Miss Conduct

Party foul

What to do when your kid doesn't get a birthday invite, plus dressing for a stepson's wedding.

By Robin Abrahams
February 6, 2011

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Today’s column features a question with a sequel. A few weeks ago, I received the following note:

On a Friday, my daughter learned from a preschool classmate that another classmate was having a birthday party that Sunday. Since kids usually invite the entire class, I guessed that it had been an oversight, but I didn’t feel comfortable asking the parent. It turned out she’d e-mailed an invitation to the wrong address. The parent discovered her error shortly after the party and felt terrible – as do I for not having spoken up. Should I have said something?

M.M. / Newton

I wrote up a response saying that yes, it would have been acceptable to ask the classmate’s parent – it’s an awkward question, but you acknowledge the awkwardness and let her know that it would be perfectly OK if your daughter had not been invited. As I finished, I received another communique from M.M.:

We just faced a similar situation, and I fear I did the wrong thing. My daughter’s best friend announced that she was going to another classmate’s birthday this weekend. We had not heard anything about it. I wrote the boy’s mother an e-mail explaining what had happened with the earlier party, and saying, “If your son is having a small party and could not invite my daughter, I’m sure she will understand. But in case you meant to invite her, I figured I should let you know that we didn’t get it.” The mom wrote back saying that her son had only been allowed to invite a few friends, but someone had recently declined, so my daughter could attend if she wanted to. Now I really wish I hadn’t said anything. Should I accept this forced invitation or not?

M.M., sometimes you can do the right thing and it still feels awkward. Part of developing a good global social sense is learning the difference between the awkwardness that is part of the human condition and the awkwardness that means someone has been hurt. It’s sort of like a runner learning the difference between a cramp that she can run through and the pain that signifies an injury.

You did do the right thing by contacting the second hostess, so why take her response at anything other than face value? I doubt she was rolling her eyes, thinking, “Oy, that helicopter mom M.M.! What a pushy social climber she is!” (And if she was, then she’s a generally suspicious sort anyway, and you can ignore her and say a prayer for her son’s future romantic interests.) Ask your daughter if she’d like to go to the party, and if she would, then send her along.

My stepson is getting married to a wonderful young lady, and I’m wondering what to wear. I planned to dress as I would for any other wedding, but a friend is adamant that I should be all decked out like the mother of the bride. My stepson has a loving and supportive mom to whom he is very close. At the bridal shower, I was acknowledged with a corsage like the biological mothers, which was very touching. At the wedding, I don’t want to do anything that would cause people to feel awkward. I am feeling rather anxious about it!

M.S. / Wakefield

You should wear whatever you feel is comfortable and appropriate. Ignore your friend; no one will think you are disrespectful if your outfit is plainer than that of the biomoms. Your place in the family will be clear from your flowers. There is no need to be anxious. I’m sure you will charm everyone at the wedding with your grace as much as you have charmed me.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.

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