Newsflash: Kids are stressful. They disrupt your life, and the lives of the people around them, even when they’re on their absolute best behavior. They are the ultimate party pooper.
That’s why we parents often prefer to hang out with other parents. Not only so we can bitch about the stress to someone who has had similar experiences, but because when there are other kids around, your kid has something to do rather than keep pulling your arm and causing you to spill your drink.
Also because your own kid’s bad behavior is less noticeable when he’s part of a team. There’s strength in numbers. For parents, numbers provide solidarity.
For our children, they provide camouflage.
This Memorial Day, the Buried clan spent a weekend with some friends in Boston. There were kids everywhere, every one of them under five years old. It was loud and hectic and messy and loud and exhausting and loud and loud and loud and fun. It was also loud.
The good thing about there being a bunch of kids all around the same age was that they all played together and didn’t need constant interaction from the parents, so we were able to celebrate Memorial Day the old-fashioned way (with alcohol). And, as I said above, it’s always heartening to witness other children acting as obnoxiously as yours often does. That way you can reassure yourself that it’s just toddler-dom that makes them dicks, and not your own terrible parenting, or terrible genetics, or terrible luck. It’s like getting a big bear hug from Robin Williams. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.
Bringing a toddler to a party is not a lot of fun. (Bringing a toddler anywhere isn’t a lot of fun.) It’s particularly bad when it’s to a non-parent’s house, or to any place where there aren’t other children around, making your kid Public Enemy #1.
Being the only person with a kid at a party makes your kid – and you – a target. When your kid is one of a pack? Everything is easier. Even if he starts breaking shit, odds are no one but you even knows which one he even is. It’s harder to point fingers if you can’t tell who is who. Unless only one kid is acting out.
If every other kid is on his best behavior and yours is the only one whining and crying and throwing a tantrum every five minutes for one ridiculous reason after another? That happy reassurance you gained from the group setting – all kids are animals and there’s nothing you can do about it! – goes out the window. Suddenly, what was supposed to be a shield has become a spotlight. Your kid is now the outlier, and the comparisons you were hoping to avoid are suddenly taking place in everyone else’s heads.
Even in a crowd of parents who have been through the same bullshit, even in a crowd of good friends who you know won’t judge, you can’t help but feel embarrassed. When yours is the only kid pulling fits, you can’t help but feel like you’re the asshole, whether you follow my “blame the toddler” philosophy or not.
The good news is, every kid has bad days. Usually, as parents, we try to keep them to ourselves, but they are bound to occasionally occur in public. When it happens, the important thing to do is just shrug it off and suck it up. Don’t start making excuses or explaining how amazing your child usually is, you swear!; no one wants to hear that noise. The fastest way to lose someone’s empathy is by insisting you don’t need it.
We all know toddlers will be toddlers, we all know being embarrassed by your kids is part of being a parent. And, as gross as it is, we all benefit from the occasional incident where it happens to someone else; it reminds us we’re not alone, and that we all survive. That’s why you go to these parties in the first place. That’s what solidarity is all about.
So if your kid happens to be the party pooper that day, just take the loss. Put the punk to bed and pour another glass/bottle/jug of wine and pray tomorrow is a better day and that it doesn’t become a trend. Because then you’ll have to get new friends. Or call that British super-nanny lady. Or maybe sell the child.
At least that way you’ll finally get something back for him.