Dear Amy:

What is the appropriate thing to do regarding gift giving for birthday parties that a child is not able to attend?

Earlier this year, I was called out of town for more than a week for my father's illness and death, and I had not yet purchased gifts for two parties that were to occur the following weekend. My kids (ages 4 and 6) traveled to their grandfather's funeral, so they didn't attend the parties.

In another situation, we were out of town for another child's birthday party. I let the parent know far in advance that we wouldn't be able to attend. Should I have purchased a gift for this child too?

My husband says that we should follow the same rules as for weddings, where a gift is given whether one attends the event or not.

Most of these parties are for 15-plus kids. Should it matter whether the birthday boy or girl is a close friend or just a classmate whom they don't see otherwise? If one is the party thrower, is there any obligation to provide a favor/goody bag for a child who couldn't attend the party because of sickness, but who gave a gift?

Trying to Do the Right Thing

Wow. You sure make "trying to do the right thing" sound very hard, though I have to admit that I have had every single one of these questions myself.

Here's what I've figured out: Children's birthday parties are not weddings.

The idea of the gift exchange at this young age is for children to personally experience the fun and generosity of giving gifts -- not for harried parents to do it in the child's absence.

If your child can't make it to a CLOSE friend's birthday, then it would be thoughtful of you and your child to deliver a gift at another time (without the expectation of a goody bag). Otherwise, it's not necessary to deliver a present if the child misses the event.

Dear Amy:

Your recent column about "Bridezillas," in which the parents of a new bride wondered why their daughter was stressed by her upcoming wedding, bothered me.

I am getting married later this year, and I haven't had a weekend to myself since getting engaged. In addition to my full-time job and planning a wedding, I find myself running interference between my family and my fiance's family. I wish I could say that planning our wedding has been fun -- it has been extremely stressful. My fiance and I are getting financial help from our families for the wedding, but no one has offered to help in any other way.

Maybe those parents should have offered to help their daughter plan instead of just pay for the wedding. She'll remember the money they spent, but she'd appreciate and treasure the time they offered.

Another Bride's Opinion

In the letter to which you're referring, the bride's parents weren't wondering why the bride was stressed, but why the bride was a monster. There's a difference.

A stressed bride has occasional crying jags and unfortunate, ill-timed skin breakouts.

A monster bride takes no prisoners and pillages her family and friends, breathing her mighty tongues of fire.

A stressed bride mainlines latte, irrationally blames her fiance for not knowing the difference between Cristal and crystal, and occasionally wonders what she's gotten herself into.

A monster bride feels sorry for herself because, though she's getting money from both sets of parents to pay for her dream wedding, she's also not getting their help with the planning.

Let's hope that you're merely stressed and not a monster.

Relax. Breathe. Get your fiance to help you. It's his wedding too.

Write to Amy Dickinson at or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

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