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.




  1. Michele on July 11, 2018 at 11:36 am

    I agree with what you say – I have also been guilty of the delayed RSVP from time to time. It’s not a nice feeling for me or the parent waiting with their foot tapping… My solutions are: 1. choose to have a small party and just invite the kids of parents that you know.. 2. If you do want to invite the entire class – book a party that doesn’t need an RSVP. ie) ra venue needing you to have numbers to book/ pay in advance. For example, we booked the skate shack at our local community center for our sons 8th birthday last winter. We invited the entire class with parents and siblings. The hall was a flat rate fee $120.00 for 4 hours… It left it open to everyone showing up or 10 families showing up ( which is what happened). We had a cookie decorating table for kids that wanted to take something home.. (sugar cookies with icing tubes – no loot bags.).We had a slow cooker with hotdogs, buns, condiments, hot chocolate and an ice cream cake. It was relatively cheap and cheerful. Other people that were skating on the rink were invited to have a hotdog and some hot chocolate too. It was a great way to meet neighbours with little work and zero pressure… I highly suggest and it, as it took away all of the stress. At the end of the party, we just recycled paper/plastic items, tidied up chairs, packed up our condiments, hot chocolate thermos, slow cooker and locked the door behind us… easy peasy! Another family in our community did a similar one in the summer. with frizbee and soccer balls in the park for families to play with. They preppies popcorn and had it in brown lunch bags with penny candy in jars…. my so. Said it was the best birthday party he has been to. I think we put too much pressure on ourselves as parents to follow what everyone else is doing. It’s stressful and exoensive. If we are all honest – this entire birthday party thing has become a bit of a completion and most parents don’t want to compete – just book a space at home or a the community and let the kids play…. that’s what it’s really about. Even the loot bags have gotten out of hand – every single parent I know hates them. They are filled with plastic junk that we through out within a day or two. If we really want to send the kids with something – send something consumable or something that will last – like a small book than can be passed on. I believe that we parents need to break the party paradigm and parents will naturally engage more. -lastly is gifts. A mom in our neighbourhood started this trend and I love it. Kids bring to 5 dollar bills in a card. We call it five for 5. The birthday boy or girl keeps five dollars and thinks of a charity to donate the other 5 dollars to. In my sons case, he had 50.00 to go buy a nice gift fir himself and then he chose the human society to donate to. He had a tour of the facility and the society provided a donation certificate to him. I lived this because it opened his mind to differing charities for him to choose from and the idea of both giving and receiving… Based on the above, if we think differently about these parties, The rsvp just may begin to show up differently…

  2. Melissa on July 14, 2018 at 1:50 am

    I agree with Michele (commenter): I literally would never dream of inviting the entire class!! My only child just finished her 4th year of school and the only year we had a little trouble with RSVPs was the first, when we invited a larger number of kids but didn’t know the parents very well. My daughter also has a winter birthday and we rented a room at the community centre, and did a skating party, too! We didn’t do lunch and the take-home was a little craft (I also gave a little goody bag, but I can’t really remember).
    This past birthday, because my daughter has way too much stuff, we agreed that for her birthday, she would ask her friends for a donation to the Humane Society instead of a gift. I got in touch with them and they arranged a tour so the kids actually got 2 parties because for the real birthday party we went to the local ski hill and went tubing and then a few weeks later they got to go on the Humane Society tour as well. We only invited 3 kids this year so getting RSVPs was no challenge at all!

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