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Miss Manners: Don’t Child-Proof for the Holidays By Not Inviting Nephew’s Child

Dear Miss Manners: I have hosted Christmas dinner for my family for many years. This year, my nephew’s children, while unsupervised, destroyed a decoration.

My nephew’s stance was that my home is not “child-proofed.” I informed him that children need to learn not to touch everything that they see. His response, in essence, was that I am too particular.

I no longer desire to invite this nephew to my home. How do I leave him out without offending his mother (my sister) and his cousins, who are very close to him? Shall I inform him now that he and his family are no longer welcome, or just leave him out next year?

Gentle Reader: Ah, the holiday spirit lingers on.

Are you seriously telling Miss Manners that you are cutting off members of the family because children broke a decoration?

Mind you, she does not care for your nephew’s response. Not only should he have apologized and offered to replace it, but he should have instructed the children to apologize.

Still, you have a whole year to work this out. And if you don’t, you will not hold another family Christmas dinner, because those relatives who are close to him will join him in banishment.

That is one of your choices. The graceful way to arrange that would be simply to say that you have given the dinner for many years, but now feel that it is someone else’s turn.

The alternative is to have a quiet talk with your nephew and the children’s mother, if she is in the picture. In a charmingly self-deprecating way, you should admit to being particular, and having a household that is not geared to the infrequent visits of children.

But, you should add, you enjoy those visits, and ask their help in making them pleasant for all. Could there be some organized play, with adult supervision? Or would that not be necessary by next year, when the children will be older and more responsible? Or would the parents rather take over being the hosts so that their children will be at home?

If kindly said, this will serve as a warning. But as a precaution, Miss Manners suggests enlisting another family member to watch the children.

Dear Miss Manners: At the last minute our friends backed out of a New Year’s plan that they initially suggested. We were planning on spending time together, but they decided to attend a party of people we didn’t know.

This left my husband and me in limbo on New Year’s Eve. We eventually salvaged our night by finding an alternative, but the situation left me with a very unpleasant feeling toward the friendship. We’ve known the couple for a few years and spend a lot of time together. Recently they’ve been going through a difficult time in the relationship, and I’m feeling that the husband is initiating more distance, while the wife and I are becoming closer.

I don’t know if I should voice my disappointment, let the situation slide, or even distance myself from the couple (mostly due to the husband’s increasing coldness, but also this New Year’s event itself). Please suggest a tactful course of action.

Gentle Reader: Too late. It’s not only the husband who has distanced himself from you, but also the wife, in acquiescing to the rudeness of standing you up. Miss Manners would advise you to avoid making other plans with them. Should they notice, she hopes that any overtures they make will begin with a big apology.

Dear Miss Manners: Our two children are in day care and have a lot of friends they play with every day. Often when one of them has a birthday, the parents will throw what I consider to be a lavish party and invite all of the other children, who are 2, 3 and 4 years old.

These events seem to be universally overstimulating for the birthday child, and the idea that one child gets all the toys for the day is quite a challenge for the guests, as well. I think it’s crazy that it’s come to this so soon.

For my own kids, we have done very small parties. We have dinner with one or two other families we are close to, let the kids play in our yard, have a small cake, and any gifts that are given we open after the party or the next day, to avoid fights.

However, I am feeling that I am not being appropriately gracious. Year after year, we are invited to these parties, and I have no intention of inviting these children (and their parents and siblings) to our birthday parties, because it would just be too many people.

Is it OK for me to keep going to their parties and not invite them to ours? At this point, my kids won’t notice if we don’t go, but I feel rude for refusing. I usually enjoy attending the parties — visiting with other parents, letting the kids run around together. It’s overstimulating, but we have a good time.

Luckily for us, my son’s birthday is in the summer, when many people are on vacation, so sometimes I just say we celebrated his birthday when we were out of town.

Gentle Reader: Indeed, you are lucky. Many parents have regaled Miss Manners with the joy of their child’s summer birthday (although the child in question was not so jubilant), when inviting the whole class to the party is not a necessity.

There is, however, no need to lie about your own plans, decline extravagant invitations or respond precisely in kind. When it comes to hospitality, reciprocation does not have to be exactly equivalent. Issue invitations for a play date or similarly low-key social interaction to the children whose birthday parties you have attended. You may find that the parents, whom you could also include, will appreciate the gesture all the more for its being a break from the (over)stimulation.

Miss Manners is written by Judith Martin, her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. You are invited to email your etiquette questions from www.missmanners.com, if you promise to use the black or blue-black ink you’ll save by writing those thank you, condolence and congratulations letters you owe.