Miss Manners: Parties for toddlers can be appropriately low-key

January 2

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 okay 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.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was at a social civic club event held at a member’s rather stately home. When refreshments were served, a member took aside our gracious hostess and informed her that her choice in window treatments just did not do her home justice, and told her she would have her decorator call her to correct the situation. I am curious at what Miss Manner would have said?

GENTLE READER: “Well, you know tastes differ. I’m terribly sorry that my windows offend you, and I apologize on their behalf. But we are actually very fond of them.”

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

, by Judith Martin

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