Sixteen years ago, my five-year-old son wanted to go to a birthday party with his sister! “I’m sorry,” I told him, “I know you want to go, but you weren’t invited.” Back then an uninvited sibling at a birthday party was a rare sighting. Fast forward to my seven-year-old’s party this spring. Siblings are now so prevalent that I didn’t even know some of the children in attendance.

What changed? Everything. I believe the rise of internet-only invites such as Facebook or Evite are the biggest culprits. These days the invitation is most likely to have arrived via computer with no clear way to discern whether a single child has been invited or the entire family.

So how is a parent to know who is invited amongst what might be many siblings? Sometimes the answer is obvious. Other times it can be harder to tell.

Taking into consideration the location of the party, the closeness of the families involved, and the activities taking place at the party can go a long way into figuring out if a sibling will be welcome or not. It is always important to ask the host, but keeping these conditions in mind will help you avoid an awkward situation.

Is it ok to ask if a sibling can come?

Many mothers feel that’s fine. Others feel strongly that asking can be a burden. “It’s rude to even ask, because the mom would have a hard time saying no,” says Stephanie Gorrel, a mother of three.

“I assume that siblings aren’t invited unless it’s specifically on the invitation,” says Katie Byrd, Atlanta mother of two. “I wouldn’t ask unless it’s someone I know well.”

Some parents end up feeling stuck. Perhaps the child won’t be able to go to the party unless a sibling tags along. Or a child is too young or too anxious to attend a party solo. How can parents know whether to broach the sibling dilemma with the host? Luckily, whether or not the invitation directly notes the intentions of the host there are clues within the invitation itself:

Does the birthday party location charge per child?

Whether it’s a giant bouncy house extravaganza or a gymnastics jamboree, inviting siblings can get expensive quickly, especially if multiple families bring additional children. However, this is one of the easiest parties for hosting parents, so if you are unable to find childcare for your other children, asking if you can drop off your invited child, especially one older than age 6, is not necessarily an imposition.

Do you know the birthday child’s siblings? If not, they probably don’t know yours either. In this case, assume other children in the family are not invited.

Is the party in a public park?

If so, the parents aren’t paying a per child fee and may not mind including siblings.

Is the activity age appropriate for your other children?

A rock-climbing wall is much different than an arts and crafts party. If the activity is geared toward a certain age, the party may not be appropriate for younger or older siblings.

Is the birthday party being held at home? If so, consider the size of the host family’s home. Is it large enough that a few extra children will not make things feel too crowded? Knowing the answer to these types of questions will go a long way in figuring out if it’s okay to ask about siblings attending the party. If you don’t know the answer to these questions, asking may not be the way you want to find out.

– Jill Morgenstern

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