Dad gets $26 invoice after son misses friend's party

A dad in the UK was issued a 'no-show' invoice after his son did not make it to a classmate's birthday party. Are parents on the hook for the cost if there is a cancellation for a child's birthday party?

A dad who gave an oral RSVP to a mom for a birthday party for her 5-year-old has made international headlines after he found himself on the receiving end of a "no-show" invoice from the birthday boy's mom. 

This appears to be one of those polarizing parental moments that spark emotional conversations on social media over everything from etiquette to common sense and the high cost modern parents pay – fiscally and emotionally – when a child's party goes from being a celebration to an expensive event. 

Derek Nash and his partner, who live in Torpoint, near Plymouth, England were sent an invoice for $26 (£15.95) last week, according to a report published in the Plymouth Herald newspaper.

Mr. Nash, a delivery driver, told the newspaper that he, “thought it was a joke.”

Over the Christmas holidays, Nash’s son Alex was invited to a classmate’s birthday party at the Ski Slope and Snowboard Centre, and when Mr. Nash was asked by the birthday boy’s mom if his son would be attending, he confirmed.

However, dad later realized that he’d already made a plan for the same date when Alex and the family were to spend the day with his grandparents. Grandparents trump ski party for this child and so dad needed to call and cancel.

However, as happens all too often to many parents, Nash didn’t have the phone number or email address for the other parent to let her know his son would not be there. He told the Plymouth Herald that his partner tried to locate the mom to get her the word Alex would not be attending, but to no avail. 

Rather than take the absence of Alex in stride, the other parent took Nash’s affirmative RSVP as an oral contract and sent a printed invoice to Nash via the child’s school teacher at Torpoint Nursery and Infant School.

On January 15, Nash’s partner looked in Alex’s school bag and found a brown envelope containing the invoice.

Let’s step back a moment and admit that it’s pretty aggravating to have people either fail to RSVP, or to do so and then be a no-show, particularly for an expensive party.

Actually, I don’t do parties at ski and snowboard centers, Great Wolf Lodge, or even Chuck E. Cheese because they have never been affordable.

Higher party expenses for my family would mean limiting the number of kids who could come to the party to maybe three at best, so my husband and I have had to go the route of investing the time, creativity, and effort in old-school home parties with lots of inventive games and action-packed activities.

Still, I don’t begrudge other parents who have the cash to go that route.

However, I will also admit that I have lived in fear of losing the invitation or blowing the date because the other parents can get very sensitive about a failure to appear at a pricey party.

To get some perspective on what could have been done by both sides in order to minimize the impact of this situation, I called Diane Gottsman, a nationally-known expert on etiquette and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, to get her take on the situation.

“While we really don’t know the parties involved her on a personal level we can understand that when something involves your child things can get very emotional and also, sometimes, egos can get involved,” Ms. Gottsman said in a phone conversation. “I have three kids myself. If someone doesn’t show up, yeah, it irks me, but I’m not going to invoice someone for the cupcake I bought that they weren’t here to eat. I paid for the pony no matter how many kids ride it.”

Gottsman adds that lavish parties for children can be a slippery, anxiety-producing, slope which can be an invitation to parental strain and open the field to overreaction.

Those comments I read through on Facebook of those reading Nash’s tale of woe through various news outlets appeared to largely be anti-pricey-event.

Some commenters likened it to wedding no-shows, and the fact that people who RSVP and then don’t attend are not billed for their absence.

Others suggested that if the price was such a big issue, the parent should have included a no-show fee and explanation on the invitation.

One commenter, sarcastically suggested such an invitation might be worded, "Because we are skiing and tubing this party is pricey, please confirm only if you are sure you are coming. Because honestly I am giving my son a party he cannot afford, with activities that are too old for a group of 5 year olds without additional parents along, but hey, I will be the first to have this party. And, oh by the way if you do confirm on this call your cost will be X, but only if you don't come. If you do come it is free.....Cause this makes sense only to me."

“In this case I think we have miscommunication and over-reaction leading to a bad situation that nobody intended to go viral – which this certainly has,” Gottsman said.

There are better routes to communication which parents, above all others, might want to try and take and in so doing, set a positive example for our kids.

“There are proper and improper ways for things to be done and a child’s birthday party is not a business. We don’t invoice a no-show. We don’t involve the child or his teacher. We, perhaps, make a courtesy call to the other parent and we talk,” said Gottsman. “Everything we do makes an impact. That’s a good lesson for children to learn from us.”

Gottsman made another good point saying, “It’s important to realize that when throwing a party for a 5-year-old, you take into account 5-year-old expectations and skills. It can be an extravagant affair, or pizza in the backyard, that child is just happy to be having a party.”

The way to recover from having sent the invoice to a fellow parent, or any other act that causes bad feelings, is childishly simple, according to Gottsman.

It’s important to call the other parent and give an authentic apology. In this case, Gottsman suggests that it come from the mother who issued the invoice.

“What’s authentic in this case is to simply call the dad and say, ‘Things got out of hand. I sent the invoice to make a point. In retrospect, perhaps there was a better way to communicate that. My emotions got away from me.”

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