So I was browsing my favourite news website today whilst the baby napped, and I was instantly drawn to the story about the parents who have been invoiced for the cost of their son’s place at a birthday party they failed to attend. You know the one. At least 5 of my Facebook friends have shared it and commented, most are horrified and have been berating the parents who sent the transactional letter, branding them soulless and coldhearted. There doesn’t seem to be much sympathy for the birthday boys’ folks out there, and it just got me thinking. Pre-baby my response to this would have been simply that parents threatening to do the suing are surely out of their minds. I would not have spared a second thought to consider those whose party was potentially ruined, how they might be feeling, or what they went through to result in this action. I would have just written it off as ‘crazy parents’ and then I would have moved on to reading the next story, ideally something about fluffy baby animals or some scandalous celebrity gossip. But since becoming a mum myself I can’t help but feel for those parents who, perhaps misguidedly, were trying to make a point and do the right thing for their child. I’ve been musing over both sides of this story all day, and I kind of don’t know if it is such an overreaction after all.
It’s hard not to sympathise with the family featured in the article (the family who have been invoiced). There is a slightly sad-faced child and father in the photo accompanying it, they look like reasonable people, and they explain that they would have sent their apologies had they had contact details for the other family (those seeking compensation) in advance. Some people wouldn’t think that going to see grandparents was a ‘good enough’ excuse to miss a party, but perhaps their family is like ours, living hundreds of miles apart and only seeing each other a few times per year. I’m not sure that we would want to or be able to justify cancelling a visit to or from our child’s grandparents at any time of the year, particularly at Christmas. And I can personally vouch that one-functioning brains become mush when children come along and schedules become more hectic. People want to see you, you suddenly have a whole new social scene and a whole bunch of new commitments to juggle, plus the party was just a few days before Christmas. Talk about stress, double-booking at this time of year is almost inevitable. I also know that even if you commit to something, clear your schedule, plan and organise your life around attending a special event, there’s still no guarantee that you will make it on the day. We have had to duck out of birthday parties and family gatherings at the very last minute due to unforeseen child-related circumstances, such as illness. Is it actually realistic to expect everyone who RSVP’s to attend? After all, no one knows what is going to happen tomorrow.
On the other hand, I can empathise with the other side. The cost per child was considerable, maybe they may had to sacrifice and save hard for the party, something made more difficult by the time of year. Perhaps, due to the (what I would consider to be) high cost per attendee, their child was only allowed to invite a very small and select group of friends. Yes, it’s clear that the families themselves were not close (considering they did not have any contact details for one another), however that’s not to say that their children don’t get on and spend time together in school. Perhaps the absence of this friend was critical. The scarcity of information on the invoice doesn’t detail the stress, the upset, the impact of waiting for the missing party on the enjoyment of those there; the sadness of a child on their birthday due to a friend missing without explanation. It would be hard for any parent to see their child hurting and upset on a special day that they had perhaps been anticipating and looking forward to for a long time. That would affect me, seeing my boy distraught, and perhaps it would be better to resolve the situation in a business-like way rather than face-to-face where emotions may impact behaviour and before any hurtful or inappropriate words were said.
But all of the above is speculation. At the heart of this story are two adults – parents – who don’t know how to effectively communicate with one another. I’ll agree that this situation is particularly awkward, however sometimes life just is difficult, and as much as we might not want to, we just have to get on with it.
I am resolved to ask myself the following question in future difficult situations: how would I like my child to behave if it was his dilemma? After all, how can I expect him to behave the way I want him to when I can’t bring myself to show him how to do it. I think that ultimately I would like him to act calmly, with confidence and empathy. And if it was my child’s birthday party, I think I’d send a hand-written note explaining the situation and asking for a resolution. Perhaps with an invitation to come over for a brew and some cake to discuss things. Is there anything cake cannot solve? I think not!