Monday, May 13, 2013

No-children functions

The wonderful Captain Awkward has a reply up at the moment to a letter-writer who is grappling with an invited guest's unhappiness about not being able to bring her 4 year old to an event. The event has been restricted to older children only (over 10, as I recollect from the letter) but the guest is campaigning to have an exception made for her daughter.

I have sort of mixed feelings about this one, to be perfectly honest. On the one hand, I respect the right of any person organising a private function - be it a party, a wedding or anything else - to decide that the function will be adults-only. Just as they have the right to decide it will be women-only, or people under 40-only, or people who like Star Trek only, or whatever other thing they come up with. Private functions, that are not work-based, are private business - this isn't a matter of trying to restrict access to public space or workplace equity. I might have a quiet opinion about a person who restricts their guest list to, say, people who aren't fat, but it's only an opinion and it shouldn't constrain the party-giver's decisions.

I also realise that people having functions in their homes may feel that their environments are unsafe for children, and not wish to risk either injury to the kids or breakages and damage to their homes. That is their prerogative - there is no requirement in law or ethics that says all private spaces must be safe and suitable for all people. (If we are talking about public spaces the argument changes, but we're not).

And let's be really frank here - some adults just don't like kids, or don't like particular kids. This is not limited to people who are themselves childfree! I have one acquaintance, herself a parent, who invited me to a function when I was pregnant with my third child; I declined because I was at the uncomfortable stage of pregnancy, and she said, "That's cool! I was going to remind you not to bring your LOUD kid anyway!" I found this a little confronting, even though, yes, my then-3 year old was a loud kid. 

In the case in the letter, I think the guest is being pushy in trying to have an exception made for her own child to a clearly stated restriction, and that's not something I would ever do, if an event is specified to be childfree at the outset. I might, in some circumstances, ask if it's OK to bring child/ren if the invitation does NOT specify and it's the sort of function where kids are sometimes welcome (in this case it's a baby shower, to which kids are often invited). But if the answer is no, then the answer is no. I think it's disrespectful to keep agitating for a change to the rules someone else has established for their OWN function.


The event organiser gets to decide the conditions for their event, but they don't get to decide how those conditions affect and are felt by the invitees. They don't get to decide, as many of the Captain's commenters suggest, that the solution simple and is a paid babysitter. (For many reasons, this may not work - financial, a child with separation issues, a lack of trusted / available sitters etc). They don't get to decide how the invitee feels about having to decline an event because their child isn't welcome there and they can't or choose not to arrange alternative care for them. They don't get to decide how this affects ongoing family relationships and interactions.

I have been to four childfree events in the past two years - 2 weddings and 2 birthday parties - and each time, it was a deliberate and not-simple decision process. In two cases, hubs declined the invitation and I went alone, because babysitting wasn't practical. I have also needed to decline another half-dozen or more such invitations because leaving the kids wasn't a course of action I could take at those times.

I don't have any animus against people who organise childfree events, and I would never urge them to reconsider. But if the event is one that, on the face if it, is a family-oriented event and my kids, like I, are part of the family (eg. one of the things I had to decline was an extended family Christmas lunch) then I don't necessarily feel very good about that.

It's a knotty one - easier, I think, for evening functions, that are much more clearly not children-friendly in any case (like the wedding we went to in March - absolutely would not have been suitable for kids, no question). But I guess I think there are two sides to the story. Not that it justifies pushiness and disregarding the event organiser's conditions, because it doesn't. All the same, making daytime events childfree as a matter of preference rather than necessity does sting a bit for those with young children, marginalising us and our kids in ways that it might not be easy to appreciate if you haven't walked a mile in them shoes.

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