How to Handle Forgetting a Relative's Birthday

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In the hustle and bustle of your hurried life, it can happen and catch you by surprise -- you missed a relative’s birthday. There are some birthdays you should never forget, such as your spouse’s or child’s. Fortunately, you can usually smooth things over with a sincere apology or contact through a card, text, email or call -- and a gift for some.

Your Spouse

Forgetting your spouse’s birthday can be forgiven as long as you don’t make a habit of it, according to Diane Gottsman, nationally recognized etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas. Your spouse may not mind that you let the day pass without much ado if he was dreading the day. If he isn’t offended, take him out for a nice dinner and a movie or let him take off with his buddies for a day shortly after the birthday. If his feelings are hurt by your oversight, promise you won't forget again and whisper how you plan to make it up to him.


If you miss Mom's, her feelings could be hurt, so be sure to call her and apologize. Take a trip over to see her if she lives within driving distance, and bring along a gift and an apology. She might not notice you forgot her birthday and be thrilled to see you, with or without a gift. If she is hurt, take her out for a nice meal she doesn’t have to cook and let her know that you are happy she’s your mom, even if you forgot her birthday. If she isn't close, send flowers or another gift she will enjoy and promise to visit soon.

Your Child

Your child won't appreciate being forgotten, so you might have to work harder to smooth this one over, but it is certainly possible. A gift, cake and a party could smooth the waters, or perhaps a nice cash surprise and an opportunity to spend it on what she wants most. Pull out the baby book and remind her that her birth is irrevocably etched in your brain, despite forgetting to wish her happy birthday. Ask her what she would like to do to celebrate her birthday and make an effort to meet it if she’s reasonable about her wish.

Never Forget

There are many options for reminding yourself that someone’s birthday is coming up, from pop-up notifications on your social media page to electronic calendars you can program to let you know several days in advance, so you have time to grab a gift, plan a meal, or make reservations for dinner. There are also birthday reminder apps for smart phones and online options such as, and alerts from that can help you keep track of birthdays and other important occasions. If you’re worried about a gift, order it in advance and have it scheduled for delivery on the relative’s birthday so you are never late again.