DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I have three children and live out of state from the rest of our family. My parents and two adult brothers are not especially organized and are rather busy people, and how organized and busy they are determines how little or how much they do to celebrate my kids' birthdays.
Sometimes we'll get a phone call, and/or a card, and/or a gift, and sometimes we'll get nothing. The "attention" they give varies from child to child and year to year.
The kids' birthdays are within 10 weeks of each other, so the inequities are glaring to me and I wish they would be more consistent. I will eventually get apologies and excuses like, "I forgot, I couldn't get to the post office," etc. I don't think they do this intentionally because they've always been this way (I've also received Christmas presents from them in mid-January), but do you think I should say something when, for example, my son's first birthday comes and goes and two family members do not acknowledge his birthday at all?
GENTLE READER: You might need to say something, but Miss Manners is not confident that you know whom to address, let alone what to say.
Should your children complain, you should tell them that presents are not an entitlement to be expected automatically; that they should know that their relatives love them even when they don't happen to fork something over; and, in the case of late-arriving presents, that not getting everything at once has the advantage of prolonging the occasion.
When you have thoroughly cowed them, Miss Manners would suggest confessing, "I know, they're always late, and it's driven me crazy all my life, but what are you going to do? We love them, and that's just the way they are."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it right to support an engagement to the engaged couple's face, but not really support what they are doing at all?
Recently, many of my friends have gotten engaged, and even more of them had weddings for me to attend every weekend. But I have two different sets of friends who have gotten engaged and none of our friends support the engagements.
Why are all of my friends talking of how horrible this engagement is behind their backs and supporting it to their face? Mind you, our friends who just got engaged are ages 20 and 21, and they have only known each other for four months and have already set the date for their wedding next summer.
What do I do? Do I support what makes them happy? Or do I show reservations because I think that the girl might not know everything one should know when getting engaged to a guy?
GENTLE READER: Loath as she is to support what must seem duplicitous, Miss Manners has to admit that your double-talking friends are acting within the bounds of propriety.
Only very close relatives and intimate friends are allowed to unburden themselves by asking, "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" -- not that it ever does any good. Others are not required to "support" the engagement, but merely to react pleasantly, with their congratulations, to a done deed. To ask them to be constrained from talking it over frankly among themselves would be even more futile than to tell a couple in love to proceed cautiously.