My daughter-in-law, "Janie," who lives 2,000 miles away, has felt for years that her children from previous marriages (who don't know us) should be included at these events. They live within 100 miles of our home and could attend if invited. Our relationship with Janie has been generally cordial and affectionate. She will be visiting her children at their homes the week of the birthday. If we exclude her kids from our celebration, she will feel insulted and resentful.
How obligated should we feel to bow to Janie's demands and include four additional adults and a young child to our party? My husband becomes upset and confused by large groups and noisy children. -- CORNERED ON THE EASTERN SHORE
DEAR CORNERED: Your husband's comfort and sense of well-being must come first. If he becomes agitated by large groups and noisy children, you must explain to Janie that no "strangers" can be introduced into the mix and why. Do not allow anyone to lay a guilt trip on you for advocating for him. When Janie sees your husband, I am sure she will understand.
Hm. I agree with Abby that the birthday boy's "comfort and sense of well-being must come first." But I have my doubts about the hostess' motives. If her husband "becomes upset and confused by large groups and noisy children," why in God's name would they choose to celebrate HIS birthday with "three children, their spouses, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren," each generation presumably larger than the one before it (3 children, 9 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren, etc.)?
To me it seems thoughtless, and it also shows that this woman is less interested in her husband's comfort than she is in explicitly EXCLUDING some folks she doesn't care to invite. Or it just hasn't occurred to her (but should) that "family" still counts as "people." When my grandpa was in his later years, ONE small child, or several adults, was more than enough: he was happy to see everyone, but an afternoon of visiting was way too much for him. Reason enough not to invite 5 strangers? Yes. But also reason enough not to have a "party" at all. The hostess seems oblivious to her husband's comfort, except when it is convenient for her.
If the party is lavish enough that adding 4.5 heads would really be a hardship, then I think the whole idea is ill-conceived. If it's an informal gathering I can't see how it would possibly make any difference. Unless everyone at the party is going to sit in a circle around great-grandpa and have him count heads over and over, the persnickety hostess is the only one who's even going to notice the extra guests--except for their mom, who probably sees her kids once a year (or less), and will be thrilled. I say let 'em come on over. But only after seriously re-thinking the entire party.
As a postscript, I think it's kind of lame that "for years" their daughter-in-law, with whom they have a "cordial and affectionate relationship" has wanted to invite her children, who live nearby, to these events, and yet still they "do not know any of us." Why does this woman need advice when clearly she's been adept at keeping these people out of her parties for years? If they'd been warmer and more welcoming to their STEP-GRANDCHILDREN in the past, this party wouldn't even be an issue--they'd be family.