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Jan 19, 2014 09:03 AM

Etiquette for your birthday

Hi All, I'm new here. I am not the most socially savvy gal and you all seem pretty knowledgable about dinner party manners and etiquette, so I had a question.

This is the third year that my mother-in-law has invited us over to dinner to celebrate my birthday on the day of my birthday. I wonder if it is appropriate to decline the invitation?

We see my Mother in Law quite often, since she lives nearby. I appreciate that she wants to do something nice for my birthday, but usually when we go to her house for dinner (or when we have dinner here) my husband and I spend the time talking with her and the children get sent off to watch TV. When the children are with us at the table and in the living room, she get quite tense about their manners and frowns at my son alot. I then feel that I have to focus on more on controlling my children then relaxing. This is perfectly acceptable normally, but it's not really what I want for my birthday. I just want to go out to dinner with my husband and children and relax (this is not to say I won't pay attention to my children's manners in a restaurant, but they do fine in restaurants without much stress...particularly the casual loud restaurant I have in mind).

This year I declined the invitation for my birthday and suggested maybe we could get together another day. My mother asked if we had plans. I said yes. She asked what we were doing. I said we had planned on going out to eat. My mother-in-law seemed taken aback.

Was I rude or wrong. Should I have invited her along? It's not that I want to avoid my mother-in-law, I just would like to relax a bit on my birthday.

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  1. Yes I would have invited her along, especially as she has hosted you for all these years. Maybe she'd like a break too? I mean, it's not a romantic meal with just you and hubby.

    If I was your MIL, I'd be heartbroken I think.

    5 Replies
    1. re: coll

      I'm not sure that I gave you the right impression. We also host my mother-in-law quite often and the family (all the local siblings) always have a get together to celebrate her birthday, which we attend and I prepare a dish to share. Also, we just had her over recently for a nice dinner, hopefully that was a nice break. ;)

      But I hope I didn't break her heart.

      1. re: mousethatroared

        I think you should call her and ask her to join you. Perhaps if you are all a restaurant, and not at her table, she might lighten up with her grandkids. But if this continues to be a problem, ask your husband to speak with her about her severity with her grandchildren. It is totally possible that she doesn't realize how she is coming off around the kids. It wouid be too bad if she is so judgmental about table manners that she alienates them at a young age. Young kids need guidance, but also tolerance and acceptance. I am a grandmother, and I love having my grands and their parents to my house, and I don't worry about their table manners. That's their parents' job!

      2. re: coll

        I agree with coll. When my mother (and MIL) were alive, we'd celebrate our birthdays with them, and if my H and I wanted to do something away from our parents, we planned it for the next night or the weekend. Nothing to say you can't celebrate your birthday on more than one occasion, or with more than one meal.

        But it seems the point is moot since you've already excluded her from your plans, right?

        1. re: pinehurst

          I disagree. This is her mother-in-law, not her mother. She doesn't get first crack at the actual birthday day.

        2. re: coll

          Why do you have to invite her? I'm sure you don't dictate how she spends HER birthday! Don't invite her if you don't want to, after all, who's birthday is it?

          1. re: LeoLioness

            right on LL... your birthday, your rules, you get to choose who to spend it with OR NOT!

            1. re: rmarisco

              Agreed..while it has been very nice of MIL to have you over to her house on your birthday, why would she be broken hearted if you decide not to do the same thing every year? And why would she expect that you should have her with you every year? You are entitled to spend your day however and with whom ever you like without being made to feel guilty because MIL is not included every year. That's makes no sense... If you want to include her in a meal, there is nothing wrong with inviting her someplace AFTER your birthday...

              My mother & I share the same birthday...we have gone through periods where we spend a few birthdays in a row together but the last couple of birthdays, we didn't spend together...we communicated but we had separate plans...

              1. re: rmarisco

                I'm actually surprised this thread has had so many replies. I took one look, thought the same thing - your birthday, your call - and then watched the thread count build up. I think the OP did everything right. She didn't cancel after plans were made. She simply said they were having a low key dinner - this should be no big deal.

                There are parents that can't accept that their children, especially their married children, have their own lives. DW and I have 5 kids from our former marriages. That meant two sets of parents for each kid and for awhile 4 sets of grandparents. Birthdays and holidays were always a compromise or sometimes didn't happen at all at one or two homes. 2 of the kids are now married (both wives come from homes where parents are divorced) so there's another few parents thrown into the equation. I could not imagine expecting or being upset if a kid of ours could not show up at our house for THEIR birthday. They often can't show for MY birthday, let alone theirs.

                The only time I would probably think a MIL/grandparent, etc should get to trump other plans is if there were some illness involved where it might be the that "last" chance to spend a holiday/birthday with a parent/grandparent. Barring that, it's your birthday. You do as you chose.

            2. I'm surprised she didn't invite herself to go with you. I wouldn't invite her, but that's me. And it sounds as if you could use a birthday without her so I wouldn't worry about it. She may be hurt but she'll get over it. As you said, plan another night to have dinner with her.

              49 Replies
              1. re: Jpan99

                Don't be so sure she'll "get over it". Things like this can hurt for quite awhile. It's not like you made an alternate date or anything.

                1. re: coll

                  Actually, I tried to make an alternative date of her choosing, but she said she was very busy with her women's groups, she wasn't sure.

                  1. re: mousethatroared

                    And that could be her way of expressing how hurt she was at not being invited to go out to dinner with you. You know she's free on your birthday, as she had invited you to dinner, as she's done in the past.

                    I have to agree with foodieX2 below - by saying you were going out to dinner to a restaurant, you were telling her you didn't want her with you on your birthday. Perhaps her hurt feelings could be assuaged by inviting her along to the restaurant.

                    I am curious, however. You said you have to feel you have to control your children while at her house because she frowns at your son quite often. Are they *really* disruptive at the dinner table, or just fidgety and demanding of attention, as kids can be? Are they old enough to understand manners and sitting quietly at Grandma's house, or are they toddlers?

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      My kids are school age. As far as I can see, they are just the normal - sometimes want to interrupt the adult conversation or one-up each other.

                      My MIL likes to talk with my daughter, but she doesn't engage my son very much, sometimes he tends to interrupt more and try to show off after dinner when my MIL is at our house. I watch out for that and remind him of his manners. At my MIL's house, the dinner is the same (some interrupting, sibling rivalry and not eating the correct portion of vegetables, etc). I don't think it's "disruptive" beyond having dinner with kids typically is, but my MIL seems to disapprove, particularily of my son. Although, I wouldn't say their manners are that different.

                      She usually sends the kids off to watch TV after dinner so we can have adult conversation without being interrupted.

                      The thing is, my daughter is almost 11 and my son is 9. I don't think I'm going to have a lot of birthdays where they are actually willing to celebrate with me like they do now.

                      1. re: mousethatroared

                        <<The thing is, my daughter is almost 11 and my son is 9. I don't think I'm going to have a lot of birthdays where they are actually willing to celebrate with me like they do now.>>

                        That's really sad, why do you think that? My son is 12 still celebrates with me and I don't see that changing anything soon. Of course as he gets older we need to be a little more flexible.

                        Why does it have to be on the actual day? I will admit that for a few years in my teens I didn't choose to go home for my moms actual b-day but we still celebrated. We just waited until I was home. Can't you celebrate both with your kids and your MIL? I would the celebration would be more important than the actual day.

                        1. re: foodieX2

                          I'm very happy to hear that your son still celebrates with you! My daughter seems to be entering an intermittent grumpy, mom can't do much right phase. I was preparing myself to deal with solid teenage apathy soon. ;)

                          It doesn't have to be that actual day. I was just sorta taken by surprise. I thought my MIL would offer a different day and things would go smoothly from there. That is usually what I do when I invite someone over and they have other plans for that day. I didn't know that being together on my exact birthday was going to be a deal.

                          I didn't actually think she would ask what our plans were...which is probably stupid, but that's what I mean about not being the most socially savvy gal.

                        2. re: mousethatroared

                          Hmmm...if you would indulge me in a bit of virtual armchair psychology, your daughter is born first. I'm wondering if your MIL continued to pay more attention to her after your son was born, and he grew up seeing that she got the "favoritism" from Grandma (perhaps unintentional), so he's now vying for her attention, especially since your MIL continues to engage your daughter and not him.

                          It certainly doesn't sound disruptive to me - typical kid behavior (and I don't have kids) - but everyone reacts differently to these situations.

                          1. re: LindaWhit

                            Yeah, that sounds pretty on. But I think it's more a girl/boy thing that first child. My MIL seems to prefer the girl cousins too.

                            1. re: mousethatroared

                              OK, that was a thought I had as well, but then that would include her own son (unless it's a recent occurrence). Does your MIL have any daughters? If so, do you see the same thing between her son(s) and daughter(s)?

                              1. re: LindaWhit

                                My husband has two sisters and two brothers. I don't know. It seems like more the younger generation that it comes into play.

                          2. re: mousethatroared

                            your kids are going to fly off with their own friends sooner than you know.
                            enjoy your special day with you own kids before this happens.

                            1. re: mousethatroared

                              I don't see why an 11 and 9 year old can't be part of adult conversation unless the topics are something you disapprove of them being involved with. I teach while the 9 year old may get a little bored typically polite conversation can engage all at that age.

                            2. re: LindaWhit

                              If that's her way of expressing her hurt, it's pretty passive-aggressive, which you should avoid enabling. Yes, maybe you could have softened the blow by saying you felt like a restaurant celebration this year (and vaguely inviting her) or just a quiet evening. But I'm definitely a fan of the "queen for the day" theory of birthdays, and you get what you want. Is the problem that her house is filled with delicate tchotchkes? Or just that she's controlling? If it's always that tense at her house but your kids aren't that bad, I agree, her son might gently tell her... Hmm, not actually sure how to end that sentence... but something that might give her a better understanding of how she's coming off. It's not going to do much for her relationship with her grandkids, either.
                              And remember, you said it was an invitation. If it was actually a command performance, the relationship definitely needs some work.
                              Good luck!

                            3. re: mousethatroared

                              Oh my, it sounds like she has quite the controlling streak. I can see where her feelings would be hurt, but one really shouldn't try to take over somebody else's birthday permanently. I think it's time for your husband to talk to his mom in a rational and calm way, if that's possible.

                              I knew a couple that routinely hosted a Halloween pary on Halloween. They were fun, but after several years people started making other plans (like taking their kids out trick or treating if it was a school night, for instance), and the couple got pretty shirty when so-and-so didn't show up at their Halloween party. There were never even any invitations issued, it was word-of-mouth stuff.

                            4. re: coll

                              Wouldn't that be the mother-in-law's problem, and not the OP's problem?

                              1. re: LeoLioness

                                It becomes her problem if the MIL takes out her displeasure on the OPs husband or kids. Sounds like they get together as family quite often with sibs etc. if the MIL is the toxic type shed can quickly get others on her "side". Unfortunate but true. Theses boards alone are full of family dramas.

                                1. re: foodieX2

                                  I didn't pick up on anything toxic, but who knows.

                                  1. re: foodieX2

                                    I guess I see what you're saying. Personally, I extricate myself from family drama-type nonsense and I definitely don't cater to people who try to drum it up. I'm also pretty firm with my boundaries with my in-laws.

                                    1. re: foodieX2

                                      She's not toxic, just kinda tense, particular with a very certain idea of how things should be. The rest of the family is pretty even keel. I can't see this creating family wide problem.

                                      1. re: mousethatroared

                                        Oh, I wasn't saying she was just using it as an example of how it could become "your" problem. Family riffs have been caused over less, lol.

                                        I tend to be the includer and as I stated below I would have invited her. Good grandparents are a blessing and having one actively involved in a child's life even more so.

                                        1. re: foodieX2

                                          <Good grandparents are a blessing and having one actively involved in a child's life even more so>

                                          Such a profound statement and so true.

                                            1. re: Monica

                                              <The key word is 'good'.>
                                              Exactly. This coming from someone whose grandmother didn't hide that she preferred the other grandchildren over me and my siblings. Luckily my grandfather was lovely and my other set of grandparents more than made up for her nastiness.

                                              1. re: Sooeygun

                                                trust me, it sucked being the preferred could do no wrong grandchildren too.

                                                1. re: Sooeygun

                                                  my MIL is a self centered old lady who wants to be babied. My FIL was an did he deal with her for so long?? He passed away 5 years ago at 73. All his siblings lived until they were close to 100...he was the only one who died 'young'. I told my husband, you know, having a bad husband or wife can definitely shorten one's life. My MIL asks me if I will take care of her when she is old...the same lady who used to curse and scream at her FIL who was dying in the hospital to go to hell and die now.

                                                  1. re: Monica

                                                    wow, that must have been therapeutic typing that! Since we don't have children I don't have that guilt card to play. We/I am on my own.

                                      2. re: LeoLioness

                                        Times have changed, I know, plus maybe I'm projecting because my MIL was a sweetheart. But I would never have done something like that to her. I'm guessing her other plans aren't set in stone and maybe she was just hurt enough to pretend. Why the heck wouldn't she be invited along when she was obviously looking forward to the celebration. And if it's because she makes frowny faces, god help us all.

                                        1. re: coll

                                          I guess I don't see this as something "being done to her". That seems wildly oversensitive, not to mention self-centered.

                                          1. re: LeoLioness

                                            When people purposely exclude me, but also avoid telling me why, I don't take it lightly. It means they don't care how I feel.

                                            I am the farthest thing from wildly oversensitive or self centered. Just realistic, so it would be time to rethink this relationship which seemed fine up to this very minute. Hopefully you will never be in this kind of position, it can be more than hurtful.

                                            1. re: coll

                                              I don't think I would be in this situation, because I would never assume I'm invited everywhere and that a lack of an invitation is a slight.

                                              I certainly understand that people would want a dinner with just their husband and children. I'd have to be incredibly self-centered to be hurt by that or think someone owed me an explanation.

                                              1. re: LeoLioness

                                                I wonder if when the "self centeredness" is on your end if you'd feel the same?

                                                1. re: coll

                                                  I don't understand what you mean, but I'm guessing my answer is yes. Seriously, the thought of being devastated by someone choosing to celebrate a birthday with their spouse and not me is ridiculous to me.

                                                  1. re: LeoLioness

                                                    Not just the spouse, it was a family gathering. But maybe your family isn't like that, no biggie.

                                                    I am old fashioned in that I respect the elder members of the family, whether I like them or not. Not saying I'm right or wrong, just can't imagine this situation in my world.

                                                    1. re: coll

                                                      I think it about the WAY it was handled that was wrong.
                                                      I took a trip for thanksgiving. Many family members were used to coming to my house. I let them know waaaay in advance that I was not hosting.
                                                      It would have been wrong to not say anything until they called asking what time was dinner. That would have been rude of me.

                                                      1. re: coll

                                                        I think it's perfectly fine to define some family occasions as being for your nuclear family. If you don't, then where do you draw the line? How many relatives have a right to be hurt if they're not invited to every occasion? Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins?

                                                        If it were her own mother (who, after all, was responsible for her being born on that day) I might feel differently. But a mother-in-law has no right to assume she'll be included in your birthday plans.

                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                          I've stopped commenting on this thread after several people pointed out that most of the posts are more about the poster rather than the OP. My MIL was a saint, and I would have done anything for her. YMMV!!

                                                          1. re: coll

                                                            <my MIL was a saint, and I would have done anything for her>

                                                            Well, I don't know too many saints but my MIL was pretty close to it.
                                                            She loved me because I was the mother of her grandchildren and made her son happy. She did her best to not interfere and now that I'm older and wiser I would have/should have invited her to all my birthdays celebrations, although she came to most of them. The ones, though few, she wasn't invited to hurt her, although she never said anything.
                                                            It would have made my husband happy, my children happy and her happy. My ego got in the way…it was *MY* day, dammit… that she's gone I wish I'd done differently.

                                                            1. re: latindancer

                                                              As I get older, I'm finding that the saying hindsight is 20/20 to be so true. If only I knew then what I know now! Which is why my comments are what they are I guess. Mistakes, I've made a few myself.

                                                    2. re: coll

                                                      I think it's been a bit self-centered of the MIL to assume that dinner at her house is what the birthday girl would prefer, year after year. I get feeling hurt to realize after doing it that way for several years that maybe her DIL doesn't prefer/enjoy it that way, but it's the kind of hurt one should get over when one realizes 'it's not about me'. Which to be fair may take a few days, so here's hoping the MIL can schedule another day.

                                              2. re: coll

                                                Actually, there's a good chance her other plans are set in stone. She belongs to 2-3 women's groups and they have meetings and fund-raising events. Which is not to say that she might not have been pretending, but it's ordinary to schedule around her groups.

                                                1. re: mousethatroared

                                                  Interesting that these groups take precedence over family gatherings.

                                                  1. re: LindaWhit

                                                    Is it, though? I certainly have commitments other than work- my book club, a volunteer commitment every other week, a couple of meetings related to my volunteer organization each month, and, frankly, they mostly come first. This is a flexible dinner. If it was me, I'd decline the invitation and suggest a couple days to reschedule. Major events like weddings and such take priority but everyday casual family get togethers? Nah.

                                                    Honestly, it's great she has her own life. My mom doesn't and relies almost completely on my sister and her family for social gatherings. It's kind of sad, really.

                                                    1. re: Hobbert

                                                      I don't disagree with the OP's MIL having her own life. However, a birthday dinner with her DIL is probably a bit more than a casual everyday family get-together, especially since she planned to have that day open for the dinner.

                                                      I'm all for having a busy social calendar, but I think that family should still take precedence. The charities will go on; the family member may not always be there.

                                                      Having said all of that, I still think the OP should call her MIL and invite her to the restaurant dinner.

                                                      1. re: LindaWhit

                                                        Yeah, I would agree that the kind thing to do would be to invite MIL to dinner. Personally, I don't consider birthdays to be terribly special but if the OP has set that precedent in her family, then, you're right, it is more than a casual dinner.

                                                        1. re: LindaWhit

                                                          I don't; if the OP wanted to have dinner with MIL, she would not have declined her invitation...she already said all she wants is to have dinner with her husband and kids on her birthday. Not too much to ask IMO

                                                        2. re: Hobbert

                                                          It's unreasonable to assume that other people will schedule their lives around *your* other commitments. If they want to, great, but why should the daughter-in-law have to schedule her birthday celebration based on her mother-in-law's activities?

                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                            I think you missed my point. The OP should schedule her celebration and invite MIL if she wishes. MIL can decline if she has a conflict. Not the other way around.

                                                    2. re: coll

                                                      I'm with you, coli. My mother-in-law was a fine woman. We didn't have a lot in common, and probably did not agree at all on the role of women in the house and society, but we always got along. My kids learned pretty early that different houses have different rules, and that seemed to serve them in good stead in later life.

                                                      I cannot imagine saying to someone that I care for/respect (friend or relative), "Oh, thanks for the invitation to something special for *my* birthday, but no thanks. I'd rather do something without you."

                                              3. I would have invited her but that's me. Since you have celebrated with her the last three years I can see that she would be taken aback. It would have been one thing if you said you were going to a friends house or out with friends but the message was loud and clear it was really about not celebrating with *her*.

                                                There is nothing wrong with not wanting to either, but being upfront about it might have been a better approach.

                                                I am also not hung up on actual dates. We celebrate Christmas the weekend after with my family, usually do birthdays on the weekend, etc. my son always wants to something special on Mothers Day but we opt to go the day before to avoid the Mother's Day crowds.

                                                1. This sounds like an episode from "Everybody Loves Raymond".

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: grampart

                                                    Pretty much every second episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.

                                                    1. re: Sooeygun

                                                      Funny my MIL loves that show....

                                                      1. re: HillJ

                                                        As long as it's not vicariously!

                                                        1. re: coll

                                                          Ha! If a tv show can keep my MIL in check, it's a good thing. I'd rather she'd laugh her head off at a tv daughter in law than cut mine off :)