Last weekend we attended the wedding of very close friends. But, we had a quandary. Do we bring the kids? The wedding was in Cancun, at an all-inclusive resort, during the first weeks of spring break. Yet the kids would have been crushed if they missed this opportunity, and the winter has been so rough, and they deserved a vacation too. So we packed them up and brought them to this most decidedly adult of events.
People thought we were nuts. Why would you bring you children to this center of modern young adult debauchery? Why would you want them there? What will you do with them? In fact, we weren’t concerned at all. Because, we know our kids can hang. We’ve put a lot of effort over the years in making sure we rarely have to shuffle them up with a babysitter or leave them out of a good time. By the end of the weekend, many of the guests, and lots of perfect strangers made a point to tell us how great the kids were, and how, someday, they’d like to have kids “just like yours.” Our response, “Thank you, we’ve worked very hard at it.” Here’s some tips we’ve picked up along the way.
Start Early: When Xavier was three weeks old, he’d only quiet down when he was in crowded places. So, we took him out… a lot. His car seat had a special spot on the corner of the bar in our favorite restaurant. The owners would pick him up if he got fussy and seat customers with him in their arms. The boys grew up in restaurants, and learned how to behave: from being fed from the high chairs, to sharing our dinners, to reading the menu and ordering their own food.
Teach Them Manners: We eat dinner as a family almost every night. Whether we’re having a roasted chicken, or chicken fingers, we try to sit down together and eat like civilized folk. The boys know that they are expected to sit like gentlemen and have conversations. That toys do not belong on a table. That you don’t get up until everyone’s finished. That you chew with your mouth shut. And eat with utensils. That you taste what’s placed in front of you. And that you say please and thank you.
Don’t Hide Your Children: We were the first of our friends to have babies, So, out of necessity, they were always around. When our friends came over for a game of darts, we passed the babies around as we took turns. When we had lunch with friends, the kids came along. When we were invited to house parties, so were our kids. They became an expected part of the package and they learned to hang out with adults. They learned to answer questions when grown ups asked. They learned how to be introduced to strangers. They learned how to not interrupt when we were talking to someone. And they learned how to entertain themselves.
Don’t Baby Talk Them: It became very clear that our friends were not going to temper their behavior or their mouth for the sake of the young ears. So we learned to talk to our kids about grown-up behavior and what was appropriate and inappropriate. They understand that sometimes adults act poorly, and that some words are not for children to say. At their young age, we talk to them about all the grownup things so that they feel safe and involved in our conversations. And we ask them their opinions about things; we include them in our discussions.
Respect Their Time: If we ask the kids to do something that is above and beyond the normal, we show them our appreciation. We always make a point of thanking them for behaving so well, and staying respectful when we drag them somewhere they don’t want to go. And, if we know that it’s going to be a particularly long night, or a particularly odious visit, we respect their desire to “do things that we like”. We let them bring their crayons along, or borrow our cell phones, or let them sit in a corner to watch a movie. They know that once they make their initial commitment, they can do their thing without the grownups bothering them.
Know When Enough is Enough: Remember that if the kids are miserable, then everyone is miserable. If everyone is miserable, the invitations will stop coming. Know when the kids have had enough and respect them enough to leave early for their sake. Make sure that you sneak in time for them throughout the evening. That you don’t ignore their needs while you’re having fun. And, when they’ve had it, know the cues and leave graciously before all hell breaks loose.
Enjoy Their Company: I really like hanging out with my kids. We have lots of fun together, and I legitimately enjoy their company. Let them know that they are a valued member of the team and that they are a respected guest at the party. Include them in discussions and let them choose some of the activities. Make sure that time is spent just with them and that they are not left out of the group. Allow their interests and desires to be valid and respected.
We had an amazing time in Cancun. We played on the beach and swam in the pool and stayed up late. The boys learned how to take advantage of the all-you-can-eat buffet (as many bacon and donut sandwiches as you like). They learned how to be gracious ushers and take real responsibility for their wedding party role. They learned how to swim up to the pool bar and order their own limeade. And, when asked on the last evening if they planned on staying up late, they said, “We’re sure gonna’ try to rally!!” And they did.