Love Me, Love My Child

Leave your kids at home unless invited. (Photo via MSN Living)

One thing you’ll notice as a Brit in the U.S., is that Americans really like their children. None of that Dickensian “Children should be seen and not heard” business here. For those of us who weren’t allowed up at “grown-up time”, and as parents, don’t really fancy taking our kids to parties, this can sometimes be a shock, and sometimes an outright pain in the bum.

Many Americans automatically include children in their invitations and cater specifically to them with kid food and a kiddie table. In my experience, hosting adults and their children translates to spending most of the night in the kitchen with picky eaters who don’t like the food, while their parents kick back in the “grown-ups’ room” with a nicely cooled glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Be warned, when these parents walk through the door and state “Okay children we’re in Mrs. Hargis’ house now, so it’s her rules,” you know you’re now cook, babysitter and disciplinarian. In theory, you shouldn’t be expected to be responsible for the health and well-being of other people’s kids, but the fact is, even if you don’t give a hoot about their safety, saving the heirloom vase from being smashed to smithereens means you have to keep one eye on the kids at all times.

If you’re planning a party and don’t want kids running around, you must be (brave and) specific. In my time I have sent out invitations saying “Book yourselves a babysitter and come on over” and “We’re having a grown-up party,” which, I realize, made it sound like a swingers’ party, but I was desperate. The invitation should state the names of the parents only, so that they get the hint that the rugrats aren’t included. If you simply send out invitations with no specific names on, you’ve only yourself to blame. I have also shipped my own kids out to friends for a sleepover, so that when the inevitable “I can’t find a babysitter, can I bring my 8 year old” call came in, I simply said “Yes, but my kids won’t be here and I haven’t made any plans for children.” (Miraculously, a babysitter was found.)

What you might find when you host adult-only gatherings however, is that some of your guests will decline the invitation either because they can’t find a sitter or because they fundamentally disagree with leaving the kids behind. I have personally known couples that took the kids everywhere, and were insulted if the little ones weren’t included in an invitation. It seems they’re not the only ones, as this debate at The New York Times shows.

From my experience and from any amount of Googling, Americans agonize over how to issue adult-only invitations, and literally are eaten up with guilt when they have to tell someone not to bring their offspring. Discussion forums are awash with advice on how to gently tell invitees that their kids aren’t included. Being a Brit, who likes a break from parenting once in a while, I don’t have a problem!

Is this a problem in your social life? 


Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a Brit who has lived in the USA since 1990. She currently lives in Chicago with her husband and children and writes about US/UK matters when not putting out domestic fires. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom, (St. Martin's Press). She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV explaining British things to Americans.
View all posts by Toni Hargis.
  • gn

    Count your blessings. As parents of two young children, my wife and I are so exhausted that when we do have a babysitter we just want to go on a date together and have a conversation that lasts more than ten seconds.

    I’m hoping things will get better when the kids are older, assuming that we have any of our adult friends left by then.

    • GoldenGirl

      That’s the problem. You become an older adult (like me), your child is grown, you look around and everyone is gone. So it’s important to work on those friendships all along the way and not just wait for the children to get older.

  • Kim Johnson

    My children are grown, but it was an issue back in the day. One set of friends never hired a babysitter EVER. So they missed a few events. Oh well….

  • Claire

    This is so true in the States. I feel my son is always there and there are no breaks for just adults. Gets tiresome.

  • Jody Brettkelly

    Completely agree with this. We came here 10 years ago from London where we had a babysitter twice a week and most of my friends did the same. To here in East Bay Ca where the parents seem to want to spend every waking hour with their child. One mother even thought our hip hop class would be nice to bring her child to dance too. Don’t they want a break?

    • Jonny

      I don’t understand what you want a break from? I drop my son off at school at 8:30 and don;t see him again till 7:00. Why would I purposely avoid him two times a week?

  • From Sheep to Alligators

    The US is way more child-centric than the UK. I remember writing a post
    about it early on, as it really is a culture shock. In a British
    family, kids can often be kind of bottom of the pecking order, whereas
    in the US, it is much more like they are the centre of the family.

    ‘Antony’ character in the British comedy show, The Royle Family is an
    humorous exaggeration, but still an example of how you can end up as the
    dogsbody if you are the youngest in a British family. It doesn’t
    really happen like that in the US!

    • Brittraveller

      Maybe that’s why it seems that in the US, some kids seem to be dictating to their parents and running the show which makes for obnoxious, badly-behaved children who have no respect…

  • GoldenGirl

    I’m American and I believe we are too child-centric and I have long admired the British attitude toward adult friendships and their social life. Having only one child myselfit has always been difficult for my husband and I to find other couples who want to socialize without their kids. The majority of the time it’s not because they can’t find a sitter but that they feel riddled with guilt for leaving their children for a night. This is just one example of how we cater too much to our children and I think our society is suffering the consequences. More over adults are missing out on an important part of life – friendships with other adults. I think we would be happier individuals if we paid as much attention to our social lives as we do our children.

  • $21404289

    No, the British take pride in well behaved children. I have observed that some Americans seem to see good manners and the accommodation of others as servile and an admission of lower status.

    I have also noticed that after the daycare, clubs, sports and activities that many Americans use, they enjoy playing at ‘parenting’ for the requisite intervening hours.

  • Geeb

    Hmm. In my area (NY), quite a few parents are really keen on sending away their children for the entire summer. If you meet the acquaintance of someone in July or August, it’s possible that you won’t even know that they have children. Maybe the exception that makes the rule? A smaller subset of the ‘upper crust’ employs the boarding school.

  • Josie

    Having no kids of my own, I enjoy getting to spend time with my nephews and my friends’ kids. I have never issued an invitation that did not include the children if the parents wanted to bring them.

    That said, it is definitely ‘my house, my rules.’ I will correct a child once, making sure at least one parent is around to hear it. If it happens again and the parent doesn’t address it, “Please don’t do that,” will turn into “I know your mom will be very angry if she has to leave the party because *you’re* being bad.” I understand that young children can get upset and act out over things they can’t explain (call it a tantrum if you must), but when they are old enough to understand “Do not chase the cat,” “Leave that alone,” and “Don’t push other children,” I expect them to obey, no matter which adult in the house tells them. I have only ever had to ask one person to take her darling little angel home, only one time, and she was welcomed back the next time with no hard feelings (at least not on my part, and she didn’t say anything to indicate she resented the outcome of the previous visit). Of course, the second time round, the child really was a darling little angel, so I suspect both mother and child took it to heart when they were asked to please go home.

    I do agree with posters who have said the US is way too child-centric. Some parents need to step back and breathe for a while, and others need to plan fewer extracurricular activities where others are supervising their kids and spend more time as a family. Either way, since I have none of my own I am always glad to see them, at least until they play up and refuse to settle down ;-).

  • Elizabeth

    I do think it is strange that parents feel guilt at not having their children around for all parties or invitations. In our household, we have always had a strict rule that Saturday nights were reserved for adult time, even if we were not leaving the house or having guests. Just having the freedom to sit in peace or watch a movie that doesn’t have animated characters is a huge relief.

    We are military and have moved quite often, so we rarely have a babysitter since we usually don’t know anyone in our new city. With no family nearby, it becomes an issue of trust. So my husband and I work to carve out our own time together while not necessarily having to hire a babysitter, such as our Saturday evening rule. We have since raised a very independent child who does not need us every waking moment of the day.

  • Estrellita

    This annoys many Americans as well. Simply say that the invitation is for adults only. I do not want a house filled with children whose parents are not providing sufficient supervision. Make no mistake, parents who assume the invitation includes their children are parents who allow their children to run around like wild animals. I do not enjoy spending time with anyone who has an overblown sense of entitlement so I do not mind those who fundamentally disagree with leaving the kids behind declining my invitation.

  • Jonny

    SeatofMars…”Playing at parenting” here must refer to teaching your kids to have confidence and showing them love, and attention, and giving them the opportunity to develop self-confidence, so that they’re not constantly apologizing for speaking up.

  • Vera

    This is very much incorrect based on my upbringing, but then again, making massive generalizations about different cultures/countries tends to do that…