Nov. 26, 2012 at 1:55 PM ET
When my son was a baby I took him everywhere. Because who wouldn’t be overjoyed to bask in the glow of a child, right? Perhaps that was Kelsey Grammer’s thought when he took his three-month old daughter to a Halloween party at the Playboy Mansion. Hollywood gossip sites criticized Grammer for subjecting a baby to boozy bunnies, but was that so wrong? The little cherub reportedly slept the whole time. I’d much rather see a baby at a party than an older child—especially one equipped with a phone and a YouTube account.
Grammer’s and my party faux pas aside, perhaps we all need a reminder of some basic rules of etiquette.
Party etiquette for guests
Most etiquette experts agree on a very simple rule: Parties are intended for the people named on the invitations. In general, unless it says “and family,” you need to get a babysitter. Do not put the host on the spot by asking if you can bring children, and do not pretend that you “didn’t know.”
If you decide to break the one and only rule, beware of people like me. I love to see a baby at a party because it means I can get my fix. Holding a small child for only a few minutes causes my newborn cravings to dissipate almost immediately, especially if that kid spits up on me. Yes, I love holding babies for finite periods of time. I also love cocktails. So watch out for people like me. Nothing ruins a party like off-duty mom dropping a baby into the spinach dip.
Bottom line, most prefer you leave the kids at home. In addition to annoying other guests, children are certain to destroy any chance for parental fun. In The Kid Dictionary: Hilarious Words to Describe the Indescribable Things Kids Do, Eric Ruhalter coined a term for it:
A child’s ability to distract one or both of his parents from enjoying themselves with other adults at a holiday party.
“You shouldn't bring kids to an adults-only party,” says Ruhalter. “But just in case you ever do by accident, make sure your kids know how to prepare holiday cocktails and park cars.”
It helps to dress them in black and white.
Party etiquette for hosts
While you should not have to state explicitly on invitations that a party is for adults only, consider spelling it out. You know how some of your friends are, and you want to be able to say ‘I told you so’ after a particularly obnoxious friend ruins your party with her snotty little brood.
On the other hand if you welcome children at your gathering, say so. I recently received a party invitation warning that the hostess’s children would be in attendance so we would have to “behave.” That’s one way to signal children are welcome at the party—or that you’ve stooped to an Austin Powers theme.
Mom of four, Mary Heston says, “If kids are going to be allowed then the hostess should be ready for whatever mayhem she allows into their house.” Margeret Garcia likes to hire a babysitter to organize games and fun in another room. “Every parent chips in according to how exhausting their kids are.”
Whether or not you hire a sitter, if kids are welcome, make sure to have appropriate snacks on hand. Our neighborhood once had a near miss with Jello shots at the Fourth of July block party. Heston provides special mugs (and cards the kids) at her family’s annual Oktoberfest. Best to provide kids their very own refreshment table. Better yet, a party of their own.
What do you think? Is it ever okay to bring uninvited children to a party? Or should you always skip the festivities when you can’t get a sitter?
Lela Davidson is the author of Blacklisted from the PTA, and Who Peed on My Yoga Mat? Her thoughts on marriage, motherhood, and life-after-40 have appeared in hundreds of magazines, websites, and anthologies.
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