Thursday, December 16, 2010


... This year, when my step-daughter turned 14, it was once again our year to host her birthday party. About two months before her birthday, I told my husband that I was planning to give my step-daughter enough money so that she could either throw her own party or spend the money on school clothes. The choice would be hers, and I would not waste any time or effort in trying to plan something that would surely displease her.

A couple nights after I told my husband of my plans, my step-daughter told him she would like to take two friends to an amusement park for her birthday. Being that it was her request (and therefore, a birthday party that would please her), I considered what she wanted and agreed that I would take her and two girlfriends to the roller coaster park. Even though it was more money than I'd planned on spending, I figured it was a sure-fire way to give her a memorable birthday. We checked our calendars and found a date that worked for everyone. The plan was to leave our house early in the morning and get to the park when they opened. Being that it was the end of summer, the park was scheduled to be open until 10pm with a fireworks show after they closed, so we decided we would stay the entire day and watch the fireworks.

About three weeks before her party, my step-daughter asked if she could bring three friends instead of two. I reminded her that I was spending more than my original budget on her and her two friends, and told her that if she wanted to bring a third friend, I would not pay for that person. Either she could pay me, or her friend could buy their own ticket. My step-daughter agreed to this arrangement.

A few days after agreeing to bring a third friend, I went online to look for discounts and to buy advance tickets to the amusement park. There was a special ticket package available, in which an all-you-can-eat dinner was included with the purchase of a regular priced ticket. For those of you who have ever been to an amusement park and paid their prices for food, you'll know this package deal was a very good option. It meant I could pack a cooler of food & drinks for lunch, and then everyone would have a ticket for the dinner buffet, which included hot dogs, hamburgers, BBQ chicken, side dishes, soft drinks, and ice cream. Although I wasn't able to use any discounts or coupons on the tickets, it was still a great deal.

Before I decided to purchase the tickets, I called my step-daughter (she had spent the night at a friend's house) to make sure her "extra" friend would be ok with purchasing a ticket at regular price. I explained the plan, and how with the tickets I was planning to buy, they would have dinner included. She said it sounded like a good plan, and I told her that if it was ok with her, I would purchase tickets for all four girls and that she or her friend could simply pay me back for the extra ticket. My step-daughter asked me if I would call her friend's mom and explain the cost and how I wanted her to pay for her daughter's ticket. I told my step-daughter that it wasn't my request to bring an extra friend and that it wasn't my responsibility to communicate the details to her friend or her friend's mom - it was her responsibility to do so. In fact, if my step-daughter had an issue with making her friend pay for her ticket, I reminded her that she could simply pay for her friend out of her birthday money. Of course, this was not an option she liked. I again asked if it was ok for me to purchase all the tickets at full price, and she said that yes, I should go ahead and buy them and I would be paid back for one ticket.

I purchased the package deal a few minutes after hanging up the phone, and printed out the tickets. Proud of myself for finding such a great deal and having planned the party my step-daughter specifically requested (and was therefore sure to like), I breathed a sigh of relief.

Five minutes later, the phone rang. It was the mom of the girl who was the "fourth wheel", and she wanted to know what the deal was. "I understand you have invited my daughter to a birthday party, but that you're only paying for some of the kids' tickets, is that correct?" (I could just hear my step-daughter explaining it to her "My mean ol' stepmom is making us pay for our own tickets for my birthday party.") So I explained how her daughter was actually not part of the original party I had agreed to, and that my step-daughter agreed to provide a ticket for her daughter - either paid by the friend or paid by my step-daughter. The mom explained that she had a free admission ticket to the park, so instead of paying for her daughter, she'd just send her with that free admission ticket. Which would have been great to know five minutes prior to her phone call. Ugh. So I explained how I'd just purchased tickets for all of the girls, and that the tickets were date-specific, as they included a dinner buffet admission as well as park admission. I understood that her daughter had free park admission, but that didn't help the situation. I told her the ticket was already purchased and that she didn't need to send along the free admission pass.

I'm very much a stick-to-your-guns type of person, and I believe that consistency is key in being a good (step) parent. Therefore, because I told my step-daughter she would be responsible for reimbursing me for one of the tickets, I held her to that. She agreed on the phone that I would buy tickets for everyone at full-price and that she would make sure I was paid back for one of the tickets. It wasn't about the money, even though I was over budget to begin with; it was more about the fact that I planned a and very nice party for my step-daughter, and she requested more. Since the plan was originally to bring her and two friends to the park, I felt I was being very accommodating by bringing a third friend and providing lunch for that friend. I wanted my step-daughter to know that the terms she agreed to were going to be upheld.

This did not go over well. She didn't understand why she had to pay me back for the extra ticket, if her friend had a ticket for free admission. I explained that the free ticket did me no good, since I had already purchased the package deal tickets as my step-daughter agreed to. I said it was unfortunate that things turned out the way they did, and that she might have communicated better with her friend, and with me, and could have avoided the issue. However, since I paid for the tickets and she agreed that I would be paid back for one of the tickets, that was the arrangement we would stick to.

Enter the Momster. My step-daughter texted her bio mom about how awful I was being and how I was being unfair and mean and ruining her birthday. Momster told her I was horrible and mean and ruining her birthday, and together they decided my step-daughter wasn't responsible for paying me back for the ticket. Nobody consulted me about this decision, it was just decided between the two of them. My husband told me I shouldn't address it with my step-daughter because it would only upset her. Sometimes I wonder if the three of them are trying to see how far they can push before I need medication...

We left our house early the morning of her party, and my step-daughter asked if we could stop at her bio mom's house because she forgot her money there, and wanted to bring along some cash for spending. My husband said he would lend her money so we didn't have to stop and bother the momster. For the record, my step-daughter paid my husband back within a week.

Two months after the party, I reminded my step-daughter that she still owed me for the cost of the ticket. She immediately became upset and defensive and told me she didn't have to pay me back. Then, she said that she paid her dad for the ticket already, when she gave him $20 after she got home. Nice try, but I recalled that the money she repaid to her dad was spending money he lent her when she left her cash at the momster's house. I reminded her of our agreement, and told her that even though things didn't turn out as she wanted them to (like I forgot she owed me money), she still had an arrangement with me and she needed to honor that.

Four months later, I have yet to be repaid. Again, it's not about the money, it's about her being accountable. Any ideas? I thought about taking part of the money she's sure to get for Christmas this year, but I just don't know if that's fair.

I think I'm going to give myself a nice tropical vacation for her sweet 16 birthday in two years. I don't think I can handle planning another party for this girl.

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