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Dear Ali,
My son gets invited to the birthdays of everyone in his class. Thank goodness the parents of the kids in this class are super-mindful of feelings. The birthdays are either small and not talked about or everyone is invited. We can’t make it to all of the parties. What is your take on presents? If we don’t go and it’s not a close friend, I have chosen to RSVP that we are unable to come and we don’t bring in a present. Is that not common protocol? My sister in the midwest says they bring presents whether or not they make it. This is exhausting. The fact that I’m even asking you this question is exhausting.

I really think if you are not going to the party giving a gift is a personal choice. If you can afford it, giving a present is always nice! Don’t feel like you have to spend as much as you would have had your son attended. If it’s not a close friend, don’t feel obligated to give a gift when you don’t feel like you want to. Does your son want to give a gift? Is he interested in perhaps making something homemade? Then it really comes from him and it costs you nothing. I’m always a fan of homemade gifts, whether you go to the party or not. They are unique and special and tell the recipient that they are not only worth your money, but also your time.

In my experience, if people RSVP a no, then you don’t usually get a gift—unless it’s a close personal friend. If you do, it’s like an extra-special unexpected surprise.

We never expect gifts at our parties. Having the invited child choose to come to the party is really a gift. Time permitting, we often try to make the gifts we give to our friends and family. One neat thing that happened to my daughter once was that a child came to her party without a gift. No big deal – as I said, we don’t expect gifts. The mother said since she didn’t know my daughter well, she wanted to see my daughter’s room to get a taste of what she likes. She came in, looked around, and asked a couple questions. While her daughter was at our party, her mom was out picking out a gift. At pick-up time, she handed my daughter the gift. Inside was a gift perfectly suited to my daughter’s tastes. I was impressed.

Let me just point out that your son being invited to all the birthdays is not the norm. I’m glad to hear your son’s friends are so inclusive. He’s really lucky! So many kids are excluded from parties.

“I’m always a fan of homemade gifts, whether you go to the party or not. They are unique and special and tell the recipient that they are not only worth your money, but also your time.”

Hi Ali,
I was out with other mamas and we were having a conversation about our children (go figure) and manners. I was raised being taught simple rules. My husband came from a much more conservative background. There are manners I have learned from him that to some may seem sexist – however, I like them. For instance, at meals – do not start eating until your host (female or male, but female if there is one) has taken the first bite. At home, that means Mama and more often than not that means the woman who cooked your meal. Another one… Now we’re talking ageism… When serving, serve the elders close to you before serving yourself. Where do I draw the line when it comes to being politically correct and just teaching my kiddos good manners?

“If you discuss and practice this behavior at home in a safe learning space, they learn and will be equipped to be out in the world, but allow most home meals to be easy going and enjoyably comfortable.”

Regardless of gender, the polite thing to do is to wait to eat until everyone is seated and has been served. This is at home or at a restaurant. My kids do this too, or at least ask if they may start. It’s just common courtesy. I would also agree that you serve all others before serving yourself. I don’t really think it’s necessary to serve in any particular age order, as you will all be waiting to eat until all have been served.

When I host, I want everyone to eat the food while it’s still warm, so I don’t ask them to wait. I certainly would never ask my family or guests to wait until I took a bite! I can’t even imagine! Half the time I’m still running around in the kitchen while people are eating!

You could probably be more relaxed at home. Home is where you should be able to be comfortable and at ease, not so rigid. Take that at-home meal time to talk about what it’s like to have a more formal meal. Talk about which behaviors are polite and which are not. Use eating out together as a teaching experience. If you discuss and practice this behavior at home in a safe learning space, they learn and will be equipped to be out in the world, but allow most home meals to be easy going and enjoyably comfortable.

Some people think elders deserve more respect than others. This may raise some brows – but I disagree. I believe EVERYONE deserves respect regardless of age. I should treat a child the same way I treat a senior. Just because someone has lived more years, doesn’t automatically grant them more respect. Maybe if we showed more respect to our children, they would grow into more respectable adults.

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Author: Ali Dubin, MA, CPC

Ali Dubin, M.A., CPC is a psychospiritual, humanistic, intuitive, practical counselor and life coach working with individuals, couples, and families in southern California or by video all over the world. She lectures on love, self-love, giving and receiving love, and on love languages. Ali has worked with LGBTQ families for more than 25 years. She is also a professional freelance portrait photographer, a Second City-trained improviser, proficient in American Sign Language, and best of all, a mom to two daughters. She is currently completing her doctorate in Psychology-Marriage and Family Therapy. https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/277656 View all posts by Ali Dubin, MA, CPC

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