slug, it is with some surprise that he accepted my explanation with only minor disappointment. I finally figured out that my email address missing from the directory was the culprit behind his “exclusion” from the parties (this being confirmed by the party parents), but I think it still was a decent time to teach the lesson that he wouldn’t always be invited to everything, whether from innocent circumstances or actual, purposeful exclusion.
Within family dynamics, we do not allow exclusion. We do rather shut down an activity or game completely if the exclusion continues. Yes, sometimes the olders are playing a game that just is not age appropriate for the youngers, but this is not true exclusion. I think the deliberate negative vibe of exclusion is felt and understood here. So, why would I not tolerate exclusion at home but have such an exasperated, eye-rolling reaction to, say, the single mother in Cranston, RI, who complained so strongly about not being able to attend a Father-Daughter dance with her daughter that the school ended up canceling/banning the dance?
A family unit is the first laboratory of values that kids experience. They can learn values and rules of order and safety in a kind of vacuum. They then get a chance to try out what they’ve learned and put rules of conduct to use once they enter into a larger societal sphere where other kids may or may not have learned the same values and rules in their respective families. This is where it can get tricky, since you find out that some things you learned at home were mere family preferences and some things are part of a larger, more universal code of decency. We don’t allow exclusion in our house because we want our kids to understand and uphold the values of compassion and loyalty. Cutting someone out because of meanness is not acceptable. And yet…some people in the world are just that- mean jerks who exclude others. This can be overridden in a family with parental authority. We have no such authority in society- at least not that we wouldn’t resent as interfering with familial sovereignty. Sometimes you just have to refuse to give the jerks of the world the satisfaction of knowing their slights hit home.
Yes, I do think the school should have just let her attend, but seriously, why did she feel so strongly about making a statement? Single parents have it really tough in a lot of areas, for sure, but it’s not like this is a time when being a single parent makes you a veritable pariah in society. She may feel that her stand is tantamount to Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus, but I just don’t see it. I see petulance. This mother’s actions with regard to the dance smacks of a kid whining to a parent that something “isn’t fair,” and expecting the parent to override the rules to make her happy and force a feeling of inclusion and acceptance and belonging that wasn’t there. I seriously doubt the organizers of this dance had a single thought in their heads aside from hosting a night where dads and daughters could have a cute bonding experience.
This brings me to a simple but ultimately profound phrase that starts getting thrown at people once they hit, say, puberty: “It’s not all about you.” It’s never easy to hear, but that doesn’t make it less true.
Tasha Schlake Festel
I am likely thought of as a pretty confident woman, some might say to a fault. I may even give off an air of arrogance and unflappability. People could possibly even think I'm unconcerned with the opinions other people may have of me, seeing me as strong and secure.
Without a doubt, those people are wrong. I'm actually a completely self-conscious, emotional, sensitive wreck. In fact, besides dealing with fake people and getting stabbed in the back, there is just about nothing I hate more than being left out.
Unfortunately, I get left out a lot.
On Friday nights, I see that groups of friends have "checked-in" and are having a blast while I sit at home in my jammies checking Facebook. On Saturday nights, I see photos from yet another GNO to which I was not invited while I sit at home in my jammies checking Facebook. On Sundays, I read about everyone nursing their hangovers from another fabulous weekend of friends and family while I avoid cleaning my house in my jammies checking Facebook.
But then there are times when I check in, or post pictures, or comment on the condition of my hangover as a result of all the good times I've had with friends and family, while many of my friends are at home in their jammies checking Facebook, feeling left out.
'Tis the nature of all social outings. Someone will always feel left out, no matter what. I will never be included in everything that I want to be. Neither will you. And neither will our kids.
However, I am an adult. I have context. I know the world won't end and my life will not be fundamentally ruined because someone went to Harrington's after the PTO meeting and forgot to mention it to me. The sun will rise tomorrow, and it's very likely I will be invited to another get-together very soon. Sadly, kids don't quite see it that way. They don't always remember that tomorrow is another day and that there will be other birthday parties. They just know that something happened, it was fun, and they weren't included. Life. Is. Over.
When my kids miss out, I always try to soften the blow by reminding them that they too have had parties where they didn't invite everyone they know. I remind them of the things they do get invited to. I sometimes even remind them that they don't really even like the kid who had the party anyway, so whatevs. (OK, I don't really say "whatevs" because that would belittle them, but, you know, they should just deal.)
I acknowledge that it's OK to feel sad. Getting left out really stinks. I just try not to let them wallow. Sometimes, telling my daughter about a party that I didn't get invited to a few weeks ago helps her see that it's not the end of the world. My son sometimes needs to hear that I didn't play varsity field hockey my first year, just like he can't be in the advanced jiujitsu class his first year. You don't always get included. You don't always get picked. You just have to accept it and move on.
Now, as for that mom in Rhode Island who brought the state and its Father/Daughter traditions to its knees, I am in utter disbelief.
This brings me to my words of wisdom on the topic of being left out: Get the hell over it.