What would you do if you received an invitation to a child’s birthday party that included a request for payment? What if it was from a good friend?
An anonymous mom wrote in to Miss Conduct, the Boston Globe‘s advice column to ask for help addressing this problem with a friend of hers.
The letter writer explained that the friend is generally, “kind,” and a, “wonderful person.” However, it appears the friend is determined to recoup the costs of her child’s birthday parties by adding a cover charge:
Every year, she charges people to come to her daughter’s birthday party. If it is at a venue, the e-mail will say something along the lines of, “Please bring $20 to cover the cost of your child.” If it is at her home, there will be an envelope or basket asking for “donations.”
While some might assume the charge is the birthday mom’s attempt to give her daughter a party despite financial problems, the letter writer says that’s not the case. She’s wondering if there is any way to address the issue with her friend before it alienates others in their social circle:
They’re not poor. People talk about her behind her back. Should I say something?
In response, columnist Robin Abrahams agreed that the letter writer needs to, “speak up before her poor daughter has to, since sooner or later the girl will realize what her mother is up to and be humiliated.”
But when it comes to what to say to the birthday mom, Abrahams offered more “don’ts” than “dos.” She advised the letter writer not to mention that other people are talking about it behind her back or agree it’s wrong because, “that kind of thing only makes people paranoid.”
Abrahams also warned not to bring up the finances element with the birthday mom:
Unless you’re her accountant, you don’t really know how she’s doing financially, and anyway plenty of people have bizarre neuroses about money that make their objective circumstances irrelevant. Your friend could well be in that group.
In the comments, readers were more forthcoming in their advice about what to do and how wrong the birthday mom is to be charging for her parties.
One commenter suggested that the letter writer talk to her friend about scaling back parties so they aren’t too expensive:
If she can’t afford these foolish blow out parties at the local gymnastics studio or bouncy house place, tell her it’s totally OK to get a sheet cake and some balloons and call it a day. Maybe throw in a game of pin the tail on the donkey.
Another pointed out that the birthday mom may have come from a social or cultural circle where this kind of thing was accepted. She suggested approaching the issue with kindness, not harshness:
As a close friend, you have to speak up. Just tell her that it’s not okay to do this. It’s not good manners to ask guests to pay their way. You’re sympathetic to her wanting to have the same type of elaborate party that your circle has for their kids, but it’s more important that she not ask for money. She needs to host a party she can afford. Offer to help her out with the planning and how to pinch her budget so she can pay for the current party so she can revoke the invoice … I mean invite.
“Honestly, I don’t know that there is a good way to lead into it without creating a huge rift in their friendship, without mentioning that you’ve heard others are puzzled about it or something to that effect,” wrote one commenter. “This is a tough one.”
There were a few who didn’t see a problem with what the birthday mom was doing. One commenter wrote that it was reasonable for guests to pay for some “play.” Another wrote:
How about you just pony up the $20 and pay for you and your kid’s share at the venue? The mom obviously wants to have a fun birthday party at a cool venue that carries some monetary cost. What’s the harm in pitching in to have a fun event at a cool venue? If you can’t afford the $20, then simply don’t go.
With many agreeing that it was a difficult topic, one woman had a novel suggestion. Don’t raise it directly with the birthday mom. Use an intermediary:
Sorry, but the [letter writer] should NOT talk to her friend about this, there’s really no good way of doing so that won’t be hurtful. [Letter writer] should get her husband to talk to her friend’s husband. Men are clueless, might as well take advantage of their lack of sensitivity.
What do you think? Would you try to talk to the birthday mom if she was your friend? How would you approach it?