Dear Margo: Hostesses Should Invite, Not Pressure Guests

My friend is encouraging me to bring our 4-year old grandchild to an adults-only party — but I don’t want to! Margo Howard’s advice

Hostesses Should Invite, Not Pressure Guests

Dear Margo: My dear friend invited my husband and me to a party at her home with all older adults (no children, as she and her relatives have no kids or grandkids). I told her my husband and I would not be able to attend (1-6 p.m.) because we would be babysitting our 4-year-old grandson. She was put out and not happy with our reason. But my husband and I knew it would not be fun for him (or for us), as he would have no one to play with. She tried to put pressure on me by saying they would all play with him, etc., but we knew this wouldn’t work and that he would have much more fun with us at home with the toys and food he loves.

What would’ve been a good way to handle this situation? It is really bothering me that she was not sympathetic. –Grandmother from Walpole, Maine

Dear Grand: I think you did it just right. The little boy did not belong there, and my own feeling is that the hostess was nuts to encourage you to bring him. (I can think of few things that would put a damper on a party like a 4-year-old among people with no children or grands!) She must really love having you as guests, or she wanted to show off her newly painted living room (or something like that). Give her a call and say you’d love to be included at her next do, and ask her to give you sufficient notice so that you will not be babysitting. –Margo, rationally

Making Oneself Heard

Dear Margo: I’m 28 years old, and I’ve always been a creative person. I loved to write and draw and paint. I’m not claiming to be the next Stephen King or Salvador Dali, but it satisfied my sense of creativity and got me through tough times. I not only had a stillbirth in 2005, when I was 22, but I then met the man I thought I would spend my life with. Long story short, the night before I was to go wedding dress shopping, he called to tell me he’d slept with another woman and realized he didn’t want to be married. I tried to write and draw but just couldn’t.

I am currently impotent (and that’s the best way I can describe it) when it comes to being creative. I feel the urge to write/draw, but I am blocked. I realize depression weighs into this, but at the same time, I’m not moping around and have had a wonderful support network that helped me work through a lot of my emotions.

Now, the reason I’m writing you: My little brother also inherited the creative gene, and I admit he is quite talented. He is also my best friend. However … whenever he writes anything or paints a new picture, he insists on showing it to me and needs to hear how wonderful it is. This only serves to underscore my own impotency and create a sense of jealousy that I can’t explain and dislike. If I don’t fawn all over whatever he’s just done, he accuses me of being “pissy” and “jealous.” I can’t help how this makes me feel. Is there a way of letting him know that his creativity is wonderful, but it does me no good to have it waved in my face at every turn? –Blocked and Blue

Dear Block:  There is a way: straightforwardly. Try to explain and make him understand that his productivity only serves to underscore your own block, and it would be better for your mental health if he didn’t put you in the position of having to see his output and feel obliged to ooh and ah. Tell him that surely there are others who would be genuinely enthusiastic. I also think your artistic self will return. –Margo, straightforwardly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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30 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  You are doing the right thing by staying home with your grandson.  I have no idea what your friend is thinking because the last thing I want to do is go to an adults only party where a bored, tired, and therefore cranky toddler’s needs dominate the proceedings.  Your fellow guests would applaud your good sense in staying home.  Maybe because your friend has no kids or grandkids she doesn’t realize how much attention a 4 year old demands especially in a strange environment with no diversions and in the middle of nap time.  

    LW#2:  You do need to have a heart to heart with your brother and let him know that while you love him and his work and are happy that he is so productive, it only makes you sadder because you are not able to  be creative at the moment.   Perhaps if you explain its roughly the same as eating candy in front of a diabetic…or given your romantic history…being forced to help a friend pick out a wedding dress…he will understand. 

    As for your creative block…you are probably expecting too much of yourself and are afraid to start for fear you won’t produce something you love.  A few weeks ago, someone mentioned the fly lady and her 25 minute solution for doing housework.  I go through long periods where I do not pick up a paint brush and waste too much time doing nonsense.  This summer I promised myself I would try to paint every day.  I haven’t managed that quite yet, but I have applied the fly lady technique and said *I will just paint for 30 minutes…or an hour*.  And it works.  Today, all I did was clean my brushes really well and prepare a palette for tomorrow but at least I accomplished something.  You might also try the Artists Way technique of writing in a notebook…three pages every morning…of just random thoughts however mundane and uninspired they seem to you at the time.This might get your juices flowing.  Or say to yourself…I am just going to do a painting exercise and experiement with color mixing or a certain technique…with no thought of creating something wonderful…just *practicing*.   

    Good luck.   

    • avatar Marion George says:

      You know, I’ve been struggling with wanting to do more artistic things for a long time, and I think your suggestions are great for getting started as well as continuing. This is a great way to “prime the pump,” as it were. Just getting started is the greatest way to keep going, even if you don’t get very far. Thanks for the great suggestion!

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        I just read a book that had the mantra of “30 minutes is better than NO minutes.”

    • avatar ann penn says:

      I second Katharine’s recommendation of “The Artist’s Way”, a book by Julia Cameron. It is a 12 week program of exercises to stimulate creativity in any discipline. One tenet is “morning pages” – three pages of writing, not to be read by others (or even yourself unless you so desire), but a “brain dump” that can lead to breakthroughs.

      There’s a lot more in the program, and lots of little inspirational messages scattered throughout. One of my favorites is “leap and the net will appear” – in other words, just start! She also talks about just making enough art (writing, etc.) and eventually something good will emerge, sort of like Edison having all those failed lightbulbs before one produced light. You have nothing to lose, all to gain.

      • avatar Jon T says:

        Ann and Katharine both beat me to it, but I’ll wholeheartedly agree with reading “The Artist’s Way.” Great book with a lot of fun ways to feed your inner artist. I always felt lighter after going through the exercises.

  2. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    LW1 – Wow – what a self centered hostess – she must realize that you make her parties the talk of the town and without you she would have a dud for her to be that pushy. Take it as a compliment and do as Margo suggested and have her give you more notice. 

    LW2 – I have 2 feelings about your letter.  Part of me says tell your brother the problem and hope he will be amiable and let it rest.  But part of me thinks that after all this time, you are using it as an excuse to not even try.  You make no mention of trying to be creative, just that you have a block.  So give it a try, write or paint or what ever it is that you do and if you think it is no good, throw it away and try again.  But to not even try is giving up in defeat with no effort. 

  3. avatar JC Dill says:

    For LW#2, I have no advice for your situation with your brother, and Margo and others have given you several great ideas. However, I do have a suggestion about your creativity block. Instead of trying to “not think about” your situation with your ex, I suggest you illustrate it, in all it’s unpleasantness. Look to Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” for inspiration. Paint or draw or do whatever feels right to totally pour your unhappiness out onto paper or canvas. Purge. When you are done you may wish to keep and admire your work as a dark piece, something to balance against your other (presumably less-dark) work, and perhaps someday it too will be a masterpiece for collectors. Or you may want to take the catharsis a step further and then burn the piece, burning up the bad feelings with it, and then rise up reborn like a Phoenix, ready to let your positive creative juices flow once again. Good luck!

  4. avatar Jennifer juniper says:

    I just don’t think there is enough information in that first letter to properly comment. It’s always a little bit telling to note what information a letter leaves out and in this case, she gives no sense of time-scale. So I’m wondering if perhaps one of those things where she ‘always’ babysits the grandson on the weekend and her friend calls up and invites her to this party several weeks down the road (because while not unheard of, it’s a bit rare to spring parties on people) and she says no because she will have her grandson. In which case she’s choosing not to make other arrangements for what could be considered a ‘special’ occasion of her ‘dear friend’s.’ And if that were you – yeah, you might be a little put-out.

    • avatar Katharine Gray says:

      Jennifer, that thought occurred to me too.   Some grandparents provide basically full time child care for their grandkids and if in doing so LW#! has abandoned all social life, I can see why a friend would be hurt by it. A good friend of mine has taken on the *nanny* role for her daughter and son-in-law…arriving at their home in time to feed the grandkid breakfast while the parents get ready for work…and staying until past dinner time after cooking the dinner.  (The daugher and son-in-law have decent incomes and could afford child care).  She has done this since the child was born (going on 2 years now).  I think she is crazy to do this but it is her business.  

      Your take on this would explain what appears to be inexplicable behavior on the part of the hostess.    

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        My partner’s mother would watch the kids anytime, any day of the week. She does it because she loves the kids and enjoys being around them. Personally, I wish I had had a grandmother like that.

        • avatar D C says:

          I concur.  Children don’t automatically love grandparents.  That relationship has to be lovingly nurtured if you want a good one. 

    • avatar Carrie A says:

      I still don’t think that justifies the friend’s behavior. The only way I can see that she has the right to be put out over the situation is if the LW agrees to go to the party and then cancels at the last minute to babysit her grandson. She was very upfront about the fact she had to babysit and couldn’t make the party. And we don’t even know what the situation is with the grandson so it may not be possible for the LW to make other arrangements. The boy could have a very unstable home life and that is why the grandmother watches him so often. If the friend really gets put out because the LW puts the welfare of a 4 year old before a party then she’s not much of a friend.

  5. avatar Taye says:

    For LW2: It sucks, doesn’t it? You keep trying to get something out but either it doesn’t come out right or it doesn’t come out at all. Then you look at what everyone else around you is doing and it seems so easy for them. And then that just makes it worse.

    I’m 29 and a writer too. For me I always get writers block when I’m bummed or stressed. I cannot slip into a fantasy unless I am content with my reality.

    Another problem for me is when I compare myself to other writers. When what I write doesn’t come out as good as their work I get discouraged and the engine stalls.

    All you can do is your best, whether it’s writing, drawing or painting. Don’t worry about your brother; just try creating for a very short amount of time each day, 10 or 15 minutes. Don’t worry about creating a masterpiece. Just put the truest thing that you feel in that moment onto paper, even if it sucks. Then add a little bit more the next day. By the end of the month you’ll have created something. Then do it again next month and just keep going. Little steps each day. And once you’re able to get whatever is inside you out you’ll probably be able to feel better about what your brother is doing rather than feeling left behind.

    • avatar Lunita says:

      It’s funny for me to hear that other people have the same problem. Since I was little, I always liked to draw. As an adult, my desire is to be able to express my feelings through the drawing rather than act them out in some other way. But I get frustrated when the product isn’t as I’d hoped. It’s helpful to hear that others experience these frustrations, and the advice people have for dealing with it and for continuing the creativity.

  6. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Letter 2 – Loss of any kind can make it difficult to pick up the pieces of our lives. You are experiencing the death of a relationship so grief is normal. So is the ability to get back to once creative outlets. This might be a good time to journal your inner thoughts and the days ahead. Being able to express the grief, frustration and loss will help you transition. You might also want to draw your feelings or translate them into poetry.

  7. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    Couldn’t agree more with both of Margo’s replies. As for the hostess in L #1, maybe she’s trying to get the letter writer in *serious disfavor* by their circle of friends for some reason? If that sounds like a strange suggestion, well…I’ve known some strange people who try to make others look bad for the nuttiest self-serving reasons.

    • avatar D C says:

      That will work either way if it’s the case.  She’ll look bad for not going to the party and putting off her friend and be talked about as antisocial, or if she brings the kid she’ll be looked down on for not having the good sense to not bring a child to what is obviously an adult event.  That’s a no-win situation. 

  8. avatar Lila says:

    For Blocked, a question: have you tried removing all “inputs” for a weekend or so, and just letting your mind wander? No TV, no music, no phone calls or internet or texts… all of those things engage the brain as “input” and general noise, but what you want is some spontaneous “output.”

    Try walking in the woods for a few hours, people-watching at a mall or park, something where your mind can drift and generate its own ideas. Something you observe in this “untethered” state might spark an idea for a story or painting.

  9. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: There’s this great new product for kids called “valium,” you just put a little in their chocolate milk… and problem solved!


    Well look at it this way—at least she invited your grandson to the party and tried to accommodate his needs, so that says something about your friend even if her execution and motives were a bit wonky. Give her the benefit of the doubt—and maybe next time have a companion for your grandson that you could bring as well.

    LW2: I am a creative person too—but I tend to get energized by others’ ideas, especially if I’m in a creative funk. Try becoming a critic. The next time your brother wants you to gush over his latest masterpiece—don’t. Tell him what you like, but focus more heavily on what you DON’T like about it, how it could be improved upon and (in your mind) done differently—by you. The key here is to be analytical and to jumpstart your critical thinking processes, to get you involved in the how and why something is or is not aesthetically pleasing to you. If you do this enough you will start to come up with ideas again—and these will start gnawing at you to execute them.

    The other thing (and keep in mind that I don’t know anything about your creative process, so you may do this already) is to daydream—or lucid dream. I channel my most creative thoughts when I’m in a deeply relaxed state and about half asleep. I keep my iPhone or a notepad beside the bed so I can quickly write down any thoughts I may have that I feel are important. Sometimes eating before bed will stimulate this as well. A key thought to remember is that your creativity WILL return—it’s not a matter of “if,” but of “when.”

    One last thing—your brother may be asking for your opinions because he wants a pat on the back. He may also hold your own talents in high esteem. Assume it’s the latter—and be happy that he cares enough to ask.

  10. avatar calgal says:

    I find that when I’m blocked creatively (writing and fabric collage), it’s because I’m not allowing myself to express in my art an “unacceptable” emotion. Often it’s depression; more often it’s anger at fate or life or someone who has hurt me. As I reject the “bad” emotion and try to work on something lighter, I’m unable to be genuine about it, and therefore my art is impotent. When I drag out all my expletives for writing, or my ugly fabrics for collage, and honor the truth of how I’m feeling, there’s plenty of energy for art. Only by working with what I’m really feeling can I move forward. The negativity, once out there on paper or canvas, leaves my heart free to feel the good things again, and express them in art.

  11. avatar Ghostwheel says:

    Suggestions for LW2 to get out of block mode: Exercise-blow the cobwebs out of your brain. Listen to music-upbeat, something that make your feet move. Doodle-when you are on the phone, watching TV, etc. If you have a yard, do some yard work. Whatever you do, do NOT watch reality TV shows, and if you must watch TV, only watch something you have seen before and really like. The reason why I suggest these things is if you can get your brain into neutral (because whether you realize it or not, your brain is rehashing those two miserable instances from your life, over and over), the creativity starts to come back. IMHO

  12. avatar Miss Lee says:

    LTR#1  I would never invite someone to bring a 4 year old to an adults only party.  Having said that, I am part of a group of female friends who go to brunch together.  We get together maybe once a month at the most for a couple of hours.  This is the only time we socialize.  Two of our friends, who are cousins, are almost never able to come.  We have seen them twice in the last 5 years because they have their grandkids every weekend or go to their activities, sporting events etc. I understand their priorities but I do feel a bit hurt that they have chosen to abandon all other activities other than those that involve their families. 

  13. avatar amanda persing says:

    Um LW2-You are being pissy and jealous. You said you get jealous of him, and you can not explain or dislike it. You said it to Margo, now SAY IT TO HIM. “Your right, I am super jealous right now. You rock and I can not get it out right now.” Maybe that is one of the catalyst you need to get your mojo back. But getting defensive when your brother calls you out on the truth is stupid. He is one of the few people in this world who should be able to call you out on your snot.

    You need to figure out why you can not be creative. You can write…you wrote this letter. So write. Write about whatever stupid thing you can write about. It doesn’t have to be creative just write. Pick up a paint brush and paint. Who cares if it looks like a child did it…you are never going to create again until you pick up the medium you want to create in.

    And stop blaming other people for your lack of creativity. It is not their fault. It is all you…stop blaming the ex, stop blaming your brother and certainly, it is time to deal with your feelings concerning the lose of your child. I am very sorry for your loss.

  14. avatar Mjit RaindancerStahl says:

    Dear LW#2: Aren’t little brothers the worst?

    My brother never invited me to play his video games until after he mastered them, so he could gloat over how much better than me he was. If I refused to play, I was “afraid of losing!”

    Time to tell your brother that you refuse to look at what he’s done because you’re tired of hearing how pissy and jealous you are when you don’t drop to your knees in awe of his superior talent. He’s not a teenager; he should be able to take it like the wake-up call he clearly needs.

  15. avatar Babe12 says:

    LW2: I do not agree with most of the advice being given. I am fairly artistic myself and do not agree that you cannot be a supportive sister/friend for your brother’s work. I think his opinion of you speaks loudly that he wants to share such work with you. This world would be a very dismal place if we could not share in the happiness in the achievements of others because of our own feelings. Try to be happy and supportive without imposing your lack of creativity at the moment. Continue to engage in any art form you find suitable at the time. Work through your TRUE feelings be it anger, guilt, sadness, etc. The gift of creativity will begin to flow when it has an open path to travel upon. Happy painting.

  16. avatar Daniele says:

    As a writer myself, I’ve discovered that a powerful block to creativity is depression and/or stress. If I’m feeling either, my ability to create is tanked. There are two problems with this, as well. First, there is the lack of interest in writing, stemming from depression or stress. Second, there is the self-esteem issues. As a non-depressed writer, I’m my own harshest critic, but as a depressed writer, I’m vicious ad hominem about my work.

    For a person who miscarried and then had a fiance cheat on her a break up with her in the midst of planning a wedding, it’s a good bet that she’s feeling depression. It might be mild depression, but even that is often enough to throw a person off of his or her creative drive. While viewing her brother’s works might be painful, the solution isn’t to push him off. The solution is to deal with depression and maintain a daily writing and/or sketch journal. Even if she does nothing more than write sentences that describe how much she has nothing to write, she’s *writing*. If she only draws boxes or squiggles, she’s *drawing*. The creative spark will return when depression and stress are gone. In the meantime, William Zinsser puts it best, “Rewriting is the essence of writing.” Celebrate the action; do not denigrate the result because it can be fixed at a later date.

  17. avatar Allaroundtheworld says:

    I also have trouble when I’m depressed when I paint. But I did learn a little secret. Paint or write what you see or feel at that particular time that you’ve set aside. My FIL who is a very hateful man made a comment that my watercolor painting isn’t art which set me in a spiral depression. In actuallity, of the 7 paintings that I had completed I had 7 different friends and family who actually asked for them. They made great gifts. What I painted was what was infront of me. A flower bed with german Iris and Birds of Paradise.  Then I noticed some fruit sitting on the table and painted them.  Now I do this regulary. Be creative of what is around you until your imagination starts again. Now I’m painting sea scapes even though I don’t live near any water. Just take your time, take a deep breath a relax. It will come. BTW, my FIL considered spray paint on cardboard art, which it is, but he couldn’t see past his own nose.

  18. avatar blueelm says:

    LW2: It seems like you do not advocate for yourself. Nothing kills art like lack of attention. I have also lost the only thing I loved doing because I never put myself first. I never thought it was wrong all those years I was so supportive of *other* people without DEMANDING that they treat me the same.

    Now I see that I helped them achieve their dreams by sacrificing my own. It’s time to live for yourself. You don’t need to be anyone else’s cheerleader.

  19. avatar victoria_suominen says:

    Creative Artist, Relax.  Don’t keep thinking,”I can’t paint, I have a block”. Just accept that right now, you have a lot of emotion and it takes TIME to work through it.  Do some other things – clean house, go out with friends, do your grocery shopping, watch a movie, and surf the web.  It’s summer. Take a day and go out of town just for fun.  Then, try this.  When you wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, “I love you”.  Smile. Even if you feel like crap. Do this every morning for a few days. And try this book, “Seize The Day” by Danny Cox.  Required reading in business school and management.  What you glean from the book will benefit you, I promise.  Exercise.  Go to a good stable and take a riding lesson or, if you can ride, then go out for awhile on  a rental horse.  You need to live and start finding NEW emotions, NEW memories.  Don’t creep out that you have a block.  It will resolve itself over time.  When I get composer’s block, I listen to other music, go to live concerts,and I don’t beat myself up. EVER:  Visit a few art galleries, go to an art show, and relax.  Your talent is still there and it will emerge.  When you feel like it, put a canvass on your easel and just paint away. It might not be a masterpiece, but hey – even Leonardi Di Vinci had his less-than-perfect days.  You’re okay because you’ve made it this far.  Because you’ve been at rock bottom, be glad. Because the only way you can go from there is UP !!!