Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn: My son is recently divorced. They share custody of two beautiful daughters. His wife wanted the divorce.

This summer, my oldest daughter has a milestone birthday. My son, his daughters and I want to travel to her state to surprise her. I mentioned this to my son-in-law, and he also wants me to invite my son’s ex-wife. He said both he and my daughter feel strongly that both or neither one should be invited to family affairs.

I’m not comfortable being with my former daughter-in-law, although we are cordial to each other, and I would never say anything bad about her to the children. The divorce was her decision, and I don’t feel she should be invited to family functions (holiday dinners, etc.). Please advise the best way to handle this without causing a family feud.

— Anonymous

This is one of the bigger gaps I’ve seen between meaning well and doing well.

Your son-in-law is good to be concerned about the ex-wife’s inclusion, because not excluding or vilifying a co-parent is key to the emotional health of the kids. However, it’s absolutely none of his business here.

If he had taken his own initiative to throw his wife a birthday party, then he would have standing to invite the ex-wife.

In this case, though, you and your son are not only taking the initiative but also bringing the party to them.

Unfortunately, spelling this out as a nonemotional fact of boundaries is a luxury I have that you likely don’t. Your son-in-law seems to feel strongly that he’s in the right, which suggests resistance or even an argument.

To try to pre-empt that, I suggest you say to him what was going to be my next point to you: Excluding the ex from “holiday dinners, etc.” (as you say you’d prefer) is a bad idea. She’s the mom. She has a place whenever their nuclear family has something to celebrate. And it’ll be good for the daughters to see that their mother is invited when you host, say, the family Thanksgiving.

And, it’s Son’s life. Doesn’t he get the last word?

Then tell your son-in-law that if he feels uncomfortable with that, then no hard feelings, but it’s time to discuss this as a family. Say you’d like to ask your daughter about it directly.

Dear Carolyn, My family typically makes a big deal out of everyone’s birthday as an excuse to get together and have a celebration. I love this about us. Happily, we cover three generations, and my husband and I are in the middle of the generational sandwich.

My husband has a significant birthday approaching. I would like to take several family members to a sporting event he particularly enjoys, but I can’t afford to take everyone. When I sent out the email, I did not include nieces and nephews, as they are not particularly close to my husband, though they are typically included in invitations to other celebrations.

I was informed that it is my niece’s birthday that weekend also, and asked if I left them out by accident?

Besides the expense, I honestly don’t want to have to share my husband’s birthday celebration. Now I feel stuck. Suggestions?

— K.

It’s fine not to include all three generations in your plans, especially in light of high ticket prices. But it’s not fine on a niece’s birthday, not when the Family Way, which you otherwise appreciate and benefit from is to include everyone. Make the birthday itself inclusive by announcing a change of plan because you can’t afford tickets for everyone, then postpone the sports date into a completely separate night out.

Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook at