Manners Matter: Unexpected Kids at Adult Dinner

Dear Mary Pat,

After 14 months of keeping our distance, my husband and I were finally able to invite our friends over for a relaxing dinner indoors. Let me rephrase that: what we hoped would be a relaxing dinner indoors.

Instead, our friends brought their three children along without giving us a heads-up. I love our friends, and I love their children, but they are all younger than eight and tend to be a little wild. Within minutes of their arrival, our dog’s ears had been pulled, and our cats had been terrorized and ran to hide. 

Because our friends have a laissez-faire approach to rearing their children, nothing seemed amiss to them. They made a comment about how their babysitter was out of town and hoped we had chicken nuggets. Um, no. We didn’t have chicken nuggets because we’d been preparing a meal all day that wasn’t toddler friendly. The table was also set for four, not seven.

We scrambled and came up with pasta and some fruit and made a makeshift kiddie table. I know it sounds silly, but I was near tears after planning this special dinner and having it turn into a three-ring circus. We plastered smiles on our faces, but I’m not sure they were convincing. They ended up leaving early (the youngest one had a meltdown), before I could serve my signature homemade cheesecake. 

Should I say anything to them? I’m worried about what will happen next time we invite them over.


Disappointed Hostess

Ephraim, Wisconsin

Dear Disappointed Hostess,

This is a little awkward. Your friends absolutely should have asked whether it was OK to have their kids along because it sounds as though you had made plans for just the four of you. If a guest is going to nearly double the guest list – and require certain kinds of food – the host should be informed ahead of time. 

That being said, I’m not sure what you can really say to them after the fact. No matter how you phrase it, it will most likely come across as hurtful, and it will seem as though you don’t like their children. 

Part of being a good host is to be gracious and flexible. If someone brought a bottle of wine that makes you cringe, you wouldn’t say anything, right? If someone brought you a bouquet that clashes with your gorgeous centerpiece, you would offer kind thanks and find a vase for it, right? 

I think part of the issue was that you wanted everything to be perfect after waiting for so long to get together again. That’s understandable. But, I bet your cheesecake tasted just as delicious after they left, and then you also had more leftovers. 

The next time you invite them over, subtly ask whether they will be finding a sitter or bringing their kids. If it’s adults only, you can wow them with your culinary skills. If they’re going to have their little ones in tow, stock up on chicken nuggets, stow the animals out of sight and prepare for a different kind of evening.

Good luck,

Mary Pat

Miss Pat was educated at the Finnish Finishing School for Fine Ladies. Eloquent in edifying etiquette, she is fluent in seven languages, including the language of love. Mary Pat has generously extended her counsel to you and will answer any and all inquiries. Email Mary Pat at [email protected].