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Birthday parties are not free babysitting services

My oldest daughter just turned 7, and as is our style, we threw a big birthday party. We rented out a local bounce house facility and invited her whole class, because we know better than to leave people out. Since we sent out so many invites, I expected a big turnout. I expected the per-child bill at the end of the day to make me wince.

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I did not expect to have a building half-full of children both the birthday girl and I didn’t know, with no parents on hand to claim them.

It all started the day the invitations went home in backpacks from school. I got an email from a mom who said her daughter would be attending, along with her other daughter. The she told me what time she would be back to pick them up.

Um, no.

First of all, let me say that I do understand the quandary parents find themselves in when parties happen and you have more than one child. My husband works odd hours, and I’ve often found myself having to drag an uninvited child to a birthday party. But I always ask if it’s OK, and when it’s a party that charges per-child, like this one, I offer to pay for the extra kid.

This parent didn’t ask nor did they offer to pay. But I haven’t even gotten to the major offense. She wanted to leave both kids.

If you’re comfortable leaving your child at a party, then why wouldn’t you take the other child with you when you go? The only reason it’s really excusable to bring an uninvited child to a party is if you’re planning on staying, and you don’t have anyone else to watch the extra kid. It seems this mom was just looking for a place to dump her kids for a couple hours while she and her husband had a nice dinner.

And worst of all? It wasn’t an isolated incident. I also had a parent drop off her child and her child’s much older cousin, who just wanted to tag along. Again, she didn’t ask. It took me some time to figure out who the 12-year-old running around was (I finally just asked her), and when the mom came back to pick up the kids, at the end of the party, she introduced me to her niece, whom she had dropped off two hours before.

We had parents who left in the middle of the party without alerting their children (who ended up hysterical in the corner of a bounce house when they figured out Mom was nowhere to be seen). We had kids with stubbed toes, twisted ankles and bad behavior — and no parents on hand to soothe and control.

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I spent more time calming and corralling other people’s kids than I did with my own. My daughter had a great birthday party, but I feel like I missed it.

I can understand when you’re a parent stuck in difficult situation — been there, done that. But the majority of rule-breakers at our party were simply displaying bad manners and a disregard for someone else’s plans and money.

I tried to be polite. I kept a smile on my face and I paid for the children who shouldn’t have been there.

In the end, we had 27 kids at the party. Nine of those kids were uninvited siblings, family and friends. This meant a bill that was nearly double what it should have been, and the party favors my daughter painstakingly selected were gone long before all of her invited guests (or any of my own children) received theirs.

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I’d like to say this was a lesson learned, but the only thing it really taught me is that you can’t always depend on other parents to be polite or considerate. An invitation to a child’s birthday party is just that. It’s not an offer for free babysitting, and it’s not a free pass to dump all of your kids on the hostess for two hours while you run free. Unfortunately, too many parents aren’t familiar with these unwritten rules of adulthood.

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little girl shorts
Image: Peathegee Inc./Getty Images

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