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Three’s a Crowd: When Your Child Gets Left Out

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Ever have a day that keeps getting worse? That’s today for me. After managing to put a hysterically wailing four-month-old in his car seat—and then listening to him scream bloody murder during the entire drive to my older son’s elementary school—I thought things could only improve. How wrong I was. 


I walk briskly, holding my now sweaty, red-faced baby, and I see my first baby—my seven-year-old son, William—emerge from his first-grade classroom with tears trickling down his face. Two of his best friends are following him. I begin to panic. My son usually laughs all the time. He even laughs when he gets in trouble. This has to be serious.


“Why can’t I go?” he’s pleading with one of the friends, who’s wearing a birthday crown. 


“I told you,” his little friend says in a snotty, exasperated tone. “My dad said I had to choose. Both of you can’t go!” 


My son’s friend then demands that his nanny call his mom while I stand by, completely confused, as a major drama unfolds. As the boy walks around, talking on the nanny’s cell phone, she keeps telling me, “No party today, just family birthday dinner.” The little boy then runs off screaming—as if everyone else has forced him into this situation. William turns to me with tears and snot running down his face, and I struggle to figure out what’s happened. His other friend stays by his side and says, “You can go instead of me, okay?” This other boy, who befriended William a few months ago, is very sweet. 


For some reason, my son’s best friend has decided not to invite him to his birthday party, but he has invited this other boy. The three of them play together every day, but lately my son has been spending more time, and has had a sleepover, with the newer friend. I’m beginning to see that this incident most likely reflects jealousy on William’s best friend’s part and is not a case of an overbearing father hand-picking a birthday party invitation list. Yet it’s strange that I didn’t find out the truth about the party until I naively invited the birthday boy to a playdate on the day of his party, at which point the mom had to call me early that day and say he was busy—but she said it was because of a family dinner, and that she’d like William to come over later to celebrate her son’s birthday. At school, however, the birthday boy confessed that the party was today and that he’d invited a few other kids but William couldn’t go. It was so hurtful. 


Sure, maybe the birthday boy was jealous of my son’s new close friendship, but I’m still not entirely sure why he was excluded. If it had been my son’s birthday, I would have told him he must invite all of his close friends. 


In the end, it turned out that another child whom none of these boys play with much went to the party, too. My son just couldn’t handle it. Tears and loud crying ensued that night, and I can hardly blame him—for seven-year-olds, birthday parties are a big deal. Plus, this is William’s best friend. I know that my son hasn’t hit this boy or been mean to him. To make sure, I even asked his teacher, but my silly guy has never hurt or been mean to anyone


How should I respond? Do I call this boy’s mother and ask her what happened? Do I appeal to her good side and say, “I’m sure this is just a misunderstanding, but how can we make William feel better?” Or do I just ignore her and try to help my son talk with his friend? In the end, I want to work this out because this is my son’s good friend—the first friend he made after we moved to California six months ago—and I don’t want him feeling bad about himself and losing some of his self-confidence over this situation. I’m at a loss. What would you do?

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