And whether you’re going to a wedding, a hay-ride, or your 8-year-old’s best friend’s birthday bash, consider these five general rules on party etiquette to keep in mind:
Party Etiquette Tip 1: It’s not about you
The family hosting the celebration wants you to have a good time. However, they are busy and likely a little overwhelmed. Take some responsibility for your own comfort, arrangements, and needs. If you need special accommodations (need, not want) ask when you accept or politely decline the invitation.
Party Etiquette Tip 2: Don’t complain
The traffic, the temperature, the menu, the hour of the event…these are all things the host either can’t control or planned to suit his or her needs. Nobody needs to know how these things affect you (see item one).
Party Etiquette Tip 3: Constructive criticism is not welcome
The fact that, in your opinion, the birthday boy received far too many video games, is not your concern. And I promise that neither his mother, nor his grandfather, nor the dad you barely know from playgroup, is interested in your assessment.
Party Etiquette Tip 4: Offer to help, and then get out of the way
If you can provide real assistance—say, pick up another guest on your way to the party, deliver balloons to the event, or baysit the babies while the big kids celebrate—by all means, do so. If your offer to help isn’t accepted, just smile and say “call if you change your mind” and then back off. Don’t try to insinuate yourself into the production if your help isn’t needed.
Party Etiquette Tip 5: Keep your own counsel.
Whatever you know or think you know about the events leading up to the occasion, keep it to yourself. No need to question why both the step-dad and the biological father, long out of the picture, are both present for their tween’s party. No need to discuss which relatives aren’t speaking to one another, whose mother-in-law feels snubbed, and what groom may have had a “thing” with which bridesmaid. The host can decide whether to share “back-story” with guests.
Most importantly, enjoy yourself! The older I get the more I plan to kick up my heels and embrace the moment. If the glazed salmon arrives cold and I get seated next to the bride’s wise-cracking uncle who says I dance like Elaine Benes from Seinfeld…so be it. I will show up, shut up, and share in the joy of others. It helps me remember what really matters in life.
Jody Gastfriend, mother of three, is vice president of senior care at care.com.