VWPA Advice #013: Saying No to Carnist Kid Parties

How do I Handle Endless Invites to Carnist Birthday Parties?

My family is vegan. My children’s friends have parents who keep throwing birthday parties at McDonald’s and Burger King. My family is very dedicated to being vegan, so I’ve been turning these invites down. It was ok when my kids were younger, but my son is old enough now to feel left out and sad when he can’t go. I don’t want to support these establishments, but I don’t want my kids feeling left out and isolated either. What can I do?

Nichole

Eeesh, I just looked up these “Happy Meal Parties” and seriously!? Super fucking gross. You get happy meals and toys for each kid, plus 1.5 hours in the play area with an attendant for $12 per kid. The happy meal menu is hamburger, cheeseburger, or chicken nuggets. I can see why this is a problem!

I’m not a parent, so I guess take my advice with a grain of empty-wombed salt. However, I can remember the feeling of disappointment as a youngster, and feeling outside of things because my parents, while not vegan, were strongly against refined sugars, processed foods and chemical additives. They kept me from many a party, and from day-to-day things like Lunchables (remember those?), M&Ms, and other commonplace junk that people think is good to give children. I felt isolated and left out at times, and different almost always.

Here’s the thing, though: I love that about my parents. I had a fucked up childhood and I’m estranged from both of them now, but my parents adherence to these values taught me that being different is ok, and it gave me a huge leg up in life by allowing me to fall in love with fresh, healthy foods from a young age. When I moved out, I already knew how to cook and eat healthy food. I also had a strength about me that a lot of other kids didn’t have – I was ok being myself, even in high school. That has translated beautifully into adulthood, I am supremely comfortable with who I am as a person (even if I struggle with how I look). I’m not perfect, and I still carry a lot of scars from growing up in an abusive, unstable home, but that strength got me through a rough life in better shape than I have any right to be in. I would NEVER change that part of my upbringing. I’m proud of my parents for sticking to what they knew was right. This made going vegan extremely easy for me compared to others, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

That being said, one of the reasons this worked so well is because my parents talked to me about why we didn’t eat those foods, so I could make my own choices and feel like an informed person, not just a kid being told what to do. They also, on occasion, let me participate in things to let me see what living another way was like. I remember my mom gave into my pleas for Lunchables one time when I was very young, and I came home starving that day. I told her the Lunchables were disgusting and I didn’t understand how the other kids could eat it or like it. I was happy to go back to my homemade food, but very happy my mom let me make that choice. Similarly, when I went to friend’s houses, I would be turned off by their processed white bread and bologna sandwiches. I was always grateful to come home to my mom’s 12 grain bread or hummus wraps.

I’m definitely NOT saying to let your kids order a Happy Meal! Please don’t ever, #icanteven with Happy Meals. But, I do think talking to your son about why you said no, and asking him how he feels about it would be a great step. If he still wants to go to the party, even after understanding why you don’t support it, maybe you can let him pick one or two parties a year to attend, with the understanding that he can’t eat the Happy Meal. He’ll go to play with the other kids, you’ll feed him beforehand and maybe have a special treat afterwards.

Another option is to ask him who his favorite 3-6 kids are, and offer to host a little get together at your place after the party. Having his own event planned might soothe the sting a little, and show him that being different requires some creative thought and some sacrifice. If you can have these events not revolve around food, even better. There’s so much obsession with food in our country, it would be nice for you to break that by having some kids over to play out in the yard, or play board games, or whatever kids at his age enjoy doing. Some of my fondest memories of my youth are from the times when me and my sisters would make up songs together and perform them for our parents, or have Monopoly tournaments on the back porch during summer breaks.

I hope this helps. Like I said, I’m not a parent, and to be frank, I do NOT understand throwing massive birthday parties for small children. It seems consumerist and very keeping up with the Jones’. It puts peer pressure on children at too young an age. But, if I am ever a mother, I’ll be the one that the other moms hate, so don’t listen to me.

Try to inform your kids, they are never too little to know why you guys do what you do, and let them tell you how they feel. Find ways to show them that you can be different and still be happy, that you don’t always have to do what everyone else is doing, but you don’t have to necessarily be on the outside either. Good luck, and rest assured you are being a great mom by sticking to your guns and raising your family with compassion and awareness. We need more moms like you!

Callie

Not being a mother myself I don’t always have a good grasp of what kids are like at each age… So like Nichole said, take this with a grain of “empty-wombed” salt (love that phrase lol). I have heard that there are some really great illustrated children’s books now that kind of explain veganism, and try to teach kids about valuing our animal friends, maybe reading some of these together would help start the conversation of ‘animals are friends not food’. That could at least help with the food aspect of these parties? As far as actually attending them, and/or your son not feeling left out, maybe you could pick a few of the parties to go to and bring a really fun lunch for your son to eat while the other kids are eating their happy meals (ick!), like your son’s favorite snacks? That way he gets to attend but won’t feel left out while everyone is eating. Just some ideas! I can’t imagine being in this position! I have heard the parenting community can be pretty harsh and judge-y abut these things so I wish you the best of luck! Just know that what you and your family is doing, what you are teaching your son is incredible and you should feel proud to be raising your son in such a compassionate lifestyle!

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