I’m Not A Debt Collector: Why Am I Chasing Down Your Birthday Party RSVP?!?

Birthday Party RSVP

A couple of days ago, I found myself nodding along, in solidarity, as I read a thread of comments following a Facebook post on Entertain Kids On A Dime. A mother had written, “I’m looking for some advice. I’m throwing my son’s first-ever birthday party and I invited his entire class. I sent the invitations 2 weeks before the party. After a week, only 1 person has RSVP’d to say they can’t make it. What should I do? Do I send reminders? I’m stressing and completely broken hearted right now. I could use some advice please!”


(I kid.)

I’ve been down the exact same road, numerous times, practically every time I throw a birthday party for one of my children. Last month, when I held my son’s 6th birthday party, I had the worst response rate in my entire history of hosting my kids’ birthday parties, almost like it was an election and there was “the lowest voter turnout of all time.”

I first sent out the invitation – to the entire JK and SK class – by e-mail to the parents, with three ways to RSVP: by e-mail, phone and/or text. I received one RSVP back immediately and then…crickets.

I checked my sent mailbox, to make sure the invitation did, indeed, go out to the 46 e-mail addresses. The following morning, another RSVP came in, and later that day, one more trickled in. It was like listening as you microwave popcorn, for those last occasional pops, that’s how slowly the RSVPs for my son’s birthday came in.

One of my pet peeves, or possibly, my biggest parenting pet peeve, is chasing down RSVPs.

I sent out a second e-mail invite, a few days later, with, “Just a reminder, in case you forgot to RSVP.” A couple more RSVPs came in, but again, not even 1/3 of my son’s classroom parents could be bothered to press, ‘Reply!’ with a ‘Yay’ or, ‘Nay.’

A couple parents did stop me in the hallway when I dropped my son off to say, ‘I got the invitation. I just haven’t had time to reply! It’s been a crazy week.’ To which I wanted to respond, ‘I just need a yes or no,’ and, also, ‘It took you longer to explain why you haven’t RSVP’d than it would have for you just to have press reply ‘yes.’ But I digress…

I called Time Of Death and threw up my arms, after sending out a third, and final, reminder, feeling like I was a debt collector, and was now bothering these parents, instead of being nice and inviting their kid to celebrate and have fun. Plus, I needed to know numbers. The venue charged by the head and also I needed to know how many loot bags I would need.

I wasn’t worried that kids wouldn’t show up. I’ve lived through enough birthday parties, where people change their minds, and can suddenly show up, telling you an hour before the party starts. That happens every year. Or people cancel on the day of the party. That happens every year. I’ve also had people bring siblings along with the kid that’s invited. That happens every year. Basically, even if you get an RSVP that a kid is coming, that doesn’t necessarily mean that kid is going to show up. Likewise, these days, just because you don’t get any RSVP, that doesn’t mean that kid won’t show up.

So, of course, I had to follow this thread of moms who are as irked as I was about RSVPing, and the general lack of etiquette nowadays when it comes to RSVPing to kid’s birthday parties. One commenter chimed in, “Happened to me. Everyone responded either the night before or the day of. It was kind of frustrating because I had to do last-minute extra loot bags. I personalized each one with shirts with names etc.” Another wrote, “Been there and watched several other moms go through it recently, too.”

Yes, I, too, have been guilty of only responding after I get the follow-up reminder. There’s a whole generation of us parents who just can’t seem to find two seconds to respond. We just think, “We’ll get to that later.” But, let’s be honest. What is wrong with us? We know it’s rude. We know the hosts need numbers. We know all of this but we still can’t seem to manage to RSVP anymore.

Even the Emily Post Institute, the guru of all things etiquette, has noticed this marked decrease in people not RSVPing, asking “What to do when guests don’t RSVP.”

I felt like a debt collector, chasing down RSVPs for my son’s birthday party.

“Anyone who receives an invitation has an important obligation to reply as soon as possible. And yet so many don’t,” the site says. “Some forget; others procrastinate and then feel guilty so they delay even longer. To many a host on the non-receiving end of an RSVP, it seems as if an invitee is simply waiting for something “better to possibly come along.”

I don’t think that’s necessarily true for any kid under 6. They don’t understand F.O.M.O. (fear of missing out.) But, since my son’s birthday party occurred on the same weekend that many people had planned to open their cottages, but then it rained, a number of people found their day ‘magically’ opened up and their kids could now come to my son’s birthday party. What a coincidence! I didn’t really care about the last minute RSVPs. Or that I knew that they were only coming because it was raining and they had nothing else to do with their kids. I don’t even care if people bring siblings.

The Emily Post site says that it’s perfectly ‘polite’ for hosts to call friends to ask if they plan to attend. “In fact, if you want an accurate headcount, you have no choice but to call those who haven’t responded and ask whether they plan to come to your event…” Are. They. Kidding. Me? First, I invited 22 children. There was no way I was going to call twenty-two parents. Plus, who picks up a phone number they don’t recognize? Who even picks up messages anymore?

Not only did I have to book a place, get the class list, send out the invitations, send the invitations out again, and then a third time, and now you want me to actually call people to what…? Convince them to come? I wanted my kid to be happy, and have all his friends there, but that’s a little too much to ask from this mother. Sorry, bud!

Because I, too, also am guilty sometimes of forgetting to RSVP, even though I just opened the invite and am super happy that plans have been made for me that day, I wanted to know what was wrong with me? Why don’t I just RSVP immediately?

What is the psychology behind why and how we can get people to RSVP? I turned to Psychology Today, where I was excited to find an article entitled, “Children’s Birthday Parties: Where Have all the RSVPs Gone,” with ‘solutions’ for getting back RSVPs.

But I couldn’t help but laugh at one of the tips, which was to, “Think like a marketer,” because marketers make their living convincing people to do things. This includes advice like, “Offer a reward – link the RSVP to a prize. Everyone who RSVPs receives a ticket for the prize bag. Or make it appealing to the parents – every RSVP is entered in a raffle for a bottle of wine.” It also suggests parents should include a pack of post-it notes or some balloons in the envelope. “Because reciprocity is a ‘powerful persuader,’ and that people respond more when you have given them something, even something small.”

So we now ALSO have to offer awards and hold raffles for parents and give kids little presents in advance of our kid’s party to what – convince or bribe? – parents to RSVP? That’s just crazy talk.

So what would I say to that mother hosting her son’s first birthday party who only got one RSVP? Not much, except get ready to feel like a debt collector once a year.


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