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“Why didn’t the parents make any contact?”: A mother’s frustration around a 14th birthday party

A few weeks ago a woman (let’s call her June) approached me after a Parent Information Evening. After thanking me for the talk she proceeded to tell me about a birthday party she’d recently hosted for her daughter. As she said, all went well with the actual event – it’d been carefully planned, rules and boundaries put into place and the girls were well behaved and there was certainly no issue with alcohol – but June and her husband had been totally blindsided by the response of the parents of the invitees. We spoke at length and I have to say, some of the things she told me even surprised me! I then asked her if she’d like to share her experience with other parents. June’s only concern was that she could be identified by other parents at the school and the possible ramifications that could have on her daughter, as well as her and her husband. With that in mind, names and some of the details of what happened have been altered.

“I’ve attended a couple of your parent nights and have been an avid reader of your blogs for a couple of years now, thinking I’d be prepared for anything my up and coming teenage daughter could throw at me. What I’ve discovered, however, is that it isn’t my daughter and her friends that I should’ve been worried about – it’s the parents! I’ve read your advice constantly telling us that is if we want to keep our kids safe we need to ‘parent’ and although I saw a couple of bizarre things during her time at primary school (conversations about ‘wine time’ and ‘wine o’clock’ as groups of Mums waited to pick-up children outside the gates always amazed me), I really thought the behaviour you often describe was not the norm. Well, have I been proven wrong!

Our daughter, Sarah, is now in Year 9 (yes, the year you constantly warn us about) and there was great pressure for us to allow her to have a 14th birthday party. My husband, Sean, and I finally agreed to it, ensuring she understood that there would be a number of rules. There were only a couple of battles, with the main one being how many people she wanted to invite. She wanted 30, we said 10. We eventually compromised and agreed to 15. All the girls received an invite (with both our mobile numbers included) and we insisted on an RSVP, as well as a contact number for each of the invitees’ parents. That’s where things started to go a bit wobbly. It took a long time to get back the RSVPs and when we did, we had two parents write on the bottom of the invite that their daughters would be attending but they did not feel comfortable giving their mobile number out and refused to provide it. They were happy to let us look after their daughter for a night but didn’t trust us with their contact number – we thought that was very strange. We did contemplate writing back and telling them that their child was ‘uninvited’ but were concerned about what impact that would have on our daughter. To be honest, we felt really trapped.

I need to stress that we really knew none of these parents. Our daughter had only recently started at this school (we had had a problem with bullying at her previous one and one of the key reasons why we were allowing this party was to hopefully foster positive relationships with other girls) and have tried to be involved with the school and parent activities as much as we could. We’ve met some great people but only a couple who had children in the same year as our daughter. We were both really expecting to hear from every parent once the invitations went out, maybe a quick phone call to introduce themselves or even a text would have been nice, but we got nothing apart from signed RSVPs and, as I’ve already said, a couple of them refusing to let us have their mobile numbers. We were flabbergasted …

Sean was the more positive of the two of us, convinced that we would get to meet some of the Mums and Dads on the night. “People have got busy lives,” he kept saying, “No-one’s going to let their 14-year-old daughter go to someone’s house without some kind of check. We’ll hear something eventually.” His view was that the invite had gone out a good month before the event so maybe they weren’t even going to think about it until the actual night. But I have seen some of the stories you’ve written about in the past about parents not dropping their teens off at parties so my expectations were not as high. Once again, what actually happened was far worse.

The party was to start at 7.00pm and finish at 10.00pm (another compromise – we wanted 6.00-9.00pm but Sarah had told us that finishing at 9 would be the equivalent of ‘social suicide’) and the girls started to arrive right on time. When we had the first knock on the door just before 7, Sean answered it only to discover a young girl standing alone on the step – there was no sign of a parent. When he asked her how she had got there, the girl replied that she had been dropped off on the corner (let me stress here that the girl had never been to our house before!). As he let her in, two more vehicles pulled up and more girls got out and the cars sped off. As my husband later said, what staggered him was that these parents were seeing young girls going into the house escorted by an older man (I was in another room) and thought nothing of it. When I’ve said this to friends, some of them have got quite defensive but realistically, these parents knew absolutely nothing about us. The most I got from a parent dropping a girl off was a smile and a wave as she pulled out of our driveway and I think I only got that because I happened to be at the front door at the time – it certainly didn’t look like she was waiting there to see her daughter be ushered into the house. 

You’ve written before about teens being picked up by text and during the party Sean and I talked about what was likely to happen at 10.00pm. Maybe we’d have a couple of parents who might come to the door to collect their daughters but, to be honest, we weren’t expecting too much. The girls were most likely going to get a text and then we would watch them leave our house and walk to the cars waiting outside. I wasn’t going to be confrontational. I was extremely disappointed but I didn’t have the energy to take on parents who obviously didn’t have the same values as us. Once again, we got another shock. Not only did we not get parents come to the door (although give credit where credit is due, we did have at least four parents who were standing outside of their car waiting for the girls), three of the girls were picked up by Uber drivers. Some of these parents couldn’t even be bothered to pick-up their 14-year-old daughters themselves, they got a ride-share app to do it for them.

We’ve both been really affected by this experience. As I’ve said, we’ve talked about the night with some of our friends and most were really shocked by what happened. I get that people are busy and I can certainly see that as teens get older you’ve got to ‘loosen the leash’ a little (I’m not expecting to walk Sarah to the door at every party she gets invited to over the next few years) but if I don’t know the hosts, I’ll certainly be doing a little homework to ensure her safety. Since that night, she has only been invited to a couple of parties and gatherings (interestingly, only one of them hosted by one of the girls that came to her party) and we’ve made sure to make the call beforehand, as well as to take her and pick her up. Most host parents seem to be happy to hear from us, although one questioned why we were actually calling, saying to Sean “But wasn’t all the information included on the invite?” 

Apart from the apparent lack of concern for their child’s wellbeing, the one thing that Sean and I keep talking about is how trapped we felt and continue to feel in terms of responding to this … As well as keeping our daughter safe, the only other thing we want to ensure is that she won’t find herself being bullied or socially excluded because of our parenting. There were a number of times when we wanted to say something to one of these parents – not to criticise their parenting (that’s not our business) but to let them know that they were putting us into a difficult situation, e.g., we were not at all comfortable allowing a 14-year-old girl to get into an Uber at 10.00pm on a Saturday night. Is it better just to sit back and just look after your own and say nothing? Just writing this piece is a bit scary – what if one of Sarah’s friend’s parents reads it? One thing is for sure, we certainly won’t be holding any other parties in the foreseeable future.” 

So many parents, like June and her husband, try to do the ‘right thing’ in this area but it’s never going to be easy. I’d love to talk to just one of the parents who dropped their daughter off that night, (remember, they knew nothing about June’s family, their values and what was going to be happening that night) and get their side of the story. June and I have talked about this at length. These were great young women from good families, these parents must have had their reasons for doing what they did – it would just be fascinating to know what they actually were!

Published: June 2019

3 thoughts on ““Why didn’t the parents make any contact?”: A mother’s frustration around a 14th birthday party”

  1. I dont let my kids go any where unless i know parents or of the parents. Im not a talker or a socially unawkard person so rocking up to the door and chatting to people i dont know fills me with dread. I talk to my kids we discuss all options. I make sure when they are invited they are comfortable and willing to go. That they know enough about family to feel comfortable walking into their home They have an ipod to call.me and check in if we need. If they want me too i come to the door and hang around till they run off and play. Once they arenold enough for there to be alcohol present we will all discuss it and the boundaries i have for them. They let me down and they dont get another option or chance. So yes i think they should be able to be dropped off as long as their own parents take responsibility for them

  2. Being a mum of 3 teenagers, 18,14 and 12, I always question my kids regarding where they are going, first time I usually go to the door and meet the parents but often they go after school first. Going to the door with a teenager for a party is seen as social suicide by them. The uber driver thing isn't something I'd do but multiple children may mean you are going to multiple pickups and all my kids have my card linked to the taxi app if I can't get somewhere to pick them up

  3. Thankyou for your post -feeling a little bit affirmed! We have been experiencing similar issues. Not with parties, but with 'gatherings', sleep overs and trips to the city. We insist on meeting and talking to parents we don't know and because I contacted parents when 5 yr 8 girls went to the city for 4 hours on a Saturday afternoon – I'm now labelled the "Mad Mother" by her friends! (apparently). This new movement through social media apps to "friends of friends" not necessarily of same school nor age is very worrying and very difficult for parents to enter into to provide some scaffolding.

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