It was one of those moments that makes you question your ability to parent your own child. My son, clearly in distress, was scratching his tongue. Our family was enjoying the festivities of our first holiday party of the season, and I had practiced great care in preparing my son a plate of hors d’oeuvres.
I’ll admit that I was a little more than excited when I saw something green. My son loves bell peppers, and the stove offered up a dish of stuffed pepper slices. I grabbed two. What better way to balance a toddler meal of mostly corn chips and crackers?
When my son ejected the pepper (in classic, projectile toddler fashion) from his mouth and grew beet red, I was embarrassed and felt the warmth of my own cheeks. As a parent, you always wonder (1) who is watching; (2) who is judging you; and (3) who will forgive you for your child’s behavior. I avoided eye contact with those around me for a few minutes and focused on getting more agreeable calories into my son’s body.
On the drive home that night, my husband could not keep himself from raving about the stuffed jalapeños.
[Insert mom faceplant here]
If you do decide to brave the waters and take your young child to a holiday party, I recommend that you consider the following 10 things:
- Expect at least one child to not be in a “good place” as you prepare to leave for the party. There will be tears. There might be sweat. And there will most likely be a pretty pissed off parent. Just remember, nothing says “Thanks for inviting us” like the family that keeps their kids under control. Do whatever it takes to diffuse the bomb.
- You should expect to wear bodily fluids at some point during the evening. Not your own, of course, but theirs. And don’t be surprised if each of your children contribute. The more the merrier, right?
- At least one of your kids will poop at the party. If you are really lucky, two will poop. You may even find yourself playing Ring Around the Rosie with your half-naked toddler in a once-clean bathroom. Always remember extra wipes – my gracious.
- Despite your best efforts, you will have entire conversations that you do not remember because your child, whom you were likely holding, interrupted too many of your thoughts. Wait, who did I even talk to?!
- Every minute of the party is a game of What Will My Child Ruin/Break? The stakes only increase with two…
- You will likely eat less than you did on your wedding day. My advice? Eat a snack before AND after the party.
- Inevitably, at least one person will ask you what is wrong with your child when they cry. Smile and say that they are hungry. Yes, just like Mom. Or, even better, share that your child needs a diaper change. Even better? Ask if they would like to volunteer.
- Seek out other young guests who are close in age to your kids. There is sanity in numbers, and this takes the pressure off of you, the parent, to entertain.
- Plan for your child to break down into “I’m tired but won’t admit it” tears just as you begin to enjoy the party. The timing is perfectly inconvenient and requires an early departure. Knowing this from the beginning will soften the blow and prevent an inner parent temper tantrum from flaring.
- You will likely forget this entire list. If there is only one thing to remember, I have found this to be it: the more you venture out to new places with your children, the better they will respond in complex, adult-centered environments in the future.
As you might have guessed, we survived both Christmas parties that we attended as a family. We shared new foods, belly laughter, and, most importantly, our time. Our remaining holiday gatherings will most likely be spent divided, as either my husband or myself will stay home with our children while the other attends the party.
In this season of gratitude, I am thankful for those who embrace families – the whole dish-breaking, spit-up wearing, forgiveness-seeking lot of us. Right now our little people require everything from us, and we must give it to them. The future depends on it.
And perhaps, in that manger that many celebrate, we might see a reminder that children are always the beginning of amazing things. Sometimes we simply need to make room for them in our lives and homes.
And, whatever you do, withhold your judgment of children at holiday parties. There are few people more in need of a village than parents caught in the blizzard of early parenthood.