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A Formal Complaint Whatever happened to “adult time”?

Whatever happened to "adult time"?

By Ceridwen Morris |

I’m curious how people introduce their adult friends to their children, and what is appropriate. My husband and I were both raised calling our parents’ friends Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So. Never called them by their first names. When our parents had friends over, it was adult time and we would play in the family room or basement. I know that parenting styles have gotten a lot more relaxed, and I am okay with that in some cases. But I do not like it when we are invited over to a friend’s house and expected to be playmates for their three-year-old son. We are introduced by our first names, and then the child expects us to sit on the floor and play with him. And so do the parents! Is this really appropriate? And is it okay for me to say no? I like kids (we have a one-year-old), but I would never expect our guests to entertain him. And in fact I’d prefer that he learn the concept of “adult time.” Our only solution at this point is to stop socializing with these friends. – Mrs. X

Dear Mrs. X,

When we read your letter, we were propelled immediately onto the luxurious mid-century upholstery of Betty and Don Draper’s couch. We too, find ourselves craving a neatly segregated world like the Drapers’, where the grown-ups talk amongst themselves and the kids come out only for ballet recitals or mixing impeccable Manhattans. But we’ve yet to experience this situation in the real world. These days it’s the norm for adult friends to have at least a little interaction with the children. For better or for worse, the world we’re having kids in is a lot more child-centric than the one we were raised in.

This means that today’s parents are informed not just by ideas about what’s socially appropriate, but what’s developmentally appropriate. From a developmental/psychological standpoint, independent, autonomous play is a lot to expect from a preschooler. Some kids can do it, but most can’t. And though there’s an argument to be made that kids will do what’s expected of them, that’s just not how many people – your friends included – choose to parent.

What you’re longing for is legit, even if it’s not the norm. Most parents have the urge for “adult time.” The question is how and when it can be achieved. You could certainly find other parents who prefer the old-school rules and pursue the Mad Men model. But it seems like the more immediate issue is how to negotiate with friends who think differently.

You could start by broaching the subject with your friends, if you can do so in a respectful way. Even if you truly believe your ideas are better, it should help to realize that your friends are not acting unusually. And there’s a way to talk about socializing that doesn’t drag up too much ideology. The conversation doesn’t have to be about what you believe is right, it can just be about how you want to spend your time with them. As always, you’ll go further with compliments: Telling your friends you’re longing for time with just the grown-ups will go over much differently than telling them you don’t want to play with their child.

Whether with these friends or others, it will probably be helpful for you to set clearer expectations when you’re making plans. It’s perfectly acceptable when invited over to ask if this is a family affair. You can even ask if they might, for example, consider putting on a video for the kids so you can get some time with the grown-ups. You could also deflect the invite, saying you prefer to socialize sans kids…maybe suggest an adult dinner out instead. What’s not okay is to force your ideology into somebody else’s home. When you accept a dinner invitation, you’re accepting their terms:temporarily.

We would caution you about the idea that ending the friendship is the best solution. You’ll be hard-pressed to find parents who agree with you on every parenting choice down the line. If you continue that model throughout parenthood, you may find your social life somewhat limited.

And you never know, in a couple of years you may change your tune on this issue. Or at least wonder exactly how your parents kept you quiet at age three. Regardless of it how it plays it for you, once you get past the inherent neediness of toddlers and preschoolers, adult time comes a lot more easily!

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About Ceridwen Morris


Ceridwen Morris

Ceridwen Morris, CCE, is a writer, childbirth educator and the co-author of From The Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Becoming a Parent.

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18 thoughts on “A Formal Complaint Whatever happened to “adult time”?

  1. Laure68 says:

    I thought that was a really great response. I also wonder when people say things like “in our day, we behaved so differently”, if they actually remember what it was like when they were three. I also really appreciated that you didn’t take sides as to who was “right”. There really are so many different parenting styles, and we need to all find a way to be able to deal with each other.

  2. AudriMS says:

    Wow. This made me think for a moment about how I felt about this subject. I am not that old, but even when I went with my mother to her friend’s house to visit we were given something to drink, a snack and then sent outside to play until they were thru socializing. The ages of the children sent outside went from 8yrs – 2yrs. No I don’t always remember enjoying my time outside but I was the oldest of 5 children so I guess my mom needed a break from correcting us every five minutes. I am a functioning person of society so I guess no harm done. I am sure my children will be able to survive with out being entertained by me and my guests once a week for a couple of hours.

  3. Joanie says:

    I guess it depends on the circumstances. If you live in a tiny Manhattan apartment where there’s only one common room, you’re basically asking a three-year-old to entertain herself… alone in her bedroom? In the bathroom? Here, it’s understood that if you go to a friend’s house, you’ll have to interact with her pets, spouse, children — whomever else lives there. Otherwise, meet her in a bar instead where you know the family can’t follow.

  4. Meagan Francis says:

    Hm, if I lived in a tiny apartment I certainly wouldn’t banish my child to the bathroom to play, and of course I expect my guests to acknowledge my kids, husband, whatever the same way they would acknowledge any other human being who was in my home. But there’s a pretty big difference between acknowledging/interacting with a child and being expected to get down on the floor and entertain him/her. I also wouldn’t expect my guests to go into my husband’s basement geek lair and tinker with his computer parts to entertain him, yk?

  5. JennyOndioline says:

    I totally understand the poster’s desire for “adult time” with her friends. My group of friends and I long for the same thing, and we’ve come up with a reasonable solution for us. We get together for dinner at one family’s house and hire a teenager — or two or three, depending on how many kids are there — to entertain our kids. This way the adults can do their thing without the kids being underfoot, and the kids can have fun outside or in another room. This, of course, presupposes that one has a home large enough for several adults and kids. For us this has created the right balance: our kids have one another and the sitters to play with; they’re supervised; we get our adult time; and we’re also nearby if the kids need us. We each chip in $10 per kid for the sitters, sometimes more if necessary. But the nice thing is that our babysitting costs are a lot less than they would be if each family hired sitters to come to our own homes! This is a much more fluid arrangement, obviously, than the “adult time” of the 50s and 60s, and there are certainly times when it’s more enjoyable and appropriate to gather without the rugrats in tow. At our gatherings the kids do tend to wander in and out of the adult groups, and it can be hard to maintain a kid-free space. But a simple redirection is usually all it takes to get the wandering kid back with the group. I realize this type of arrangement isn’t possible for a lot of people, but if it’s a possibility for you maybe next time you could suggest hiring a sitter to play with the kids while the grownups catch up? Good luck.

  6. kone says:

    one big difference is people have fewer kids these days. if everyone has 2-3 kids, then you come over and bring your kids and you get enough critical mass of children that they can entertain themselves in a mob.when people have 1 kid or maybe 2, and average child-bearing age is a longer span (say 25-40 rather than 20-30), you may end up with a lot fewer kids at any one time and then there’s not enough to keep themselves entertained.also. not many 3 year old kids can play by themselves or understand “adult time”. especially boys.if letter writer doesn’t want to deal with the kid, they’ll need to schedule true adult time (i.e. the friends should get a sitter).also – is the letter writer serious that she wants her 1-year old to learn “adult time”? a 1-year old? really?

  7. lalahem says:

    We also hire a sitter to entertain kids while adults socialize for parties. We also have Kid parties where the movies/activities are for the kids. it goes both ways.

  8. Mrs X says:

    I feel compelled to clear things up a bit ….First, I do not expect my 1 year old to understand adult time. eventually in the future when he is mature enough to understand, we will deal with it then. Obviously when we have company he is around and a part of the group, i just don’t expect anyone to entertain him. And I certainly don’t believe that it should be a kid free zone. We have several friends that have 2-3 year olds that we get together with. Their kids are around and a part of the group interacting with the adults. That is great, I don’t mind having them around. I do just wonder at what point it is asking too much. There is a difference between interacting and being expected, even asked, to sit on the floor and play with the child. And if he is climbing all over us, I do feel that it is the parents job to intervene and remind him that that is not always welcomed. I like the idea of hiring a sitter, and that is something we have considered in the future at our house. Currently he goes to bed at 7:30, so any time he is around is pretty limited and we have plenty of adult time after bed time.Thanks for all of the responses and suggestions!

  9. kone says:

    aaah – i get it.this is really a question of being considerate to guests. whenever we have guests I pay close attention to how receptive they are to my VERY active 3 year old. if they’re into it, i let him attack. if they seem polite but not interested, i quickly shoo him away.sounds like the real problem is that your friends are not being considerate hosts.i’m definitely on your side here. i think a host should always be considerate of guest’s comfort first and foremost. that’s what being a host is about.and being a good host means paying close attention and being sensitive and perceptive.

  10. ZBecks says:

    What the heck?!What would your kid be doing if the guest was not over? They be playing alone.Of course the parent plays with their kid, but you’re not playing with them ALL the time. They know how to sit on the floor and play with their dollie or truck.My youngest (out of 6 total) is 2, and she plays just fine on her own when the other kids aren’t around. When I have company, and they bring a kid, she’ll play with them, and continue on. If they don’t bring a kid, she says ‘hi’ and goes back to doing whatever she was doing before they came over.I would never impose my kids on someone. If they want to play with them, then they can, but I don’t expect them to.Not everyone is equip to be a kid entertainer.Yeah, one of my kids may come up and ask about a broken toy, or if they can go out to the backyard, but after that, they go about their way.I dunno, maybe my kids are more independent.It’s not about them understanding adult time…it’s about them being able to do their own thing.If you have a friend who imposes their kids on you (ie expecting you to play with them) and you wanted adult time, then maybe you should just reserve that friend for when you have dinner parties or something adults-only….but wait, people like that get offended when you don’t invite kids to YOUR events.

  11. Mrs x or icmom says:

    Yes, I guess the better question would have been “how do you expect your kids to interact with adults?” Sorry for the confusion. The issue is that they treat us like we are there to be their child’s playmate. I was just curious what other people did when their kids are interacting and introduced to their adult friends. Personally, I think it is important for kids to learn the difference between adults and children. 3 year olds are at least capable of that. I guess It just comes down to teaching your kids how to be respectful. I don’t want to be rude and shoo the kid away, I just want a little time for adult conversation. Thanks again.

  12. JohannaC says:

    I agree with ZBecks — my first response upon reading the article was total agreement with the author. I have four kids, ages six months through seven, and I would never expect guests to play with them! Of course kids can entertain themselves, even my two-year-old. The six-month-old is the only child likely to be in the room, probably nursing, but the other kids come in and out and do their own thing. And they call my and my husband’s friends by title and last name. They are not social equals or playmates with adults.

  13. gpgirl says:

    Mrs x, thanks for the clarification. Of course, the hosts should check to make the their guests are not too imposed upon. I would never expect my friends to interact with my son. (Sometimes they want to, sometimes they don’t, but it is always my responsibility to watch my child.)ZBecks, I totally know what you are saying about people who are offended if you don’t invite kids to your events. I have absolutely no problem when I get an adults-only invite. Either only one of us goes and the other stays with our son, or we get a sitter. But I have known people to find this to be completely offensive – and they are usually very self-centered types who are actually upset that you told them they couldn’t do something. (As opposed to being upset because their child might be hurt for not being included. What kid actually wants to go to an adults party?)

  14. Mrs X or icmom says:

    Just another point….I think the idea that parenting styles don’t and won’t affect friendships is a bit unrealistic. Yes, everyone has their own style, I get that. But it’s not just about someone letting their kids eat junk food and you don’t, or you do time outs and they don’t. Just like you strive to find friends that have the same values and interests that you do, the same goes for parenting styles. Sometimes parenting styles really do clash. And it’s not always about who has the “right” or “best” parenting skills, just whether or not your fundamental beliefs are similar enough. I now feel that my initial reaction to the situation was not irrational or unfounded. Thanks for letting me vent!

  15. ZBecks says:

    It’s always good to vent! ; DMy best friend and business partner, Kimberly is addressed as Aunt Kimberly by my children.My other good friend, Chris, is Uncle Chris.The kids see them both almost everyday. They’re family.Other friends are addressed as Miss Eve, Mister Matt, whatever.I am not strict on this. It’s just how I initially introduce them. The closer the person is to the family and the kids, the likelihood that the kids address them by first name only.The parents of my kids friends from school or their extra-curriculars are almost always called by last name.I think a lot of that comes from them not being close to them and the situations are more formal.My kids sense the difference in the formality.The other night, Mesa-13 went to the movies, and one of the moms drop the kids off at home afterwards. When she came in the chat for a bit, my son, Denim-4, knew to call her Mrs. Schumacher (even though he said Shoe Bocker…what? he’s 4! lol). He knew to say hello and go on about his business.Now when Uncle Chris comes over, he climbs on him, tells him about his day, etc.Even then, he talks to him, and after a while he goes about his way. This usually happens in 5 minutes.

  16. anne05 says:

    I like that my friends are goofy people who like to play with my child. We’re pretty silly ourselves and not very formal. Many of my friends work with kids, in fact, and enjoy excuses to sing, dance, and play. I would never make somebody play with my kid or expect them to, but if it was clear that they didn’t really want anything to do with him I would find that strange and uncomfortable. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what Mrs. X prefers, I think she’s right that there are some parenting style differences that can kill a friendship. She sounds like a perfectly lovely person, but I think that this difference in our parenting style would point up an intrinsic difference in our world view and personalities I couldn’t get over. Of course we also feel uncomfortable with people who dislike dogs.

  17. d says:

    I find that my 3 year old will play with certain people, asking them to play with her, bringing them toys and talking to them, and with others she’ll leave them alone and go and play on her own. Maybe she gets a sense of who is willing to play? She typically picks the parents or teachers to play with! And it’s men and women she wants to play with. I let her lead the way, most of the time. However, if we’re trying to do something, I always ask my guest if it’s OK for my daughter to be there, and if not I “bribe” my 3 year old with stickers, crayons, or whatever, to help her play quietly at least a little bit on her own (but near us, in the same room, she doesn’t want to be banished!).I also find that most people can push a truck or train around and still have a conversation, so it’s not too bad!

  18. sissyinnyc says:

    I’m late to this thread, just joined up. But I wanted to add a thought because nobody has brought up yet — what about socialization and how it’s important for children to learn that from observing adult interactions? From a very young age we both loved hanging with the adults and either quietly observing them or interacting with them on another level than we did fellow children. I remember it as thrilling, to be the one child at a table of adults talking among each other as adults. The fact they didn’t focus on me a child who needed to be entertained made me feel accepted as one of them. My husband had the same experience as a child. We want our son to start very early in observing adult socialization and conversation. So we would not be offended by a friend who doesn’t want to spend the evening playing with children at social gatherings. We’d make sure our son is duly entertained or use a babysitter if he does get bored with the grownups. That’s our responsibility, not our friends’.

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