Sending Regrets

One of the tricky moves parents have to master is how to say no to invitations for their children.  Actually, saying no is not the problem. The problem is how to do it without hurting feelings, giving offense, or feeling guilty about it.

Let’s say someone is having a birthday party, and your four-year-old (or six or eight or ten-year-old) is invited. Let’s also say that you know that the home has different standards than yours when it comes to humor, movies, or even the way they speak to one another. Or you may have good reason to think that the kids are not going to be well supervised.  Whatever the reason, you don’t have a good vibe about it, and you know that your four-year-old is not wise enough to navigate his way through the possibilities. All he knows is that there will be cake and lots of it. Or, he may not want to go because the boy whose birthday they are celebrating is a mean kid. Either way, your duty seems clear that you must send your regrets that your child will not make it to the party.  Just say, “No thanks. Johnny won’t be able to make it.” That is what parents are for. Parents are supposed to make decisions on behalf of their little kids.

Your job as a parent is to protect your kids from weird set-ups and situations until such time that they can figure it out for themselves. And there is no sense in sending kids to parties or play-dates they don’t want to go to unless it is something entirely different you are dealing with, like a debilitating shyness or an arrogant unfriendliness or some other issue. But that is not my subject here. From time to time you will have to say “no” to really nice people simply because you feel it is wise to do so. It may have nothing to do with conflicting standards at all, but simply with the fact that you don’t know them well enough to drop your kids off.

“Can your child come play sometime, and when would be convenient?” That sort of invitation requires more social delicacy. If you can’t side-step it, then say you’ll talk about it and get back to her. Maybe you can invite yourself to go along so you can see how things go.

When my kids were little, sometimes I found things out after the fact. For example, I had no idea that the mom was gardening in her bikini while the kids were playing, until she told me that one of my kids had told her she was immodest! You may find out that there is a whole lot of coarse jesting going on at so-in-so’s house, and you file that away for future reference.

It’s good to ask lots of questions, like “What movie are the kids going to watch?” And if  it is not your cup of tea, then you can decline.  When the kids are old enough, you can prime them for different contingencies: “If they want to watch a movie, call us to see if it’s okay.” “If they want to walk downtown, tell them you are not allowed to do that.”

But the point is, we should not take offense when parents say no to our invitations. Parents are supposed to be watching over their children in this way. And if someone asks you a direct question about why your child did not come to their party, you should be prepared to say something like this: “Last time our kids were at your house, they were not comfortable with some of the things that went on.” Or, “We have different movie and tv and video game standards, and we didn’t want to put our kids (or yours) on the spot.”

This is the way it is. Nice Christian people have different standards for their kids, and you do not have to subject your kids to the neighbors’ standards. But it’s still nice to be invited.

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23 thoughts on “Sending Regrets

  1. What timely advice – thank you! I just rsvp’d no today to an invitation I definitely needed to decline for my daughter and appreciated this post’s parenting encouragement.

  2. This is a good advice. But, it get’s to be a bit complicated when your having to say no to your family b/c you have different standards. Especially when you live in the same town and don’t feel comfortable letting your young children around their cousins without parental supervision. Any advice on how to deal with extended family that have different standards?

  3. I’ve realised over the last few years that when I let someone know that I (or our family) can’t make it somewhere for whatever reason, that I don’t have to give them the whole 5 minute explanation. I always used to feel obliged to give them the reasons, but simply saying “sorry, we can’t make it” is enough. What a relief! :-)

  4. On the converse, I have found that even if I am uncomfortable with leaving my children at someone else’s home (which I usually don’t go for anyway…rare is the case when I do), I can soften the blow by reciprocating, extending an invitation for the other family/child to visit our home sometime soon. If said family has differing standards, this provides an opportunity for them to see the way we fellowship and communicate as a family. Often this speaks volumes in ways that words sometimes fail. And, it can be part of our duty as mature Believers, to help other families…whether immature Believers, unbelievers or those who simply didn’t “see” a problem. It can turn out to be a blessing both ways to show hospitality in a gracious manner…and a teaching point for our own family.

  5. Mrs. Wilson,
    We have had to deal with this a lot this year. Our 14 year old was invited to a boy/girl swimming party. She truly did not want anything to do with it. However, she felt so pressured by her friends. Daddy of course stepped in and said, “No,thank you” and that was that. I used to feel so pressured to give people reasons why we would not be participating in any given party/event. Your advise that I have read or heard in the past had really helped me to put it into perspective. My first priority is to protect my children. I try hard to be gracious and loving but it doesn’t always keep the other family involved from being offended.

  6. I would second Beth’s question on what to do when it’s family instead of friends. Family in town can be a problem (because they’re always there), but also family out of town that you only see occasionally. Then the excuse is, “You hardly see them, so what is one time going to hurt?”

  7. It might be helpful to discuss the reasons behind certain things if we are talking about fellow believers, especially those in the same church family. I, as a parent of kids who could use some christian fellowship, would much rather make your family comfortable by having a Lego party, instead of a movie watching one, in order to facilitate the building of godly friendships.
    Yes, we should guard our children, but we should also be edifying one another in our walk. Especially in the matter is a family rule/wisdom area that can easily be adapted to.

  8. One rule that we have made for our household is that we have “family play dates”. Granted, our children are 10 and under. But when everyone knows that it’s all or none, it creates less stress for everyone involved.

    Nancy, your comment “Your job as a parent is to protect your kids from weird set-ups and situations until such time that they can figure it out for themselves” comes to play with courtship as well. It reminds me of the book “Scottish Seas” by Doug Jones! If a boy doesn’t know his catechism, he can’t date my daughter:)

  9. Hi Nancy,
    this has nothing to do with your post but I was looking up your books today and saw that on half.com you are listed as Rev. Nancy Wilson. Just thought you might like to know in case you didn’t already!

  10. Thankfully, my children are still young-ish (7 and under) and I haven’t had to deal with this too much yet, but we are cautious. If any of them are invited to a party either my husband or myself stay to supervise. I’m sure my children will be embarrassed if I’m still attending with them at 15, but right now it seems like all the parents are still attending. When do parents start to drop off in your observations?

    As far as neighborhood friends, they are always welcome at our house, but so far we don’t let our children go to their homes unsupervised.

    However, I have to encourage everyone to be wise in this area. Whether or not a family is Christian has little effect on whether we will allow our children to be in their homes without us. Christians struggle with the same sins as everyone and we cannot be naive to think a “Christian” home is a safe home for our children.

    Not to mention here in the South most families have multiple guns and until our children know how to react when they come across one that’s just one more aspect of safety that I need to be aware of as a parent. :)

  11. This is along different lines, but perhaps not so different. My in-laws are unbelievers, and so we don’t want them babysitting our 1 year old daughter. We know that they wouldn’t be able to discipline her the way she needs. We had let them babysit a few times when she was still tiny (which looking back might not have been a good idea because it set a precedent), and they frequently offer to do it again. This is further complicated by the fact that we live right across the driveway from them. Any wisdom you have for our situation would be appreciated!

  12. I always invited myself over for tea, if my children were invited to someone’s home. That gave me a chance to survey the home life. If we were iffy about a slumber party, we would pick up our child at 10 or so. It was embarassing, but the kids put up with it and didn’t complain too much. Staying for the duration of a party as an option is hard work for parents, but it’s great to have no regrets.

  13. I have a follow up question. My husband is the senior pastor of our church and we have an 8yo daughter and a 5yo son. Do you think it’s wise to handle situations in the same way you describe here, or do you feel that creates a slightly different dynamic? I have little problem saying no to invitations I’m not comfortable with- I’m thinking more about your “We have different movie and tv and video game standards, and we didn’t want to put our kids (or yours) on the spot.” Maybe something to address in your next pastor’s wives letter?

  14. Another dicey thing to deal with is when your next door neighbors are unbelievers with public school kids that have a lot of friends coming and going. In a nice summer day, the neighbor’s kids are playing their stereos too loud with whatever is on the top 40, your kids can see though the neighbor’s open door whatever movie is playing, etc. When there is no way the kids can totally avoid seeing the neighbors’ lifestyle, how do you keep kids from wanting to join the party?

  15. Leah V., I’m going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that you might do more damage to your in-laws by not letting them care for your children than you will to your children by letting them alone with their grandparents. Obviously, I don’t know all the details. If your in-laws are likely to do something truly damaging and horrible while babysitting your toddler for a few hours, then by all means keep them away. But for the sake of their souls and building a relationship in which you can show them the love of Christ, it might be better to trust the Lord by letting them care for your children. I would imagine that it is deeply hurtful to them that they are not allowed to babysit, and that these hurt feelings will be a detriment to your testimony to them.

    In saying this, I do not disagree with anything that Mrs. Wilson has already posted. I agree whole-heartedly with her post, and would of course say that your duty to your children comes before your duty to your in laws. I’m merely suggesting that you may be going overboard with protecting your children at the expense of evangelism.

  16. Leah, I agree with Sarah, and I’d also add that unless you are going to have your kids spend a LOT of time alone with them, this falls under the “grandparents are allowed to spoil their grandkids and discipline is for all the rest of the time” rule. Of course you don’t want total mayhem or her learning actually bad things, but if your only concern is that they won’t be consistent disciplinarians, I’d suggest that grandparent time just isn’t the time for that. Unless you are entrusting your child to her grandparents day in, day out, you have plenty of time to instill discipline in the normal course of things. A fairly young child soon comes to learn that different people have different “rules,” but at the same time, you can teach her that certain things apply whether or not you are with her. I would suggest that limiting the time they spend in charge of her is far better than disallowing it entirely.

  17. Leah- I would (third) the sentiments thus far. I had the exact same concern as you when our oldest was a baby and remarked about it to a friend and his thoughts were that if we were consistently doing our job 51 weeks a year, was 1 week with the grandparents going to undo all of that? And even less so at an hour here and an hour there. When I was little my grandparents spoiled me to the extreme. (Meals were whatever I picked, bedtime was my choice, toys clothes galore, etc) but I learned very young (2ish) that those were things that occurred ONLY at my grandparents house. Period. To not even ask for that sort of treatment when I was at home. And all was well. :)

    As to the friends/party concerns, this is great advice! Thanks! :)

  18. Great post, great comments.

    I would like to address sleepovers, which someone mentioned. Years ago, my husband and I made a decision that we would not allow sleepovers. (Exceptions were when out-of-town close friends and family visited, or when we were the travelers.)

    We have had many opportunities to revisit the decision, but at one point, in the midst of a tussle following an invitation, husband said that this is a benefit of having a policy: one can refer to it and that’s that. (Sometimes I think a written family constitution would be useful; questions could be answered by reference to the manual!)

    I tell the kids that there’s nothing they need to do with their friends that they can’t do during normal waking hours. Further, there are temptations when there is no supervision because the grown-ups have gone to bed.

  19. Mrs. Wilson,
    Would you have any advice for kindly saying no to family – say a sibling or cousin – about one’s children getting together with their children because of difference of standards and/or bullying personalities of those children? This is not something I have to deal with yet, as I’m still a single young woman living in my parents’ home, but I suspect I may have to in future, and I have friends who have to deal with such things, and would like to know how to do it graciously, without hurting any more feelings than necessary.
    Also, if any of the other commenters on this blog have any experience in this area, I would love to receive wise words for this problem!

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