LightLife Guide: How to Manage Children's Birthday Parties

Everyone has been asking me how to politely manage the many issues surrounding children's birthday parties. Fear not! I'm here to offer my answers to your pressing questions with 100% accuracy as per Ms. Manners.

1. It says "No gifts." Do I bring a gift?

Maybe. Obviously the child's mother wrote this, not the child, and not generally the dad. Unless there are two dads, then it was a dad. Best thing to do is to ask the mom, "Why no gifts?" Do it just like that. The fewer words the better. Don't be judgy (Why on Earth would you deprive your kid of gifts?!), and don't be relieved (Thank goodness, no gifts! I didn't want to spend a dime on that kid of yours!). She will either tell you that she really doesn't want any more clutter and the kid is fine (that means don't bring a gift). Or she will tell you that she just put that so the grandparents don't go overboard. That's code for "bring a small gift, gifts are happening."

2. I was invited to a party where I don't know anyone, do I have to go?

Three possible answers here:

a) Your kid and their kid are besties: You should go.

b) Your kid doesn't really know anyone either: Don't go.

c) Your kid doesn't know anyone but you know the adults there in some professional way and it would be good to make an appearance: You should go for a short time.

3. If I'm only going to the party for a short time, how do I get out of there politely?

Don't tell the hosts you are leaving if they are busy. In fact, wait until they're occupied with something else. Then tell a mutual friend that you are leaving (so that no one thinks you got abducted). Why? Because the party parents don't need any wet blankets thrown on their fun. They (and most people present) are having fun. You are ending your fun. That's fine, but it's your thing, so let the fun train keep on rolling. Make sure you've done something memorable or thoughtful during your time there. Like winning the 3-legged race. Or eating your slice of cake without using your hands. Nom nom!

4. I can't go to the party but I feel really bad about it, should I RSVP as "maybe"? 

Here's the common convention on Facebook invites, Evite and the like: 

"Yes" is the new "maybe" 

"Maybe" is the new "no"  

"No" is the new "f*@# you" 

*I actually stole that from somewhere. It's hilarious, but sad, but probably true. 

Here is another plan of attack when you must regretfully decline:

a) Be the first to decline. Everyone forgives the first person to decline.  

b) If you can't be the first to decline, state your reason for missing it (assuming it's a good reason) and apologize a bunch. Not excuses (no one cares), just sad emoticons and sorrys. 

c) If there's now more than 5 people declining, don't pile on. Just don't RSVP. Don't "Maybe"!  

d) If you have to RSVP, send a separate message to the host with a funny self-deprecating explanation. This will add a touch of sincerity and (if done well), will generate a laugh, further endearing you to the host.   

e) If you forgot to do all of the above, your only option left is this one: The Last Minute Cancel. 

The Last Minute Cancel is controversial. It looks suspicious (how could they have forgotten about this visit from MeeMaw when I sent the Evite??). It looks a little insincere and cold. But! It happens sometimes. People get that. Be super DUPER sorry, only state a reason if it's real good, and make fun of your delinquent inability to keep a proper calendar. You silly goose.  

Another thing about "good reasons:" let me be clear, your child's nap is not a good reason. This has always somewhat irritated me. Not because I don't think kids should nap. Obviously, they should, they turn into total monsters without naps. Not the kind of monsters I'd want at a party. But that doesn't mean you go and TELL THE HOST that your kid's nap is more important than the day of their child's birth. All I'm saying is this: do what you need to do regarding naps, just don't tell the host all about your napping woes. They're celebrating the day their child entered the world and their lives were forever changed, glory halleluia! Don't be all "yeah, but Baby Joey needs his full 91 minutes of snoozy time!" It won't play well.

5. If I miss the party, do I still send a gift?

No. 

6. What do I wear to kids' birthdays?

Clothes, generally. No bikinis. No beer shirts. No visibile stains (this goes for your kids as well ... if you own such a thing).

That's about it. You're all ready for your next Bday invitation! Go forth and celebrate!