From the forums:
My friends “June” and “Mary” have a very sweet three-year-old. He’s polite and cute as a bug and smart as anything. I dig him. And I’m happy to accommodate him and everyone else’s children at parties. I have a basket of board books, soft balls, various toys, and so on. I make a few kid friendly foods and drinks. I try to put fragile things out of the reach of little fingers. But this kid is an unstoppable human tornado. His parents have twin infants, and they’re a little distracted. He’s undergoing a big life change. I’m sympathetic to all involved. But he took some other kid’s crayons and colored my fireplace orange the last time he was over. The time before, he broke an expensive lamp while riding my couch arm like a horsey. His parents are always embarrassed and apologetic and really do do their best to keep an eye on him. But it’s hard, and I get that. And I don’t have time or the inclination to follow him around.
All of this is to say, I don’t want to invite Tornado Boy to a party at my house until he’s a little older. June is a friend but I know Mary less well, and she’s a bit… touchy. Suddenly stopping the invitation to the whole crew would be a slight, and I think that’d really offend Mary. But I’m not really sure if I can say “get a sitter or stay home.” — Wanting a Tornado-free Home
Honestly, if you were to tell your friends that their kid isn’t welcome at a party where other kids his age will be, I don’t think it will be just touchy Mary who will be offended. You have to decide that you either have parties where no kids (or no kids of a certain age) are invited or you invite all the kids, including Tornado Boy. If you go the former route, you could switch your brunches and BBQs to more nighttime affairs — dinner parties and/or get-togethers that start after 8 — and you can include on your invitations, “Get a sitter and come enjoy a night out — you deserve it!” (Or something like that). You could also just organize your daytime parties for your friends who don’t have young children.
If most of the friends in your social circle have children, you do have to accept that that means changes in your social life, even if you decide to not have kids. It’s just a fact of life. Kids are chaotic and they change things. They change the dynamics in friendships and the dynamics in relationships and the dynamics in families. They makes noises in public — on the plane, in restaurants, and of course, in parks and pools and beaches. They get in the way, and they make life messy. (They also bring an enormous about of joy and laughter, too, of course). But you don’t have to deal with them in the privacy of your own home if you don’t want to. You may have no choice on a plane, but in your own living room? You can say no. But… if you’re saying no to kids whose parents are your friends, then you have to accept that those friends may not feel welcome at your home anymore, ESPECIALLY if you are welcoming other kids the same age. (That’s really the clincher here; it’s one thing not to invite any children, but to invite all but one? Ouch.). You also have to accept that just because you disallow one particular kid into your home doesn’t mean one of the other children in attendance at a party won’t accidentally break something or have a tantrum or pee on your furniture or inconvenience you in a way your adult guests wouldn’t. Kids are accident-prone, so even the ones who are really well-behaved and docile can eff shit up (and so can adults, for that matter, especially if they’re drinking).
So, let’s say you decide to suck it up and continue inviting Tornado Boy to your home in an effort to preserve the friendship you have with his parents. What can you do to preserve your stuff and your sanity? I like CaptainsWife’s advice to hire a babysitter. Maybe you could even hire an older kid (or a niece or nephew) of one of your friends for a cheaper price than a grownup baby-sitter would cost. I don’t know where you live but here in NYC most adult sitters cost between $12-15 an hour to watch one child. “Mother’s Helpers,” as younger/ teenage babysitters are sometimes called, often charge around $10 an hour (and I’ve heard of some kids charging as little as $8 an hour; Just imagine what Kristy and Stacy and Claudia and Mary Anne could do with all that coin!). And if you live somewhere cheaper than NYC (which is basically everywhere but SF), you can probably find a sitter who charges less than that. Over the course of, say, three hours, the price of a babysitter might cost the same as two or three six-packs or a couple bottles of wine (which will probably be left at your place by your guests anyway). You could also designate kid-safe areas at the party — your back yard and say one room in your house (maybe a basement if you have one?) where you remove anything fragile. Of course, the trick with having just a couple kid-safe areas is that the kids still need to be supervised, but parents (or a babysitter!) could take turns supervising the kid spaces and making sure the kids don’t wander off where they shouldn’t be.
Any other ideas from readers?
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at email@example.com.