Parental Advisory: Should a Nonparent Have to Fill Her House with Kid Stuff?
Welcome back to Parental Advisory, where I answer all of your social media and IRL parenting etiquette questions. This week, let's discuss whether nonparents should feel required to purchase kid stuff for their home.
I'm seeking advice on the expectations when hosting families with young kids when you have a child free house. A couple of parents/parents to be have said we should purchase some toys and equipment like a portable high chair and playmats, so my house can be more kid friendly and it's something for which the guests would be really grateful.
It started with a conversation about a few months ago with a family member about how we could make our house more friendly to host family functions. She said something like, "You should buy some play equipment and kid stuff, it'll make it easier for everyone to come over." I then asked a group of friends I know about it over an online chat, in a "ha, you guys wouldn't expect that people did that, would you! Isn't my relative hilarious?" way. The response was that yes, it would be considerate to buy a playmat, high chair, travel crib, etc. and perhaps even some toys and books, so parents don't have to juggle them when they come over. It was then followed by a few more comments on "how appreciated it would be if I did buy stuff as it's so hard for parents to get out."
In another face to face conversation with a different relative, in which I expressed reluctance to have a couple of very "active" toddlers over, she responded by telling me I should buy some toys for them to play with, particularly stuff to use outside. It was a "you should", not a "you could" conversation.
I have been honestly stunned that this was all suggested, and by multiple people, and by no one that lives in a different city to me. I'm almost 40, married for over a decade, and it's very clear that kids are not and never were in the picture. We've since had toddlers over and distracted them with cable tv, but not bought anything specific for them. The parents seem to have coped with bringing whatever they needed.
Maybe I'm being unreasonable, but these requests seem like a lot of expectation to me. What would I do with a high chair outside of the two times it might get used a year for a couple of years? As host, is it my responsibility to purchase kid stuff to make the house kid friendly for when families visit, or is it an expectation that the parents should bring what items they'll need/want to amuse the kids. Is there a middle ground?
C., I'd like to commend you for not telling these friends and relatives to take their Pack 'n Play requests and shove them up their entitled asses, because these requests cross a distinct line. This is sort of like when a first-time mom sends out a mass email telling her 300 closest friends that they need to show proof of having received recent booster shots before they can come over and cook her dinner while she breastfeeds her newborn.
It assumes so much. It assumes you want to play hostess to friends/relatives and their kids. It assumes you have expendable income you could be spending on your friends' kids (who are aging and growing out of certain toys by the day!). It assumes you will be washing kid germs off play mats, toys and high chairs after the kids leave because otherwise you'd just have their germs in your home, layered atop other germs from previous visiting kids, and that would be disgusting. The request also assumes that all of this is quite normal — but I'm here to reassure you, it's not.
Aside from the fact that no one should tell anyone what to do in their own home, and aside from the fact that no one should tell anyone how to spend their money, this request dismisses the reality that being a hostess already comes with its own set of duties. Most people try to tidy up the house, clean the bathroom, perhaps provide a cheese plate or an offering of some kind of beverage. Hosting people can be fun, but it's also work. (And time. And money. And time is money, so... you get my drift.)
At this point, I wouldn't even condone someone telling you to pick your bra up off the floor. These people and their "casual" requests (aka demands) aren't worthy of toys and high chairs because they're not bringing anything else to the table. They're not like, "If you supply the toys, I'll supply the hummus!" It doesn't even sound like they're admitting this is a tall and anomalous order. No, what they're saying is, "Being a parent is a pain in the ass, and lugging stuff around to entertain my child isn't nearly as convenient as you purchasing it for me and pulling it out whenever we decide to tornado into your home."
Plus, it puts you in the awkward position of knowing that if you don't purchase any of these items, you're all "aware" of it whenever they come over. Who would expect an invitation after that?? If these friends and relatives were trying not to get invited over, their performances are well played and I salute their strategy. If that wasn't their objective, and we unequivocally know it wasn't, they should consider how it would sound if you said, "I'd really appreciate it if you supplied my dog with gourmet treats when we come over because it makes him more well-behaved. Also, a pee pad. Also, a water bowl. Ours was made by my mother-in-law in her pottery class and weighs a ton! Oh, and my dog is partial to sheepskin if you were thinking about getting him something soft to lay and drool on while I munch on the cheese and crackers you put out. I prefer aged pecorino, by the way."
What this really comes down to is a core belief I've held ever since a college roommate asked me to split the cost of some cleaning supplies when I'd already purchased $150 of household items. My reply to her question was, "I've spent a bunch of money on common items, so no," to which she responded with five words I've now come to loathe: "It never hurts to ask!"
That expression is complete bullshit, and anyone who's heard it in a dubious context knows what I'm talking about. The people who hold the false belief that "it never hurts to ask" are always the people who think it's OK to ask you to buy their kids a 3,000-piece set of LEGOs for your home. This is different than asking someone if they'll have a vegetarian dish before attending their dinner party. Providing a vegetable entrée is a little less burdensome than purchasing a swing set. And yet, based on your description of your interactions with these friends and relatives, C., I'm left to think they see nothing wrong with their requests.
I asked a friend who has two small kids what her thoughts were, and she said, "Their aunt and grandparents each have toys, a high chair and a Pack 'n Play, but we see them all the time. I don't expect anyone else to have that stuff. If there are other kids around, they will find pretty much anything to play with but if it's mine by themselves, I'll just give them my phone. Mom of the year!" When I asked if she planned to keep her children's toys, high chairs, etc. once they outgrow them (for her friends' younger children), she said, "I will keep a Pack 'n Play, but I can't wait to get rid of the toys."
Something tells me your friends and relatives, C., aren't considering how these requests will apply when their toddlers turn into young adults. Part of the reason it's not sensible to ask people to supply these things is because kids are always growing and always looking for new ways to entertain themselves. Who's to say your friends' children won't grow bored of the toys you provide or graduate to a new level of advancement? This is why it's better for parents to bring their own baby/toddler/kid/adolescent accouterment wherever they go, because even if it's a hassle, it doesn't put friends out or create a scenario in which a baby has barfed on someone else's organic cotton play mat.
I do think it's safe to say your friends and relatives don't necessarily expect you to provide their kids with pricey toys, expensive high chairs (models ranging up to $1,000!), top-of-the-line playpens or brand-new books. Maybe what they're requesting is that you have a cheap plastic container full of "kid stuff" that you drag in from the garage whenever someone comes over with their mini-me.
And to a certain extent, that could be fine. If your home has the space, and you have an extra $100 to spend on thrifted books and toys, a cheap Pack 'n Play that may or may not be up to regulation and a sad, possibly stained high chair from Craigslist, it wouldn't be so hard to keep these items out of daily view. But if you're like me and live in a 650-square-foot apartment, or you're like a lot of other people who don't have a basement or a garage, you might not have extra space for these things.
You can always narrow down their wish list to try to be accommodating and provide the kids with a limited choice of toys and books, but don't be surprised if your friends' demands (masked as easy-squeezy requests) keep trickling in. Before you know it, your living room will be a veritable children's section not unlike a library or a pediatrician's office, and you'll catch yourself laying out copies of Highlights magazines for guests.
Of course, these are just things your parent friends and relatives want. No one likes traveling with baggage, and last time I checked, kids come with strollers, diapers, sippy cups, binkies, outfit changes, training potties, bags of crushed up Cheerios, etc. before you factor in the toys, high chair, Pack 'n Play and swing set. But parents shouldn't reasonably expect their child-free friends to set up a kids' table in the corner of their den just because they happen to have friends over who have kids. Whenever someone invites me to their home, my primary goal is to bring them something they'll enjoy, not ask them to make me a rack of lamb. And yeah, I kind of do equate asking someone to buy a high chair with asking someone to make a rack of lamb.
So, to summarize: Is this a normal request? No. Do you have to comply with these orders — er, polite requests? No. Should you grab a few used toys and books the next time you're at a thrift store? You can, but you don't have to. If doing so makes your life and your friends' lives easier, it could be a nice gesture. But never feel obligated to accommodate someone else's children on their behalf, because your home is not a Gymboree, and LEGOs don't grow on trees.
You can put away your breakables, though.
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