The invoice, the dry ski slope and the grandparents – a tale of modern manners

Family A invite child B (aged 5) to a birthday party at the local dry ski slope. Family B seem to have accepted the invitation but in the end child B decides he would rather visit his grandparents. Family B do not tell Family A that the child will not be at the birthday party. Family A slip an invoice or possibly a handwritten note requesting that family B pay the cost of the child’s place.
Most commentators have reacted with outrage at the idea of one parent invoicing another. Personally my opprobrium is directed (without admittedly full knowledge of the facts, but then that hasn’t stopped anyone else) at family B, the seemingly feckless adults who not only offered a 5 year old a choice he clearly wasn’t old enough to make, but failed to contact family A to let them know about the no-show.

I firmly believe two things:

Firstly that an invitation requires a response, preferably within 48 hours, and that if your plans have to change, perhaps because of illness, you absolutely must ensure that the host knows not to expect you.

Secondly, that children need to learn about commitment. If they accept an invitation or agree to play in a football match, for example, then that is what they must do regardless of whether a better offer presents itself. It is simply rude and disrespectful to make a commitment and then not honour it.

At school we try very hard to teach reliability and commitment. We give the girls opportunities to organise activities and an inevitable by-product, in addition to learning how to organise and plan, is that they understand how irritating it is if they are let down by their friends. Young Enterprise, a project during which groups of students form companies to sell products or services, is particularly well-known for revealing those who apparently can’t or won’t commit. It is a salutary experience to have to run around after your peers when they have failed to meet their commitments.

And as for trying to organise sports teams, school trips and so on, I can’t tell you how much time is wasted changing arrangements as the girls’ plans chop and change. I absolutely understand that we all lead busy lives, but if we could all respond promptly to requests and stick to our first answer as far as humanly possible that would make life far more straight-forward.

I imagine that family B thought that the non-attendance of their child wouldn’t make much difference – just one guest after all. However, ‘just one’ repeated several times adds up to a big disappointment for the host or a lot of extra time for the organiser who has to chase up people who have failed to reply or who have changed plans at the last moment.

In the end, it’s a question of good manners, which I happen to think are important.


Jane Gandee, Headmistress, St Swithun’s 

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