• A couple of months ago I picked the short straw and ended up being chauffeur for the day.  I took my 7-year old to a birthday party, and my 5-year old came along for the ride, allegedly.  But it turned out that my smooth talking 5-year old had secret hopes and an agenda when he said that he just wanted to keep me company.  Once we got to the party he saw the moon bounce in the front yard, junk food on every table, and kids running around everywhere.  My older son, who already had his shoes off, ran over to the birthday boy, handed him his gift, and then dove head first into the moon bounce. In the meantime, my little man stood by clutching tightly to my hand with tears forming. Trying to catch him before he erupted, I rocked his hand back and forth and asked in an upbeat tone, “So, you ready to go?” Not surprisingly (he is 5!) he broke out into a loud cry, saying “I want to stay,” with snot slowly running down his nose.

    I know people say that it’s bad to bribe your kids, and for the most part I agree, but I like to think that I simply redirected with a side benefit.

    I would have stayed at the party if the hosts either knew our family or had invited the siblings to stay. Parties are hit and miss on whether the siblings can stay to play and participate; and if in doubt, I like to check beforehand to manage my own children’s expectations (and limit the melt downs).   There have been times, though, when I have not checked beforehand but was able to stay because the environment was conducive.  With this particular party they were very clear on the invitation- ‘parents need not stay’, pick-up at 12:30 pm. That meant drop off your kid and leave! Unfortunately, I did not get to read the invitation and was simply given instructions to take my older son to the party. So when my little one started to cry, and no one came over to tell us to stay, I shifted gears.  To tell you the truth, there was a small part of me that was hoping the family would come over and invite my 5-year old to join in.  But no one bailed me out.  I caught myself and realized that I was the one who was presumptuous by going to the party with any expectation (without asking) that perhaps my younger son would be able to stay.  I should have been prepared and been completely clear with my younger son.

    My first choice would have been to avoid bringing him along with me at all. However, I did not have that option… so, now what? I thought that maybe he felt left out and wanted to do something fun so I tried to divert his attention by talking about going to the park and getting ice cream or going on a pony ride, which he normally would be all over. But he wasn’t buying it. Then I thought maybe he just needed to feel special and have something that was exclusive to him. Since, my older son had his party maybe focusing on parties he would be going to would help. So, I asked him if he wanted to go buy a gift for the birthday party he was going to the following week, and maybe pick something small out for himself, too.  Luck was on my side and he refocused and was happy to leave with me and think about the gifts.  I know people say that it’s bad to bribe your kids, and for the most part I agree, but I like to think that I simply redirected with a side benefit.  It’s all in how you look at it.

    Later that evening, when I reflected on the day, I realized that though at first I was annoyed that the hosts weren’t sensitive to my younger son’s yearning to stay, I was the one who was wrong to expect family members not listed on the invitation to crash the party.  First of all, most children like their independence and want to hang out with their friends on their own, which I totally get. Secondly, the parents of the birthday boy wanted to focus their attention on their son and his friends, and not be busy with entertaining other parents. Since that party, I am more pro-active and prepare my other children before we drop one of my children off at a party. If we are close to the inviting family, I feel comfortable asking if it’s cool for siblings to attend.  I never leave if I am bringing uninvited siblings – I stay to supervise my own children.  If we are not close to the inviting family I never assume that it’s okay to bring my other children.  I make sure they have plans and have something special of their own scheduled – an outing or a playdate. 

    Children’s party etiquette for parents…who knew?!