Dear Joseph,
My 10-year-old daughter was not invited to a birthday party for a girl at school. She and one other girl in the class were the only ones not invited. The birthday girl has been teased by many of those invited to the party because she is overweight. By contrast, my daughter has been nice to her, inviting her to sleepovers and parties. We have often driven them both to gymnastics and had this girl stay at our house while her parents were at work. Now, in return, my daughter has been snubbed. As a parent, I am angry. My daughter is also hurt but is too embarrassed to do anything. I want to call the parents and demand a reason. What would you do?
--Mama Lioness

Dear Lioness,
I believe that your instinct to speak to the parents is the right one. It is important for your daughter to know that her parents take her pain and humiliation seriously. In middle school, earlier lessons about empathy and concern for others' feelings need to be re-emphasized. In addition, I also think it is worth speaking to your daughter's classroom teacher. At the school my children attend, there is a policy that if a child invites more than a few students from the class to a party, she is obligated to invite everyone (that is, a girl must invite all the girls, and a boy must invite all the boys). Our principal has wisely intuited that to leave out a few children is humiliating and an ethical offense.

There are two reasons why I believe you should speak to the parents.

First, given that your daughter and your family have gone out of your way to be hospitable to this girl, there is at least a chance that an invitation was lost in the mail. Second, assuming that the girl did purposely exclude your daughter, it is important to communicate your daughter's hurt. Expressing hurt, rather than annoyance, is more apt to trigger a sympathetic response. I would also ask them if they know why your daughter wasn't invited. If there is some misunderstanding between the two girls, it would be better for them to work it out together than to erect a permanent barrier of hurt and ill will.

As the father of young children, I know how much I hurt when they are in pain. And it is a pain that lingers. A woman I know told me that when her daughter was in the second grade, she and two other girls were not invited to another child's party. To add insult to injury, the invitees came to school the next day with beautiful dolls that had been given to them as party favors. This woman confessed to me that more than 30 years later, when she heard that the mother who had made the party had died, the first thought that came into her head was that this was the person who had excluded her daughter in second grade. I tell this story for the benefit of those parents who allow their kids to exclude some children. You should be aware that doing so inflicts greater pain and anger than you could ever imagine.
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