Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: My daughter, 11, has three friends from school. One girl's parents are generous hosts. "Emma" is an only child and has a pool, fun toys, great snacks.

The problem is that Emma's parents don't let Emma be a guest. Sometimes my daughter wants to have her friends over and Emma's parents refuse. The girls would rather all go to Emma's than hang out without her. I asked Emma's mother if there was anything about our house that concerns her. She said no, that Emma isn't allowed to go anywhere else, ever.

My daughter invited her friends to a water park for her birthday. Emma, of course, isn't allowed. Emma's mom called and asked why we need to go to a water park when they have a pool. She then offered to host my daughter's party herself, saying she knows my daughter likes tacos so they can do a taco bar, and she was thinking of ice cream sundaes instead of a cake.

I didn't really know how to explain to her how out of bounds she was acting. I'm starting to get a real creepy vibe, but I don't want to ruin the girl's friendships.

— Creeped Out


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

Creeped Out: This is seriously messed up. You're right.

Please stand up to Emma's mom in kind and unflinching terms. "This is our daughter's birthday. We are hosting it. Emma is invited." When they decline the invitation: "I'm sorry to hear that."

If the mom persists with why-a-water-park-instead-of-their-pool, then stick to facts. "This is our daughter's party, and we are hosting it." Don't get sucked into justifications as if there's any legitimacy to this mother's argument.

I ache for Emma, but it's time for the group of parents to stop caving. Take your turns hosting. If Emma can't make it, then you say a simple "I'm sorry to hear that; we'll miss her."

Note that I'm not advising you to take on these parents or their rules. What I've spelled out is simply your providing your own child with a typical social life. As in, not bending to the rules of the Emmasphere.

That's for the planning part of the problem.

The "creepy vibe" problem warrants further action. With Emma's parents: "I am not comfortable with my daughter always being the guest. Are you willing to share why Emma can't go anywhere? Perhaps it would sit better if I understood it." It's framed as a matter of your own feelings, and respectfully stated. They can always say it's none of your business.

It's also not their business if you decide your daughter can't go over to Emma's anymore. That's the trade-off.

With the other parents: "This one-way hosting bothers me. How are you dealing with it?"

You can have it both ways — respect boundaries and take the creepiness very seriously.

Re: Emma: The "creepy" aspect is really sticking with me. As a former teacher, I would consider having a confidential conversation with Emma's teacher or the guidance counselor. Stick to the facts, don't embellish and approach it from wanting to be sure everything is okay. It may not get you anywhere, but it may help Emma.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: I like this — more eyes on the situation, of people trained and empowered to help. Thank you.

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/haxpost.