DEAR MISS MANNERS: For various reasons, both practical and philosophical, we do not host large birthday parties for our children each year, instead choosing to do so every three or four years. The other years, we have quieter family celebrations. We have a large number of children, the planning of these events causes stress, and we want to teach our children moderation, manage their expectations and prevent spoiling them to excess.
This works well for our family, and I do not have opinions on whether others should do the same. However, it does seem to be popular in our area for parents to throw large, blowout celebrations for their children every year, inviting half the class or neighborhood, or more.
My children often get invited to these events and so are beneficiaries of the hosts’ generosity -- often the same hosts for many years running. It feels as if we are taking advantage of everyone’s largesse. But it does seem silly to keep my children from attending because we don’t do the same, when everyone else in their social group is attending.
I know dinner parties and other smaller events have an etiquette expectation that the guests reciprocate and take turns offering hospitality. Is this the same for children’s birthday parties? Should I be hosting more frequent events to show good manners? Or is teaching my children to attend these events with grace, gratitude and good manners my only responsibility in this situation?
GENTLE READER: Back when we were engaged in a cold war, the English language had to borrow a term from one of our allies -- ”detente” -- to describe the moderating of what would otherwise have been an all-out arms race. Vocabulary may change, but not necessarily the problems: Must you, in an age of expanding birthday parties for children, expand your own hosting -- contributing further to what Miss Manners will now dub the Cupcake Race?
Yes. And no. Reciprocity need not be exactly one to one: You are partially fulfilling your obligations with the larger parties you already throw every few years. The score can then be evened out with less burdensome invitations -- for example, inviting those hosts to more than your share of play dates.