Nothing says record scratch like someone showing up with a couple of toddlers to your grownup cocktail party right when you’re busting out the vodka-soaked fruit punch.
But unfortunately, it’s that time of year again: Not only is everyone you know throwing a holiday party of some sort, but there are lots of new parents in the mix, too. It’s never quite clear if you can or should bring your spawn, or how to keep someone else’s spawn’s fingers out of your vodka-soaked ranch dip.
It’s also a recurring advice-column question this season: What if you have kids you’d like to bring to a party and you’re not sure if it’s okay? Or worse, what if you’re the person throwing one of these parties and other people have kids they want to bring and you don’t know how to tell them it’s not okay? Should kids be allowed at these things or not?
Basically: Who’s the jerk here? The parent who brings them, the adult who throws them without letting kids attend, or the children themselves?
The answer is as simple and easy as a Yuletide fireplace YouTube stream. So allow me, a parent of a child and also an adult who likes to drink, to sort it out. Use this simple framework.
Parents: Never Bring Your Children to Any Party Unless They Are Explicitly Invited
When in doubt, don’t do it. Trust me, when grownups throw parties where it’s okay to bring the children, especially if they have children too, they always knock themselves out making it clear: CHILDREN WELCOME, the invite screams. Or they literally text you and beg you and the gang to come — the more the merrier. Often they want you to bring your pods to the adult party — this way, their kid can play with your kid and the adults can get back to making off-color jokes without interruption.
I have been to these parties, and they are wonderful. The adults who do them know how to throw a party where adults sit around talking and laughing and drinking, and the children are in some other room being hilarious and weird with each other, or at least one of them has an iPad. It works, and it’s a whole system a lot of parents have in place so they can live an actual adult life without paying a babysitter all the time.
But other than that scenario? The answer is no fucking way.
I wouldn’t bring a weed dealer to your kid’s birthday party, so don’t bring your kid to my weed party. (I don’t smoke weed, but if I did, I’d be really annoyed if you did that.) The reason is that I want to smoke weed, and if your kid is there, I have to feel bad about it. There’s a reason I don’t wrap my legs together in duct tape before going for a run. It’d be way too hard, and also I don’t run. Point is, I’d have to make sure I wasn’t too high and I’d have to put away all my drug stuff and be overly careful. Waste of weed. Waste of high.
Most people think kids aren’t being invited to these grownup parties because people hate children and think they’re all vile little jerks. While many people do hate children for very good reasons, that’s not the real reason kids are being excluded. Children aren’t missing from the guest list because they’re jerks, they’re missing from the guest list because they are total buzzkills who can impale themselves on a matchstick if left unattended for two seconds. Your renter’s insurance does not cover that!
Adults at adult parties want to get their buzz on, not off, and they’d prefer to do it without murder. They usually involve vice of some kind or another, which is the reason it’s called a party and not a support group for people who want to spend their free time being extremely boring. Maybe the adults want to drink a lot, or get into a hot tub set to a frighteningly high temperature. Maybe they want to listen to songs with words like “fuck” and “bitch” and “polyamory” in them.
Maybe they want to do a bunch of poppers and have a sex orgy with an Elf on the Shelf. Maybe they just want to be able to talk freely about someone’s fucked-up divorce, the latest grocery store co-op scandal, or a new performance art piece they saw recently about vaginal discharge. Usually when adults purposely schedule time together at night outside of work, it is for the express purpose of escaping children. Even if your kids are okay with all these activities, it just means you’ve done something really wrong with your parenting. In that case, we’re the ones who aren’t safe around your children. Keep them home.
Hosts: Always Be Explicit in Your Party Invitations About Whether Children Are Welcome
The second half to this conundrum is addressed to the person throwing the party: If you don’t want kids at your Stranger Things–themed naked Twister romp for any reason, it’s on you to make that explicit in the invitation. If you don’t, you’re going to get adults who show up with their kids unaware it’s actually a nude fondue-themed party. If you don’t, you’re going to get adults who text you at the last minute and say, “Kids and I can’t wait to join you! See you Saturday!” That is even if you call the party something like “Adult Cocktail Holiday Party With Free Poppers” or “Come as Your Favorite Contraceptive (With Free Poppers).”
People with children aren’t poor readers. They’re just tired, and stretched thin, and they never go out, and babysitters cost a lot, and it’s easier if they bring their children along because maybe someone else will look at their children and talk to those children for so much as 30 seconds, and dear god they are bored and need something to do on a weekend. Certainly some of them are just militant about not setting any boundaries for their kids, it’s true — especially in Los Angeles — but the majority are just juggling a lot and should be forgiven. And given free poppers.
But that doesn’t mean you should let them bring their kid! Now I’m aware that one can make it explicit that it’s a kid-free event and still get asked directly whether it’s okay to bring little Timmy, who’s an absolute doll and will sit quietly building Legos while everyone drunkenly paints their genitals with melted cheese. That’s rude, because they put you on the spot and they suck, and I’d genuinely question remaining friends with those people short of some kind of emergency.
The answer should still be no. If you’re particularly close or compassionate, if you know that the person asking is a single parent, or has no childcare, or is broke, and you’re in any position to set them up with childcare or help out in some way, go for it. But the answer is still no.
You don’t have to let a child come to your house and muck up your fancy rug with their 24/7-chocolate fingers, which all children have, double at Christmas. You’re an adult, which means unless or until you decide to breed at some point, you only have to let other adults muck up your fancy rug with their 24/7 melted cheese fingers. Because at least you can send them the cleaning bill.