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The Vine: July 31, 2013

Submitted by on July 31, 2013 – 7:38 PM24 Comments


I need the TN readership to tell me if I'm justified or acting like one of those mothers I swore I'd never be.

My son will be turning one next month. His baptism was more stressful than I would have liked — both my extended family and my husband's extended family are rather big, so we had a large number of guests. So for his first birthday party, we wanted to keep it to immediate family only.

The problem — my sister-in-law is extremely close with her best friend. The two of them have been close for many years, but their relationship has reached "attached at the hip" status over the last year. I like Friend — she is a good fun person who has helped my SIL through some difficult times. However, she has been at just about every family event for the last year and it's often assumed that she's coming without my SIL necessarily clearing it with people. In fact, this happened with my son's baptism, but I didn't make a stink about it because: (1) there were already so many people that one more person didn't make a difference and (2) my SIL was going through the peak of the above-mentioned difficult times, so I didn't want to push any buttons.

I would really prefer if the birthday party is family only. I am not planning on sending invitations, so we'll probably just be inviting people by phone. So if we do not want Friend to attend party, we're probably going to have to explicitly say it to my SIL. I think the main reason for not wanting Friend to attend party is because we can't invite so many people who are directly related to us.

Three potential things that give me pause:

1. My sister and my brother-in-law will both probably want to bring their significant others (my other brother-in-law is married, so his wife is assumed). Both my sister and my brother-in-law are living with their significant others, so these are both serious relationships. I have a feeling my SIL will argue that if they are invited, Friend should be too. And no, SIL and Friend are not lesbians. Really, I'm sure.

2. My SIL is easily upset about things and may see this as an attack against her.

3. My SIL watches my son a few hours each week and Friend often keeps her company while she does so. Friend is not paid for this because she's just coming to hang out with SIL (who is being paid).

Am I out of line for not wanting Friend to be there?

Thank you,

Hopefully-not-out-of-line mom

Dear Mom,

For not wanting Friend to be there? Not particularly. You can want whatever you want. Reasonably expecting that you can explicitly not invite Friend under these circumstances and it won't cause A Whole Thing? Good…luck with that?

This isn't really about Friend per se, or about SIL, either. This is about your not wanting another event surrounding your son, who will not even remember it (or the previous one, or the next couple of battleground winter holidays before he turns three), into yet another goddamn troop movement that you have to plan and preside over while picking Cheerios out of your hair and trying to ignore the grandmas bickering over who gets to see him more. It's tiring pulling things like this together, especially with a big family; you're not tired of Friend specifically, really, and it would be okay if you were, but mostly, you're just tired.

Give yourself permission to not necessarily want to deal with a first birthday party at all, or at least to not want to factor in familial politics all the damn time. It's completely normal. Weddings, baptisms, first Chanukahs…there's always someone you'd just, you know, rather not. And you have to. And it's fucking annoying. You're not a bad person.

That said, it's more trouble than it's worth to hold the line this time, and the baby does know Friend, at least somewhat, and it's one more person. I get it, I do, but setting this boundary now is going to seem arbitrary. Feel how you feel, but don't enforce it.

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  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    So, why are you having this party? Because it's what's expected by your family? Because you really want to? Because you're afraid your son will be bitter if he discovers he never had a first birthday party?

    I say make it immediate family, meaning you, your husband, your son and any other children you have. Period. Alternatively, ask SIL and her BFF to babysit while you and your husband go out and celebrate you making it through year one with a happy, healthy baby!

    Seriously, your son will smash cake in his hair (if he has any) and play with the gift boxes instead of the gifts. Now is a great time to establish YOUR family traditions. If you find large parties with extended family stressful, don't have them.

  • M says:

    There is no reason you have to have a first birthday party. Parents can celebrate with just themselves and the kid(s).

    A cupcake for the honoree to smash for photos and some champagne for the parents sounds like a perfect celebration to me.

    That said, if there is an official party, maybe just decide in your head that basically, each adult sibling gets a plus-one, and then forget about it, and concentrate on what kind of cake you want. And I do mean you. Party-planners deserve to get great dessert!

  • Dana says:

    I'd suggest not explicitly saying Friend can't come, but making it clear that this is a
    Small Party for Immediate Family Only. Use Baby as an excuse. You could approach it as, hey SIL, Baby's birthday is coming up. We are having a small, immediate family only party. The baptism was kind of crazy, you know? So this is gonna be small and intimate, so it's not so overwhelming for Baby. We really want him to be able to enjoy it, etc.

    If she still brings friend, let it go. I too have an overly sensitive SIL. Trust me: it was not worth the drama to upset her over something so small. But maybe she will get the hint in her own.

    Good luck! And enjoy watching the smash cake!!!

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Aw, hints. They're like unicorns.

  • attica says:

    I agree this is probably not the hill you wanna die on, and Letting It Go is the way to go.

    But, maybe there are other solutions? Can a grandparent or somebody else host the party (Even SIL)? Then you can pack up Tot and bolt whenever you've reached your limit.

    Honestly, I'd advise skipping the 1 year party altogether, but I guess that's not an option. I'm tired just thinking about it, so I can imagine how tired you are thinking/planning it.

  • MizShrew says:

    I guess I'm with Nance in Ashland… is the first birthday party an absolute must-do? I mean, beyond giving him a cupcake to smash in his hair/throw at the cat? I get how the first-year milestones *feel* like a big obligatory thing, but are they really?

    That said, if you're committed to the party, I wouldn't make a stink about the SIL's BFF. More aggro than it's worth to try and exclude her. Especially since the SIL is sensitive AND provides some child care for you. I wouldn't bother rocking that boat. Which brings me back to the first point — if you establish that you're not having events for every single child milestone, the family will stop expecting to be invited to a "thing" for every single child milestone. Seems like the best bet is to set the precedent now and just not do a family party at all.

  • Meg says:

    Y'all are perfectly justified to have a tiny party without anyone else. As the first commenter said, just the parents & children is a fine number of people. (That is how I plan on doing parties, but I'm introverted.)

    That being said, here's how I grew up having parties :

    My mother is one of seven, and I have Many, Many, Many Cousins as a result. For maybe about a decade, everyone lived within a two-hour drive of everyone else. Family parties rotated houses based on, well, who volunteered/didn't have a torn-out kitchen/just finished that bathroom renovation/etc, and usually happened every other month or every three months. Each party had a cake for all of the birthdays closest to it. No one got their own party. (As one of only two December birthdays, I never got a cake because "Christmas has enough sweets!" Bah humbug.)

  • CrushLily says:

    Oh man, flashbacks of the shit-storm that was my son's first birthday. I totally second the 'celebrate that you survived the first year' approach, because your kid does not care.

    But if you must do a party, I suggest you make the birthday about him and only him. That being the people he actually knows and if that is your SIL's friend then, well so be it. By the second birthday, my rules became:

    1) Parties will only be held on the day of the birthday because, to paraphrase the awesome that is Flight of the Conchords, the day before/after weekend before/after is not your birthday. If Grandma gets cranky because she can't be there well, tough shit. Its not like she doesn't know what day it is.

    2) Number of guests outside parents/siblings will correlate with age.

    3) You can never have too many balloons. In fact, you don't even need gifts, you can actually get away with just balloons. And bubbles. Everyone loves bubbles.

  • Andrea says:

    Having recently survived a first birthday party at my house, I say keep it small. I know how it happens – the baptism was crazy, we decided to just invite immediate family, and… realized we had a 30 member immediate family. I wish we'd just invited the grandparents to dinner and called it a day. All three of us – me, husband, baby boy – had a much better time over sweet potatoes and cupcakes on his actual birthday than we did at the 30 person "casual picnic" that devolved into un-requested side dishes because "my kids won't eat what you made" and us-against-them family showdowns. I'll never do that kind of party again.

  • Cora says:

    Two things come to mind: first, don't bother having the stupid party. You just had a huge baptism. I have no memory of my first birthday, which was only me, my parents and my sister; but I love looking at the pictures of me in a pretty pink dress smashing my whole face into the beautiful cake my mom had made. Whom are you doing this for?

    Second, if you have to have the damn stupid party, get Friend to organize it. If she's practically family anyway, let her have some responsibility. Who knows? She might really enjoy herself.

  • Mom says:

    Original poster here, thanks for all of the suggestions. We actually went ahead and invited Friend to the party and if anyone was bothered by it, I haven't heard of it. It turned out to be a relatively stress free day – we ordered pizza, had everyone bring something small to share and cake was everywhere.

    I've come to realize that it wasn't having to invite Friend that bothered me so much as just being sick of having to give in to SIL constantly. She has had a rough year, but her behavior was bad before that and it has been reinforced her entire life and I don't know how much it's really going to change. But it continues to upset me because (1) It bothers me, (2) It makes my husband and his other siblings feel horrible and (3) Eventually my son is going to pick up on her behavior (I know that's a ways down the road).

  • scout1222 says:

    @Meg – as you can see by my username, I feel your birthday pain.

  • Debineezer says:

    I know you've already survived (congrats). My daughter turns one in 2 weeks. We're having 2 parties that are ALL ABOUT ME (although I am cooking for an army for one of them). Girl doesn't need ANYTHING (trust me). My best friend is coordinating and "girl's" wishlist is all presents for me. In fact our invites say "to congratulate Debi and Mike for not eating their young." I've gotten NOTHING over the last year (not even for my birthday and let's not even TALK about mother's day). "What are you doing for her first birthday?" Drinking heavily, thanks. My dad will be out in a few weeks and he's the one that will really enjoy the cake things, so we're saving it for him. Honestly? First birthday? All about making it to first birthday! Again, congrats!

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    @Mom, I'm so glad it was low-stress and I hope you have lots of pictures of smashed-cake-in-hair to share with your son's SO when he's old enough! You can't control your SIL's behavior, only your reaction to it. It might be worth talking with your husband and getting his support about starting your own traditions so every celebration is about tiptoeing around SIL drama. Sometimes your being happy means she has to be unhappy and you know what, that's OK.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Mom, glad you a) survived the ordeal–pizza was pretty much invented for occasions like this; I know, since I take pizza orders for a living. "Look, I know this is turning into yet another battleground over who gets what, so listen when I tell you–one cheese, one pepperoni, one Hawaiian. Cut 'em in squares and forget it."

    and b) realizing what you really resent is having to cater to SIL. Now that the cake in hair day has safely gone by, pour yourself and your spouse a big delicious glass of adult beverage and have a brief discussion about it. Just a brief one, about how you might want to handle this in future.

  • Maria says:

    Congrats on surviving the party. Sad but true, some inlaws are a thorn in our sides. I feel like all we can really do is be glad we are having a better life, and get with some Zen detachment from what they do or don't do. That's where the aggro comes from.

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    [Facepalm] yeah, my last comment should read "isn't about tiptoeing around SIL. . ." because the lack of n't changes the meaning!

  • Cat_slave says:

    I'm glad to hear that the party went well. I just wanted to add that, actually, I would just count Friend as your SIL's SO, regardless of sexual orientation. You say they have been close for years and are even closer now. It sounds that that kind of relation – a person can absolutely be your SO without sex. It's a question of closeness and importance. If you count her as SO, it won't bug so much. It might be that SIL's behaviour bugs you anyway, but try to keep that feeling separate from their relationship.

  • Meg says:

    @scout1222 – oh, man, the week of Christmas is rough for a birthday. Mine is exactly halfway between Thanksgiving & Christmas, so some years it's early & some years it's late but never closer than two weeks to my actual birthday (still even though I am an adult and what is so freaking hard about getting to celebrate my birthday on my birthday?!).

    @Mom – pizza is awesome! Especially since some places allow ordering well in advance (days or weeks!) which means I don't have to remember to plan to order in time. Congratulations on surviving the first year!

  • MinglesMommy says:

    @ Mom – I wouldn't worry too much about your son picking up on SIL's behavior. With enough sane examples around him, he'll quickly learn to see the difference. Lord knows we ALL have those dramatic types in our families. :)

  • Mom says:

    Pizza was pretty much invented for this purpose, wasn't it? The party was never really about my son so much as wanting to thank everyone who played a major part in helping us out this first year. We did it the weekend before his birthday since my husband had to work the evening of his actual birthday and that way one of the out of town siblings was able to attend. So I'm glad we did invite Friend because she really has been great with my son.

    I'm slowly trying to navigate how to deal with SIL's behavior. It's a shame because when she's in a good mood, she's really fun to be around. But things can turn on a dime with her and watch out when they do. My husband has talked to her a few times, but I think it's really my mother-in-law (I also love her dearly) who feeds into it the most. I think SIL just gets such a victim mentality about things that it prevents her from seeing straight.

  • Julie says:

    Separate issue here: Are you sure that SIL's best friend is really just a friend? Because your description of how involved they are in each other's lives made me think that perhaps they're a couple. That would certainly explain why SIL is so insistent on Friend being included in all the family events.

    Maybe SIL is just really dependent on Friend at the moment, but I just thought I'd throw that out there since that's where my brain went.

  • Gina says:

    Hoo, boy. Honestly, after my son's christening (and event we threw to please my in-laws, as my husband and I are in now way religious), I gave up. Actually, to be *really* honest, I gave up midway through the planning process. I am not a big party person. I will make a big effort for my son now that he is four and has opinions that he can express, but when he was a baby, I told my mother and MIL that if they really cared about having Big Production Birthdays, Christmases, Christenings, etc., the planning was on them. I told them I didn't care about who should be invited, what was being served, the family politics du jour. All that aggro was on them. My sole job was going to be to show up at the appointed time in the appointed place with the baby in tow. And then I stuck with it. When one grandmother would call me up to ask how I felt about details or bitch about the other's planning methods, I thanked them politely for handling the details and quickly ended the call.

    Best decision of my life.

    Did I love every event I went to? No. Were the menus what I would have served if I had been in charge? No. Did I have to interact with friends of my parents and inlaws whose names I can barely remember and whose awful jokes I had to laugh at? Yes. But guess what? All that would have occurred if I had bowed to their whims in planning these events myself. I had just as nice/dull/crappy/whatever time at each event withOUT the annoyance and stress of having to have planned it. And it all left me with more time to focus on the ostensible reason for all this celebration: my son.

  • --Lisa says:

    @Gina – you are a genius.

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