Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reader Question: Invitation Debacles

Whose responsibility is good manners?

I am often asked questions which revolve around guilt and blame. Good manners and civility, even though based on common sense, tend to bear their fair share of this topic. I received this letter recently which is a textbook example illustrating the lengths people will go to in order to blame others and avoid feeling guilt as a result of their own basic lack of respect for others, in this case their own family.

Question: Dear Jay,

I was hoping you would lend your impartial ear to this debate between my brother and I. This Saturday was my son's 5th birthday and, earlier in the week, my wife and I decided we would invite the grandparents and uncles (my two brothers) over to celebrate. My son had his own party with his friends in the morning, but we were hoping family could stop in Saturday evening just to socialize a bit. I called my brother on Thursday evening and left a cell phone message asking him to call me, and then I left a Facebook message with his girlfriend also saying we wanted to get together over the weekend. He called me back and left a message, but due to some cell phone problems, I never received his message. On Saturday, he called me to tell me he had plans Saturday and would not be able to come over. He also informed me that it was rude to ask him to Saturday's birthday get together on Thursday evening. He had plans with his girlfriend and felt that this was not enough advance notice. It should be mentioned that my brother lives in town and does not work on the weekends. I thought a Thursday notification was not unreasonable, given that he knew his nephew's birthday was coming up and that we have had the family over for every birthday in the past. Again, this was a get together of just the immediate family and I left my initial message vague because I was willing to negotiate the time of the "party". He attempted to reach me a few times by my faulty cell phone, but never spoke with me directly about the matter until Saturday. He could have e-mailed me at any point and he could have called my house phone. I would greatly appreciate your opinion on how this situation unfolded and whether or not I should feel guilty for not informing of him of the get together before Thursday.

THANKS! - Confused

P.S. I would like to add that my wife and I did not even formulate the plan ourselves until Tuesday or Wednesday. We are both full time teachers with two young things sometimes get rather busy and thwart advanced planning.

Dear Confused,

Thanks for asking this important question. You are a master of making excuses. Unfortunately none of them are any good. You and your wife are not the first people on the planet to hold down two full time jobs and have two young children. If this is your son's fifth birthday and you and your wife can't arrange a party until three days prior to the date, why would you assume your brother would have his schedule open for you, - simply because you've had such a party in the past? If your cell phone doesn't work, you need to tell people and get it fixed. No one is a mind reader. Clearly your system of communicating using facebook, emails and cell phones doesn't work. I suggest picking up the telephone. Even consider enlisting the help of your collective parents to track down the errant sibling. But don't blame your brother for your negligence. Let's face it, the birthday party for a five year old child, which is in fact not even the real birthday party with the cake, etc. will not trump previously made plans with a girl friend. Such a gathering barely made it onto your own books. Finally, in life woulda, coulda, shoulda does not count. Hindsight works all the time and is an unfair argument. What you must practice is foresight, and try not to create so much ado about nothing.

You must remember that as the host of a party, it is your sole responsibility to make sure everything runs smoothly. That includes extending invitations in a timely manner. As far as feeling guilty about all of this, my advice to you is to let it go. Guilt is a huge negative energy drain on all of us who find the need to carry it. You did nothing illegal. You did not harm anyone. Your intentions were good. Learn from this experience and don't do it again. I hope this helps.


Let this be a gentle reminder that good manners begin at home. By practicing them consistently, you will instill in your children healthy social behavior. Respecting one another will always stand us in good stead for the challenges life provides us.