Child's birthday party or gift grab?


Carolyn: Our daughter’s classmate has a July birthday. Her parents always organize a birthday party for her shortly after school is in session, when all of her friends are around. The invitations never state to not bring a gift.

My take is that this is nothing more than a gift grab for their daughter to maximize what she gets. My wife says I’m being silly. Who’s right?

– J.

Only her parents can say for certain. Maybe it’s a gift grab, sure, but it could just be that all of her friends are around. Or something else entirely.

And, for what it’s worth, most parents writing to me about gifts (by far) want to limit them, not maximize the haul. This doesn’t prove anything so it’s not worth much, but I thought I’d mention it.

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Here’s what I do know for a certainty, even with the scant information you gave me: You could give these parents the benefit of the doubt. Instead you’ve chosen to think the worst of them.

How’s that working for you, as a general outlook on life?

Dear Carolyn: My sister has taken her religion to an extreme that is off-putting to most everybody, myself and my son included. Nearly every visit includes a diatribe packed with judgments about what I am doing wrong. She once tried to get my son’s math teacher in trouble because she saw a trapezoid labeled LGBQ on a worksheet. For six months I had to assure her the teacher did not make the worksheet and she would be wrong to persecute an overworked, underpaid public school teacher. She still contacted my son to get the teacher’s name.

Nothing happened, but I now walk on eggshells every time she visits. Last time, she told us churches were withholding help from Habitat for Humanity because some houses were going to people “living in sin.” She was pleased with this. I’m a single mom, and this was a little tone deaf to say in front of my son.

She is lonely, and I want to ease her loneliness by hosting her and showing her some joy – but I dread having her judgments in my house, and chastisements to go to church, for three or four days at a time. It is hard to relax because you never know what will set her off. Can I just say no – I’m through?

– Zealot’s Sister

Yes, of course. Your home, your time, your values, your life.

Even if your sister didn’t overstep so unnervingly on the Great Tolerant Trapezoid Incident, it would still be your prerogative to decide whom you do and don’t invite to your home.

Since it sounds as if you’re being pulled in two directions, though, I’ll offer this: If you still want to ease her loneliness – if – there are ways to do it that don’t trap you into four days of gotchas and diatribes. You can meet her for a mini-vacation at a neutral site halfway between you. With your son, or while he stays with a friend, your call.

Neutral sites not only allow you to bail early if the judgments exceed your patience, but also, if you choose well, give you an impersonal thing – scenery, a show, the food – to talk about … or change the subject to, stat.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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