Why do Parties with Kids Always End in Disaster?

I love having parties at our house and it also scares me to death. A few weeks ago, in honor of my undergraduate alma mater’s participation in the Final Four (Let’s not talk about the game because the University of Oklahoma lost miserably to Villanova) we had a little gathering at our house. My husband was thrilled. He loves nothing better than presiding over the kitchen while several friends and family members eagerly await his offerings. He got to use his emersion circulator, his mandolin and his deep fryer. For him, the only thing better would have been to incorporate the smoker into the mix.

Our sons loved hosting their friends. They ran around the house wearing costumes, playing hide and seek and having epic light saber battles. Not one iPhone, electronic or computer game was used the entire night.

It was a great mix of people. We enjoyed introducing friends from different parts of our lives, and everyone got along famously. I, the mother of a 2-year-old, a 5-year- old and a 10-year-old, got to engage in the illusive adult conversation for several uninterrupted minutes. It was fantastic.

As we were saying our good-byes at the end of the evening, my husband and I were patting each other on the back congratulating ourselves on a successful party.

Then (cue the horror movie music), we went upstairs.

It looked like our house was ransacked by intruders who never found the goods. The pillows, sheets and blankets were ripped off the beds and strewn everywhere, closets were open and contents pulled out and dumped on the floor, furniture was moved. Legos, art supplies, puzzle pieces and books littered the floor. It seemed as if someone just pulled things off the shelves and dumped out all the baskets. Empty juice boxes and candy wrappers were mixed in with the toys.

Worst of all, my son’s bunk-bed slats were taken out one by one so if someone got on the top bunk they risked crashing down probably on the head of the someone on the bottom bunk.

When we asked our older boys how this destruction came to be their eyes grew wide as they shook their heads in disbelief and reported absolute ignorance of any wrongdoing.

I must admit this wasn’t a complete shock. After our first party in the house, I found someone had been in our bedroom. Inside our unmade, then clumsily remade bed, I found a pizza crust. Inside my closet, still packed boxes were smashed and there were shoeprints in my soaking tub. After that, I locked my bedroom when we had guests.

The thing is these are not bad kids. Individually, they are polite, kind, upstanding citizens, but when they get together something happens. A mob mentality takes over and it they seem to feel like anything goes.

While it’s happening, we grown-ups are just so thrilled to be able to talk to one another without much interruption. We try not to think about the devastation we might find at the end of the night.

Truthfully, it wasn’t terrible. I love that the kids were playing together, getting along and not staring at screens. As summer approaches these gatherings are going to happen more and more often. I need to figure out how to balance my fear of destruction with my desire to let the kids be kids.

Maybe the key is to not take it personally. Last night as we walked among the debris, I was not just angry, but hurt. How dare these children treat our home like this? We welcomed them, fed them, even gave them homemade chocolate chip cookies and they thanked us by wrecking the joint.

This morning I can look at the situation a little more impartially. Of course, the children were not trying to upset me. They were just having fun. My husband and I are not going to stop inviting people over for fear their kids might make a mess…even a big one.

The fact is life is messy. Our goal is not to keep the house perfectly clean (it never is anyway). Our goal is to make connections and memories and to enjoy ourselves. If we make a mess in the process, so be it…I’ll just make the kids clean it up.

The Therapist Takes Her Own Advice: All Parents Need Support

I just lost it on my sweet little 4-year-old boy, Harry. He was eating his breakfast very slowly. I had reminded him several times that it was almost time to get dressed to which he responded several times “I’M STILL EATING MY BREAKFAST!” After the 3rd or 4th time, I lost it. I yelled. He cried then I cried.

As I got him dressed and hustled him out the door I told him I was sorry for yelling. We got down the hill to the bus stop just as the bus was pulling up. I hugged him. He got on and looked back at me with a very sad face. I waved and blew kissed to him as the bus drove away, but he still looked sad and a little confused. I’m heartbroken and so ashamed of my behavior.

I’m the grown-up, the protector, the helper...but I’m also human.

I’m not excusing my behavior. I wish this morning had gone much differently, but it doesn’t help to revel in guilt. Doing so would just perpetuate the shame, increase the stress and make it more likely that I’ll lose it again. Instead, I want to investigate how my behavior happened.

I was awakened at 5:30am by a toddler in a cranky mood. He spent the morning “airing his grievances.” He didn't want to be put down, but he didn’t want to sit on my lap. He wanted to eat, but he didn’t want to be in the highchair or eat anything I gave him. Needless to say, I was already on edge. So it’s no wonder I got so upset when big brother wouldn’t get dressed.

I don’t think my children are unusually defiant and I don’t think I’m unusually sensitive. I think it’s the situation that’s flawed.

Parenting happens in pairs or alone when what we really need is a community. Not just a community of people who live near us, but a community of people working together to help each other. Sounds like an impossible utopia, doesn’t it?

Humans are communal beings. We are hard wired to live and thrive together and yet so many parents are thrown to the wolves. We do it all, or most of it, on our own.

No wonder so many of us feel so often at our wits end and then so ashamed for not being better.

We need real support, real respect, real camaraderie...not judgment and competition or worse isolation.

Years ago, I worked on an inpatient psychiatric unit. It was a hard job. The only way I was able to do my job effectively was because I had a team to support me. If I was having a hard day I knew there was always someone there for me. How many parents can say the same thing?

It’s not surprising so many of us end up yelling at our kids at times. I don’t pretend to have the all the answers to this problem, but what I do know is that all parents could use more support. All of us need safe place to talk about our parenting mishaps without judgment. All parents need someone to vent to, someone who can remind them that parenting is a hard job. All parents need support.

When young Harry got off the bus at the end of the day, I hugged him tight and apologized again for yelling this morning. He said “That’s okay, mommy. I just thought you lost your mind.” From the mouths of babes...