I've been there, shadowing a trouble-seeking toddler who was aggressively roaming the very well-manicured, multi-level home of The Boss, who just so happened to collect colorful, and incredibly breakable, vases! Of course, grabbing the glassware and dropping it on the floor was the ultimate goal of our toddler, who, for some reason, did not have bookcases filled to the gills with gorgeous, prism-shimmering glassware at home.
The boss was incredibly gracious and welcoming, but playing successful shelf defense*** was utterly exhausting. As fun as the party was, I felt like a shell of a human being on the drive home as our toddler snored in the car seat.
I suppose my story isn't a ringing endorsement of hitting the company party circuit with children in tow, but I learned a few things from the experience! Bringing young kids to the company holiday party can be done, and here are five basic tips for making it a better experience for everyone.
1. Decide whether they're up to it. You know your kids best. Could they handle an environment filled with boring adults potentially talking shop for hours? Is the party venue (a very upscale restaurant, etc.) decidedly not kid-friendly? If the very thought of managing your rambunctious children at the party leaves your stomach tied in knots, then it might be better to hire a babysitter, or grandma, for the evening. No worries. You might say the kids were excited to see their grandma who is in town for the weekend, or simply say they were too tired after a busy day to attend. Maybe next year!
2. Outline your expectations. Sit the kids down and tell them what you expect. We're going to my boss's house for a party. It will be fun, but you'll need to be on your very, very, very best behavior. Then explain what you mean by "best behavior." Depending on the age, brush up on words such as "please," "may I" and "thank you." Teaching children not to interrupt constantly (e.g., learning strategies for how to wait their turn to talk) is a good idea, too. Your co-worker, who can't seem to finish a thought before being interrupted (again!) by an inquisitive first grader, will thank you.
3. Bring emergency backup. Bored kids can make for a very long evening. There's no shame in keeping a few, small things on standby for the kids to do. New crayons and a coloring book, a small, toy-like item of few removable parts, and yes, a tablet featuring their favorite games (with sound turned off, please). You might inquire beforehand if it's okay to bring such items. Who knows? The host may have already lined up a bouncy house, face painting, and a visit from Santa!
4. Put the older kids to work. Kids 7 and older can take on a little bit of responsibility at the company party, and they'll probably enjoy being put in charge of something, no matter how small! Just make sure it's okay with the host first. Older kids can, for example, make sure everyone has a napkin, help to entertain the younger kids by showing them how to use a Wii or Xbox -- whatever works to keep them from uttering the dreaded two words: I'm bored. You might even offer to pay them an allowance for their hard work. (Hey, they've earned it!)
5. Don't sweat the small stuff. Your child reaches up to take a cookie, and the whole platter falls to the floor. Ahhhh! Relax, things happen. Any working parent has been there and quietly understands, even if they won't admit it. Graciously pick up the pieces and move on quickly. If your child has a tantrum, immediately take him or her somewhere else (outside for some fresh air, to an empty spare room, to the car) until everything's better. Go with the flow, and appear unflappable. This is your life -- work and home, together as one -- and you're managing it all the best you can! You're doing a good job, too. Hang in there, you can go home soon.
Trust me: You're not the first, and you won't be the last, to ask this question! A few quick years from now, you can look back with a smile to remember what it was like to be in your co-worker's spit-up covered shoes. Kids are awesome and they're part of the circle of work life for many of us. Of course, our children were perfect angels at the company party. Just kidding.
*** We left without breaking any glassware. I'm still proud of it to this day.