November 23, 2017
I’m a closet introvert. Most people would probably say I’m an extrovert (comfortable around new people and large groups and somewhat sociable) but in reality I’m far more comfortable in Ugg boots than heels and even my comfy jeans can feel high maintenance at times. I don’t love parties unless they involve a quiet room filled with my closest friends and a crisp white Sem Sav. And kids’ parties can be even more fraught. They are somewhat of a baptism of fire in which parents are thrust into social situations they wouldn’t necessarily choose for themselves. People we don’t know, food we may not usually eat and a dozen or so small people who make a lot of noise, even more mess, and tend to have a crazy look in their eyes around cake and lollies.
So, how can grown ups enjoy kids parties? We’ve got you covered. Behold, the Bee Box Best 4 common kids’ party dilemmas and how to survive them.
Something magical happens when kids start school. Out of nowhere, some brave host declares a ‘kiss and drop’ party and bam! Instead of celebrating Persephone’s 4th princess birthday (no offence, Persephone, but if I hear Let it Go sung by a twenty something Elsa with a fake tan, bleached hair and Disney accent one more time, I may in fact do some serious harm to Olaf) you have 2 to 3 hours of free babysitting every few weeks. It can be a glorious thing.
Sometimes the message is clear on the invitation, but if not, how do you know what the expectations are? And as host, how do you clearly convey what you expect of your guests?
When hosting I will usually be as clear as I can on the invitations. Something along the lines of ‘Parents are welcome to stay for a glass of chardonnay, or leave their child and have two hours to go wild.’ There may be times when you really don’t want to be entertaining parents as well as kids, and if that’s the case, say so with a polite instruction on the invite: ‘We would love to have the company of your children at Starlet’s 5th birthday, but please note this is a children’s venue without the ability to cater for adults.’
Generally speaking, a school aged child’s birthday is kiss and drop unless otherwise stated, but there are a few caveats. First, some kids have allergies and especially in the younger school years their parents may be hesitant to leave them with the unfettered temptation of tables full of delicious and potentially deadly allergens. If you know one of the children you have invited has allergies, see Tip Number 3.
Second, if you are at a play centre or other venue outside the home some parents may want to keep an eye on their child. Don’t assume they are being overprotective - if they are like me they may well be thinking ahead to all of the trouble their child will likely get into with loose supervision. Like - and this is totally hypothetical and bears no resemblance to my angelic small humans whatsoever - getting their hands on (and into) the birthday cake prior to its official presentation. Or, I don’t know, climbing over the fence and getting themselves into the 7-12 year old area when they are barely 3. I mean, off the top of my head. In fact, if you are holding an event at such a venue, lots of places will allow a small number of adults into the play area for free as a way to increase supervision. This may be something you want to factor into your plan, by specifically inviting one or two parents to stay.
Third, a park scenario often suggests a family event and without specific instruction, you may get parents staying. For hosts, I would suggest making your expectations very clear from the outset regardless of venue, and for guests if you are unsure, don’t be afraid to ask. I know no hosts that have been offended when asked politely if parents should stay or go. I mean, not all kids want their mum turning up to their best friends’ 18th, but that's a fair way down the track for many of us.
Like family, you can’t choose your kids’ friends (well, not without serious psychologist bills in your near future). Their parents may be tattooed nose ring wearing bikie gang members or they may be Fortune 500 CEOs. They may have different religious beliefs, different political leanings, they may be iPhone users or Android. They may even be Trump supporters.
Part of the joy of having children is getting to experience those memorable childhood moments again - like the sheer terror slash excitement of making new friends. You’ve got this. You did it once, and you survived. Besides, you know you have something in common with the other parents - your kids. They all seem to like each other enough to hang out by choice on the weekend at a birthday party. If you are looking for conversation starters, ‘who is your child’s teacher?’ or ‘how does little Charletta know the party girl?’ are easy phrases to have up your sleeve. And if they bring up topics you fell are too dangerous to get into, offer your help to the host. They usually need it.
As host, I always have a couple of bottles of white wine in the fridge and a small spread of nibbles in case people do decide to stay. In truth, the wine is often not required but somehow even the idea of offering wine seems to relax everyone. And if no one decides to stay, a few carrot sticks and an extra bowl of chips can easily slide back onto the kids’ party spread. If you are entertaining outside of the house this might be trickier. Check with the venue to see if they have share plates and refreshments on offer for grown ups.
This is the new social more of our parenting generation and its an important one to get right, because it could literally mean the difference between life and death. Straight out of the gate, I would ask on the invitation whether the child has any allergies. It’s unlikely a parent of an anaphylactic child will neglect to tell you if they are asked directly. If you get any yes responses, contact the parent for a quick chat. Some will say ‘my Euripedes has terrible chronic gluten sensitivity’ and some will straight out tell you that peanuts endanger their child’s life. Its an important distinction; you don’t need to avoid all lactose or gluten for a child’s sensitivity, though the information is useful to know. If a child has a history of anaphylaxis, however, its best to avoid using the allergen at all costs. Most importantly, ask the parent if the child is capable of handling the allergy - do they know which foods to avoid? Or do they tend to want to sneak in a chocolate even though it make their face explode in pustules?
If the child’s parent is uncertain or concerned about their child being able to attend the party safely, ask them if they’d like to stay. Or, at the parent’s suggestion, offer to make one or two dishes that he or she will definitely be able to eat. If all else fails, suggest that they bring a plate for their child. This may make them feel more comfortable. Finally, fruit and veg platters are almost universally appropriate for kids with allergies. I always include one or two plates - and while they rarely get eaten, its a safe bet just in case any kids with allergies slip through the cracks. If you have a child with an allergy, don’t be afraid to ask if you can stay if that is what you think is best for your child. Most parents are reasonable enough to understand the perils of small children and allergies.
With the life and death situations out of the way we can now delve into the burning question that all party parents yearn to have answered: When is it appropriate to offer, and accept, wine? What exactly is that balance between total lush and uptight tea totaller? While there’s no easy answer, there are often a few loose guidelines. For an afternoon party, offer a small amount of wine or beer if you know parents are staying. If you are not at home, the decision may be made for you; play centres rarely have liquor licenses and National Parks are usually liquor free. For a morning event, you may decide to offer a champagne and orange to accompany any nibbles you prepare. And the larger the event, the more likely people are to expect alcoholic refreshment.
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