Bringing Children to the Party: The New Etiquette Dilemma

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"Can we bring kids?" Everyone has an opinion about children at parties. I have fond childhood memories of attending grown-up gatherings, for just a few minutes. I had to be reasonably polite, and I could snag a few delicious snacks, maybe even a glass of ginger ale. The rules were clear: children were welcome, only to a point. But things have changed.

First of all, here's what my husband and I generally do: Some parties are for everyone, while others are for a more mature crowd. We let our brood stay, as long as they remain inconspicuous. (I know everyone feels this way about their own children, but I think ours are pretty cool guys and I like for them to spend a few minutes with our friends, practicing non-silly conversational skills.) At a certain point, they leave on their own to watch a movie or just go to bed. For larger parties that demand our full attention, we hire a sitter to stay with them. 

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Now on to the etiquette dilemma: "Can we bring kids?"

You want to say "no," but don't want to hurt feelings. It would be great if "no" worked, but some people will ask, "Will your kids be there?" Well, yes, but they live here! I want to be free to tell dirty jokes and leave sharp objects within toddler reach. A gentle but firm "no" is best.

It can be hard to relax and have a good time around kids. Friends who accidentally let a choice word fly feel guilty. We've told our boys, "It's your responsibility to not repeat what you hear, not a grown guest's responsibility to change his entire speech pattern." So far, so good.

Children might demand attention from guests who don't want to give it to them. Ever been cornered by a little chatterbox when you were trying to make your way to the bar to grab another Manhattan before they ran out of rye? Frustrating, because you don't want to be the "mean lady" who "hates kids." There is nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy some adult time.

Aha! But what if you are the parent of a lump? Lumps are tiny humans that cannot move around on their own and can easily be carried to another room if they're fussy. You've been invited to a fabulous party, but don't want to pressure your host to allow your lump to attend, and said lump is not ready for a sitter. Try this. Call the host.

"Hi! This is Parent-of-Lump. Thank you so much for your great invitation. We would love to come, but Lump isn't quite ready for a sitter. We hate missing a great party. Please keep us on your list for next time!"

This allows your host to do one of two things. He can let you know that Lump is welcome, to which you should respond, feigning pleasant surprise, "Really? Are you sure? We'd love to get out. Thank you!" Or the host can graciously accept your regrets, promising to throw another bash when Lump is more self-sufficient. If you bring Lump, be as inconspicuous as possible. Sling style baby carriers work well, because some people will just think you have a broken arm.

And if you think children should be allowed at every single party? Throw your own! We'll be there, with a tray of sandwiches and some juice boxes to share.

Related: Advise the Etiquette Expert: How Do You Say No Politely?

(Images: Anne Postic)

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