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A Formal Complaint Whatever happened to “adult time”?

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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