10 Annoying Dinner Guest Behaviors

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What do you do when you have people over and their parenting style is very different from yours?  We recently had a dinner/playdate with a family who we did not know very well, and it was an eye opener.  We enjoy entertaining, and thought we were fairly accommodating and open minded, but after an evening with family X I’m re-evaluating them, and myself.  Have I become a grumpy old guy, or are people losing control – willingly- of their children and basic manners?  I came up with a list of pet peeves—many of which came up at our recent dinner– and remember, at the end of each one where you see the *** insert the phrase – “and their parents were either oblivious, joked about it, or simply chose not to intervene”.  J That seemed to be the crazy common thread tying the evening together.

1. Kids tearing up the house/yard. Of course, kids run and play and your home takes a beating every day.  With four children of my own I know that this is life.  But I’m talking about the out-of-the-ordinary types of destruction.  And I’m still cringing envisioning the delicate matryoshka (Russian dolls) we just purchased crashing to the ground and the established rose bush being dug up in the backyard.

2. Poor Table Manners. This is the family that claims to be natural and don’t believe in interrupting a child’s natural development. So the kids are at the dinner table dipping their dirty little hands right into the salsa and poking holes in the bread (alternating, of course, with poking their fingers into the holes in their own—and perhaps their parents—ears, etc –you get the picture).

3. Fighting with their parents and other children. We all know that arguments happen whenever you put children and rules together.  I accept that as the norm.  Then there is the child who doesn’t respect boundaries or authority and physically challenges his/her parents, other children, and possibly you too.  Some of these children have parents who are actively trying to re-direct the negative behavior.  What more can we ask of them?  They are vigilant and are trying.

4. Come Excessively Late. Everyone knows that you can expect the unexpected when you have kids. However, when guests show up more than 30 minutes late it shows blatant disrespect for both the host and their other guests.  Barring an extreme circumstance or emergency (newborn poop blowout might qualify in this category!) this should not happen.  And if it does, it should not be a pattern and it should be accompanied by sincere apologies.  The food is getting cold, everyone is getting hungry while we try to teach our own children the proper manners of not starting without everyone at the table.  Something to keep in mind…

5. Do not clean up. When my children have friends over I usually give them all a 10 (or 20 depending upon the mess) minute warning to begin clean up before the playdate ends.  And then I check-in to be sure that the job is getting done. When the whole family comes over we do not parent our guests’ children, because we expect their parents to be involved.  When the invited children are little Tasmanian Devils and do no clean-up at all it leaves a mess for my family to clean.  The adults are not happy about the mess, and the children are not happy about having to clean it all up alone when the mess-makers leave.

6. Go into closed off/private areas of your home. You might close your office and bedroom doors intentionally before guests arrive.  Maybe those areas are messy.  Maybe you have valuables or confidential paperwork.  Perhaps there’s a little something in the side table (can’t help picturing the scene in the movie, Parenthood, when the lights go out & Steve Martin looks for a flashlight only to find ‘something else’ in his sister’s side table drawer) you’d prefer to keep private.  Here’s hoping it’s only the children who lack respect of closed doors and privacy and you don’t find their parents rummaging around.  J  And, with these wandering children, you’re lucky if you catch the infractions as they begin, and don’t have to survey the damage (or explain the private discovery) at the end of the evening.

7. Nags Parents to Go Home or Doesn’t Want to Leave. The night just started and this one’s already asking his/her parents, “When are we going home?” Or the opposite- as soon as they arrive the child wants to know, “Can we have a sleepover?” Seemingly harmless at first and often sweet, but can be increasingly annoying when they don’t get the answer they’re looking for and just don’t quit.  And when the nagging request for a sleepover happens at the end, and everyone’s tired, and we’ve already said that this isn’t a good night, and the parents don’t take over so then the discussion, which is no longer really a discussion, goes on and on!

8. Constantly Interrupts Adults. This child wants to be heard and has been given the impression that s/he is an unequivocal equal to the adults. At first it can be entertaining and somewhat endearing, since some children can be mature and contribute to adult conversations. However, when they monopolize, interrupt, and show a lack of respect for adults it’s just plain annoying.

9. Make Rude or Inappropriate Comments. The old saying of the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree rings true here.  Often parents and children (who learned from them) might tag-team in this category. Any complaints or comments belittling the hard work that went into preparing the meal, putting down the home, or any of the family members should be avoided. Of course, you may be close to one or both of the spouses but you’re dealing with an entire family and possibly other guests, so your chances of offending someone increase dramatically. Know your audience and stick with compliments. They go a lot further and prevent you from having to pull your foot out of your mouth.

10. Inappropriate Attire/Hygiene. Children are messy little critters.  They can get dirty in the one moment you aren’t standing guard.  But if you are visiting someone else’s home your children should not arrive with blatantly muddy hands, or wearing clothing, hands and face smeared with wet/sticky food and drinks.   And you, the adult, should not arrive in your workout gear, immediately post work-out and still sweating, unless it’s an exercising playdate outdoors!  Kids don’t have to be spotless, and you don’t have to dress up. Just cover the basics to avoid offending others and be presentable/appropriate to the social setting you are entering. If it’s your house it’s your rules.  If it’s not your house, it’s better to err on the side of clean!

Many of us have experienced one or more of the scenarios described above.  Some may even know a single family that can lay claim to it all.  What can you do when this is your house and they are your guests?  Of course, you try to hold it together as much as you can watching things around the house get ruined, but eventually you may get completely frustrated and want to discipline someone else’s child.  It is almost never a good idea to go this route; so take a deep breath.  Then, try to direct your concerns to the parents.  If that falls on deaf ears, and only in the case of destructive or dangerous behavior, tactfully ask the child to stop. In all other areas – those relating to manners, or lack thereof –don’t speak up.  The only exception is if the child’s parents realize that there is a problem and open a discussion about it, asking for input.  And even in these cases, tread lightly if you hope to maintain the friendship.

If you recognize yourself or your children in the laundry list of pet peeves, take this as a friendly reminder that those of us who invite you to our homes like you.  We want to develop deeper friendships.  But we are getting distracted by, well, all of the distractions. So you have some choices.  You can work on developing guidelines for your children when they are in others’ homes, you can choose to only socialize with families who parent in the hands-off manner you use, or you can hire a sitter and leave the kids home. And if you bring your children and they are misbehaving in someone else’s home – be a parent and either control your children or choose to excuse yourselves and leave early.  Those of us with children have all had to deal with this on occasion, and we will understand…and will likely invite you again another time!