Formal Events with Three Littles

In the Pakistani community, family and the sense of community is a big deal. So when we have formal parties, regardless of the occasion, it is not acceptable to simply invite your friends. You also have to invite all your relatives, and their relatives, all your parents friends with their kids and grandkids and any other community members you have accidentally gotten to know along the way. Every guest list easily reaches a minimum of 200 people before you know it!

Because this has become so ingrained in us, it actually feels normal to be invited to people’s parties and weddings that you may not know all that well – and to bump into 400 other people there.

The other fantastic thing Pakistanis do is automatically add one hour to any invite time and show up sometimes even much later than that! It’s often referred to as DST. Desi Standard Time. But it’s anything but funny. Because not only do guests arrive late, but hosts also refrain from staying on schedule and start their programmes late too. So, when you’re invited to a wedding reception on Sunday evening at 7, you don’t show up until 8:30. And you won’t be seeing any sign of dinner until 9:30. And despite everyone having work and school the next morning, the system remains unaffected.

So how do we navigate this social system with three little ones? Option one is to hire a babysitter and not deal with the tantrums that ensue from being up past bedtime, or being bored because you don’t know other kids there or because you’re hungry and dinner isn’t getting served. But often, we don’t have a sitter available, or whomever has invited us has specifically requested that the kids attend too – so we’re stuck. They have to come with.

Because we’ve had to take the kids along to many night parties, we have figured out a few tricks that really work well for us that maybe you may want to try or consider as well! For reference, my girl squad is currently 4, 2.5 and 11 months.

Getting dressed to go out with tots is a bit tricky. It’s actually a production whenever you have to go out – but formal events are extra challenging. You want to make sure the kids don’t get their clothes wrinkly or dirty, diapers are changed right before leaving, baby has to be nursed one last time before heading out, etc.

Here’s how I generally tackle it. (And I’m going to give you the version of just one parent managing it, because I often get stuck doing the whole she-bang).

  1. Everyone is showered the morning of an event and by the afternoon their outfits, shoes, and accessories are laid out in a flatlay style in our guest room so that at least all that basic prep is out of the way. Diaper bag is packed for the evening, and whatever heels I’m wearing, along with any presents that need to be taken are put in the car. I even get my clutch ready if I don’t have anywhere else to go that day.
  2. About an hour and a half before we need to leave, we begin the getting ready process. I’m able to reduce my dressing up time since I wear hijab and don’t have to do my hair. If you need to do your hair – add 30 more minutes of time.
  3. Step one is feeding the kids their dinner. Even if it’s earlier than their actual dinner time. You don’t know when food will get served and if there will be anything your kids actually will want to eat. I know how I am when I get hangry, so spare yourself the drama that will ensue if your children are hungry at the event. They can always eat more later if they’d like – but should be able to survive if dinner at the party doesn’t work as planned.
  4. As for getting ready, I first begin with doing my makeup. Once my face is ready, I then nurse the baby. After that I get the girls dressed – faces washed, teeth brushed, diapers changed, make their hair. Then I send the older two off to put on their shoes, which takes a while because they still don’t know the difference between right and left and struggle with the straps. Meanwhile I make a mad dash to change into my dress, wrap my hijab, spray some perfume, slip into some comfy flats and then grab everybody and get the car loaded up. While I load up the younger two, Aiza is reminded to use the restroom one last time before we leave.

Once we are out of the house and at the actual event, my diaper bag is also my survival kit. I keep it stocked with comfort snacks, a few toys, and…. a fully charged iPhone or iPad. (We’ll get into the pros and cons of this last one in a second).

Upon arrival at an event, we always scout the scene for any friends for our girl squad and settle on a table accordingly. If we don’t see anyone we know – we find an empty table close to others who have littles. After a little bit if the kids start getting antsy after destroying the entire place setting, you can pull out some coloring books or a toy or two to keep them busy. By now, hopefully a friend or two has trickled in or they’ve caught sight of other little kids playing and join them. Thankfully if this doesn’t occur – they still have each other to play and interact with. This is one of those moments where you remember why you wanted to have kids close in age lol! Now, if none of these lucky instances take place, you will soon have to resort to the final but usually effective tactic: a device.

As a rule, you should always keep your phone fully charged before any outing and have a minimum of three tv show episodes that they like, songs or YouTube videos, and a few pre-school friendly games downloaded and ready to go. If you’re looking for some great free games for your little ones, my top three faves are: Monkey Preschool Lunchbox, Moose Math, and Recolor.

I know that this is a sensitive point, as most parents try to avoid sticking their kids on a device or refrain from introducing them to TV shows. Let me put things in perspective. There is a time and place for everything. In your every day life at home, you don’t need TV. You can encourage your kids to engage in free play and they have an entire schedule of things to do anyway which doesn’t leave too much room for boredom and misbehavior. Your child is also your primary focus at home. So even if they do get bored or misbehave, you’re at home. You can give them full attention and address the issue and redirect them. At a formal event, this is not the case. At these events, just for a few hours, raising your child is not your top priority – it’s to socialize and be present for the occasion you’re participating in. So at a time like this, instead of stressing over how to deal with a cranky child – I think it’s ok to entertain them with a device for a little while. It’s not the end of the world. You’re not going to mess them up in any way. They’re distracted and you can enjoy being a normal adult and participate in the event for a little bit of time. Otherwise, what’s the point of even attending? And believe me, as kids get older, you can start reasoning with them and explaining that when you go out you shouldn’t just play on the phone and they DO understand. My four year old is remarkably beginning to get this concept when I try this with her now and we are slowly trying to transition her out of device time when we go out. It’s hard because we still want to do it for the 2 year old – but we’ll get there. They won’t be socially-dysfunctional – it’s my job to ensure it!

Just last night we were at a baby welcoming event called an Aqiqa. We arrived there at 9 p.m. and pretty much followed the routine from above. The kids were doing great upon arriving at the party because they found a few new friends to play tag with. When we wanted them to settle down for the program and dinner, we called upon our trusted babysitter, Netflix, gave them a few snacks and had them settle in for the next hour as we enjoyed our meal in peace and were able to meet and greet with friends. This also helped them last peacefully until 11 p.m. until we were able to get them in the car and head home. Not gonna lie, we did have some breakdowns in the car – but that was much better than dealing with that in public!

Now since Zahra is only 11 months, we don’t prop her in front of the phone yet. She receives a bottle for her feed while we are out and then sits in our laps with some sort of toy to chew on or a pile of Gerber puffs in front of her to keep her busy while we eat/socialize. She’s also my angel baby (mashaAllah, praise be to Allah) and pretty easy to manage, so it’s not too difficult to be out with her.

On a final note – I know a lot of parents prefer to change their kids into PJs before that drive home, so that if they fall asleep in the car, the transition to bed is easier. If that’s you – be sure to keep those extra PJs on hand in your diaper bag. Our kids have just become used to our nightlife or we have just fallen into this pattern, (thank God), that we do a mad dash to change them after we get home and they don’t get too awake and are able to go back to sleep. For me, it saves the headache of taking all this extra stuff and changing the kiddos in a public restroom. Plus it’s an opportunity to make sure everyone has used the restroom or has a fresh diaper before bedtime. I let Aiza and Rania have a small bottle of milk so that they can easily get back into their sleepy zone again and put themselves to sleep. Then Zahra gets a fresh diaper and a final nursing for the night. So for us, them waking up for a few minutes when we get home to change, has not been bad. But it may not work for other kids, so do what works best for you!

I hope sharing how we tackle parties with our kids gives you an idea or two of things to try with your littles OR just makes you feel more brave about getting out with multiple tots! As much as Faris and I enjoy a kid-free night, it’s also nice to have our kids attend social gatherings with us and meet people and slowly learn what the expectations are when we go out to formal events. Especially since this is a huge part of our lifestyle!

If anyone has any other awesome tips on how to handle these kind of evenings, please leave me a comment and share! I always welcome new ideas and any help I can get 🙂

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