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Cocktail Party Etiquette Question

I'm not sure if I'm asking this on the right board, but here goes anyway. My wife and I have planned a cocktail party this holiday season for some friends. We are all in approximately the same age range, so some couples have young kids (as do we). Since we planned the party as a "cocktail party" for 8 pm, I thought it was fairly obvious that we did not expect kids at the party. A number of friends seemed not to get this implication, and have asked if kids are invited to the party. How do I politely explain what I thought to be obvious; namely that kids are not invited to an 8 pm cocktail party? Any help is appreciated, maybe I am simply clueless, but I thought it would be apparent, based on the time and type of party, that it is adults only. Thanks for any helpful advice.

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  1. Have you already sent out the invitations?

    4 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      Yes, they went out already, with no specific wording about kids/no kids, I just thought it would be obvious considering the time and type of party it is.

      1. re: ed1066

        I don't have children, but do have friends with children, and my inclination would be to simply be upfront, and say that this is an adult only event, and that you sincerely hope that they can arrange for child care and join the festivities. Where will your children be during the event? My recollection is that when my parents had adult only events, we were cleaned up and allowed to come down for a short while to be introduced and to say hello to friends of the family, and then sent back upstairs.

        1. re: MMRuth

          Very keen advice. If a guest shows up with their child(ren) it is best to have a gracious way of dealing with that. Do you let them know politely that it was perhaps ill thought out to bring the kids (Like "Oh did you have trouble getting a sitter? If you'd like I can ring Sally our trusted sitter and see if she might be able to scoot over to your house for a few hours - I'd love for you to be able to stay and enjoy yourself" or do you suggest just scooting their children upstairs with yours. If you have a Sally, I would give her a buzz at your earliest convenience just in case.

          when my parents had guests we came down to say goodnight and were otherwise invisible and acted like mice upstairs or else! In hindsight I imagine my parents used us to signal the drawdown of the party. A reminder that the hour to leave was near.

          1. re: Sal Vanilla

            In the years we lived near my parents, whenever we had an adult party the kids spent the night with Grandma and Grandpa. When we moved far far away, life got complicated. A mobile society has its drawbacks!

    2. Nope, people will bring their kids wherever. Polite ways to say leave them home:

      We'd love for you to be able to stay late - won't the kids get sleepy?
      I think some of the guests may be smokers.
      We really don't have much to amuse younger guests - I think they'd be bored.

      34 Replies
      1. re: small h

        If you're lucky enough to have friends who at least ASK before dragging their little darlings along. The correct answer to "Can we bring the kids?" is "No". Using any of the other "excuses" offered by "small h" just leaves the door open for more discussion, and the answer is, No, children are NOT invited. And good luck with this! The idea of children at adult gatherings has been covered in other threads here. Please come back after the party and let us know how many unwilling children came along anyway!

        1. re: Cheflambo

          I took my cue from the OP's request for *polite* ways to make this clear. Just "no"? Closing the door on "more discussion"? I hatehatehate kids at adult events, but in my experience, dictatorial hosting behavior makes for a miserable evening.

          1. re: small h

            People who ask to bring uninvited guests should be handled politely, I agree. "No, this party is just for adults" is a very polite way to answer that question. For those who bring the kids without asking, (which IS rude) you can still say "Oh Dear! Did your sitter cancel? What rotten luck. I sure hope your kids like fois gras and tequila shooters!"

            Sorry, small h, but you DO have to close the door on more discussion. "We'd love for you to be able to stay late - won't the kids get sleepy?" will be met with "Oh they can nap in your spare room or on your sofa bed." "I think some of the guests may be smokers." will be countered with "Don't you ask the smokers to go outside?" "We really don't have much to amuse younger guests - I think they'd be bored" wil get you "Oh, my kids can entertain themselves. Where is your TV/Xbox/Wii and all YOUR kids toys?" The kids will "entertain" themselves by accidentally breaking something and whining to their parents all night about how bored they are. Trust me .... I have been there done that. .

            1. re: Cheflambo

              Ack. You're probably right. Why I rarely entertain, reason #104(b). I recently attended a very grown-up party where a 6-year-old guest entertained us with her Britney Spears impression. Repeatedly. And I actually LIKE this kid.

              1. re: small h

                I'm also interested/dismayed by the idea that setting boundaries is somehow dictatorial and unpleasant. This suggests that any form of assertive (not aggressive) behaviour is unattractive and impolite. This is the slippery slope to all sorts of abuse.

                Dictatorial host behaviour is more likely to involve assigning dishes outside of the bringer's comfort zone ('I know you make a mean apple pie, but it's only sweet potato for us!' Or, 'forget the meatballs, we want fruit!') or declaring that only X will be drunk at this party. Or, oh, I don't know. Frankly, I don't encounter it all that much. Lucky I guess.

                Maybe it will be good for the parents to see how setting boundaries is done. Goodness knows their children will need it. (Because all children need boundaries, not because these specific ones do...)

                1. re: Lizard

                  <I'm also interested/dismayed by the idea that setting boundaries is somehow dictatorial and unpleasant.>

                  Except that isn't what I wrote at all - scroll up. I'm against being a jerk about it. Saying "no" without further explanation is being a jerk about it. If you disagree, well, fine. But then we obviously have very different ideas about how adults should behave toward one another.

                  1. re: small h

                    Clearly I have touched a nerve. Allow me to explain.

                    In your earlier post, you wrote: 'Just "no"? Closing the door on "more discussion"?' This was immediately followed by: 'in my experience, dictatorial hosting behavior makes for a miserable evening'

                    My sense is that being unwilling to further discuss a no is not some hideous form of dictatorial hosting, nor is it even necessarily impolite. ('Are children invited? No.') In fact, those who press at 'no' (regarding coming to your home, borrowing your things, etc.) have ceased to ask and are now demanding something of us.

                    One does not need to defend the boundaries one sets. If you asked to borrow my telly, and I said no, I would not appreciate your asking, 'but why not?' If you asked to hug me, and I said no, I would not appreciate your asking, 'but why not?' If I say, 'sorry, no' and add 'adults only' for clarification, I'm not sure why I'm expected to carry on the discussion, or made to feel that I am now somehow a 'jerk' because I'd rather not explain my reasoning.

                    True, a conversation with a friend would likely not end there, but only because a friend wouldn't question my boundaries, call me a jerk, and demand more discussion so that my decision about my space/things/body has passed muster.

                    This is not to say that a tone can not stay civil.

                    1. re: Lizard

                      Great explanation, and I think you are correct- but I will bet you anything, that anybody who asks if they can bring their kids to an 8 pm cocktail party already knows the answer is no. I think some people will ask a question until they get the answer they want!

                      1. re: Lizard

                        A civil tone is all I'm advocating. Your sample q&a is "Are children invited? No." Fair enough. But mine is more "Can I bring my child? No." Can you not see how the second exchange seems less than civil?

                        If I asked to borrow your tv, I'll bet you wouldn't just say "no" and turn away. You'd say "no, I need it" or "no, someone asked me first" or "no, I've always thought 'neither a borrower nor a lender be' was great advice."

                        Of course, you don't have justify anything. You don't have to throw parties, either, or say "Fine, thanks, and you?" when someone asks how you are. But most likely, you do.

                        1. re: small h

                          Did you read Lizards post of 11:12am? Lizard basically agreed with everything you write here. Noting, specifically, that "...a conversation with a friend would likely not end there..."

                          I feel that Lizard's main point was that we need not define someone who politely responds with a "no" to a question as uncivil. I agree with that entirely.

                          I don't think anyone is advocating a lack of civility.

                          1. re: ccbweb

                            Sure, I read it. That's why I responded to it. Between whom is this mythical conversation occurring, if not friends?

                            I think we're all basically in agreement - a hostess need not open her home to all & sundry - but some of the posts on this thread use pseudo-tough talk "my house, my rules!" language. To which I say: oh, come on.

                            1. re: ccbweb

                              Thanks ccweb! Your intervention and assessment are greatly appreciated!

            2. re: small h

              Nope, people will bring their kids wherever. Polite ways to say leave them home:
              ...................................................................small h

              s-d, I'm not exactly responding to you. Just jumping on the opportunity to jump in and make a point for my generation (I was born in the thirties).

              There is a LOT of discussion on these boards between (apparently) younger people who consider restaurant dress codes, setting a table properly, and other points of "decorum" to be attacks on their personal life styles, so here's discussion in which a little logic may shine some light. Hopefully.

              The great advantage of "rules" (I prefer to call them traditions) is that when they are widely understood by everyone (as they used to be), situations like this aren't a problem. Everyone knew you didn't take children to a party unless an invitation SPECIFIED that children were invited. That went for afternoon tea parties, Sunday brunches, cocktail parties, sit down dinners, and grand balls!

              Consider this: Your house is the repository of all of your fine things and shabby things. I don't think I'm that different from most people in that when I have a party, I like to put my best foot forward and get out all of the nice things. On those rare occasions I do have parties with children invited, it is held outside and I PRAY for good weather until about two hours after the last guest has departed. Why? Well, here's a list of a few of my things that have been damaged or broken by young guests in my lifetime because it rained: the interior drawer of a new china cabinet broken irrepairably (I suspect the child was casing the silver), a a 27.5 inch tall reproduction Greek urn shattered (for reference, that's nearly as tall as the top of a dining table, and why could the original survive intact for over two thousand yars but my reproduction coultn't make it three years? -- the answer is American children), a Murano glass (aka Venitian glass) free form dish, a precious first edition that was colored in, a one-of-a-kind mouth blown vase I loved dearly signed by the artist. I don't fault the children; they are young and curious and roaring to explore on their own at first opportunity. In ALL cases I blame the parents for two things: Not having taught them not to touch things without permission, and for bringing them to my house without a specific invitation. That is just plain rude! And all of this within a generation where it is frowned on to take your children with you!

              WHY is there such guilt among today's younger generations of adults about saying no, I want to relax with grown ups so leave the kids at home? It is YOUR house, and you have a right to choose whom you invite and/or allow into it. And you have a right to do that without guilt. If the people you invite cannot afford a baby sitter, that is their problem. If they call you and explain their problem in hope you'll say it's okay to bring the kids, instead suggest that they find other couples in their same situation with whom they can exchange baby sitting services when they go to parties. It should not cause you to have to put away all of the goodies and bring out the shabbies so the house will be relatively child proof. You should not have to intersperse the cocktail music (or dinner music) with a chorus of "London Bridge Is Falling Down" every once in a while just to keep the kiddies amused. And guests should not have to restrain their conversation because kids may be listening.

              Or to look at it another way, if you were hosting a dinner in an expensive restaurant, would you feel guilty about telling people they cannot bring their kids? I have known a few people with six kids (and more!) in my lifetime, and I am not interested in any invited guest expanding my restaurant bill by $600.00 by bringing along their uninvited offspring! It is exactly the same principle.

              So ed1066, small h, and all the rest of you guilt laden folks about banning children from grown up parties, relax! It IS okay! It IS your house! And it will probably be a really good experience for those young parents who think their children are attached to them like their shadow. Let them Peter Pan it and detach the shadow for a while!

              And yes. I am a curmudgeon. I don't like jeans of any sort in a nice restaurant. Jeans are jeans, no matter how much they cost! Yay for flannel, boo to denim! '-)

              Just thought I'd throw that last part in, but I am NOT advocating the return of girdles or stockings with seams. After all, everyone has their limits. '-)

              1. re: Caroline1

                Caroline, I just wanted to give you a little hope and let you know that I'm in my twenties, and my first reaction to the OP was "if you didn't specify children invited on the invitation, then they should already know the answer." So the little social graces aren't completely lost, at least not in my family :)

                1. re: mpjmph

                  YAAAAY...!!! You know, sometimes I have to stop and remind myself that a vocal few are not necessarily representative of the silent majority! Thanks for breaking the silence, and good to know I'm not a total anachronism. '-)

                2. re: Caroline1

                  caroline1:

                  I could not have said it better. Thank you. You are not a curmudgeon in my book--you are logical and full of common sense!

                  1. re: jarona

                    Thanks, Jarona. You know, sometimes I have to ask myself whether people would be so reticent to press charges if a friend embezzled funds from their bank account as they are to say no to allowing a friend to foist their children on them, whether they are welcome or not. I guess once you've had a personal treasure worth a great deal of money shattered by someone's little darling, then had no offer to pay for or replace it dismissed with "Oh, don't be upset! She's only a child!" as your only "recompense," it makes it a LOT easier to say "Absolutely no children, thank you for asking."

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      You're spot on! Oftentimes I think back to when my kids were young. My then-husband and I always had a babysitter and would never think of bringing the children unless they were invited. Besides, as a stay-at-home mom, and although I loved being with my kids there were times when I reveled in the company of other adults. Like you, I do put the blame on the parents. My own parents raised us very well--with wonderful social values. Parents now want to be friends with their children rather than giving them boundaries, saying "no", disciplining them and so on. It is a sad thing because dicipline, saying "no" and giving boundaries is nothing bad--in fact, it will help as these children become adults and move on----I have to get off the soap box now because I'll stay on for hours and I don't mean to pontificate. So...have a great Christmas, Hannakuh, Kwanzaa, Festivus or whatever you chose to celebrate!

                      1. re: jarona

                        I think it's more than just saying that it's all the parents' faults. First, parents these days tend to work more hours than they did in the past and don't have as much time to spend with the kids. I think a lot feel guilty when they are spending what little free time they have on themselves instead of spending time with their children. Even for kids, everything is so much more competitive than it used to be. So many of them are overscheduled, and the ones who aren't are probably more likely to come from single-parent families where the parent is working 2+ jobs just to make ends meet.

                        1. re: queencru

                          Yes and the whole idea of "why don't they just get a babysitter" doesn't understand the reality of how things have changed for parents today. In many cases there *are* no kids around to babysit; they are all too busy with their orchestra, or sports, or other activities to want to babysit. So parents have often evolved with each other into friendships where kids are just part of the mix, because everybody's in the same boat. I'm not saying that one shouldn't be able to have an adult's only party, just that you may need to make it a bit more explicit than would have been "obvious" a generation ago.

                          1. re: DGresh

                            When parents belong to a group that shares the value of "kids included in everything," that's fine as long as they restrict that to the members of the group who are equal participants. However, they do need to recognize that that is not a universally shared viewpoint.

                            My mother was a career woman, and I grew up in the "children not invited unless specifically asked to join" generation. I knew lots of career mothers in the 30s,, 40s., 50s, right up to the present. There was a time when teaching at all but the university level was considered a woman's career, with the exception of male athletics. Before the age of computers office staffs included receptionists, stenographers, filing clerks, secretaries, executive secretaries, all "women's careers." I just can't buy the working couples/different values scenario as the reason people bring their kids along, invited or not, in today's society. I suspect it has a whole lot more to do with "post-me-generation" culture than anything else.

                            I'll share a tale the mods will probably delete about learning in a hurry to say no to other people's children. Some of you will be old enough to remember the Cold War, and the "U-2 Affair." For those of you too young to know, the U-2 is an American high altitude spy plane, and on May Day of 1960, a U-2 being piloted by Frances Gary Powers, a good friend, was shot down over Russia. It very nearly started World War III, and Chairman Kruschev, of the Soviet Union, said that if any more U-2s took off from Power's home base (where I lived) he would hit us with an H-Bomb! So the CIA and SAC required that ALL military dependents attend daily training classes on nuclear survival and evacuation. The day the evacuation route and method was set out, when questions were called for, one of the wives raised her hand and said, "I have FIVE children! I can't manage all of them at such a time. Can you appoint someone like Caroline, who has no kids, to take on some of mine? To which Caroline, being as "straight forward" then as she is now, replied, "Lady, you didn't ask my permission to get pregnant in the first place so I decline any obligation for the safety of your children in the face of disaster." Then the base commander informed her that she was on her own for making arrangements about her kids.

                            There are societies in which kids are considered a community project and everyone willingly steps in and takes care of any child of the group. We don't live in such a society. If people would rather have time with their children, that is perfectly acceptable, but to bring the children to an adults only party because they want time with the kids is totally unacceptable.

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              Of course, larger families had other consequences:

                              1. More babysitters (one reason there are fewer is that there are fewer kids per family)
                              2. More things for siblings to do with (or to) each other to self-entertain while their parents partied downstairs. Computers are *not* nearly as interesting but ersatz pacifiers in that regard.

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                I never said one should bring children to an adults only party. In fact, the original question was "what do I do, people are asking if they can bring their kids". I think some of us are just making the point that given different perspectives, some people are *simply asking the question*; it's not an unreasonable question given some perspectives, and they are not necessarily looking for an "of course bring them", but rather, a simple answer, as so many have said-- "no this time it's an adults only party". I don't understand how a possible confusion over whether or not they are invited is getting so much anger-- *as long as the question is asked, and the answer not assumed*.

                                1. re: DGresh

                                  I don't think it is so much "anger" as much as how this original post has turned into a very heated debate. We all have our ways of raising our children--and we all have different values. What works for one person may not work for another and that's fine. Some folks don't believe in a babysitter or may not be able to "find" a babysitter.
                                  Regardless-it is another issue. But out of respect and consideration for the host--it is HIS party. He has the right to host an adults only party. End of story;)

                                  1. re: DGresh

                                    And in turn, I never said you said...

                                    I was responding more to this:
                                    .....................................................................
                                    Yes and the whole idea of "why don't they just get a babysitter" doesn't understand the reality of how things have changed for parents today.
                                    ........................................................................

                                    That statement is inaccurate. Things have not changed for a two income nuclear family with active kids who pursue things like sports, clubs, music and art lessons, etc. But consider yourself forgiven. EVERY generation thinks the world was on hold until they came along. '-)

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      what has changed is the difficulty of finding a sitter. That is true, at least in my neighborhood. There simply weren't any available. When my daughter was a baby (15 years ago) there were several kids around willing to babysit. By the time she as about 10, couldn't find any; the kids were too busy. To my eye, that's "change" and it's real.

                                      1. re: DGresh

                                        For me and for my mother before me, the most successful method of gaining baby sitters was networking with other parents who had kids but didn't go to the same parties, then trading baby sitting. For me, whether it was me "babysitting" someone else's kids or them sitting mine, the kids would spend the night. When the kids were in elementary school in Del Mar (CA), i did most of my babysitter networking through the other "room moms" at their school. Other networking resources were PTA, soccer moms, places/people like that. And no money ever changed hands, just services exchanged, so it didn't impact on the budget. Seems logical to me that such arrangements would work today.

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          Yup! Same here. When we lived in NYC my mom friends started an actual babysitting "co-op". We had tickets to use as "payment" and it worked very well. When we moved to the 'burbs, it was a parent network--sleepovers work very well indeed! Less expensive and fun for the kids!

                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                            I have plenty of friends who do this and am always shocked that parents who have their children in 10 different play groups can't manage to come up with some sort of switching arrangement. You find out about an event 6 months in advance and can't manage to find one person from those play groups who would be happy to have a night out in the next six months?

                                            1. re: queencru

                                              Amazing, but yet, it happens. Go figure.

                                          2. re: DGresh

                                            When I was about 8 or 9 my parents began putting me together with another like-aged friend when they went out (usuaslly with my friend;s parents; the two of us found this a very rewarding opportunity to have rarely ordered ( in those days) delivery pizza and play with our Barbies for hours on end!

                                      2. re: Caroline1

                                        Just read this for the first time. You ARE an amazing person, C1.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            I'm part of a babysitting co-op with 22 families in it. We earn "points" by babysitting, and spend "points" by using the sitting services. It's fabulous.

                                            The only time we run into a problem is when a big group of us are going out together, or someone in the group is having a large party. As one might imagine, we are all mostly friends, so that can be a problem. Still, I wouldn't give it up for anything. My husband and I go out weekly and only very very rarely have to pay for a sitter.

                          2. I would just say that the menu isn't particularly kid-friendly, so as a result, your kids are staying elsewhere for the duration of the party. I think finding some way to point out that your kids aren't going to be attending is probably enough to get the sign across that it isn't a kid event. Maybe people just assumed your kids would be around?

                            1. Tell the guests with little people that there will be a spelling "B" for the tykes, at midnight, first prize is calves liver and onions. They will begin to feign symptoms of "something" the day before, or will be much more supplicant to a sitter.

                              1. I hope I don't sound too blunt here, but if your friends have asked if kids are invited, I would just say no and say that my in-laws were watching my kids that night. I'm not really sure why you would have to kind of beat around the issue and not be direct. I don't think anybody should get offended by this. We had several people ask about kids when DH and I got married. We just said no (politely, of course) and they found babysitters. However, we had one couple who brought their child which kind of peeved me as I didn't want the other guests to think that we made a special exception for them. I will say that we got numerous questions on what we meant by "cocktail attire." (which was written on the invite)