Ask Abbie: ‘Non-malicious’ birthday party request breaks all the rules

Published 12:40 pm Saturday, December 22, 2012

Question: I just received an invitation to my grandson’s 2-year birthday party.

His mother, who is my daughter-in-law, asked guests to bring a minimum donation of $25 for a college fund instead of a gift. I didn’t spend that much on my other grandchildren for their birthdays and my finances are tight.

What is your opinion of this request? I don’t know how to handle the situation without causing a lot of trouble.

Answer: The defendant, the mother who sent the invitation, has been charged with the following three counts — failure to obey basic rules of birthday party etiquette, failure to exercise common courtesy and sending mixed signals to her son.

These three non-malicious infractions were deemed third degree in nature and to be a result of her indifference. The following details the charges, sentencing and community service determined by the court.

Failure to obey basic rules of birthday party etiquette—A birthday party is held on the anniversary of someone’s birth for assembling people for social interaction, not as a gathering of people for gift exchanges, a fundraiser or a donation collection event. It is never acceptable to assume or to ask for anything from the party’s invited guests other than their attendance.

If monetary or other assistance is needed, it should be addressed at a separate event.

Failure to exercise common courtesy—The mother, by not only assuming party guests, will bring gifts, but by also designating the acceptable kind and amount of gift she expects, places “pressure to perform” on all invitees. Those with limited finances feel pressured to give more than they are comfortable with giving and those who may have purchased a gift prior to the invitation’s arrival will feel pressure to return the purchased gift.

Any potential guest hurt by the mother’s lack of courtesy is likely to avoid attending.

Sending mixed signals to her son—When a child’s birthday party’s focus becomes centered around gifts rather than social interaction, a mixed signal is sent, and the child automatically associates his value and how much he is loved with the size and number of gifts he receives.

Over time, this thinking becomes his distorted view of normal. The second mixed signal the mother sent was to expect other people to help finance her own child’s future. This incorrectly convinces the son “the world owes me something. My parents aren’t having to work to support me, so neither should I. Someone else will take care of me.”

Although the son at age 2 is not knowingly affected by these mixed signals, should these unhealthy habits continue, his trust in parental stability and support will never develop, and his views of right and wrong will be established upon a very unstable foundation.

Sentencing—Invited guests must not allow the mother’s actions or attitude to rob a single second of attention from this precious child on his special day. No guest should adhere to the invitation’s requirements unless he is comfortable with the request and has determined compliance is the absolute best solution for the child and not just a way to keep the mother happy.

Any attending guest who decides not to comply with the invitation must address his decision with the mother to keep everything peaceful. This discussion should cover logical reasons for non-compliance such as limited finances and be delivered with a considerate and gentle spirit.

Community service—The mother is required not to mention gifts on any future birthday invitations. Any gifts brought to a party should be graciously accepted, placed out of partygoers’ sights and opened only after everyone leaves.

Her son should be allowed to use and enjoy the gifts until he outgrows them. At that point, the mother is to sell them. This money is to be applied toward college funds.

Case Summary—Gift-giving often creates tension among friends and family and serves to confuse the true meaning. Christmas is a perfect example. Preserve the original intent of a child’s birthday season by reserving the focus of that one day for a celebration of birth, not for a celebration of gifts.

 Abbie Long is a Franklin native and advice columnist for The Tidewater News. Submit your questions to