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Party Politics

By Sally Schultheiss, Cookie Magazine – 2007

How to throw an adults-only soiree, from crafting gracious invitations to handling pint-size crashers

If you’re itching to have an adults-only party—you know, like in the good old days, when you could fix your plate at the buffet table first and put your wineglass down without a pair of chubby little hands making a grab for it—you’re not alone. But even though many parents would welcome such an occasion, you venture into sensitive social territory when you start banning people’s broods. Whether you choose to exclude tots altogether or to corral them in another room while the parents enjoy a little adult conversation, the key is to be firm—but not uptight—about the evening’s parameters.

The first step is being explicit about who is invited without playing favorites. “There can’t be different rules for different people, such as only inviting underage relatives,” says Linda Kevich, an etiquette expert and the creator of wedding-planning site Either kids are invited or they’re not. There are ways to be clear without being offensive when you’re working on the invitations, says Lesley Carlin McElhattan, coauthor of Things You Need to Be Told. “Write a note on them, such as ‘Thought it would be nice for the grown-ups to have our own party for a change’ or ‘My martini glasses have been gathering dust since before Emma was born. Let’s break them out for an adult cocktail party.'”

If a guest calls to ask for special dispensation, don’t buckle. Respond, for example, with “Oh, Elizabeth, I’m sorry, but no one is bringing kids—if you’re having trouble finding a sitter, I know a good one,” suggests McElhattan. With those who can’t fathom going anywhere without their children, be gracious but unambiguous: “We’ll miss you. Let’s try to get together soon with the kids.” If you decide to allow the small set but still guarantee some grown-up time, provide a way to keep the young guests entertained on their own. Maybe they repair to a tucked-away bedroom to watch videos so the parents can discuss who got whacked last on The Sopranos (or who whacked whose little brother in a heated Lego dispute). This is a no-brainer if the kids are old enough to leave unattended, but if infants or toddlers are invited, hire a babysitter or two to watch them in a nearby room; this works especially well if all the children are roughly the same age. “It’s a great idea to provide child care for your guests,” says Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies. “But remember, if you invite, you pay.”

Occasionally, though, no matter how clear you’ve been, your cousin Shelly will show up with her 5-year-old and a baggie of chicken fingers. Don’t say a word—what’s done is done, and making her feel bad won’t solve anything. “As a host, it’s your job to ignore the breach of etiquette and warmly welcome any uninvited guests, even children,” says Kevich. (That said, you might want to reconsider inviting the offender to your next soiree.)
But what if your best friend confronts you in the kitchen and says, “I thought kids weren’t invited,” with a head jerk to the towhead in the other room? It’s perfectly human to say, “I was explicit, but some people just didn’t get it, I guess.” In any case, don’t let yourself get worked up about it. Because, children or no children, most of your guests will be delighted to see you—and your dusted-off martini glasses.

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