In a world torn apart by incivility, polite behavior may be the sole separation between man and animal. As the only advice columnist with an advanced degree in etiquette, Dr. Manners stands at the ready to elucidate, clarify, and educate.
Dear Dr. Manners: We are sending out wedding invitations, and one of my planned guests is expecting her first child with her husband. Her due date is before the wedding (thank goodness) but they are waiting until the baby’s birth to find out the gender and decide the name.
How do I address their invitation without knowing the baby’s name? My fiancé insists that it’s fine to omit any mention of the baby, since it’s obvious the baby will be coming. But I know you’re supposed to list everyone who’s invited so that it’s clear who’s not. Who is right?
Genteel Reader: Regrettably, Dr. Manners must inform you that neither of you are correct. Your knowledge of invitation etiquette is to be commended, but you cannot be expected to list a person’s name who is, at the moment, nameless. Your husband’s error is one of presumption. It is not obvious the baby will be in attendance any more so than the mother will be in attendance, or any of your guests.
It is almost as equally rude for you to presume your guests will attend as it is for them to invite someone along who you haven’t invited.
The solution, Genteel Reader, is simple and neatly handled by etiquette (as most things are). Address the invitation to the mother and father only. You are not inviting the child, as they really should not be bringing him or her along; there is little place for a newborn at what is essentially the only remaining socially acceptable occasion for adults to indulge in alcohol. Should they be unable to find accommodations for the child and thus be unable to attend, all the better. You and your other guests will appreciate the lack of fuss, and the couple in question will get some early practice in recognizing that their individual identities and needs are now erased by their child’s existence.
The staff say they’ve addressed the situation with her parents but when we asked them about it last week, they laughed and said there’s nothing to worry about. How can we help them understand the problem is real? He’s been getting anxious and upset whenever he talks to us about going to the day care center.
Genteel Reader: This concern is an age-old one. Your and your neighbors’ understanding are based in adult notions of property and ownership while children see the world quite differently with their developing brains. Children are very much self-centered and can easily rationalize a scenario where “sharing” means “others give me their toys” yet still they get to retain their own.
Etiquette is of little use here, because its very basis is a shared understanding of common goals and mutual benefit. Your neighbors seem incapable of reaching a common goal of good relations between your children, and the children certainly will not understand its finer nuance. Still, Dr. Manners suggests you teach your son that there is no harm in meeting aggression with polite refusal, or a request that she share her own toys. Failing this, a few karate lessons should provide him a means to defuse the situation to his satisfaction.