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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?
See more posts by 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.