Other people’s kids, that is. How to be good with your own? Can’t help you there.
I am aware of a new demographic among my peers: those who do not have children when absolutely all their friends do. I’ve never had a jolly group of friends with whom I constantly socialised so this was never a problem for me, but if you are in that sort of group it can feel like within 1 calendar year your friends went from raving MDMA-loving free spirits to sprogged-out dowdy cliches.
If you are the only one left with no kids, this is very hard. Because I’m afraid that people with very small children shy away from inviting the child-free along to things. They suspect you wouldn’t have a nice time (and they are right). They no more want to be the friend-with-howling kid than you want to be the friend-dragged-across-town-to-see-it.
When your children are tiny, you just want to be in a safe place, surrounded by non-judgmental people – that’s why we’re always in playgrounds or huddled at each other’s houses and not at, say, Le Gavroche or The Wallace Collection.
So more and more the rule becomes: no baby, no bring.
But what about YOU? The one with no kids. This is a disaster! What about all those jolly brunches and those cosy days in the run up to important festivals. What now: what, what? You are in a social desert. What are you supposed to do, make new friends? At 34? Ugh.
And I’m sorry to tell you that, short of grabbing the nearest person and getting matched and hatched, you’re going to have to get some kids skills.
So here is guide to getting along with your friends’ kids (and their parents):
1 Be prepared to have a shit time. Understand you probably won’t get to finish a sentence. Understand that this will probably not be a time when you will be gossiping and drinking for three hours. There will be bodily fluids, bad smells and crying. And a kid might puke up a bit too.
2 Don’t bring the kids chocolate or sweets as a present. Just don’t, it’s annoying.
3 If you do want to bring a gift, bring a book. The kid won’t be interested, (unless you bring one that has buttons that make fart noises), but the parent will be so grateful that you haven’t brought Haribo.
4 When you first meet the kid just say “Hello, my name is John/Jane” and smile and then move on. Don’t push for any more.
5 Small children don’t really have conversations. Don’t ironically say something like “So, read any good books lately?” of “So what’s your take on Syria?” It is a tired gag, all the parents have done it and heard it. If you actually want to engage with any child, sit quietly and look at the book you have brought as a gift. They will flock to you as if you had brought some freaking Haribo.
6 Do not be offended or upset if a child snatches something off you that you have innocently picked up, shrieking “THAT’S MINE!” That’s just what they do – all of them. Don’t tell them off, you’ll never be forgiven. Just sit quietly as if you were in the presence of a demented, bi-polar, semi-homicidal dictator. (Because you are.)
Similarly, if they interrupt do not say “Shhh the grown ups are talking.” Whatever total garbled nonsense they have to say will be more interesting to the parents than whatever total garbled nonsense you have to say. It’s for the parent to tell the kid to shut up and go away. A damning critique of the modern child-centric rearing practises, yes – but it’s just the way things are.
7 To seal the deal, you must compliment the child. But what on earth can you convincingly say about this potato-like, lumpen, rude, boring kid? It’s easy, you just say: “Is it normal for a child to be so chatty/mobile/creative at such a young age?” It’s not really a compliment, but the doting parents will take it as such. They will be eating out of your hand and invitations will pour forth.