DEAR ABBY: My wife and I have thrown a barbecue for all our friends every summer since we were first married. Over the last couple of years, our little party has morphed into a family-friendly event. Our problem is one of our good friends is now the mother of an insufferable 3-year-old boy.
"Fenton's" behavior has been awful for two years. At the last party, he managed to throw our iPod, slam our stereo to the ground, pick up and throw another child and terrorize a gentle dog. He barged in on a nursing mother and refused to leave when asked. We also suspect he was the one who tore our baby gate off its hinges.
The mom is preoccupied with a new baby and deals with the situation by making idle threats. The dad makes jokes about how "it sucks to be a parent" and tells his kid to stop annoying him.
We're pretty sure if Fenton returns for this year's party, many of our other guests won't. We want to remain friends with the mom, so not inviting her isn't an option. Would it be out of line to ask her to leave her husband and the little terror at home? -- SMOKIN' MAD IN PENNSYLVANIA
DEAR SMOKIN' MAD: Which would be worse -- to have the woman miffed or to be driven mad by her undisciplined child and the parents' unwillingness to take control? Because the kid causes stress in addition to property damage, leave them off the guest list this year. If she asks why, point out her son was so disruptive you were afraid your other guests would refuse to attend if he was there. Soften the "blow" by assuring her you'd love to see her and her husband for some adult time.
Fenton appears to be a little boy who feels upstaged by the new baby and may be acting up in a desperate bid for attention. It would be a kindness to suggest this to his parents, who appear to be clueless.