Etiquette expert Catherine Newman on how to prevent your kids from getting caught up in grown up quarrels.

Stephanie Rausser

Q. About six months ago, I had a falling-out with my neighbor. Our relationship is now cordial but chilly. However, our sons (mine is three; hers is five) enjoy having playdates, and her child comes over to our house frequently. Recently this neighbor hosted a party with lots of kids from the neighborhood. My son wasn’t invited, and he was hurt and confused. I know we’re not entitled to an invitation, but would I be wrong to ask her for a heads-up the next time she’s planning this type of event so my family can clear out beforehand?

Andrea Lundberg

Lincoln, Nebraska

A. Your poor son! You can certainly ask for a heads-up, to help spare him future misery. But I think there’s a bigger underlying issue here. This particular situation—a party at your neighbor’s house to which your son is not invited—is not likely to occur more than a few times a year, so I wonder if the real reason you would mention it would be to let your neighbor know that she has hurt your son’s feelings (an understandable impulse). Or maybe you’re hoping to inspire her to extend to your son the same hosting-playdates-in-spite-of-it-all civility that you grant to hers (another reasonable wish).

Instead of asking for notice before the next party, I suggest you consider the root of the problem: the feud between you and your neighbor. If you’re willing, approach her to make amends. You can say, “I can’t believe we’ve let our disagreement come to the point where our kids are caught in the middle. I’m sorry for my part in this. Let’s try to get past it.” Hopefully, that will do the trick.

And if either of you doesn’t wish to make up? Then give a straightforward explanation of the situation to your son, while reminding him of his blamelessness. Tell him, “Our neighbor is upset with me, but it has nothing to do with you, and I’m sorry you didn’t get to go to that party.” It’s essential that the children not become collateral damage in this grown-up quarrel.

—Catherine Newman

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