I’m not sure if I committed some sort of etiquette blunder myself in this scenario or how to proceed from here, so kindly point me in the right direction, if possible.
My husband and I are both on our second marriages and while we don’t have children together, we respectively each entered this union with our own from our first. We have been together for 6 years, married 1. My children are boys and adults, and are on their own and maintain themselves no assistance needed from me aside from the occasional unforeseen circumstance. My husband has 2, a son in college and a daughter in her last year of high school that up until 6 months ago moved freely between our home and her mother’s house on whim. She now lives with her mother full time. My stepdaughter was always stand-offish to me and always seemed jealous of having to share her father with another woman after being the only female in his life for about 8 years. She was never vocal about her feelings but being perceptive, I picked up on those undertones right away and went out of my way to try to be a friend to her. Despite my best efforts, she never did warm up and I chalked it up to being an angsty adolescent who might someday appreciate my efforts or not.
Here in my part of the US, it’s customary within our social circle to host a Sweet 16 party for the birthday girl transitioning into a young woman. A rite of passage. These parties normally can be very elaborate events that take months of meticulous planning and can financially get out of hand if a budget is not adhered to. When my (soon to be at the time) stepdaughter was 15, she started attending these events herself as a guest and after the Christmas holiday, began actively soliciting about having one of her own when she turned 16 in April. First she dropped hints, then hurled them but her parents were clearly not picking up on those hints so I mentioned this to my future husband and he asked me if I was willing to help him put one together for her as his ex wife would never give her a party. I agreed, partly because I have sons and completely missed the opportunity to host such an event, partly because I had a Sweet 16 myself and it remains one of my most cherished memories and partly for wanting his daughter to have the opportunity to experience it as well. I thought that she might come around and we could actually be friends.
My then fiance told her of our plans and the girl child was all for it. My then fiance also told me that since he had never personally thrown a party in his life and had no clue where to begin and I have hosted many large gatherings, he would just give me money so I can start booking a venue and DJ, and he would get a guest list from the girl child so we would know how many we could expect and how much food I would need to prepare. We figured roughly 50-60 people, half family, the rest her friends but were waiting on an exact number before buying invitations.
I have a few good friends who stepped up to offer their professional services at discounted rates as they knew I was planning this event that would include their areas of expertise… My friend belongs to a firehouse and offered their hall at member’s price, which was 1/6 the price of a commercial venue and there was a kitchen so food would not have to be catered out. My other friend is a DJ and offered his musical entertainment skills at 1/3 the price someone else would have, which left room in my budget for my other friend, the photographer to take photos of the guests at $1.00/ picture. Another friend does florals and I would have only had to buy the supplies.Sounded awesome but this is where things start getting bad…
My partner calls me one evening ( as we were not yet married and lived in different towns) to tell me that he mentioned the party to his ex wife and suddenly she wanted to be involved, so he told her that for their daughter, that she could. In one conversation that I was not privy to between my intended and his former, I suddenly got demoted from party planner/hostess to unpaid help. I was completely speechless for a few moments, composed myself and agreed to do it for the ‘best interests of the child’ even though my gut feeling was telling me that things like this just never end well. Taking one for this team that I was joining, I guess.
The very next day, I receive an email from his ex wife, thanking me for my nice gesture of ‘offering to help’ with the girl child’s Sweet 16 party. She let me know that although she really didn’t have much money to contribute, that she was full of ideas of how it should be done. Off the bat, she decided she should be the one to get her dress, shoes, hair and nails, of which I was frankly relieved because that part had not even occurred to me until she mentioned it. Have at it. She also let me know that the girl child would be designing her invitations online, again, at her expense, like the ex did when she married the one she has now. Again, completely ok as it wasn’t anything I was willing to throw my own money away on as store bought invitations were what I had in mind anyway. I let her know that we were working with a set budget and we were only going to spend what we had allotted so we had to make it count.. I mentioned that with careful planning, we could have some of the extras without compromising the basics.
A new day, another email from his ex. She’s gaining momentum. Today, she decides that we should plan for about 100 guests, half of them family. Hers and her new husband’s apparently, as ours were all accounted for. She did not offer to help pay for what amounted to doubling the party. I was told that her daughter from her previous relationship was going to help and that her new sister-in-law is going to make the cake. She went and bought plastic ware, plastic table covers and paper goods when I had linen and tableware included in the hall rental. She felt that we should have a table devoted to cupcakes sculpted in the form of a high heel shoe. I let her know if she wanted to spend hours arranging cupcakes when there would be many other more important details that needed attending to, then she should feel free it but I personally preferred the space saving organized aesthetics of cupcake tiers. She also wanted a chocolate fountain and again, if she was willing to supply the machine and what she planned to serve with it as keep up with it all evening, I was all for it but again, I would have other things to do like cooking and setting up the buffet. She advised there would be plenty of extra hands that day to help out.
I let my Sweet Thing know that I was very unhappy with this situation that he created and that as much as I adored him, I refused to do the work and foot the bill for your ex’s unrealized childhood dream. He apologized and asked me to please continue as it would mean a lot to him…
It was, by now, mid February, 2 months away and we still had no guest list with names and addresses. I let it be known that this list was necessary, not only for a head count but also to figure quantities and 20 guests either was can change a budget drastically. I booked the hall with a deposit and had the DJ’s contract in my possession when I received yet another email from my beloved’s ex wife. She let me know that her and the girl child were scouting out other venues so she would be able to make a ‘dramatic entrance with her girls’. She had one more to look at before they decided. Her daughter required round tables for this event, couldn’t we rent one just for her and her girls? I let her know that tables were included in the place that we HAD ALREADY PAID A DEPOSIT ON and we would not be renting more. She also mentioned that there was this really good DJ that played at her office holiday party a few years ago and she was going to contact him to see what he charged…
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I responded to her email as eloquently as I could:
After some thought, I decided that it would be best that I remove myself from this situation as you’re clearly struggling with the concept of allowing me to assist in making any sort of decisions or arrangements independently that would benefit this common goal.
I was willing to not only contribute my time, but my own resources and personal connections as well to ensure that this event would be both memorable as well as economically feasible, but because we’re not on the same page as far as expectations go, I am no longer open to this concept and it’s yours to plan and execute alone as you see fit. My offer to assist XXXX in whatever he needs from me still stands. I will assist him in whatever tasks he specifically asks of me but will not go beyond that. Please bear in mind that neither party planning or cooking for large groups are his forte’ and that he’s working with a limited budget now that he’s retired and on a fixed income, so that will all have to be taken into consideration, so plan accordingly! Because there is still no set date, I can no longer guarantee that the DJ will be available or if the discount would still apply. I’m sure that you have other choices in mind anyway.
Best of luck!
I never heard back from her and the party never happened as the ex was never interested in hosting her own party, only hijacking ours and leaving her to bask in the glory as mother of the birthday girl without actually doing any of the actual work that goes on behind the scenes. The girl child hates me and blames me for the loss of 100 gifts ( I found this written on a folded piece of paper stuffed between the couch cushions a year later) and has not really said 2 words to me since.
Fast forward 2 years. We are now married, and the girl child no longer lives here as she was unable to repeatedly resist her temptations of pilfering or vandalizing my possessions and lying about it until I had to treat a few specific articles with unwashable theft detection powder which left her with purple hands and in permanent residence with her mother until she graduates in a few months.
Hubby is now hinting that WE should have a graduation party for the above mentioned girl child (who hates me) because we had hosted a very nice luau for his son when he had graduated high school 4 years earlier and it won’t be fair.
Out of the question, I told him. Her mother can have one for her if she wants one and now I’m the bad guy because I’m selfish for not wanting to get into another situation that I’m pretty sure nothing good will come of. Am I? 0306-16
You and your husband should host a graduation party if for no other reason than to not give ammunition to a young and angsty girl that will be used against you for decades to come or used to confirm her suspicions. Her Dad, your husband, clearly wants to do this and you should not be the obstacle in this situation. Go into it with clear communication that you and you alone are the planner and you will promptly resign if the ex-wife interjects herself into the planning or your husband usurps your responsibility. Your husband will be the more obvious host while you are the quiet, behind the scenes planner. Plan a simple, yet generous party and invite the family. I wouldn’t worry about inviting her friends because your party is for family. Whomever comes, comes. Her mother can host another celebration with her side of the family and friends. If daughter-in-law refuses to come to her own party, that reflects poorly on her, not you.
Also, consider that 16-year-old girls who resent their parents’ divorce and remarriages do, quite often, grow up and mature in their perspectives.