we can only bring our spouses to the holiday party if we have kids

A reader writes:

I’ve considered writing in years past about my company’s Christmas party, but I never felt like I had any agency to change things. This year the Christmas party is cancelled (obviously) so when we resume next year (hopefully) it will be a chance to re-set the rules, so to speak.

Our company has about 80 employees. Christmas at our workplace is very family-oriented. It is a catered lunch during the work day, an employee dresses as Santa, and every single child under the age of 18 associated with the company gets called up and given a gift. This means kids and grandkids. We also have an employee raffle that is incredibly generous. It has ballooned into a huge ordeal.

There is a lot to like about our Christmas parties but one thing upsets me every year: I am not allowed to bring my husband. The rule is that spouses can only attend if you have a child. If it is a grandchild, then the parent(s) can also attend. Which means that those of us without kids don’t get the opportunity to introduce our coworkers to our spouses. I also think it’s especially rude because we have multiple employees who are in same-sex marriages, and this rule applies to them as well, as none of them have children. So for example, one older employee has three adult children and a total of 9 grandchildren under 18, so they will bring 12 guests, but my coworker is not allowed to bring his husband of 10 years because they don’t have a child together. It just doesn’t seem fair. I do like meeting my coworkers’ families. I think it helps us get to know each other on a more personal level and really connect with each other. But I’d like them to be able to meet my husband, too!

It is frustrating. I spoke with the party planner last year about a month before the party about it, and she insisted on the rule and said that some younger employees also complained to her because they didn’t have kids or spouses, but would like to bring a parent with them to see their workplace and meet all their coworkers. She said we simply cannot accommodate everyone. Then the party was kind of a disaster. I can’t say for certain but I think there were about 350 or so people in attendance, we ran out of chairs/tables, we ran out of food, and our party planner was near tears from stress and frustration trying to scramble for more food and seats. I ended up sitting at a table with a bunch of teenagers who were just waiting for their gift cards from Santa and refused to talk to me and were all on their phones. It was no fun.

Our office party planner is open to suggestions but seems to think there is no way for us to have a “family” Christmas party that it equitable for everyone, so people without kids just have to suck it up. Christmas 2020 is canceled so I’m hoping we can come up with ideas for Christmas 2021 that makes our party fun, fair, and not totally overwhelming! I was thinking a rule of children under 12 only, and no grandkids, and everyone else gets one plus-one. It would cut the numbers down drastically but the party planner thinks it would be agist and make our employees with grandkids unhappy to change the system. But after last year’s disaster of a party it seems clear that something has to give.

Do you have any ideas on how to fix this? Or is our party system not the problem, and just my attitude is? I don’t have kids and I’m not planning on them, so I can’t help but wonder if I’m just being a wet blanket about this.

This is a terrible system!

Some employees get to bring 12 guests while others can’t bring anyone, not even their spouse? It’s incredibly exclusionary, and I’m not sure why they think employees without kids would even want to attend on their own — when their coworkers get to bring their spouses and the rest of their families. And grandkids! You can’t bring your spouse, but other people can bring their spouse, their adult children, and their grandkids?

And your party planner says she can’t change anything because it would upset employees with grandchildren … but she’s apparently totally unconcerned about the people who are upset right now at being excluded?

The most generous reading I can come up with is that this isn’t really a party for employees; it’s a party for employees’ kids, and everyone else is welcome to attend. It’s possible that’s really what they intend, based on the family focus, the gifts to every child, etc.

But if that’s the case, it would be understandable if you and your other colleagues without children decided not to attend at all. I’m curious how that would go over — would anyone care? Or are you pressured to be there, especially since it’s during the workday?

If you want to push back on it, I’d talk to someone other than the party planner since she doesn’t seem to be able to see past “this is how we do it.” Her reasoning — “we can’t accommodate everyone” while letting some employees bring 12 guests — says pretty clearly that she’s not bringing logic to this discussion. My guess is that she figures this is the system you have, it would take effort and some political capital to change it, and she either doesn’t know how or isn’t willing to deal with the complaints event planners get with any change … so you need to go higher.

Ideally you and your other coworkers who object would go over her head and talk to someone with more authority. Explain that it’s alienating to be told you can’t bring your spouse while others bring a spouse and 10+ guests, and ask if the party can be re-envisioned to be more inclusive of all your employees, not just those with kids.

Since it seems like your company really wants to do something for kids, you might get more traction if you suggest keeping the event for kids, but adding an adult party that all partners (or any plus-one) are welcome at.

{ 520 comments… read them below }

  1. TiredMama*

    Wow. This sounds very unsustainable. Time to either limit it to spouses and kids under 13 or just employees.

    1. Quill*

      I’m from a rather large extended family (10 first cousins, seven first cousins once removed, a HUGE DROP from the 40 first cousins in my mom’s generation…) that has, over various holidays, included an extra grandparent, various great aunts and uncles who happened to be around, someone’s cousin from the other side of the family, somebody else’s aunt, Grandma’s favorite home health aide, and a baker’s dozen of extra nuns that turned up with cookies & my great aunt because there was drama at the convent.

      Yet this holiday party, in terms of logistics, absolutely bonkers to me.

      1. madge*

        “and a baker’s dozen of extra nuns that turned up with cookies & my great aunt because there was drama at
        the convent”

        I’m sorry but you can’t start a story that crazy and not finish it…

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            I once jumped a gate into St Peter’s Basilica (yes, THAT one) with a trio of nuns, one of whom had a Tinkerbell purse, but there were no baked goods involved.

            1. Quill*

              Sounds about right for nuns before their hips or knees give way.

              One of my nuns taught me to milk a goat, but most of them were quite delicate by the time I was old enough to get into too much trouble.

            2. Free Now (and forever)*

              I was once, no twice, turned away from St. Peter’s Basilica, because at 5’9” with very long legs, the dress I’d specially bought in 1970 to cover my knees showed way more leg than the dresses worn by the rest of the girls who were under 5’6”. I was eventually smuggled in while wearing another girl’s maxi coat (which had been smuggled out), but by that point my appreciation of the basilica had been entirely ruined.

              1. Quill*

                When I was on dig in Israel we went up the temple mount. Girls had been informed to cover collarbones to knees, no exceptions, and most of us had something that went to mid calf and a jacket or scarf, so we got in no problem.

                The boys, however, uniformly in cargo shorts and t-shirts, were all marched back out to buy shawls that they had to wear as kilts to cover their scandalous, scandalous knees.

                1. whingedrinking*

                  I’ll at least give them points for being equitable there. I was faintly grumpy when I was bumming around Europe and women seemed to be much more strictly policed about showing skin in churches than men were.

          2. Quill*

            Okay, so my great aunt was a nun, and also the music teacher at the catholic school my mom and several of her cousins went to. Dominican Sisters are, according to the older members of my family, known for charity work and rulers-to-the-knuckles, but by the time I was a kid they were more known for giving you tic-tacs if you could say a rosary and gatecrashing my grandma’s house.

            Of course, they brought cookies (Pitzelles mostly, some devout italian lady had brought her press and her recipe for decorative anise wafers the size of plates, but also shortbreads and other cookies mostly lost to popular culture) as sort of an excuse to arrive, because Grandma had been a member in good standing of the church forever, and my converted-from-protestantism grandfather kept the convent in honey so he’d clearly seen the light.

            Most christmases they’d turn up a few days before or after with cookies, because christmas eve day was spent preparing for midnight mass, but there would usually only be one van load of them, so a maximum of about four or five. Most of them were direct friends of my great aunt, or former teachers of Angela’s Fine Educated Catholic Daughters who wanted to see her many Fine Educated Catholic Granddaughters and play a few rounds of cribbage where penny bets were not sinful because the pennies were never spent.

            But one year we got about thirteen, fleeing from the cookie and mass scene at the local convent, because their usual holiday preparations had started a theological discussion that nobody was prepared for.

            There was a birdfeeder outside the convent kitchen, placed on a metal pole, and SOMEONE had decided they were sick of the squirrels knocking all the feed out. So this particular sister had greased the pole with crisco, and went happily back to her baking, sure that she wouldn’t have to walk back out to refill the feeder that day.

            When the first daylight squirrel made a flying leap and a satisfying sliiiiiiiiide-splat in the snow, I’m sure she felt some momentary satisfaction, but another baking sister had other ideas, or was very fond of squirrels, not sure which.

            “It is a SIN to grease the birdfeeder with crisco!”

            I’d like to imagine that the Pitzelle sister stopped halfway through pressing one, and all movement in the kitchen stopped, but I don’t know for sure.

            I do know, that an argument broke out, someone called the parish priest, and my great aunt said “oh, look at the time, I have to go to my sister’s house with her cookies and supervise piano carols,” and about half the kitchen, who wasn’t going to sit through squirrel related theology with a straight face, said “Oh, you’re right, I promised to help you move all these heavy boxes Sister Mary K, with your hip in this weather you really shouldn’t be managing an entire tin of pitzelles (which weigh approximately negative one grams per cookie)” and proceeded to flee to my grandma’s house so they could drink itty bitty cups of coffee in peace and pinch the cheeks of any grandkid they could reach.

              1. Anhaga*

                I’m now going to be waiting, breathlessly, for this to get mentioned in an episode of Father Brown. That would be the perfect context.

            1. Sara without an H*

              I don’t think Thomas Aquinas ever said anything definitive on squirrels and bird feeders…

              That said, your story made my day.

              1. Anananon*

                Knowinghow much the guy likes to speak about absolutely everything, he probably did. Even if it was just to mess with humanities students a few centuries later.

              2. Free Now (and forever)*

                I’m pretty sure St. Augustine skipped that topic, too, but I’m Jewish, so what do I know?

              3. Lilyofthefield*

                I’m not Catholic, but maybe St. Francis of Assisi might have addressed this situation? Is that correct?

            2. GoryDetails*

              Awesome story, Quill – thanks so much for that! (If my folks were still alive I’d be printing it out to mail to them; Mom worked at a hospice for aging nuns, and Dad constructed bird-feeders AND squirrel-feeders for the entertainment value of seeing the squirrels try to come up with workarounds to all the baffles, and they’d both love that tale!)

            3. Llellayena*

              Oh this is even better than I was picturing. And pizzelles are awesome! You can still find some waffle makers with pizzelle presses on the back of the waffle plates. I’m making some this year!

            4. A Non E. Mouse*

              This story made my week. My goodness, what perfection.

              “But one year we got about thirteen, fleeing from the cookie and mass scene at the local convent, because their usual holiday preparations had started a theological discussion that nobody was prepared for.”

              Just….*chef’s kiss*

            5. patricia*

              This is so fantastic and as someone with a large Catholic family (I had 2 great aunts who were nuns)…definitely checks out. Thank you for sharing! Brilliantly written too. I had zero trouble picturing my great aunts as the escaping nuns. They would have related this story to my grandma- their sister- while being careful not to criticize the other nuns: “Well, I suppose Sister Mary Helen is just so passionate about and concerned for the animals, especially in this cold snap….”

              1. Quill*

                Oh god that’s exactly how shade was thrown. Delicately. with a tiny snap like shaking out a tablecloth.

                1. 'Tis Me*

                  Whether you intend to ensure that the birds get fed, or that the squirrel can’t raid the feeder, maybe?

                2. JSPA*

                  If the intent is the good of the birds, or the health of the neighborhood / not creating a nuisance, or even preventing harm to one of the other sisters, who’s too frail but insists on refilling the feeder, I’m assuming it’s a good deed.

                  If the intent is enmity towards squirrels, schadenfreude, or over-concern for one’s own convenience and comfort, then being as these are nuns, so they’re not supposed to weigh their own comfort and convenience, I’m assuming that’s some level of sinfulness.

                  And this is actually quite relevant to this blog, as the thinking which excuses all sorts of mistreatment and bad practices in nonprofits borrows liberally from this mindset of counting oneself last (or not at all). Which, even as a religious exercise, has limits in most religions.

            6. Coder von Frankenstein*

              Surely this can be considered work-related and Alison can give it its own post? It absolutely deserves one. Being a nun is a job, after all.

            7. They Don’t Make Sunday*

              Omg, thank you for this! As soon as I got to the squirrel vs birdfeeder bit, it was like OF COURSE. Also, the Crisco idea, so brilliant.

            8. Adultiest Adult*

              This is amazing and brings back memories… My aunt is a nun and a spitfire, and so are many of her friends. Definitely haven’t heard about Crisco being a sin, though! I might have to ask at Christmas… (wink)

            9. I take tea*

              “But it’s not against any religion
              To want to dispose of a pigeon”
              / Tom Lehrer Poisoning Pigeons in the Park

        1. Llellayena*

          I entirely understand how this happens. There were 2 nuns in my extended family which means the entire family was adopted by the convent. Mom often speaks of how she could never do anything wrong because she never knew how many nuns (some of them her teachers) would be at dinner each night. And the cookie thing is very Italian. Hmm, I might actually know the nuns this poster is talking about…

          1. Quill*

            They were dominicans in the midwest, if that helps, but we’re German.

            IIRC the convent was about a third each Italian, German, and Polish. The largest generation being the daughters of the great depression for obvious reasons, but there were plenty from before and after as well.

            My mom couldn’t do anything wrong at school either, and then she went on to become a teacher when *I* was in school, so I had multigenerational goody two-shoes plausible deniability while also being an absolute gremlin.

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        There is always a good story attached to cookie baking nuns and drama because nuns are generally the least dramatic people.

          1. Mayor of Llamatown*

            ^This. If you think nuns are not dramatic, you have not lived with, or worked with, enough nuns.

            1. Quill*

              Especially if any of them are also teachers, because teacher drama is legendary and Nun Drama invokes personal righteousness like nobody’s business.

              1. Mayor of Llamatown*

                My mom went to Catholic school and the nuns would argue in German when they didn’t want the kids to know what they were arguing about. But there was always one kid in class who knew German from their parents and grandparents, and that kid would dutifully translate for the other kids.

                It was, according to my mom, almost always about what order they went to lunch and walked in the halls.

            2. Artemesia*

              My MIL was an ex nun — didn’t take final vows, went on to have 8 kids including my husband — and stirring the pot was her favorite activity. She had joined a carmelite order which is contemplative and often silent — can see why that didn’t work out. She was in fact contemplative, but silent — never.

              1. Quill*

                In my experience silence is the least popular activity for nuns.

                Dominicans are as loud as a murder of crows.

          2. Chinook*

            Anyone who thinks a group of women who live and work together 24/7 are drama free has never met a group of nuns!

            1. Chinook*

              After all, they are a group of sisters, and who hasn’t had a bit of drama with a sister at least once.

      3. nona*

        Dang – I come from a similarly large extended family (mom is one of 16, I have 54 first cousins spread over multiple states), but that means T-day/Easter are potlucks where the host makes the turkey(s) and potatoes and then everyone brings sides for 60 (even though there usually at most 40-45 people). Family reunions require planning and committees and only happen every couple years (mostly because most of them are introverts and it takes that long to feel up to doing another one?). Can’t imagine doing the big get-together every holiday.

        1. Quill*

          We have a decade family reunion from five generations back, the last time I went we doubled the population of the county it was held in for the day, and we had to be color coded depending on which of my great-great grandpa’s offspring we belonged to, and you got introduced by lineage (My mom said things like “Hi Scott, this is Albert’s Johnathan’s Gloria’s Angela’s Carol’s Quill, Quill, this is my cousin – of some degree – Scotty the Veteranarian with the Horse from that one time we went into the country to teach you to ride a pony, he’s Caroline’s William’s David’s Robert’s Michael’s Scott, not Mary Anne’s Bernadette’s Johnathan’s Louisa’s Scott, who is thirty years older than me and once Exploded His Mailbox.”

          Meanwhile other young adults there were divided between “time to drink” and “Statistically, ten percent of us are the gay cousin, so which of you are the rest of the forty gay cousins and how can we communicate that via eyebrow gestures and hair colors and mild panic when people joke about who’s getting married next.”

            1. allathian*

              Me too, it sounds hilarious!

              The only remotely similar thing I remember is celebrating Christmas with my maternal grandparents when I was a kid. My mom is the oldest of 9 children and her youngest brother is only 7 years older than I am and always seemed more like an older cousin than an uncle to me. I remember Christmases when we were more than 20 people at table.

      4. Lavender Menace*

        I come from a similarly large and kooky family (there’s always someone new, usually multiple someones, at family gatherings) and this also seems bonkers to me. Actually, it seems bonkers partially because of my crazy family. My maternal grandmother alone had 7 children and has 21 grandchildren, so she’d be theoretically be towing potentially nearly 30 additional people to this company party.

    2. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

      It sounds like a sweet idea in theory. It’s refreshing to hear about a place that is truly trying to be kid-friendly for their employees, but it really is unfair on those without. Why not just let everyone without children have a plus-one? It would go a long way towards creating some good will, and sounds a lot easier to plan around than everything else they’re already doing. I’m of the opinion that if they’re willing to spend the money (and get that party planner an assistant!) it’s a great idea to keep all those kids involved. But it can’t be lots of guests for some and zero for others. You might even try seeing if you can get some support from those who do get to bring their spouses and children and grandchildren. Benefitting from a system shouldn’t stop them from seeing that aspects of it are unfair.

      1. Artemesia*

        My father worked for Boeing in Seattle which even in my childhood was ginormous — they had an annual CHILDREN’S Christmas Party and it was great fun — but it was specifically for kids. This office probably needs two parties.

        1. Asenath*

          Exactly. I worked in a place with a children’s Christmas party, and my father did too so I attended such parties as a child. Only the children (with a parent or other adult for the youngest who needed close supervision) attended that party, and I’m sure grandchildren didn’t attend. There was a cut off at about 16, too. Employees had their own parties.

        2. Cascadia*

          Yes to this! My dad’s company when I was growing up had two holiday parties every year. One was the children’s party, it was always on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, with a Santa, carnival games, lots of balloons, a grab bag of favors for every kid, cookie decorating, and the food was all McDonald’s happy meals. (I loved it as a kid, this party was seriously so much fun!). They also had an adults only christmas party with spouses that was usually at a really nice restaurant with lots of booze, etc. Since I was a kid I have no idea what the attendance rates or expectations were for employees around this, but if the company of the LW really wants to do a kid friendly holiday party make it a SEPARATE party just for the kids!

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yeah, I can imagine how this started in the early days of the company, with just a handful of employees. And now there are people with 30 years of seniority and more than a dozen descendants. It’s a great example of a boiling frog problem.

      1. Holiday Party Letter Writer*

        Yes this absolutely is a big part of it. Despite how it may seem in my letter, my company is incredible to work for. We have a very low turnover rate and many employees who have been here 20 or 30 years. I have been here over 5 and am intent on staying as long as I can. But as such the majority of employees have a mindset of “this is how it’s always been done” and have a hard time changing.

    4. A Poster Has No Name*

      My company manages this by doing both–they have a kid’s Christmas party, in the morning on a Saturday and it’s very clearly for kids (10 and under, mainly). For adults, each team/department gets funds to have whatever type of gathering best suits their team.

      It probably could include grandkids, as they don’t really ask you for names/relationships, you just sign up and let them know how many adults and how many kids of which ages will attend (they do gifts based on age ranges) and that’s that.

    5. ...*

      I think LW’s suggestion of spouses and kids under 12 sounds utterly reasonable! Not sure this company is going to bite though..

    6. Momma Bear*

      We used to do this a few of my jobs ago. It was kept really informal and limited to families and held in a much less formal venue. Then we had the fancy dinner thing for you +1, whoever that +1 was, but no kids.

      Maybe it’s time to do two events, which would allow non-parents some non-kid time to introduce their +1s to coworkers.

      I also think that extending it to grandkids AND their parents is a little much. What schools do is they give people a set number of tickets for graduations and the families have to duke it out. If you need more tickets, then you trade with someone who doesn’t need as many as they are allowed. This may or may not be a solution for the company gig, but it would be more equitable than +12 vs +0.

  2. MMMMmmmmmmmMMM*

    Has anyone just… brought their spouse? Without kids? Surely they wouldn’t turn you away at the door, right? I’m sorry OP, this is an incredibly silly rule for Christmas parties.

    1. Artemesia*

      It is in the class with the person who doesn’t get their birthday off but once every 4 years since they were born on leap day. It is insanely illogical to expect employees to be there on a family day but deny some people the right to bring their family.

      Have a kid party for parents and grandparents and kids under 13. Then have a grown up party for employees and spouses only.

      No way I’d be showing up for this without my husband.

      1. 3DogNight*

        She did mention an employee raffle that is incredibly generous, so that’s why she still goes (it’s why I would go).

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          I never win at raffles so I never buy tickets. This wouldn’t be an incentive to me. Even if I’m not paying for tickets, sitting around at a party where my family (and by extension, me) are explicitly unwelcome isn’t worth watching other people win door prizes.

          Besides, every company-sponsored door prize thing I’ve seen would still allow you to collect your prize even if you were out that day. (And if they don’t, that’s just another reason not to participate.)

          Frankly after the first year of that, and getting no traction to change how it’s done, I’d just start asking my other excluded co-workers if they wanted to go out for lunch together during the party, so we can at least have some fun together. And if the party planner or higher ups asked why I wasn’t there, I’d tell them that it was made clear that I was unwelcome. And since the US now has a Supreme Court ruling that job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal, I’d be pointing out that excluding same-sex families is treading awfully close to that line. It’s not actually about the kids, it’s about the inequity. There’s more than one model of family. And I would be quite offended that my family didn’t “count.”

          1. Holiday Party Letter Writer*

            Every employee is given one raffle ticket (nothing is purchased). There are about 80 employees and I think, 22 prizes. It’s b-a-n-a-n-a-s. The final, grand prize is a trip for 2 to Hawaii, $1000 cash, daily breakfast at the hotel included, and an extra week of paid vacation so you don’t have to use your PTO. Other prizes are cash, front-row tickets to pro-sports games, weekends away at a luxury hotel in the city, gift cards,… stuff like that. One year I won a box that was just stuffed with $400 in cash. This is in addition to 2 weeks of paid holiday vacation and a holiday cash bonus that everyone receives. The company really does try to make it special, which I appreciate.

            1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

              the company is all about the details and not about the big picture. Their focus is on raffle prizes. Just do that.
              Either have a luncheon where the raffle a part, or have a raffle with some snacks and beverages. If they can’t meld the two events, stop trying.

              1. tink*

                The last “corporate” job I worked, the holiday lunch was employees only with a raffle (not quite as generous as LW’s, but an extra day of vacation, gift cards, TVs, kindles, other sorts of popular electronics). They’d transitioned to that from a night-time fancier party as the bulk of their workforce started having kids that couldn’t stay home alone, which caused attendance at the outside of work holiday parties to drop.

            2. Diahann Carroll*

              OMG…I…might suffer through this party as someone childfree just for the opportunity to win these prizes, lol. (Though I’ve only ever won one raffle in my entire life, so I would most likely end up bitter and disappointed, lol.)

            3. Lavender Menace*

              This sounds a lot like a company that was once small and intimate and has not realized it has grown to be large and more loosely connected than they once were.

              My company also used to do these insane holiday parties, but as we got larger it was just untenable to do. I mean, the grand trip to Hawaii sounds really nice! But with the money spent on that (hell, even just the additional $1,000 cash) you could probably afford to give your employees a +1.

          2. Artemesia*

            The last raffle I won required you to be in attendance to win — it was a small thing, but kind of a nice thing, and I think my number was the 9th one drawn and I got the price as 1-8 were not present.

            1. Momma Bear*

              That happened to one of our kids. Got a thing because their friends got bored and left and you had to be there in person to collect. They were the third or fourth name called.

          3. Mad Harry Crewe*

            I worked for an international travel wholesaler and they give away 3-6 international trips (roundtrip airfare for 2 + 3 nights hotel) at the summer and winter parties, plus various $20-100 gift cards, depending on how the company is doing.* You do have to be present if your name is drawn. Some places give really, really good prizes and it really is worth just showing up.

            *So probably not this year.

          4. fhqwhgads*

            Every employee raffle at a holiday party I’ve seen is “you show up at the party, you’re entered”. No purchasing. And you need to be at the party when the drawing happens to win. If you’re not still there, they pull another name.

            I completely agree this is essentially discrimination even if it’s masked in something else, but if the prizes are worth it, and OP made it seem like they were, well then they’re apparently worth it.

          5. Not a Blossom*

            I feel compelled to note that while same-sex couples might be less likely to have children (I don’t have the data), plenty of them do. I wouldn’t say they are excluding same-sex couples.

            However, as someone who is child-free by choice, this set up would irritate the daylights out of me.

            1. RW*

              I think OP meant that THOSE employees who happen to be in a same-sex relationship did not have any children, not that same-sex couples in general did not have children.

            2. SC*

              It’s fair to say though that most same-sex couples who want kids experience a lot of hardship becoming parents – it takes time and money, often significantly and prohibitively so, depending on the circumstances. So while it’s not explicitly excluding same-sex couples, same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are also not on the same playing field regarding whether they DO have children. It’s less a question of exclusion and maybe more a question of thoughtfulness.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Oh I remember the leap year birthday one! It amazed me that the OP, who was the leap year birthday girl’s boss, was defending it and expecting Allison and commenters to think the leap year birthday girl was wrong!

        This is almost as bad (not quite, but still pretty bad)! As a single person, I already often feel like these kinds of policies exclude me because I have no partner. Still, I understand sometimes you cannot just extend a plus one to everyone. But to allow for family with kids, but not allow for a spouse (who is family), that is insane!

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Or start their own party. Not all a tit-for-tat but because you really want to meet spouses of coworkers with no children.

      Can you all chip in and go to a restaurant?

      That’s what I’d do.

      1. Khatul Madame*

        Yep. Just go to a bar with your work friends and their SOs one fine evening.
        It doesn’t even have to be around holiday time.

      2. KR*

        Honestly I’d do this. If PTO isn’t a major concern, since this is during the workday, the people without children could all request PTO that day and say they don’t want to play with kids at work all day.

    3. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      They don’t want to agist because people with grandkids would feel that a privilege that had been available before was removed.
      They don’t give a rat’s ass about being homophobic. Same sex partners are not welcome.
      Point two…
      …speaking of rats’ asses, I wouldn’t have one for the tears of the party planner who told me there wasn’t room for my husband but sat me at the kiddie table while she looked for food.
      No, I’m not sitting there. They can sit with their families and I will sit with my single coworkers. If you can’t handle this, then step the hell down.
      I have no sympathy. I’ve been on the party committee a decade. It runs itself at this point.
      I don’t care how little the budget was, how unrealistic the managers’ expectations were, party planner screwed up.

      1. Observer*

        Neither are opposite sex spouses permitted. Are you really claiming that they made this rule to keep out same sex spouses?

        However, I TOTALLY agree with #2. And I think that that gives you a perfect opening to go to whoever can make changes. Party Planner is clearly out of her depth and is clearly not thinking through the implications and basic practicalities of the party.

        1. Wisteria*

          No, I do not believe that they created the children and grandchildren rule specifically to exclude same-sex spouses. However. Their intent does not matter because the *effect* is to disproportionately exclude same-sex married couples. That makes the rule homophobic whether they intended to be homophobic or not.

          1. Union Maid*

            in the UK, I think there would be a good case that it was in breach of the Equalities Act 2010, on the grounds that it discriminates against people who are not parents.

            1. whingedrinking*

              Upthread, it was pointed out that it’s disproportionately difficult for same-sex couples to become parents, since the only paths open to them (gamete donation, surrogacy, adoption, etc) are often difficult and expensive. The same can be said of couples with fertility issues, who might very much want to have children but physically can’t. So it could even be a medical discrimination issue.

        2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          Yeah, I’m with Wisteria below. They are grasping at some legal reason to justify their own inertia over the idea of changing, that it would be a cool play to say, “well, since you opened the door to discrimination, how about you look at people are actively being discriminated against?”

      2. Artemesia*

        LOL. I remember an all inclusive resort where at dinner we were ushed over to a table of kids, whose parents were all eating in the upscale dining room that night —- we left our kids at home with a babysitter for our first vacation away from them — no way I am having dinner at the kiddy table.

        1. Momma Bear*

          This is what I thought – that it was a parents thing vs a homophobic thing. Lots of same sex couples have kids and lots of hetero couples do not. It’s simply unfair to pin attendance of a spouse on the existence of children.

          1. Lavender Menace*

            That’s true, but it is also usually good for people to think about the unintended consequences of their policies and how they might place a disproportionate burden or disadvantage on a group of people.

            1. 10Isee*

              Same sex couples and other couples who are medically unable to have children. This is going to sting for a lot of people.

    1. mreasy*

      The idea that people should be able to bring their grandkids but not their spouses is truly mind-boggling. I could see the argument that they don’t want people to have to get childcare but…again this doesn’t make sense because if one spouse didn’t attend they wouldn’t have to? I am extremely curious to know if this company has any other bonkers policies or if this is the only one!

      1. Tuckerman*

        Maybe some of the employees have custody of their grandkids? But that might explain grandkids being invited, not spouses not included.

      2. Librarian1*

        If they don’t want people to need childcare, they should just hold the party during the work day.

    2. Clisby*

      It is bizarre. I’m retired now, but in all my working years have never encountered a company Christmas party like this. I’ve never even encountered a company party that welcomed children. The closest I can think of is that once my husband’s company threw a really great party at a hotel, and as a perk rented a couple of rooms and hired a couple of babysitters so if you wanted to leave your kids there while you partied, that was fine.
      (They also had a really informal party specifically aimed at kids – I don’t know whether there was an age limit, but I don’t remember seeing any child over about 10 there.)

      1. Quill*

        Parties I’ve never been to, but back in the olden times of the 90’s and early 00’s I went to a few company picnics. When I was young enough to somewhat enjoy them, it was fine, but by 11 or 12? Leave me home for a few precious hours of being unattended playing computer games with some leftovers. I don’t want to meet random strange adults or deal with other people’s younger siblings during my time off.

        I don’t know how enthusiastic the 12 to 18 crowd, if it exists, is about attending this party.

        1. Mimi Me*

          The LW said there was a gift card for the older kids. Must be a decent amount if these kids keep coming every year.

          1. Hey Nonnie*

            They were clearly not enthused and only there for the money, though. OP said they were sitting heads-down on their phones waiting for their gift card.

            1. KRM*

              I mean, if my grandparent made me to go a holiday party with my family and tons of people I didn’t know, but I got a decent sized GC out of if, I’d act exactly like this. And I hope it is a decent sized GC because as a teenager, one has better things to do (even if those things are “not being at a super boring party with family and randos”).

              1. tabby cat troubles*

                Same, I feel sort of bad for the teens because I’m sure their parents made them attend.

        2. TrainerGirl*

          The company I used to work for had their company picnics at a theme park in the Washington DC area. Kids were included, of course. That was about the only event where I ever saw employees’ children. A free day at the amusement park? Those years were the only time I ever attended big corporate events because I could bring friends and we generally had a great time.

      2. Emeileia*

        Back in the day when my Father worked for DeHavilland (in the 80s) there was always a really nice kids party for all the employees’ children. There was usually one employee dressed as Santa and parents supplied presents ahead of time for him to give to the kids. But they also had a separate adult party.

        1. Artemesia*

          I think the Boeing party worked this way too — there were stockings with treats and toys for all the kids but the Santa gifts were provided by parents and thus appropriate to the kids.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          That’s what OldExjob did. They held a pizza party for families at the giant arcade pizza place, and then the separate Christmas party buffet with a white elephant gift exchange (ugh) for employees and their plus-ones at the Bass Pro banquet facility.

          I stopped going to the adult party after a few years since it was at night after work hours, the only plus-one I had during that time lived out of state, and I always ended up sitting with my boss. Besides, I saw enough of those people during the day, bleh.

        3. DarnTheMan*

          Same; my dad worked for one of the major cigarette companies back in the day and they always threw a massive children’s party with inflatables and a Santa but that was back in the 1990s.

        4. Six Feet Under Par: A Chip Driver Mystery*

          When my dad worked for Union Carbide (!!) in the 1970s the Christmas party was at a theme park and one of my earliest memories was getting a tea set from Santa. This letter seems like they’re desperately clinging to traditions that don’t reflect the modern workplace. Do they still have a typing pool and secretaries too?

      3. J!*

        Back in the 80s when I was wee, the company my grandfather worked for had a huge Christmas party with families every year that we would go to up until he retired, and Santa was there giving out presents to all the kids. I haven’t thought about it in years and it only just occurs to me what a mess it must have been to plan! Now I’m wondering whether spouses without kids were allowed to attend.

        1. MonkeyPrincess*

          It shouldn’t be a mess if there are RSVPs.

          The company my father retired from had a family party, and one year my family was visiting at Christmas and my father was so excited to bring his grandchildren and show them off to his coworkers. I went too, and it was a lovely party, with Santa giving out presents and lots of kid friendly food and craft activities and things like that. But I do remember my father needed some sort of tickets (I remember this, because he was worried that we wouldn’t have final travel dates before the tickets sold out)… the tickets didn’t cost money, they were just a way to limit the maximum number of guests and RSVP.

          Which is all to say that these pasties still happen, and don’t need to be a mess… they just need to be well planned.

          There was another grown-up only party that he and my mother went to.

      4. AnotherAlison*

        We have had company events with kids, and my kids have gone to my dad’s company events that were child-friendly. I kind of get that. I mean, if Dan in his 30s with 3 kids gets 5 tickets, then it seemed reasonable for my dad in his 50s (back then) to get 4 tickets — my dad, my mom, my two kids. However, where it crosses the line is EXCLUDING everyone who can’t wrangle up a child to bring. I’m the one who works here–not Steve-in-Accounting’s great aunt and her grandson.

      5. Bagpuss*

        It’s very bizarre, and divisive, and bad for morale. And discriminatory (possibly legally so)

        it boggles the mind that grandchildren and adult children of employees are allowed but not spouses / partners of employees.

        I’d suggest going to the PTB with a proposals that invitations should go to:
        – Employees
        – Employees spouses or partners
        – Employees children under 13 (including any kid who is a member of the employees immediate family, so it would include step-kids, foster kids, grandchild being raised by grandparents, etc)
        then, if they have the capacity and want to invite them, employees grandchildren under 13.

        That way, you do make it a party for kids, which seems to be the aim, but also a party which is equally welcoming to all of your employees and their immediate families.

        Like others, I find the idea of a works party open to children’s a bit odd- I recall one event where our senior partner hosted a party at his home where kids and other family members were welcome, but hat was a pool party and BBQ one summer, and it was explicitly one the basis that he and his wife were providing basic burgers, hotdogs and soft drinks, and everyone was encouraged to bring salads or sides to share, and welcome to bring other stuff to BBQ for their own family if they wanted, so numbers weren’t critical

      6. BadWolf*

        Persons of a certain age tell me that our company used to host a Christmas party (definitely Christmas) and they had pre-wrapped toys in age groups. So you picked up gifts to match your children among the general festivities.

      7. Lizzy May*

        The Canadian Federal Government in Ottawa (I don’t know if this is true in NOt-tawa) does a Christmas Eve day where employees can bring in their kids or grandkids and there are activities in most offices for the kids to be entertained. Way back in the early 90s my grandmother brought me and I made a craft, had some food and met Santa before everyone left at noon. But my parents never came and I was cut off from going long before I was a teen.
        I don’t know exactly what still happens but I do see kids on the bus with their parents on Christmas Eve so there’s still something going on.

  3. Caroline Bowman*

    The solution is ”every employee gets to bring 1 (or 2 or whatever number) guests”. Names and ages of guests must be clarified ahead of time and that’s the end of the matter.

    If it means grandma has to choose which 2 grandkids to bring, hey, she could bring a friend or bring no one if that’s better. I’d lean towards ”employee plus 1 named guest”. No one who is coupled up should be left out, singles can either bring a buddy or just come on their own of their own free choice. No need for explanations, just an option to bring a plus-one, with final headcount by X date. No gifts for kids, just a great party for all attendees.

      1. Its GIF not JIF*

        I feel like if it was really a party for the kids, they shouldn’t really invite spouses or adult children either, more of a ‘one chaperone per family of children’.

        And, if that was the case, they should *also* have a party for the adult employees. Because being childless doesn’t make you less deserving of attending your company’s holiday party.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          I feel like if it was really a party for the kids, they shouldn’t really invite spouses or adult children either, more of a ‘one chaperone per family of children’.

          And they should put an age limit on the children allowed as well to reduce their headcount.

        2. Phony Genius*

          I agree with Alison that this is a party for kids. It should be framed by the company as exactly that. So the attendees should all be children and their chaperones. Employees without children would probably end up “volunteering” at the party.

          And I agree that a separate party for employees only could also be held, possibly allowing one adult guest each. But this company needs to better define what their party is all about.

          1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

            I think it was supposed be a party for kids, too. And someone got a bug up his butt about cohabitating or same sex couples in the same room as (gasp!) children.
            But it’s been YEARS and nobody even remembers why it is that way.

          2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Another vote for separating the children’s gift fest from the adult raffle party.

            The setup described in this letter has really wound me up, even though I would benefit (opposite sex married couple with three children at home).

            Switching to employees’ minor children only – that is, children who regularly live with them at least part of the week, so including current fosters whether blood relations or otherwise – and making sure every employee has a +1: that’s much better.

            Though if I clutch my pearls I think it would be more appropriate to have an adults only, employee +1 shindig, and donate the value of the children’s gifts to those in greater need such as the local food bank or gift drive.

        3. Coder von Frankenstein*

          What they really ought to do is take a bit of the money they’re spending on raffle prizes and put it toward child care for the duration. Then the kids can have their party, and the adults without kids can have their party, and the parents can pick which one they want to attend. (I suspect the overwhelming majority would pick Door #2.)

      2. MK*

        I can understand a children’s party, but I don’t get why people with children get to bring their entire family. In similar events I attended or know of, if the party is for children, they themselves are the guests, and one adult attends to supervise them. So you can put down the names of your kids, grandkids or even godchildren or nephews/nieces, to come to the event and name one person to escort them. Heck, if the kids are over a certain age, you don’t even get that, you just drop them off and pick them up after the party.

        Also, the age limit is way too high for a children’s party.

        1. WellRed*

          I don’t understand a children’s party, but otherwise agree: the age limit is too high and cut down on who qualifies to attend.

        2. whingedrinking*

          It seems like there isn’t an age limit at all. The vibe I got was that you can bring your *adult* offspring too, particularly if they have children.

      3. Cobol*

        You noted this in your response, but this heavily depends on whether the party planner is representing the people in charge, or just doing what they want.

        It very much could have started as an employee party where everybody brought their kids, that needed to evolve as the company grew and children aged, and the party planner couldn’t get past it. That doesn’t mean the owner has the same thoughts. They could literally not even be thinking about it.

        1. Its GIF not JIF*

          I agree – I think this would be a good thing to go over the party planner’s heads with. So often people are afraid to tell higher-ups how they’re coming across, and its a disservice to everyone involved.

      4. Anon Anon*

        When I was a kid, my dad worked for a company that did two Xmas parties. One was just for the kids of employee’s (kids under 12 or 13). It was a kids only party with entertainment and then Santa Claus showing up with some pretty good gifts. The other Xmas party was adults only and was for the employee’s and their partners.

        Separating out the two always worked well, and because the kids party was a completely separately thing it didn’t give anyone the impression that they were less than simply because they had opted not to have children.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          The thing is, not all of those employees without children have “opted” not to. Some of us have fertility issues. Some same sex couples may be digging through miles of red tape to pursue an adoption and not getting anywhere. Having this policy of “you can’t bring any loved ones to the party at all if you don’t have kids” has the potential to be extremely hurtful to employees who can’t have the children they deeply wish they had.

          1. Momma Bear*


            Or there could be other problems like custody issues where the kid can’t attend…etc. Bottom line it makes more sense to split the events. If it’s a matter of time at a venue, they could do the kid part earlier, ship them home, and the adults could have a nice dinner after the children cleared out.

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              That wouldn’t work. Parties like this get kids wound up, and it would take time to get rambunctious youngsters settled back at home with a sitter. You’d be looking at hours between the two parties, minimum. And that’s just for the guests’ needs.
              What about the turn around for the venue itself? Whatever food and activities you had for the kids would need to be cleaned up before you could even start arranging things for the grown up party. That’s going to take time, too.

    1. irene adler*

      Sounds like the older kids aren’t interested in the party anyway (cell phone use). So why not omit them?

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Agreed. Parents or grandparents can be given a $10 gift card during the party to give to any teen child/grandchild at a later date.

      2. Malarkey01*

        I could see this perspective, and a lot of teens wouldn’t care, but I could also see the 14 year old watching their younger siblings and parents get dressed up to go out to a fun family party that didn’t include them and feeling crappy about that. If you’re going to have kids I think you need to include everyone’s actual children (high school and under- not someones 30 year kid and grandkids).

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Agreed. I rather enjoyed these parties as a teen. I got to know some other kids, we’d usually find some game to play, and have some fun. Food wasn’t bad, either, which is important to teens.

    2. The Original K.*

      Yeah – even leaving aside the weirdness of the kids-only rule, another issue is that it seems like there’s no limit to the size of the party? Like, people with kids are like “I’m bringing nine grandkids and their parents,” and that’s just accepted, but that’s too many people for one person to bring. The planner clearly wasn’t expecting 350 people to show up, but that’s a thing you can plan for. The whole thing sounds like a free-for-all.

      1. londonedit*

        On the one hand it’s ‘people without kids can’t bring a guest because we can’t accommodate everyone’, but on the other hand it’s totally fine for Fergus to bring his three grown-up children and eight grandchildren. Makes absolutely zero sense.

        1. anne of mean gables*

          I cannot fathom wanting to make time (especially around the holidays!) to attend my parent’s company holiday party with my kids! Who is this appealing to?

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            People who’ve gone every year since 1994, maybe? Stuff like this becomes part of your family traditions.

          2. Klida*

            People who want to get whatever they can get.
            Free food, free gifts
            Why wouldn’t you bring everyone you can.

        2. tiny cactus*

          I think the really weird part is that people with kids can bring partners but people without kids can’t. It would still be mildly weird (and boring for the adults) if everyone could bring kids but no partners, but people without kids would probably feel a lot less singled out.

      2. Its GIF not JIF*

        Yeah, I feel like grandkids is where this starts to spiral. My aunt has 34 grandkids under the age of 15 and 9 adult children who gave birth to said kids… lol.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          I disagree. I say it starts to spiral where people with kids can bring spouses, but people without kids can’t. That’s sending a clear message that employees without kids are ‘less than’ and I would just not attend the party, and if I saw fit, dust off my resume.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Yup, I am not ‘without family’ because I’m childfree. My husband is my family.

            (So’s my cat, but he’s got appalling interpersonal skills and would more likely eat everything on the table and barf on the CEO. Dunno if a PIP would work there)

            //sidenote *database techs high-five*

        2. Momma Bear*

          Yes. So kids + grandkids = astronomical number of people.

          My old company had you RSVP with the names and ages of your children + number of adults. I only got to do it once but the year I brought my sprog they did embroidered stockings, which we still use, and a gift for a child of that age. That way they could plan on # of people, for starters, and ensure that the gifts were appropriate to the child. I believe it went all the way to 17 but we also didn’t have grandkids included. Employee children only.

          Then a few weeks later they did the adult’s only dinner. You could attend one or both or neither. It worked pretty well. The big raffle was at the fancy dinner to avoid the scenario the OP described having to sit through a kid event sans spouse because you might win a big prize.

      3. Washi*

        I’m also confused about that. If they counted attendance well enough to have the correct number of gifts for everyone, why weren’t there enough chairs?

    3. KayDeeAye*

      My organization has (in non-epidemic years, so not this year) two separate events: (1) A “Visit with Santa” event, to which people can bring their spouse plus any kid or kids they want to bring (so, kids, grandkids, nieces/nephews, unofficial nieces/nephews, etc.) They just have to RSVP so that the organizers know how many people to expect. There craft stations/cookie decorating stations for the kids, there’s Santa, and each kid gets a small present. It’s very popular and works well, or so I hear (I’ve never been). (2) A Christmas/holiday party, which is for employees only (no spouses) and is always held during the day.

      My husband has no interest in attending work events, and I have no interest in bringing him (I’m crazy about the guy, but he would NOT enjoy himself), and I do not enjoy setting aside an evening for a work event during an already busy season, so I think this is a good mix of events. If you worked someplace where the majority are interested meeting spouses and so on, as OP is, you could easily modify this to an evening event to which spouses are invited.

      But I think the key is to decide WHAT you want your Christmas/holiday events to DO. Do you want to offer something for employees’ kids? Then plan a kids’ party. Do you want to provide an event that will allow employees to socialize with each other? Then plan that sort of party. The OP’s company is making its big mistakes in trying to do too many things at once and in allowing this odd hybrid tradition to make a significant number of their employees feel left out, which is surely the exact opposite of what they want to do.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        My organization has (in non-epidemic years, so not this year) two separate events: (1) A “Visit with Santa” event, to which people can bring their spouse plus any kid or kids they want to bring (so, kids, grandkids, nieces/nephews, unofficial nieces/nephews, etc.) They just have to RSVP so that the organizers know how many people to expect. There craft stations/cookie decorating stations for the kids, there’s Santa, and each kid gets a small present. It’s very popular and works well, or so I hear (I’ve never been).

        I worked for an insurance company that did this as well, and they never had any issues from what I was told because they bought food, games, drinks, etc. based on the RSVPs.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        It’s possible to do a hybrid party, but OP’s company is doing it badly.

        My wife’s company does a party every year where people can bring families. It’s in their offices, and drinks and fancy food are in one half and that’s where most of the adults hang out, and in other conference rooms there’s a magician/balloon artist and kid-friendly food and such. At some point Santa shows up and delivers presents to the kids, again away from the adult socializing. But the kids also get introduced to some of the grown ups and are welcome to eat the fancy adult food and are kind of bouncing around the office in a way that feels very family-friendly. The party is basically open to whoever people want to bring, and includes some former/retired employees and such.

        It’s actually really fun and my kids look forward to it every year. There were a couple of years where it was a bit more challenging when they were little and couldn’t just run off to watch the balloon guy without us actively supervising, it’s true. But this is the kind of firm where people sometimes stay for decades and get to know each others’ families over the years, and it works out. (I took my kids one year *even though my wife who is the firm employee was out of town on a business trip*. But I know enough of her colleagues at this point to have a pleasant evening and the kids love it and the food is excellent.)

      3. Clisby*

        What you describe is exactly how my husband’s office Christmas parties worked. There was always a very nice adults-only event, where every employee could bring one (adult) person; and then there was a completely child-oriented event. Nobody was pressured to attend either.

      4. Sarah N*

        I agree, I think this is a good solution. It’s fine to do a children-focused event, but then don’t make everyone come to it or claim it’s a party for all employees — just make it a kids event. And also offer something for all employees, regardless of their status as a parent or not. Not at Christmas, but my workplace does an Easter egg hunt thing that is very explicitly geared toward children — kids music, stuffed animal giveaway, clowns, face painting, etc. Although anyone could theoretically come, pretty much it is just something you would bring your kids to. And then there are plenty of adults-focused events/celebrations throughout the year as well. (This event maybe isn’t 100% ideal from a religious/Easter standpoint, but I do think it strikes the right balance in terms of kid/adult targetting.)

      5. NYWeasel*

        Our company does the two party system as well. Pizza, Santa and small gifts for the kids, and a dinner out for employees +1 at a different time. The two times I took my kid to the holiday parties, they had the same food issues as OP describes—ppl were taking so much pizza, it was unbelievable, and one of the reasons we stopped going.

        I think they used to allow grandkids, but the party got too big, so they did it that each employee could bring two kids or the number of legal dependents they had in the age range. So if someone has 9 grandkids, they can’t bring them all, but if you are childless you could bring a niece or nephew if you wanted. And of course if you have 9 kids all under the age of 12, you could bring them all if you wanted to.

      6. Liz*

        When my company still did an employee holiday party, this is how it was done as well. After hours, employee party, bringing a plus one, whether it be a spouse, SO, or some people brought their adults kids, but just one. No one really cared. Then ON Christmas Eve, we had a party with santa for kids, either employee’s or grandkids, nieces or nephews etc. Some people brought 2 or 3, but no more than that, and as long as you let the organizer know how many it was fine.

      7. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Years ago we had an office Christmas party that included partners and kids. I was the youngest employee at the time and the only one with a young kid. She was 5 and was the only child at the party because the other kids were older and too cool for the parent’s Christmas party. The organizer happened to pick her name first for the raffle and she “won” a box of chocolates, most of the other prizes were bottles of alcohol etc. To this day she believes that it was pure chance that she won that big box of chocolates.

  4. kittymommy*

    I love Christmas parties. I love office Christmas parties. I absolutely would not go to this party simply because how it reads to my single, childless self is that I am not as important/worthy as my coworkers with children. I would be sick, have a doctor’s appointment, errands to run, something. I would be petty and pissy about it too.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah. I love Christmas parties too but I would not want to spend my time sitting there and watching a load of people’s children and grandchildren going up and receiving gifts, while I’m not even allowed to bring a guest.

      1. Elenia*

        Yeah I would be petty and pissy too, and definitely looking for a new job. This so reads to me as “Your family isn’t real because you decided not to reproduce.”

      2. Washi*

        Yep. And this is not in the Christmas spirit…but I would be pretty annoyed seeing thousands of dollars (I assume? $10 x ~200 children = $2000) spent on other people’s children/grandchildren, but my husband isn’t allowed to come and eat a couple cookies?

        Not saying that they should take away gifts for children, just that if they can afford that, they can afford to have spouses attend.

    2. EPLawyer*

      “I absolutely would not go to this party simply because how it reads to my single, childless self is that I am not as important/worthy as my coworkers with children.”

      that is totally the message the company is sending. We only consider you a family if kids are involved.

      They are worried about being ageist because grandparents would feel left out? GRANDPARENTS. But are totally fine with leaving vast swathes of the company out — those without kids, those with adult kids who don’t have grandkids yet, those with adult grandkids. It literally is catering to a small group (well 350 is not small but them’s the rules they set up).

      It’s clear the kids are set up to expect their gift card every year from the company so they show up for the cards but not the party in any meaningful way.

      It’s not OP either. The party planner ADMITS other people have complained. It’s time to figure out another party plan that doesn’t punish people for not meeting the image the company wants to project.

    3. CTT*

      Yes! And even if I did have a spouse and kids, it sounds so boring to have to sit through this endless presentation of gifts. It’s offensive AND dull.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        THIS. I derive no joy from watching other people open gifts (sorry), so I would skip even if I had children.

    4. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      This! My husband and I CAN’T have children, so by this rule, we can’t have a company Christmas? Ouch!

      1. dawbs*

        Yeah, I can remember the point in deciding what we were doing about infertility when this would have been a kick in the gut.
        I don’t want to say “what about all the infertile folks” because there are lots of other things wrong with this.
        But yeah, at the worst, I’d probably skipped the party and had to deal w/ a good cry while hiding in the bathroom at least twice.

      2. dawbs*

        Yeah, I can remember the point in deciding what we were doing about infertility when this would have been a kick in the gut.
        I don’t want to say “what about all the infertile folks” because there are lots of other things wrong with this.
        But yeah, at the worst, I’d probably skipped the party and had to deal w/ a good cry while hiding in the bathroom at least twice.

    5. AnonEMoose*

      My husband and I have been married for over 20 years, and we’re childfree. I’d be really upset at this. It wouldn’t even be that I’d be that enthused about bringing my husband to the party – neither of us is that big on these things, but the unfairness of it would REALLY grate.

    6. Holiday Party Letter Writer*

      It upsets me because I do genuinely, I really truly mean this… I genuinely love meeting my coworkers’ families. I think it contextualizes them and humanizes them and it makes us a stronger team. And I would like them to have that with me. Instead I do feel second-class and it does hurt my feelings. Which is why I’m hoping to find an equitable solution to this instead of boycott, lol. Lots of people have given some good ideas in the comments section. And for what it’s worth, I do think it’s a case of “we’ve always done it this way” instead of maliciousness.

      1. Tabby*

        Honestly, LW, I would boycott, if I were you — you and the rest who are not allowed to bring spouses so the company can have a child-centered bonanza. They’re rude, utterly rude.
        They’re not going to change anything if you all don’t make this hideously uncomfortable for them to do so, and they’re obviously uninterested in making you you, too, get to enjoy this party.
        There’s a saying around the interwebs: Eff Them Kids, and this is the attitude you need to take here. Not that you hate kids or whatever, but… seriously, eff them kids, and eff this company, since they’re pretty much saying, Eff Them Unchilded.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        The AAM commentariat is often against parties where families attend, but I agree with you. I’ve met most of my wife’s coworkers over the years at their holiday parties (and the occasional retirement party or such), and it really adds to the conversations we have about her workday all through the year when I can put a face to a name. And the reverse is true, too, that when she mentions her family (or when the kids pop up on her video calls these days, sigh) that her colleagues have that bit of context about her life.

        I think this mainly applies to jobs where someone is invested and intends to stay for a long time and build long-term relationships. If you’re in a job you expect to leave in a few months, dragging your spouse along to a party feels much less appealing.

      3. Washi*

        It sounds like you’ve conveyed this to the party planner, but has this ever been raised with the owner? It sounds like he’s really, really invested in making this party a magical Christmas experience and does care about his employees. I wonder if you said what you’ve been saying here, that you love the party and the family aspect of it, but that you feel left out and excluded because you can’t bring your own family, if maybe he would reconsider.

        1. Holiday Party Letter Writer*

          I am going to have a talk with the president and the party planner. I do hope people will see reason, especially because I do believe hearts are in the right place, but it’s just ballooned out of control. I will absolutely update in 2021 to let everyone know what ends up happening.

    7. Observer*


      This actually is not a “family friendly” thing at all. Because it is saying “the only reason to be in a relationship is to breed.” And, yes I know that that term is offensive in the context of having children. But in this case it’s apt because it seems that relationships – which are what differentiates being a parent vs being a “breeder” – are considered unimportant and irrelevant, except in that it brings about the birth of children and grandchildren.

      It’s gross.

    8. Simonthegreywarden*

      I have a 3 year old but was un-childed for many years before him (at first childfree, then wanted one w/spouse and was unable to get pregnant, then gave up on having a child and settled back into childfree life, then had a child). I wouldn’t want to go to this weird mishmash because of how, for all the years I did not have a child, I could not bring my spouse or partner; and then once I had my child, I would suddenly be ‘worthy’ of bringing spouse or partner?

  5. Emily*

    Who made up this policy? It is time to get a new party planner. I’m Surprised it has gone on as long as this. What happens if you bring your spouse? Will they throw you out of the party?

    1. Holiday Party Letter Writer*

      Per the Party Planner, who has been here forever, the company used to be much smaller when they started these parties. They were small enough to be held in one of the small conference rooms, and many of the employees were older so they were encouraged to bring their grandkids. That was 30ish years ago, and the Party Planner is having a hard time changing because “that’s how it’s always been done.” Re: no, my spouse would not be turned away at the door, and at one point when I asked if I could bring him, I was told basically, “I mean if you really want to, I’m sure nobody would notice. It’s not like you’re going to get fired over it.” which wasn’t really the attitude I was hoping for and I didn’t really want to get the stink-eye if I did bring him.

      1. kittymommy*

        Interesting. Do you think that the “it’s always been that way” attitude is coming from the planner or from higher up?

        1. I Need That Pen*

          I’m thinking it’s the party planner’s rule because, “It’s always been done that way,” is sometimes code for, “It’s easier this way.” I could be wrong but I’ve observed too many people stay status quo because templates were already typed and credit cards still had the same 12 digit number. No joke.

        2. Pilcrow*

          Coming here to say this. Is the planner actually responsible for the rule or just the person tasked with organizing? Find out who is responsible for the rule and take it to them.

          Another thing to bring up is the budget for this thing. 300+ guests is not a cheap party. Talking money can sometimes make things move where social reasons can’t.

        3. BadWolf*

          If it were my company, it would be people with very young grandchildren who watched several years of previous grandchildren coming to the party and gosh-darn-it, they won’t be short changed in bringing in their grandchildren.

          1. Holiday Party Letter Writer*

            Exactly. But some people have a lot of grandchildren. Some of the adult children of employees went to these parties as kids and are excited to bring their children to them, because they are (or were.. before the chaos of last year) magical.

            One of my coworker’s kids was visiting the office pre-covid and she saw the big chair that Santa sits in to hand out gifts and started yelling, “Santa’s chair! That’s Santa’s chair!!!” and wanted to sit in it. If that doesn’t just warm my grinchy heart I don’t know what else would.

            1. Malarkey01*

              The size of this party sounds nuts, but with the details of the raffle and all the fun this people have I get that some people are really invested in this. I think at a minimum everyone should get one +1. Then if the company wants to keep this huge blowout, fine but saying some people have to be alone isn’t defensible when others bring tons of extras. That could be an easier line in the sand if they really want to keep this going (I bet a lot of the missing chairs and for were because people did just bring their spouse).

      2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        I don’t know if there is grounds for a lawsuit per say.. but as someone who is infertile, this when policy would be a slap in the face. But then again, I wouldn’t be upset if the company offered scholarships to employee’s children, but just letting me come to the Christmas party without my husband to watch other people’s kids enjoy Santa is a painful prospect.

      3. Cobol*

        Do you know if the owners really know about this rule? I said more above, but this seems like something that the party planner put in place so they could facilitate all the kids.

      4. Dave*

        I would definitely bring it up with the most logical senior person you know as suggesting they start thinking about something for fitting for family setups in the 21st century.

      5. EventPlannerGal*

        Okay, good context. Having worked with a few people like this, I am going guess that (combined with the not-enough-chairs-and-food issue) this event has ballooned way beyond this person’s organisational capacity. They are probably clinging to this bizarre parents-only rule as a way of imposing some kind of order on a very chaotic event. I agree with the others above that you should try to establish where this rule came from in the first place and why – it may be their idea, it may be some director’s idea, it may be the idea of someone who left the company in 1998. As Alison says, if it’s just some random relic rule then you may well be able to find a sensible higher-up who can tell Party Planner to cut it out simply on the basis of the reasons you’ve given here.

        If that doesn’t work, where you want to take it after that is going to depend on how much you want to get involved. IME event planning often falls to people who really have no talent for it simply because nobody else wants to do it, and they then get very territorial about it because it’s Their Thing and refuse any outside input. IF you want to and are able to get genuinely involved in the planning process on an ongoing basis, that may be one way to reform it; you could frame it as wanting to help them out or take something off their plate. It’s a lot of work but IME people like this simply do not take input from people they percieve as interfering, and in 30+ years of party planning they have probably seen a ton of people with opinions about how it would be so much better if they did X come and go. Is that something you would be interested in doing?

      6. In my shell*

        Literally agog at “It’s not like you’re going to get fired over it.”

        There has GOT to be someone in leadership with a logical mind that could change this, but doesn’t realize the party has evolved this way!

      7. Momma Bear*

        Wow, that’s disheartening.

        What does Party Planner think is the main problem? Maybe it would be good to find out what she really thinks is the problem with change. Is it tradition? Is it venue? Is it organization and funding? Does she organize it all herself or is there a committee and if so, is there anyone on that committee that would be willing to nudge the dial? I wonder if it would work to have the kid at say noon to three and then clear out and have an adult oriented party/raffle from 4 to whenever?

    2. MK*

      This sounds like a relic from a time the company was much smaller and the employees were either married with kids or single. Though even then, excluding the childless wives would have been awful.

  6. Lindsay Gee*

    LW you’re not insane, this is a stupid way of doing this party. Partners and children being invited to a company christmas party should be a given. The grandchildren thing is very weird to me, as is inviting the adult children of employees. It’s all just so strange, it almost seems like this might have been a rule from decades ago that has outlived its time and usefulness. It also struck me that they clearly hadn’t anticipated 350 guests…are they not having people RSVP??

    1. Littorally*

      Right! It’s all bizarre, but the lack of anticipation for their guest numbers, plus the gift-giving… how on earth do they have enough presents, let alone enough age-appropriate presents, for a ton of kids and grandkids if they don’t have RSVPs? And if they have RSVPs, how did they get so overwhelmed with unplanned numbers? This is a s**tshow.

      1. Myrin*

        Right? I couldn’t figure out what was happening in that paragraph, and not because OP explains it weirdly but just because it makes no sense. Like. Literally every single kid gets called up and given a present, so that means there must be some sort of “keeping track of the numbers and names” system. But then at the same time they get overrun by people to the point where they’re running out of literally everything, including space? What the heck is going on with this party planner?

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          It’s possible that after all the years of the party growing and requiring weeks of planning that the planner is getting really tired and is taking the passive-aggressive way in order to get out of organizing the whole thing. She could be hoping that someone else will finally step in and take over. But it seems like the pandemic has done it for her. Unless she is tasked with organizing a remote party (shudder).

    2. Smithy*

      Because this seems so wildly unthought through (how on earth do you have a party where you plan on giving all kids gifts if you don’t know how many kids will be attending??) I would recommend the OP do a little digging to see how this party came to be.

      With a company of 80 people, is this a family business and small group of donors and it extends back to something with them? Was this dynamic set when the company was like 20 people and including grandkids made the party more inclusive based on company staff at the time?

      I feel that when the guidelines seem to not make sense, it can be really helpful to know the story of how you got there and can help better articulate why the current set up isn’t work. The OP has the advantage of time, so maybe now is the right time to ask the party planner for a virtual coffee catch up and just try to figure out more about why the party was designed that way. Then next year the push back on something new can be made with more info.

      1. Lindsay Gee*

        That’s what I kept thinking! Like maybe when they started this 40 years ago, they had 10 employees and so it wasn’t unreasonable to invite everyone’s kids, grandkids etc. However the exclusion of partners without kids – I can’t even imagine a good excuse for that being initiated. It’s just so weird.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      Well, I can see if you (as the employee) are the grandmother and you want to bring your grown daughter + her three kids (your grandkids). But that should not be at the expense of another Employee spouse.

      So, limit the count to Employee + 3 of whomever, or charge extra for extra guests beyond the three limit max.

    4. J*

      I’ve only worked at one place where spouses/partners were invited to the holiday party, and even there, it was only one year where that was the case. Are people clamoring to attend their spouses’s holiday party? I prefer the “department buys a nice lunch and then we all go home early” holiday parties best.

  7. Grinch*

    On top of all the wrong with the guest policy, what about the fact that it’s a CHRISTMAS party?! Not everyone celebrates Christmas.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I almost got into that, but as a Jew in a lot of ways I’d prefer it to a holiday party, since so often “holiday” in this context is code for Christmas. Hanukkah is a minor holiday. It is not Jewish Christmas. End of year party or winter party could work, but if there’s going to be Christmasy decor, and there probably is, let’s just call it what it is and stop pretending it’s anything but, and then the rest of us can decide if we’re up for it or not. Other Jews may disagree.

      1. AnonInTheCity*

        Agree wholeheartedly. If Santa is there it’s a Christmas party. I’d rather know that in advance than go in expecting a non-denominational party and find out it’s a Christmas party in disguise.

      2. Apocalypse How*

        I’m Jewish and I agree with just calling it a Christmas party if there will only be Christmas decor. When something is called a “Holiday [thing],” I get disappointed if I don’t see Chanukah or other holidays represented. Of course, then I want the option of being able to not attend or only go for a short amount of time.

      3. SpartanFan*

        We have a Jehovah witness at our company who has opted out because it is a Christmas party. If it was called an end of year party he wouldn’t opt out as that’s not against his religious ideals even if there were a few christmasy decorations. This got mentioned to HR last year and they were going to tweak it this year in order to not exclude him. It’s not just Jews who don’t celebrate Christmas.

          1. Grinch*

            Or people who aren’t religious at all. I’m somewhere between an agnostic and atheist and it really, really bothers me when there is any whiff of religion in the workplace (unless you work at a religious organization).

      4. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I agree. I dislike it and would feel excluded, and I might not go, but I agree. Don’t call it a “holiday party” and decorate it in red and green with Santa popping up everywhere.

      5. Allison*

        I disagree. I think avoiding Christmas-specific wording and decorations is an appropriate nod to not everyone in the office being Christian. Our global office just sent out a Zoom Christmas party invite and several colleagues in the US found it odd. You could call it a year-end party but I’ve never seen anyone get upset about calling it the holiday party (or, for that matter, our holiday break, even though Hanukkah occurs earlier this year).

        1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

          It sounds like it’s not necessarily calling it a holiday party that’s the issue, it’s calling it a holiday party when it is very obviously a Christmas party – red and green themed, Santa, reindeer etc. If it’s a Christmas party then better to call it that and let people make an informed decision on whether or not they want to attend, rather than feeling like they’ve been bait and switched when the ‘holiday’ party they RSVP’d to has a giant Christmas tree and mandatory wearing of Santa hats.

    2. Apocalypse How*

      I was thinking about that, too. I can picture Jewish parents (or others who don’t celebrate Christmas) needing to have an awkward talk with their kids about “not ruining Santa” for the other children at the party.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I will say, though, that as a Jewish kid, even a highly non-religious one, I would not have wanted to go to a party where Santa was giving out gifts, and I think my parents would have been squicked out about taking me too. So yes, there’s another group of people being excluded from this party.

      1. Its GIF not JIF*

        Eh, as a child of Baptists, Christians can be anti-Santa too.
        The “not ruining Santa” chat is one that has to be had regardless. Although, in my experience at my religious elementary school, everyone took great joy in ruining Santa for me because he was the devil’s work, which is an attitude I personally haven’t noticed from people of non-Christian faiths.

        1. Clisby*

          My favorite “not ruining Santa” story came from one of my husband’s co-workers, who had 3 children. Their tradition was pretty much the same as in my family when I was growing up. You got Christmas presents from family, and then there were a few from “Santa.”

          One year, this guy’s son (the eldest) told his little sisters that Santa wasn’t real.

          On Christmas morning, he was the only one who got no Santa presents.

          1. Its GIF not JIF*

            Lol, I like it. My mom just told me that Santa is respectful of everyone and doesn’t go to the houses of kids who don’t want him.

          2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            The year I was six, the tooth fairy docked me a nickel for doubting them, AND my parents preemptively told me that Santa doesn’t bring presents to kids who say they don’t believe in him. I still get Santa presents and I’ll be 40 this Christmas. :)

        2. Savannnah*

          As a Jew, Santa is not the devil’s work. That would be companies that pump out Christmas carols in their stores before Thanksgiving.

          1. Its GIF not JIF*

            (Sorry, to be clear, I was saying it was a Baptist (or at least my very small exposure to some Baptist humans’) view that Santa was the devil’s work, and that in my experience Jews and members of other faiths are perfectly content not to ruin Santa.

    3. Holiday Party Letter Writer*

      Definitely not disagreeing here. It’s absolutely billed as a Christmas party.. with a big tree, Christmas decorations, Santa, etc. However, the president of the company is Jewish, and this party is done up this way at his behest, and he is also the MC of the party. I think he thinks since he is Jewish and he loves the Christmas party, that everyone else who doesn’t celebrate Christmas should just get on board for the good time.

      1. Clisby*

        But is there any blowback if people don’t get on board for the good time? I love Christmas, but to me it sounds like this party just sucks.

        1. Grinch*

          Yeah, this sounds like the opposite of a good time to me. Hundreds of kids? Santa? Christmas cheer? No thanks.

      2. Me*

        It’s really really unkind to dismiss others feeling excluded because your boss happens to be Jewish and ok with it. People are allowed to have their own feelings about things especially religious exclusion.

        1. anonymous 5*

          This. It’s cut from the same cloth as “I can’t possibly be [xyz]-ist! I know plenty of [insert marginalized group here]!!!”

        2. tiny cactus*

          I didn’t read the LW’s comment as suggesting that since the president is Jewish, all of her non-Christian coworkers should just put up with it. I think she’s just making a guess at why the executives think it’s okay to have an explicitly Christmas-themed office party, which sounds about as off-base as why they think it’s okay to allow 12 guests for one employee and 0 for another. They just like it the way it is and don’t want to factor in their employees’ actual feelings.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            This – the OP was saying that’s the thought process of the CEO (“I’m Jewish, and I love Christmas, so everyone else should too!” – bleh).

          1. Holiday Party Letter Writer*

            This is correct, sorry if my comment wasn’t clear. This attitude is coming from the president. He does give everyone of other faiths the appropriate days off, including the high holidays for our other Jewish coworkers. But the big party with all the gifts, etc., is definitely a Christmas-Santa-bonanza that he fully endorses as a “Christmas party” and wants everyone to participate in, though there is no requirement to participate and no consequences if you choose to sit it out. I didn’t mean to be exclusionary with my language, I’m just trying to present the party as accurately as possible.

      3. Casper Lives*

        OP I’m so curious about this odd party. Do they not do an RSVP to know how many kids need Santa gifts? How many hours does the party take? Would the owner be receptive to a separate adults only (employee +1) party in the spirit of Christmas, since he’s so into it?

    4. Brett*

      I’m not Hindu. I don’t celebrate Diwali.
      But the single thing I miss the most about working from home during the holidays is the office Diwali celebration.
      I don’t have to celebrate the holiday to appreciate an amazing party and a cool opportunity to learn about another culture.

      1. Observer*

        Which is all good and fine. But for a LOT of people who are minorities in a majority Christian culture, a celebration of the core event of Christianity is not something they want to partake in – even when it’s presented in a facially secular way. Obviously that’s not universal, and if someone likes to participate that’s fine. But it’s a big enough, and common enough, issue that pretending that it’s not exclusionary is disingenuous or ignorant.

        1. Epiphyta*


          My faith tradition absolutely considers this informal participation in another religion’s celebrations. That’s okay under limited circumstances – learning about different religions as part of an educational/outreach event, or supporting a friend – but an office party that’s only happening because of the given birthday of a major figure in another faith? Nope.

          Your mileage, as ever, may vary.

  8. employment lawyah*

    Someone high up really, and I mean REALLY, likes playing Santa. So they are focusing on the kids, not the employees. Given that culture, you should focus on “getting what you want,” not “stopping the kid party,” because that won’t work.

    I would be specific and suggest a separate parties for employees (where there’s a raffle etc.) and families (where there are kid gifts.)

    I would not necessarily focus on not going to the main one (even w/o your spouse) because you’re better off having capital burned elsewhere. But I agree this is silly, and if you think you can add on “oh, and nobody is going to the kid party” that would work.

    1. cleo*

      Agreed! Getting a second party for adults with a plus one guest seems like the easiest way to get what the OP wants, which is to be able to meet her co-workers spouses and partners and get to introduce her spouse too.

    2. Clisby*

      Fortunately, in my entire working life, I never worked anywhere that I’d be burning capital if I declined to go to a company social event.

      1. Threeve*

        You’re lucky. My job’s “holiday” party is during the day, and doubles as one of our all-staff meetings, so there’s no escaping it. (And it doesn’t even compensate with decent food or a raffle).

        An old job had unpaid after-work gatherings that weren’t officially mandatory, but the phrasing we used was “be there or be talked about.” A team member told me when I first started “please come, if you skip it, people are going to be asking me where you are all night.”

    3. Hula-la*

      I agree as well. We used to have a separate Christmas event for staff and their children (which also included grandchildren, and in my case, my niece). People could pop in and see the kids, and there was a separate event for staff and a +1 if they wanted to bring one.

  9. JM in England*

    As Alison has said with other AAM posts, it might be more effective if the OP and all other excluded parties pushed back as a group.

  10. CB*

    If the rule ends up disproportionately impacting a marginalized or protected group (eg LGBTQIA+ couples) would that be an HR issue? Because that seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Probably wouldn’t rise to lawsuit level unless it was part of a broader pattern and you could tie it to adverse employment actions (professional opportunites, etc.).

    2. Ashley*

      They are discriminating against straight childless people as well. I would guess this would be discrimination based on family status. (LGBTQIA+ people do have children)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Family status isn’t a protected category at the federal level although it is in some smaller jurisdictions. But again, probably needs to be accompanied by more than just this.

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I honestly wonder if that might be the intended outcome though. It just happens to exclude straight couples with no children. It’s like when my apartment management decided to ban smoking anywhere on the property…it just happened to coincide with the state legalizing marijuana…because apparently tobacco smoke OK/marijuana smoke bad

      1. Observer*

        I was wondering about that but from what the OP says, that’s not it. In any case, it would be extremely hard to make that case. Better focus on what is in front of everyone’s nose. Which is that you are making childless people feel like second class citizens who are there on sufferance. Maybe not illegal, but a REALLY bad idea.

    4. Yeah this*

      This. I remember several years ago (before gay marriage was legal country wide) a state tried to make it illegal for unmarried couples to adopt children, and the first thing they did was wave a heterosexual couple around that was denied to prove they weren’t being discriminatory.

      We still know the real reason for the law.

      I feel like this company is trying to hide their LGBT employees relationships for the sake of the kids and if some straight folks get caught up in it? So be it.

  11. LadyByTheLake*

    The thought of sitting there while (if I have my math right) ~200 kids are being called up one by one to get a gift is water-torture level of awful.

    1. Artemesia*

      Graduations when it is your own kid are excruciating for this reason — sitting there will over a 100 kids are given gifts when you don’t even have a kid at the party is a new level of hellish. Time to just call it a kids party and let everyone else off the hook.

      1. Clisby*

        Yes! I was so relieved when my daughter didn’t want to attend her own university graduation. I know how boring those things are from my own graduation.

        1. allathian*

          I did attend mine, but it was specifically for those who graduated. We were seated in alphabetical order and called to the stage in groups to get our diplomas. But it was quite a solemn occasion, most of the men wore rented tailcoats, some even had a top hat, and the women wore long dresses. This was so long ago that non-binary people were certainly a lot less visible than they are today, so either there truly weren’t any at my university or they just wore what was expected of them or declined to attend altogether.

    2. LadyByTheLake*

      Graduations are grueling, but at least everyone is lined up ready to go and scooted across the stage in a never-ending, not-stopping line. It sounds like this is MUCH worse.

    3. Quill*

      School assembly but on steroids and without the passing notes with your friends… I think this is a circle of hell right next to pep rallies.

    4. Tabby*

      OMG THIS. I would be So. Bored. I’m sorry, no, I will not sit there watching kids opening gifts. I have 32 video games at my house that I’d MUCH rather be playing than doing this, and some of them have some of the most eyerollingly dull/annoying cutscenes ever drawn by Man that you have to watch to get points towards game completion.
      Like, sir/ma’am/mx, why do you hate me?

  12. Beth*

    This is a terrible policy. Honestly, band together with your other non-kid-having coworkers, tell the planner as a group that you all need a +1, and make a big enough stink about it that sticking to the status quo is no longer easy and comfortable. Right now the planner is assuming that the status quo is the path of least resistance—the party is already too big to easily add more people, it would be a big fight to tell grandma she can’t bring 12 people, but you’ve historically accepted this and sucked it up without much of a fuss. It’s time for an overhaul, and you as a group should absolutely make sure your needs are taken into account when that happens.

    1. Ashley*

      Yeah I think every employee gets to bring one adult and any children / grandchildren. If grandma and her plus 1 can’t handle 12 grandkids maybe she picks a different subset of grandkids every year. (And keeps the babies who have no idea what is happening anyway at home.)
      I do think it is odd for single adult’s to want to bring their parents to even a family party though but they can choose if it is just a plus 1.

      1. Beth*

        To me the parent thing sounds like, it’s awkward to be a single person at a party where most people are with their families, but this is billed as a family party, so asking to be allowed to invite a different family member in lieu of a spouse/kids probably seemed like the most viable option. I’m betting if everyone was just given a +1, no particular relation required, most people would probably bring a friend, date, or spouse over a parent.

        1. Quill*

          Sometimes I go as the dedicated hype woman to grad school events for my friends… I can hold a charming conversation about a friend’s accomplishments.

          It’s a skill that I might pull out for a holiday party if the food was really good, but a yearly commitment like this seems a bit overkill.

      2. PeanutButter*

        Definitely depends on the company culture – my hospital department’s holiday party often included parents as employees’ plus ones, since many people who worked there had parents who had also worked there and were now retired. And some people just had awesome parents/grandparents so we loved having them.

      3. Bagpuss*

        I think it depends on the situation. If you are single and don’t want to go alone, then a parent may be one of the few people who falls into the category of “People I am not embarrassed to ask to come to a boring party where they don’t know anyone, and who are likely to be willing to show up for my sake”

        If it was me, now, I’d just go by myself, or pass altogether. Also, in a company where inviting grandchildren and adult children of current employees, inviting a parent doesn’t feel like much of a stretch.

      4. tabby cat troubles*

        I started working (high school teacher) immediately out of college, so my first holiday party I was 23. I brought my mom because I wanted her to meet my coworkers and thought it’d be fun. I was single and still living in my parents’ house so it kind of made sense. By the second holiday party (24 yo), I was living with roommates in a new place and definitely did NOT bring my mom, haha, so it really made sense only when I was, like, BRAND new in my career.

  13. Jubilance*

    I really tried to understand the party planner’s logic…but then my head exploded from the mental gymnastics. This…makes zero sense. And is a terrible policy.

  14. V*

    This policy is homophobic, wee! It’s only incidentally homophobic, but I don’t care. Gross, gross, gross. I would probably not continue to work for a company that had found a way to exclude all the partners of queer people from a major company social event.

      1. V*

        Yup. But OP states that it is not the case in her workplace. And it’s the kind of workplace where the party organizer absolutely knows that.

      2. Internet Person*

        I wonder if being childfree is more prevalent among queer people. It tracks with my experience in the queer community in a major midwestern metro with a big queer community. In the end, having a child is either expensive or emotionally complicated if you’re queer, whether you have bio baby or if you adopt. My partner and I aren’t having kids, in part because of the cost and the invasiveness.

        Queer parenting can also be complicated in a way that doesn’t align with cis-het norms. In more conservative parts of the US, it’s really common for queers to have kids from previous hetero marriages (but I imagine that’ll be less common with younger generations), but with queer-ignorant coworkers that can undermine your queerness. I also know a lot of parent/child relationships that are similar to chosen families and therefore are somewhat non-traditional. I know people in their late 30s who have adopted children who are older teens, because they adopted a 10 or 12 year old queer kiddo who got kicked out by their family. That stuff is hard to explain, unfortunately.


        1. Littorally*

          Intuition tells me it’s probably more prevalent if only because a same-sex couple or a couple with one or more trans members is far less likely or able to have an accidental or “just see what happens” childbearing experience. But there’s also something to be said for a decrease in childbearing among younger couples (who are also more likely to be openly queer) overall. It’d be interesting statistics to find out more.

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      I’m going to disagree. It’s not homophobic. What it is discriminatory and exclusionary towards anyone without children, and LGBT people may or may not fall into that group. Just because none of the LGBT people in that office have children doesn’t mean this is targeted to them, they’re just one of the many groups of people getting dissed here.

      1. Bagpuss*

        It doesn’t need to be targeted to be discriminatory.
        It doesn’t need to be intentional to be discriminatory.
        It doesn’t need to only impact people in a certain class to be discriminatory
        If something *disproportionately* affects a certain class of people then it is discriminatory whether or not that was the intention of the people setting the policy. (I don’t know if that is how the law in the US interprets it, it is in the UK, where I am) and I think it is true from an ethical perspective, too.

        e.g. policies which which treat part time employees less favorably than full time employees can amount to indirect sex discrimination because women are much more likely to work part time, than men. The fact that that wasn’t the intention of the person setting the policy doesn’t stop it being discriminatory, if the impact of the policy disproportionately affects members of a certain class, nor does the fact that it may also affect some men.
        Here, it may not be *intentionally* homophobic but the impact may well disproportionately affect LQBTQ people.

      2. V*

        Luckily, I don’t have to meet any sort of legal test about intent to discriminate to say something’s homophobic in effect. I can just go, “wow, that’s homophobic, and I’d bugger off out of any company that was treating me like that!”

    2. Jack Be Nimble*

      Yes, this, on top of everything else! I would not be surprised if this bananas policy originated from a disagreement 10-15 years ago about whether to allow not-legally-married same-sex partners to attend before the advent of marriage equality. Which is not to say that queer couples can’t or don’t have kids (or couldn’t or didn’t have kids before marriage equality) but this policy is just SO weird.

      Without getting off-topic: my mother works at a small, close-knit Catholic school that shares news about alumni weddings in the school newsletter The first time a same-sex couple asked to have their news shared, the school suddenly trotted out a policy that, as a Catholic school, they’d only be announcing weddings that happened in Catholic churches — which incidentally excludes some heterosexual couples but very definitely excludes ALL of the queer couples, just as it was meant to. Discriminatory policies very rarely say “No people of X group,” they’re just artfully constructed to exclude X group without having to come right out and say so.

      1. TTDH*

        Yep. This is a much, much more common type of discrimination than the more overt type, exactly because it’s easier to deny.

      2. Vicky Austin*

        If that was the case, then I wonder what they would do if one of the queer couples decided to adopt or have a child via surrogate or artificial insemination.

      1. Sylvan*

        Yeah, but it wouldn’t hit me (no kids because I don’t want kids) the same way it would somebody who wants children. It’d be like kicking them when they’re down.

        1. Jennifer*

          I don’t get this point of view. Nobody can have their kids there because there may be people there who don’t want/can’t have kids? I think you should give those people a bit more credit.

          1. CTT*

            I don’t think Sigh is saying no one should have kids at the party, it’s that the plus-one (or twelve, in this case) is conditioned upon having children. I can see how the “well if you had kids then you wouldn’t have to come alone” angle could be upsetting to someone who is struggling with infertility.

            1. Jennifer*

              Maybe so, I just think a lot of people with infertility are tired of people assuming they are so fragile they will melt if they attend an event that involves children.

              1. Clisby*

                It’s not that. It’s that if you have no children (for whatever reason) you don’t get to bring your spouse. That’s wack.

          2. Littorally*

            If you don’t have children, we will not acknowledge any family you have at all, even a partner. You must attend the event alone.

          3. BubbleTea*

            No, it’s that being unable to bring your spouse if you don’t have children, but seeing your colleagues who do have children being allowed to bring their spouse and all their children and grandchildren, is rubbing salt into the wound. If everyone was allowed to bring whichever family members they chose, it would not be so hard. But being at a party surrounded by kids, alone and without your partner BECAUSE you can’t have children, is going to be painful for a lot of people.

          4. windsofwinter*

            No, it’s that the childless people aren’t allowed to have anyone there with them. So they’re doubly reminded about how their childlessness hurts them.

          5. Coffee Bean*

            I don’t think that these comments are saying “no kids” at the party. I think that this particular cluster of comments is saying that the current policies can be alienating for people who don’t have kids – for whatever reason.

          6. Observer*

            No. It’s “you’re Significant Other is only significant if you have kids. If you don’t they don’t count.”

          7. Sylvan*

            I don’t get that point of view, either. It’s not mine, which is simply that people are going to have different reactions to being excluded based on their personal circumstances.

          8. Totally Minnie*

            I don’t think I’ve seen anybody say kids should be uninvited from the party. What people are advocating here is for a Family Party to allow ALL employees to bring some part of their family to the party. Right now, what’s happening is that people with children and grandchildren get to bring their families to the party and people without children or grandchildren have to come alone. If the company wants everyone who has a child in their family to bring that child to the Christmas party, that’s totally fine. But the fact that my uterus can’t grow a human in it shouldn’t mean that I’m standing in a room by myself while most of my coworkers are enjoying themselves with their families.

        2. LCH*

          agree, i don’t want kids. i would not be hurt by this in the same way i figure someone would who does want kids yet cannot. it’s a weird, terrible way to handle the holiday party. unless this is a toy company. or a chocolate factory.

    1. Andrea*

      I was going to say this too. What a lovely way to force someone who desperately wants children to think about the fact that they can’t have any.

  15. AndersonDarling*

    I worked at a company with two Holiday parties. One was a “Lunch with Santa” that was intended for employee kids and was 100% focused on entertaining kids. Then there was a “Holiday Party” for employees and spouses where employees were given milestone awards, gifts/bonuses, and employees were the topic of discussion.
    This company is just doing part one. Do they have another event in the year for grown-ups? Or is it just this one kid-centered event for the whole year?

    1. AndersonDarling*

      BTW- I hate the idea that company profits are going to buy 100 grandkids presents. Just sayin…

      1. Dave*

        I want to know what kind of presents are being given that makes it worth it for teenagers to attend. I mean unless the companies core demographic is kids under 18 and they make the stuff themselves it seems really odd to me. I would be sad I would in theory have a smaller bonus because of an out of control Christmas party.

        1. Threeve*

          It reminds me of my high school’s “after-prom” party. They spent more money on it than the actual prom–the food was great and the raffle prizes were ridiculous things like laptops and $200 gift cards. It took a lot to bribe teens to come to a stay-where-we-can-see-you-so-you-don’t-drink party, but it did work. (And everybody just did their celebratory underage drinking the next day).

        2. it's me*

          I worked at a place where the holiday parties were notorious for super-generous gifts for kids. Gaming systems, laptops, $100 giftcards, that type of thing. As others have said this probably started out with a much smaller number of people and has ballooned out of control, with the company not wanting the complaints that would result from cutting back…?

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        My company ‘s Santa party is on a weekend. ..and the parents bring a wrapped gift to HR during the preceding week. That has a price limit* ….and that is what Santa gives out. There is sugar overload from the company.
        (max $20 a few years ago…they didn’t want one kid to get Barbie and another gets Barbie’s Dream House.)

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          I’ve seen that happen before…a community group we belong to has switched over to a charity donation as opposed to “all the kids get presents from Santa” because even the price limit* wasn’t fixing the issue (“but I got it on sale on Black Friday and the TV was under the price limit…” riiiiiiight).

          The crafts and sugar overload and story time with the elves always remained the same :-)

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I was coming here to say this. If you want a kids’ party, that’s cool, but make it a separate thing from the actual employee party.

    3. Sarah*

      My husband’s former company does something similar. There’s a party in the afternoon with kids (under 12), and I can’t remember, but there may be a small fee too for kids to attend, which helps cover the costs of gifts. Then in the evening, there’s an adult party with staff getting a plus one, drink tickets, and giveaways.

    4. Allonge*

      Exactly, have a kids’ event but do one for the adults. Nobody has time to socialise while minding a dozen grandkids anyway.

    5. Holiday Party Letter Writer*

      I think that’s a really good solution. We really one have the one event per year, but there have been talks of doing like a “field day” in the summer at a park. I would like a holiday party more employee/spouse centered, but it would realistically have to be during the work day, as many of our employees are older and have absolutely no interest in attending an after-hours event (and I really don’t want to exclude them!). And I do like seeing the kids, even if it makes me seem like a grinch in the letter. I’ve been here long enough that I’ve seen my coworkers kids go from babies to pre-schoolers, and I think that’s really special. But the party is out of control and needs to be reined in.

      1. Margot*

        My previous company held 2 employee events per year: Summer Picnic and Holiday Party. Summer Picnic was on a weekend, open to all employees & their kids and was held at family-friendly venues (local park with catered BBQ, a bounce house & a pick-up softball game; baseball game with a block of seats in the bleachers; the Zoo; a local wildlife/rehab/education center). So, employees without kids or spouses could still go and have fun, and employees could bring kids to meet co-workers. Holiday Party was on a weekend evening at a local restaurant that was rented out, employees bring +1, everyone got 2 drink tickets, and it was catered with heavy appetizers. Employee raffle held as last event of the evening to encourage sticking around. Worked great!

  16. HRBee*

    Spouse and minor children 18 and younger. That’s it. That’s the rule. Grandkids and adult children is insane. I promise you, Accounting is dying inside paying for ADULT CHILDREN AND GRANDKIDS every year.

    I agree with Alison that you need to go over the party planner’s head. Get together and push back.

    1. abcd*

      We have a similar rule for our employee functions. Employee + guest and children/children living in the home. There is some flexibility, but it keeps people from inviting dozens of other people.

      1. Rara Avis*

        My husband’s (former) employer had a party like that — spouses and children. It was quite nice — dinner, games that were playable by children but lots of adults did them too, a raffle for which everyone got a ticket. The organization had many many young childless employees, but it was the kind of place where you could put supplies for a gingerbread house on each table and hold a decorating contest, and the adults would try just as hard as the kids. While also encouraging the kids to participate.

    2. Observer*

      It doesn’t matter – the owner is apparently fine with the expense. Accounting doesn’t get to over-ride him.

    3. Not a Blossom*

      Or maybe partner and minor children. It feels mean to make the single folks come alone, and not all couples get married. I have friends who have a child and a house and have been together for more than a decade but have decided not to get married.

  17. doreen*

    Alison might be correct about this :
    “The most generous reading I can come up with is that this isn’t really a party for employees; it’s a party for employees’ kids, and everyone else is welcome to attend. It’s possible that’s really what they intend, based on the family focus, the gifts to every child, etc.”

    This is a really bad way to do it – during a workday, and not allowing those without kids to bring their spouse ( or anyone else) but when I was a kid, my father’s union had just this sort of party that was clearly meant for the members’ kids. I was a kid, so of course I don’t know if members without kids were invited or allowed to bring spouses- but what I can tell you is that it was such a kid-oriented party that I cannot imagine anyone without kids wanting to attend.

    1. Shhhh*

      I distinctly remember the steel mill my dad worked for when I was a kid doing a very kid-focused party, but like you, I can’t speak to the context. I *think* they probably had a separate party for the employees (and possibly their spouses). My dad just isn’t a very social person, so I suspect my parents just never went. My mom went to her office’s party most years.

      My former workplace did a holiday (but really a Christmas) party that was employees only. My current does not have a party at all. I really don’t miss it.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Yeah, my former company’s kids themed Christmas party, Breakfast With Santa, was on a Saturday morning.

    3. Jennifer*

      Agreed. It’s a kids’ party. That’s why I don’t get why the OP is upset. If my spouse worked there, I’d definitely not be interested in taking a day off work to come there and watch a bunch of kids I don’t know open gifts. Just go and enjoy the time away from your desk and have a cookie or skip the party. Much ado about nothing.

      1. Coffee Bean*

        The lw is upset, because the party is exclusionary. People with kids and grandkids get to bring kids + spouses. People with no kids don’t get to bring anybody. No spouses. And I don’t think this is strictly a kids’ party. There is a raffle for adults. If the party is primarily for kids, I don’t think the lw would be so upset. This party seems to be rooted in tradition, and it hasn’t evolved to equitably accommodate different family situations.

      2. Observer*

        Because the OP is supposed to attend this kids party but is being told that they really don’t count because they don’t have kids. That’s just . . . not good.

      3. Totally Minnie*

        It’s totally fine and normal for you to not think this is a thing to be concerned about. But you know what? It’s also totally fine and normal that the LW *does* think this is a thing to be concerned about. Her line is different than yours, and telling her she’s wrong to feel hurt by this isn’t helping.

    4. Librarian1*

      It’s probably because I’ve worked at non-profits my entire life, but if one of my orgs decided to throw an expensive holiday party that was primarily focused on kids, I’d be pissed. Spend some of it on employee compensation!

  18. Zephy*

    I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Grandma’s Football Team is the only huge group like that, and the party planner just doesn’t want to fight Grandma, probably because Grandma’s been with the company for 300 years and has the boss’s ear.

    1. Khatul Madame*

      Grandma/Grandpa may be the owner/general manager. In fact, it’s very likely the reason these parties are allowed to continue in this format – if the management’s kids and grandkids are the majority in attendance. I doubt an owner would be happy with most gift cards, gifts and food going to random kids.

    2. Khatul Madame*

      Forgot to add – so quit piling on the party planner, the poor thing had probably asked to change the party rules and was told no and stop bringing this up.

    3. Nanani*

      I was thinking along these lines. Grandparent of 12 is an old favourite of the boss or something like that.
      And there is more than a whiff of discrimination against the same-sex couples, especially if the reason no such couples has kids is that the local laws make it very difficult for them to adopt.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      Yeah, I’m wondering how these numbers are actually working out. By my (shaky) maths, if there are ~350 attendees for a company of ~80 employees, that’s ~270 guests or about 3 guests per employee if literally every single employee attended AND brought guests. Once you discount the single employees and employees who didn’t attend at all, then a) there’s a dozen or so employees with a partner and no kids and the other 40-50 employees are all bringing 5 or 6 guests each, in which case who cares about a dozen extra +1s? That’s barely one football team!, or b) there’s a few absolutely massive families throwing the numbers off. I’d be intereted to know if either of those are accurate!

    5. In my shell*

      @Zephy, you read my mind, too! “Grandma” seems like the whole story here (other than weird boss, I guess) – a protected, coveted employee?

  19. Rayray*

    This seems like a terrible way to go about the company party. At one company, everyone got to bring one guest to the work Christmas party, whether it was an SO, a parent, sibling, kid, friend – whatever- you got one extra ticket. For our summer party at the local amusement park, the company paid for you and one guest. You also got a pass that was good for deeply discounted tickets for more people, and then you could purchase more dinners for the big barbecue dinner we had. This was hosted by the company that handled out benefits so we did this huge party with other small businesses. I actually do remember when a new person took over the handling of this and only gave me and other single employees money to pay for ourselves, not a guest. It was a big misunderstanding, and we did get our guests paid for but MAN, are single and childless people often discriminated against when it comes to these things.

    If I could suggest anything, it’d be that everyone gets one extra ticket to the party to start out with, then you can each “line up” and get one ticket and then go back to the end of the line for one more until all tickets are distributed. That way they know exactly who is coming and it’s distributed fairly.

    1. Simonthegreywarden*

      A place my dad worked at long ago, before the early 2000s recession, would rent out a local amusement park (not, like, Six Flags, a smaller operation) and open it to all employees and their families. That was pretty awesome (I was a high schooler then). It wasn’t restricted just to families with kids, but it was the one family-day event they did. May have been available to contractors as well; I don’t remember.

  20. Guacamole Bob*

    A weird side effect of this policy is that for longtime employees, there are probably adult children who attended the party as kids up to age 18, then were uninvited, and then once they had kids of their own they were suddenly re-invited and expected to bring their kids to the party every year because it was important to their parent. That would be a really strange position to be in.

    1. The Other Victoria*

      Thinking about it this way adds additional levels of just how bad this is:

      For instance, you and your siblings attend the party until 18, are then uninvited. Your sibling has a kid, you don’t, so you stay uninvited? Like that would be super alienating if you’re the childless adult child whose siblings are all parents. I’m just imagining being that person and having to see photos of literally your whole family but you.

      1. Simonthegreywarden*

        Even weirder if you can still come as an adult child who does not have children. Like, do you go because your parents want you to even if you don’t work there and don’t have kids who want to go? Do you skip it? just strange all around.

      2. Allonge*

        Look, the party rules are really weird, but this is for a family to handle. Adults should be able to regulate their emotions around this, and discuss with each other if necessary.

        Every kind of event involving children will have those who age out. There are more than enough issues with how this event works, we don’t need to invent extra.

        1. WS*

          Yeah, my dad’s work had a big end-of-year party (not as fancy as this one!) and all children aged 17 or younger got a present. But there were no weird rules about not bringing spouses. A few people did bring grandkids and they also got a present but again, no weird rules about who can and can’t attend.

        2. The Other Victoria*

          It’s not inventing extra issues to point out that the rules serve as an arbitrary value judgment of who constitutes important enough family to attend the holiday party and the bar for entry is reproduction.

          If they want to have a kid’s party, have a kid’s party. Make it completely unconnected from anything else that would require employees without kids to attend (to be clear: No raffle, no catered dinner, just Santa and maybe Christmas cookies) and have a separate holiday party with plus ones, or a company-only holiday party if it’s going to be during the work day.

  21. Patty*

    I definitely am not a person that assumes everyone wants kids (not having kids = totally valid choice!) but there’s at least a chance that some employees are going through the pain of not being able to have kids and wanting them… what a terrible yearly reminder for them.

  22. Murphy*

    This is insane. People get to bring their adult children and grandchildren, and you can’t bring one person?

    Also, as an adult with a child I can’t tell you how uninterested I would be in attending my parent or in-laws’ work party. That does not sound like fun for me.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Yes! It would feel so weird! I could see including a limited number of grandkids (provided employee spouses are all allowed) under a certain age, but adult children?! Don’t they have their own holiday parties to go to?

  23. CatCat*

    What happens if an adult with kids only brings their spouse because their kids don’t want to go (my teen would have been HARD PASS)? Is that allowed?

    The whole thing is bananas.

    1. Rayray*

      Or maybe the parents just want a night out without the kids.

      I think you’re definitely right though. Unless the food is really good or there’s something to make the party a lot of fun, a lot of kids may not be interested anyway.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      That would be funny.

      “You’re not allowed to bring your spouse unless you have kids.”
      “I do have kids. They’re at home with the babysitter.”

    3. Tabby*

      Right?! While I tended to prefer hanging out with adults as a teen (I was a strange bird), I certainly DID NOT want to hang out with my mom 99% of the time, and would HARD PASS the hell out of a work party — unless I was getting money, honey. I don’t work there, why the duck would I want to attend a party full of people I couldn’t possibly care less about? *insert wild Eartha Kitt laugh here* For what? FOR WHAT?! :D

  24. DrSalty*

    Honestly it seems like the easiest option here is just to not go if nothing changes. Have a convenient conflict that day. Whoops!

    1. June Buggy*

      I mean, yes, if nothing changes that’s true. But OP wrote to AAM because they want things to change and are looking for advice on how to accomplish that change, so this doesn’t seem terribly helpful.

      1. DrSalty*

        Sometimes people don’t realize opting out is a viable option. Her options aren’t limited to “fix it” or “suffer.” Just a thought.

    2. SpEd Teacher*

      Yes, but the OP says in the comments that the biggest prize is a 1 in 80 something chance at a week all expense paid trip to Hawaii including hotel, airfare, $1000 cash, and an extra week of PTO. I’d go and sit in the corner on my phone the whole time for those chances.

      (Other prizes were a box with $400 cash… I’m going no matter how dumb the rules are. I might not put the effort in to look like I’m having fun, but I’ll be there.)

  25. NDawn90*

    They say this party is “family” focused, but your partner/spouse *IS* your family. You don’t need to procreate for that familial relationship to count!!

    And considering that this is indirectly discriminating against the LGBTQ people at your workplace, this system absolutely needs to be rethought!!

  26. Pretzelgirl*

    I worked somewhere that did something like this. However the way we did it was much better. There were 2 parties each year. One for families. You could bring you kids or grandkids to breakfast with Santa. There was food, games and every kid got a present from Santa. It was actually really fun. The food was great.

    Then a few weeks later there was an employee party at a local establishment with, food, drinks and raffle prizes. We could bring our significant others or a guest. Some people brought their parent or friend if they were not in a relationship.

  27. Djuna*

    I do not think I would want to attend OP’s company party, it sounds like an ordeal rather than a fun time away from work.

    We have a kids party on a weekend day, parents and kids only. It’s a couple hours in the afternoon.
    Then there’s a party just for the grown-ups too, on a weeknight. They cut out any plus ones that weren’t romantic partners last year (because numbers were out of control) and there was some grumbling but it worked out fine.

    With no parties this year, it seems an ideal time to reset, tbh. People can witter on about tradition all they want, but some party is always better than no party.

    1. In my shell*

      I agree! It sounds like at least making an appearance is politically necessary (LW wrote they received this response about not going: “It’s not like you’re going to get fired over it.”), but I’d probably pop in, BE SEEN, and get the heck out of there.

  28. Midwest Manager*

    I’m so sorry OP, this is a terrible system. Let me tell you what my dept used to do, since maybe something similar would be helpful in your re-set. We used to do 2 events—a child-centered event (daytime, Friday or Saturday), with a Santa and grab bag gifts for children under (I think it was 12, but it’s been a while ago). One or both parents could attend with their child, there were games and a light buffet (finger sandwiches, veggie tray, cookies). It lasted maybe 2.5 hrs. Then we had a separate evening event for cocktails (1 hr open bar, cash bar the rest of the night), buffet (prime rib, etc) and dancing. That was employees +1, no kids (I think I only had to be explicit with people once or twice over the years–just a year ago, one employee asked if she could bring her two teenage kids because “they like having a good meal.” Well yes, but why should we pay $40/head for them?!!). We eventually phased out the kids event because attendance dropped off. I agree with Allison, you need to go above the party planner and hope someone else sees the absurdity and unfairness of this. Good luck!

    1. SadFace*

      Ooooof my poor childhood is echoing in the woman asking if she could bring her two teenagers for a good meal at Christmas and being turned down.

      1. TTDH*

        Yeah… there may be nothing you can do but there’s also no need to bring it up like she was being entitled.

        1. Casper Lives*

          She WAS being entitled. Every employee is told it’s employee +1, but she thinks her family is so special / in need / exceptional that she should get to double her allocated head count. It’s a company dinner. Not a charity event.

          1. TTDH*

            Assuming she took the “no” gracefully, I don’t see asking for something as inherently being entitled. I don’t personally find it to be a very reasonable request either, but it’s not worth the mockery either. Yeesh.

  29. Laura*

    My aunt is retired from a well known Fortune 500 company. They used to have a Christmas party and Easter Egg hunt for the employee’s kids. It was axed for the budget shortly after I outgrew it in the 1980s. My aunt is single without kids then she was allowed to bring me. I don’t know if she would have been allowed to bring more if I had siblings. If the LW company wanted to have a kid friendly party, it would make sense that any employees without kids would be allowed to bring a niece/nephew or younger sibling or something else that I haven’t thought about.

  30. AngryOwl*

    This is so incredibly weird. I always want to sit down people like the party planner here and ask them what on earth they’re thinking.

    OP, I hope you can make some changes!

  31. Torrance*

    If the policy can’t be changed, I’d encourage/advocate malicious compliance. Since they’re giving away free gifts, this could be an opportunity for some unintended charity. Encourage the non-parents/grandparents to start bringing a random kid along– nieces/nephews, BFF’s kid, neighbour’s kid, whoever. People can bring their spouses, it brightens a child’s Christmas, and the company has to shell out for more gifts.

    1. Tabby*

      Ahahahaha I would try this, maybe. Borrow one of my nephew’s kids (Or all of them; there are about 5) and bring them along. With my 11 adult nephews and nieces. Oh, and maybe a cousin or two and their multitude….

      My, I do enjoy malicious compliance a bit too much.

  32. ellex42*

    I don’t have a spouse (or SO) or kids. I wouldn’t bother showing up to this party at all.

    A former boss, for whom both I and my brother worked, went out of her way to invite our widowed mother (who lives with me) to all of the Christmas parties she hosted for the business. We didn’t expect it, but really appreciated it, and although the business dissolved a few years back, my brother, mother, and I are all still good friends with that boss.

  33. Anonymous Internet Lesbian*

    Alison, I think you missed something big in your response: the disproportionate effect this has on queer employees. Obviously this is a terrible policy for a lot of reasons, and there are opposite gender couples who don’t have children and same spouse couples who do, but the LW notes that NONE of same gender couples at this workplace are able to bring a spouse to this party. That immediately jumped out at me, in part because “gay couples can’t have kids” has a long tradition of being used to de-legitimize queer families. (To the point that, at the risk of sounding like a drama llama, I found myself wondering if this was not an accidental outcome of this policy but part of the appeal.) My spouse and I have a kid, and yet the day I learned about this policy would have been the day I started job searching; that’s how anti-inclusive this feels, like, I would always question if I were really welcome at this organization. (“Wait, Becky can bring her adult children and their children but Raymond can’t bring Julian??? Oh heck no.”) LW, I’d hope that if you raised it that way with TPTB it would be enough to get someone to permanently walk this back.

  34. Single all the way*

    Company Christmas party planners really need to get their heads around that not everyone is coupled with children. When I first started working the company I was at had a formal sit down meal every Christmas and people were sat with people they were friends or worked closely with and their partners. Unless you were single in which case you were put in a run off table at the very back of the hall with the other single people regardless of if you knew them or not. Part way through the meal the director would ask everyone to stand up and toast their partners for supporting them though the hard work / late nights of the year just gone. It was pretty crappy overall for the singletons.

    1. londonedit*

      Ugh, that’s gross. I’ve never worked anywhere where guests have been invited to the company Christmas party – it’s a thing for employees only. I guess that gets around all of these issues!

      1. Single all the way*

        The demographic of that place definitely leaned older so maybe it just never occurred to them? All the prizes in the raffle were for couples or children too. I’m at a younger company now and most of the people at the party last year were either single or hadn’t come with their partner and it was a MUCH more comfortable atmosphere.

    2. Quill*

      Oooh, giving me memories of being head of “the kids table” in the family for a decade while the oldest cousins wrangled toddlers, the Unmarried Young Men got their food and scrammed somewhere, and the other unmarried young lady conveniently worked retail.

      It got me a few years of pointed convent recruitment but I’m now firmly cemented as the cool cousin… even if some of the younger kids think I’m still in college.

      1. mreasy*

        Lol my husband and I are sometimes still at the kids’ table (were in our 40s) with my nephews (one now married himself) depending on how many “adults” come to the family dinner. Family has aged but the dinner table has not grown!

        1. Littorally*

          My family just gave up on having a kids’ table and adults’ table, for this exact reason — the oldest of the “kids” is now 46 and the youngest kids are his children. Now it’s just two tables and everyone sits where they want.

        1. Quill*

          Yes it IS I learned so much about minecraft and dinosaurs every year and I never had to debate ancient aliens with That Uncle.

      2. Single all the way*

        The kids table! Thats exactly what it was like hahah. At least we didn’t have to talk to coworker spouses!

    3. WellRed*

      “…ask everyone to stand up and toast their partners for supporting them though the hard work / late nights of the year just gone.”
      I think I just threw up. I definitely cringed, single or not.

  35. Retirednow*

    If you really want your spouse to meet your co-workers, why not invite some of them to get together with the two of you? I don’t see any reason why you can’t meet anywhere other than this party!

    1. Threeve*

      Singling people out for social invitations is very different from casually introducing people and chatting for a few minutes while attending the same event. Parents like meeting their kids’ classmates’ parents at back to school nights, but it doesn’t mean that they want to plan dinner parties with strangers just because their children have the same first-grade teacher.

  36. Rusty Shackelford*

    I was thinking a rule of children under 12 only, and no grandkids, and everyone else gets one plus-one. It would cut the numbers down drastically but the party planner thinks it would be agist and make our employees with grandkids unhappy to change the system.

    So the party planner is worried about insulting older people and people with kids/grandkids, but not at all concerned about insulting people in same-sex marriages. Let me guess… the party planner is older and hetero?

    1. allathian*

      Or even childfree, or involuntarily childless hetero couples, or heaven forbid, single people of any sexual orientation including asexual. That said, this party is explicitly for children, but it would be more equitable if everyone could bring at least one person who is important to them, whether that is a partner or a friend.

  37. Charlotte Lucas*

    I worked somewhere that did something not exactly the same, but similar. They would have a holiday movie at a local theater that employees could request tickets for. You could bring kids & grandkids (there were limits on numbers), but, aside from a few years, no spouses or SOs. Nieces & nephews weren’t allowed, which excluded anyone without kids. Oh, and there were a limited number of spaces, so you had to request your spot(s) early.

    I wouldn’t have minded, but there was nothing else done for the rank-and-file employees. The upper management got a very nice holiday party at a local club. (Kept on the down-low, but a coworker’s SO was a bartender & worked the party, so some of us knew about it.) And once my manager held a party at her house on her dime for staff.

    Oh, some of my coworkers without kids still did the movie a few times, but the decided getting up early on a Saturday for a movie full of rowdy kids where they were served stale popcorn wasn’t worth it. (Yep, aside from one year, the movies was at 8 am.)

    1. Rayray*

      You’d think that would be absolutely terrible for people with kids, getting them up and ready and to the theater by 8:00 AM.

  38. Colorado*

    This is actually a hill I would choose to die on at this company. I would push this as far as I can go. As a parent who lost a child, I would absolutely lose my mind over this.

    1. HRBee*

      This x100.

      If my employer told me after I lost my daughter that I didn’t have a “family” because I didn’t have an alive child, I would have lost my mind. There is no earthly way I could have responded in any sort of professional manner. And after the abject anger, I’d have been in a puddle of sobs. I just… can’t even.

    2. In my shell*

      omg, THIS! ooph. While less common than other circumstances described here, this is the most powerful argument made in this thread so far. It perfectly illustrates how dysfunctional the party policy is and how inhumane the effects could be on individual employees.

  39. Sarah H.*

    It seems like if the intent isn’t to exclude “non-traditional” families (for lack of a better term), there’s a simple solution here. The company provides X tickets per employee and the employee decides what to do with those. Employees could then bring whomever they choose, and even give extras away to coworkers with large families. This would allow the company to make sure there is enough food while staying within budget, and no one is unfairly excluded. They might even take it a step further to ask that employees turn in those tickets as an RSVP to get a final head count and ensure they have the right amount of kids prizes.

  40. Suzanne*

    I can’t imagine wanting to meet any coworkers spouses or parents but I suspect that’s just me.

    Here’s how to solve it:

    – party for employees of company in the evening and everyone gets a plus one. One only no exceptions.
    -party for children only (with an age limit of the children – say 12? 13?) of employees (no grandkids, no nephews, no nieces) – either one or both parents go – have the party on the weekend during the day. Do the Santa and gift thing; have food. Set a time limit – ie 2 hours or 3 hours. If you just do Santa and gift and food it will be done faster. If you want it longer then have activities. Then it’s done. If you don’t have a kid you can’t go (I can’t imagine why would want to) unless you are working it.

    It’s not difficult. Sure people will complain but so? People complain now and this way is more fair than it was before.

  41. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    If the powers that be are going to go with the Santa-centric delight of the holidays, which is lovely for those of us who enjoy looking at happy little children with a nice token present and a fistful of cookies, then a nice Friday afternoon party is lovely and a nice side event for the Christmas celebrators.

    But if there is a goal to have the adults enjoy an end-of-year festive occasion, then an adjacent or main event inviting employees and a +1 would also be appropriate.

    Maybe framing the goals first would help to re-shape the event.

    RSVPs are crucial for managing expectations and food.

    My recommendations would be to do employee + 1 for free, any kids under 13, and bonus adults for a nominal cost. If employees want to show off their grandchildren, that’s fine, but give the non-employee adults an excuse to drop off and go.

  42. Xavier Desmond*

    I’m inclined to feel more sympathetic to the party planner than other people on here. It’s pure speculation of course, but I’m guessing they have been instructions from higher ups that they need to let kids and grandkids attend and they are desperately trying to keep the numbers down where they can

  43. jcarnall*

    I too would question if this is actually a Christmas party for employees, and argue that it is actually a company party for the children/grandchildren of employees. Which, as I have no children or grandchildren, I am welcome to attend but not obliged to. And I wouldn’t show. And if asked why not, explain that I had understood from attending previous years that it was a party for children and their parents or grandparents.

    I would then start mooting for an employee-organised employee-plus-one party somewhere convenient for everyone to get to from work – there’s a pub nearby where you can book half the space, bring in your own food, and cash bar. Then ask everyone at work if they want to come and bring a plus-one, to kick in some money for the food, and there’s a work party organised. (This only works of course if it’s a reasonably small company – anything over 50 people expected, including plus ones, and you aabsolutely need to hire a proper space.)

    I’d probably try to get a reliable spread of people on board with the idea first, so that there are people saying casually and positively, “Oh yes, like a work party, just organised by us, work people only and our plus-ones, no kids of course, there’s a bar.”

    Get back to us in 2023 with an update! I really hope you manage things better for Christmas 2022.

  44. Santa's party*

    As someone raised in communist country it was always Santa’s party, never Christmas one. Parents bought kid’s presents and the company would provide a Santa who would then call the kids and present the presents from parents and an additional bag of sweets (or cardboard box in gingerbread house shape filled with sweets) It was 0-15 y.o. and parents only. All total: less than 2 hrs long, but the thing started at 6 pm and there were always crying kids (woken up from nap), have photos of me and my twin to show: red faces screaming our heads off on Santa’s lap. good times.

    1. No Name Left*

      I can relate to that. I live in Belgium, and we do not have Santa Claus, we have his original incarnation of Saint-Nicholas.
      Saint-Nicholas brings presents to kids on the 6th of December and that is not directly related to Christmas, although this event launches the holiday season. As a consequence we do not do much in terms of presents at Christmas, at least for the kids.

      Companies usually host a kid party where Saint-Nicholas distributes presents, and provide a gift card to all employees. Saint-Nicholas is also known to roam in offices around the 6th of December to distribute chocolate, biscuits, mandarines etc to adults ;)

  45. PoppyK*

    We used to have a similar party: catered offsite lunch, employee + spouse/partner + kids 12 & under (who received a gift from Santa). This seems more inclusive with the added bonus of capping attendance and cost for food and gifts. Hopefully with the child-free employee pushback and the 2020 cancellation it will give your party planner the time to reconfigure the party without hurting feelings.

  46. Feline*

    I’ve seen this play out. My sister’s former employer first had plus ones. I went as her plus one one year. Then they started opening it to children. And grandchildren. And it got messy and out of control with some families taking shameless advantage of it. So they stopped having Christmas parties. That’s the endgame to this budget buster unless they rein it back in.

  47. Aggretsuko*

    I certainly get why they can’t accommodate everyone if children are the priority, but it sounds like they can’t even manage that many children either.

    I vote for separate parties or limiting the amount of invitees.

  48. Zach*

    The easy answer to this is to stop allowing grandchildren and start allowing spouses. The grandchildren thing is crazy- that’s so removed from the company that it’s like allowing all of your employees to bring a friend of a friend to the work party as their guest.

  49. Observer*

    OP, this is one of the weirdest things I’ve read in a while.

    I wouldn’t bring up the issue of same sex couples, because that’s not really the issue here. All you’ll wind up doing is derailing the conversation.

    The bottom line here is that they seem to be implying that the relationships that adults enter into are not important and worthy of celebration or even recognition. ONLY being a parent is important.

    It’s worth pointing out that if there is ANY perception in your workplace that parents get preferential treatment, then this kind of thing is TOTALLY going to feed that. And that could have some significant repercussions for your employer down the line.

    Also, what’s with the idea that “there is no way for us to have a “family” Christmas party that it equitable for everyone“? That’s pretty nonsensical. But if this were in fact true, then perhaps the solution is to not have a “family” party and stick to being equitable!

  50. Jennifer*

    I don’t get what the problem is. It’s a party for kids to celebrate a holiday for kids. It’s not discriminatory because if any of the gay couples had kids, those kids would be invited. If children of gay couples had been excluded, maybe you’d have a point.

    1. Non non*

      You don’t get what the problem is? I suggest taking a look at some of the hundreds of comments explaining what the problems with this party are.

        1. Joielle*

          Lol ok, I thought you were asking this question in good faith and tried to answer it below, but you’re not. You understand the problem, you just think the opinions of people without children are less important.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Could you be more specific about where you disagree with the discussion above? That’s going to be a lot more constructive and lead to more useful conversation. (Or if you don’t want to, let’s just move on but I don’t want this to turn into squabbling.)

    2. Joielle*

      Well… it’s not just a kids’ party, it’s the company holiday party, to celebrate employees, featuring an “incredibly generous” employee raffle. The problem is that, as an employee, you don’t feel very celebrated if your own spouse can’t come but other people are bringing a dozen relatives.

      If it were only a kids’ party and the employee appreciation party was separate, that would be fine. Or even if it were only a kids’ party and there was no employee appreciation party, at least childless employees wouldn’t have to sit through this total debacle of a party and pretend they feel appreciated. This is truly the worst of both worlds.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Right. A party just for kids? Not great, but ok, I can see it. But a party where employee gifts are handed out AND adult children of employees are allowed to attend but spouses aren’t? That’s just… weird. And certainly designed in a way that makes some people feel excluded and unappreciated.

        1. Janon*

          Yep. Companies use these holiday parties as a way to appreciate employees for their work throughout the year. My company has a large kids event with Santa every year and that is the kid thing. Then there are other celebrations for employees. I am married and trying to have children but it has not happened yet. That makes me not worthy of my husband attending a party with these rules. It enforces old stereotypes about what a family is.

    3. Tabby*

      Jennifer, I think you’re being a bit oblivious. Christmas is not a holiday for kids. Adults like Christmas, too, and celebrate it. Nope, you’re quite wrong here.

    4. Jackalope*

      That is not necessarily the case. I can’t speak to this exact situation, but an action or policy can be found to be discriminatory even if it doesn’t explicitly name a protected group if it will have a disparate effect on that group. The first example that is coming to mind is that of rules against dreadlocks being found discriminatory against Black people even though there are many people who aren’t Black who have dreadlocks, and not all Black people have dreadlocks. Because it is a hairstyle specifically associated with the Black community and banning it has an outsized effect on a specific community that is a protected class, there are places (such as the state of California) that have made it illegal to discriminate against someone with dreadlocks. Likewise, someone posted here a few weeks ago about an Amazon (I think?) resume scanner that was found to be discriminating against people who had gone to specific colleges or universities that were women-only. Even though people of both genders who went to other universities weren’t screened out, this was still found to have a disparate impact on women.

      So if someone is making a rule that on the surface seems neutral but which due to historic, cultural, or other factors has a more significantly negative impact on one specific group that is a protected group, then that policy can be considered discriminatory even if that was not the intention.

    5. windsofwinter*

      It’s actually a party for employees and their families*. The kids aren’t winning the raffle for an all expense paid trip to Hawaii.

      *The problem is that certain families are being told they are lesser because they don’t contain children. Which means a big blow to morale for those employees who are being treated as second class citizens.

    6. BadWolf*

      The OP posted the list of raffle prizes at this party — definitely not just a kids for kids party (even if that’s what they want to call it). They gave away a vacation package!

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        This is yet another reason why this party makes no sense. They clearly want it to be focused on children – fine. But then they’re giving out gifts that kids can’t use. So bizarre.

    7. ...*

      Christmas isn’t a kids holiday? Its to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ….which many adults take quite seriously…..

    8. In my shell*

      @Jennifer, while a handful of comment threads have addressed how the policy adversely impacts “gay couples” and other family configurations, that is hardly the key point the majority is expressing here.

      Setting aside the LBGTQ+ / misc family structure aspect, do you have any empathy for the impact this has on employees dealing with infertility and/or grief over the loss of a child?

      What are your thoughts about others challenging the idea that Christmas is “a holiday for kids”?

      Does the fact that participation isn’t required, but is clearly *expected* of employees matter? (LW wrote that the response to asking if it was required was “It’s not like you’re going to get fired over it.”)

      1. Jennifer*

        Of course, I have empathy for anyone that is struggling with infertility or the loss of a child.

        I get that people don’t agree with my opinion, and that’s fine, but that doesn’t make me a homophobic grinch that doesn’t care about people who have lost children. This is really something…

  51. Cafe Lighting*

    This is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t have any kids and if I was told that my spouse could not attend my company a holiday party but that my coworker was allowed to bring their spouse, children, and grandchildren I would absolutely refuse to go.

    I have to wonder if this kind of treatment towards people who don’t have children extends into working hours as well. I wonder if there are times when work has to be done on nights, weekends, and holidays. Does this company expect all of that to be done by people who don’t have children at home?

    1. Observer*

      I have to wonder if this kind of treatment towards people who don’t have children extends into working hours as well. I wonder if there are times when work has to be done on nights, weekends, and holidays. Does this company expect all of that to be done by people who don’t have children at home?

      This is a really good point.

    2. pope suburban*

      I wonder the same thing. Is the company’s attitude that employees without children do not deserve the same consideration for things like time off? Are their commitments outside of work not given equal weight? I’ve certainly worked places where I was expected to pick up all the slack without reciprocity. Even those places weren’t so pointed about it as this, and I really do suspect that this is a deeper cultural problem than just this one party.

    3. Rayray*

      I’m not OP but as a single childless woman, I can confirm 100% this happens. Had a job where people with kids got tons of leeway and special treatment for taking time off or coming in late/leaving early. A friend of mine worked somewhere where people with kids were given Christmas Eve off and those without kids had to work.

  52. Lexie*

    Maybe suggest each person gets one employee ticket and four (or whatever number) guest tickets. The people who don’t need/want that many can turn their extra tickets back in to be redistributed among the people who request more. They could do it by a lottery, first come first serve, seniority, or divide them evenly among those who requested them. This way everyone can bring a guest, lots of kids get to come, and the party planner has a maximum attendance number to plan for food, tables, chairs, etc.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yes! I suggested similar (+4 guests max) but I like the ticket method because then you can donate tickets back if you want to.
      Although I can see that there are likely those who like the idea of freeloading and bringing 10 family members(!) so much they would probably try to pressure people for their tickets if it’s known certain employees are single. Because there are always people who try to take advantage like that and cry fowl and oppression if they don’t get their way. So, while I love it, it can create more problems perhaps?

  53. WIncredulous*

    I see so many issues with this.
    1) “Christmas” party with Santa? Religious discrimination.
    2) No spouses without kids, excluding LGBTQ+ partners, discriminatory (marriage, sexual orientation, possibly gender.)

    All in all tone deaf at the VERY least.

  54. Choggy*

    My company has TWO parties, one for the kids, the other for the adults. Makes no sense not include spouses regardless of kid status if that’s the only holiday celebration held by the company.

  55. not peggy olson*

    I say this as someone with three children: I would SO much rather get to meet my coworkers’ partners than their children! It sounds like a giant boring kid birthday party to me (and I prefer the drop-off kind)

  56. Sparkles McFadden*

    I think your company needs to separate the kid part from the adult part. Have a “Bring your kids to visit Santa” day which would basically be a “pick up your gift” event. Then have a holiday party for the adults and a plus one. The cost should come out to be about the same. Maybe the people bringing kids will have a problem making both events, but they can figure it out. The current system is insane.

    1. JM in England*


      That said, I do hope the OP’s company is not one where if you don’t attend work events, you are senn as “not a team player” or similar negative consequences….

  57. MissDisplaced*

    “She said we simply cannot accommodate everyone.”

    It sounds like they are OVERLY accommodating to a few at the expense of many other actual employees.
    And while it’s nice for an employee to be able to bring their grandchildren, why the heck would their GROWN children also be invited? Like No. No! That isn’t right if it’s at the expense of your other actual employees who just want to bring their spouse.

    I hope you all push back on this and make some better, inclusive “rules” with sensible limits. Such as:
    Employee +Spouse + 2 Kids (under 18)
    Employee + Spouse or Date
    Employee + Spouse + 2 Grandkids (under 18)
    Make it Easy: Employee + 3 Guest-limit maximum of whomever in their family (or a date or friends) they choose to bring. Honestly, this is probably the fairest way to deal, knowing some will be only a +1 or choose only to bring younger kids over the spouse or teenagers. If they really want to bring more than the +3 offer a paid per guest option beyond 3 guests.

    1. Thatoneoverthere*

      Only problem if people have more than 3 kids then they are out of luck. My family wouldn’t be able to attend as I have 3 kids.

      1. Jackalope*

        Someone earlier commented that their company let people bring all dependent children OR a certain number of children (grandkids, niblings, etc.) that they don’t support but are close to as a way around that specific issue.

  58. Conspiracy-Industrial Complex*

    Are employees who have children allowed to attend with their spouses but without the children? (Maybe the kids are on a class trip, or not interested.) If so, then it isn’t really about children.

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Oooh, great question.

      Party Planner: Why is your partner here?
      Employee: We have kids. They’re with the sitter!
      PP: Oh noooo! Then your partner must leave!

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Hahaha! It’s like the “you must be this tall to ride the ride”, but instead “you must have at least one child with you to enjoy this party.”

  59. Richard Hershberger*

    Attending my wife’s work’s Christmas party is my personal vision of Hell. But even I find the idea that I couldn’t go if we didn’t have kids to be bizarre.

  60. Former Retail Lifer*

    I would feel really weird being an adult at a work party with a bunch of kids running around. Regardless of the optics, I wouldn’t go. I get that they want to make it kid-friendly, but there really needs to be a separate event for adults.

  61. kayakwriter*

    If and when OP gets the party open to childfree and/or same sex couples, my mischievous side hopes some poly employee asks for three or more tickets so he/she/they can bring their primaries. Cue horror on the part of party planner and wide-eyed innocence on the part of poly employee “Why there’s always been room for kids and grandkids, so of course there’s room for Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice…”

  62. Twill*

    I have nothing of value to offer. Just came here to say this made my brain squeech inside my skull. This company is nuts.

  63. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    What a terrible system.

    I have kids, and I personally would opt out of attending a party where I could bring 3 guests but some of my colleagues weren’t allowed to bring anyone, because of an arbitrary and unfair rule.

    I’m also flabbergasted that someone would actually take 12 guests to a party, knowing that some of their colleagues weren’t allowed to take even one guest.

    Basically your party planner is not saying “we simply cannot accommodate everyone” but rather “A is bringing 12 guests, and so B may bring … nobody”.

    And when you follow that up with “it would be agist and make our employees with grandkids unhappy to change the system” – I’m starting to think that your party planner is a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic. or maybe, a couple of platters short of a buffet table.

  64. Janon*

    What if you cannot have a child due to medical/infertility issues? Or you are trying and it just hasn’t happened? Then this just highlights that for you. This is just awful. The fact that they will say that the older employees would be unhappy, but they can’t see that for others is just mind blowing

  65. Thatoneoverthere*

    I’ll be honest, while I would probably enjoy this party bc I have kids, I cant see my childless friends and co-workers enjoying it. To me it seems like its more of a kids party. Which is fine. However they maybe should have 2 parties, one for kids and then another for employees and a guest (spouse, significant other, partner, whatever).

  66. ResuMAYDAY*

    My husband and I are child-free so this type of party would make me livid, however; I win almost every raffle I enter, so I would still attend. I’d already be packed for Hawaii the morning of the party.

  67. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    Ooooofff. Imagine attending that as a kid or teenager. Strangers everywhere, your parents forcing you befriend their besties’s child, countless adults commenting about your academic performance/body/relationships, bragging competitions, and that adult that is dying to arrange a date with their “good and sweet” boy (who looks like a potential serial kilker). I’m getting triggered just thinking about it.

    1. The Other Victoria*

      I’m now imagining my teenage self with a bunch of adults asking me if I play a sport and then responding with icy silence when I politely said no, which was a common occurrence under regular circumstances when I was growing up.

  68. praflsap*

    Another suggestion might be to have a minimum & maximum number of guests each employee may invite. 12 guests for an employee seems pretty excessive to me & it’s clear from your experience that the teens you sat with weren’t interested in meeting grandma or grandpa’s co-workers. That’s understandable, but it isn’t a great experience for the co-workers stuck sitting next to a group of bored teens.

  69. Chocolate Teapot*

    A previous job had a family party, featuring a visit from Santa, sweet snacks and various games and activities. As I lived near the office and had nothing to do on the Saturday afternoon, I went along and ended up being the only person there without any children. My then boss offered to lend me one of her twins for the duration!

  70. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    I would stop having a party for kids and grandchildren. This gets so very expensive so very quickly.

    And frankly? The best Xmas work parties are without my spouse because then I’m not introducing him again and again and again to people he doesn’t know, doesn’t work with, doesn’t share in-jokes and history with, etc.

    I know that lots of people enjoy bringing their spouses and a good time is had by all. But it would be SO much saner and SO much cheaper to scale it down and just have it for staff.

    My employer shuts down the office for a huge catered lunch at noon, where the reception is converted into a bar. Lots of food, lots of door prizes, lots of mingling, no spouses, a silent auction, and it’s all done by three on a Friday afternoon. People have time to still pick up kids/run errands/have their Friday evening free and by far, in my many years of working and Xmas parties, the best way to do it.

  71. Kiki*

    This seems like one of those situations where the rule was put in place for a very specific reason one time. Now that specific reasoning is no longer applicable, but whoever is implementing the rule is just going with it because tradition or not wanting to rock the boat. Clearly there is enough budget and room for every employee to bring a partner– this is such a strange party!

  72. Blue Eagle*

    The company I used to work for had a biennial summer party for employees, spouses and their children. I was single and not dating anyone at the time so I asked if I could bring my 5-year old niece and Mom (who would both have to fly in from another state). The party planner said “sure, no problem, we’d love for you to have someone to bring”.
    So they flew in, my niece entered the fishing contest that was for 6+ and ended up catching the biggest fish and won the big prize!
    This is how a good company arranges an employee event.

  73. Apt Nickname*

    My biggest argument is that this is meant to be a family Christmas party and if you are married, your spouse IS your family. You might be a family of two but you are still a family.

  74. scribblingTiresias*

    TBH, it seems like the “you can only bring your spouse if you bring your kids” rule is specifically designed to discriminate against your LGBT employees.

    I could be wrong, but…

  75. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

    As an event planner…this person is a terrible event planner. This “system” makes ZERO sense and is way more work than needed.

  76. Lars*

    I’m honestly amazed that the party planner is getting to plan this AGAIN, given that they didn’t order enough food, didn’t get a big enough space, apparently didn’t get a headcount beforehand, and doesn’t know how to handle complaints about their disastrous event. I think if I screwed up on just ONE of those things for the big company event, I’d at least be on a PIP!

    Everything else sucks about this letter but I’m shocked that they apparently kept their party planner status?!

    1. Retired worker bee*

      Maybe they kept their party planner status because no one else wanted the job.

      One reason that there wasn’t enough food is that the LW wrote about a hypothetical grandma bringing her three children and nine grandchildren for a total of twelve guests. IMHO this grandma would be bringing sixteen guests, including her spouse and three sons-in-law or daughters-in-law. If the party planner also assumed that grandma would be bringing twelve guests, and made such incorrect assumptions about everyone else who was bringing children and grandchildren, no wonder they ran out of food.

  77. Former Employee*

    I guess the singles and the marrieds without children go because it’s during a work day and the raffle prizes do sound pretty great.

    That’s why I would attend such a party and I would see it as work; it would not feel like a party to me.

    Actually, given how many kids attend (maybe 50+), it sounds like a headache waiting to happen!

  78. Maeve*

    Funny, my workplace has an extremely similar party (to the point where for a moment I was like, is this my workplace and I wasn’t aware of the policy?) but people can bring whoever…but practically no one does bring anyone if they don’t have kids, since it’s during the workday and my partner isn’t going to take PTO to come to my work and eat the not at all good vegetarian option. I find the whole thing kind of a bummer and spend the smallest amount of time there possible. This year everyone is getting a $50 visa gift card instead and I just wish we would keep doing that forever. I’m sure it is exciting for all the kids to get gifts, but since I don’t have kids there’s nothing for me.

  79. Mr. Jingles*

    Petty me would press answer all and write back: I don’t intent to take away capacity from this years employees-children-appreciation event. So I won’t attend! Have fun together! I’ll be eagerly awaiting the invitation for the employee Christmas party.
    But I definitely don’t recommend to do that to anyone!

  80. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

    Is the party being held in the office itself and that’s why they are running out of space, chairs, etc? Perhaps they could take the gifts and raffle prizes down a notch and use the savings to hire a hall and some professional caterers who know how much food to order for a given size crowd, etc. A bigger space would allow for the adults who aren’t interested in the kid stuff to hang out and chat while that is going on but still be part of the party, and would have room for everyone’s plus one and kids.

  81. Sarah*

    As someone who is physically unable to have children (and yes, we’ve heard of adoption-that didnt work out either) this would quite literally make me look for a new job. It’s discrimination (and there’s a LOT of that against the childless anyway) and it would be a final dealbreaker. This is disgusting

  82. Liu1845*

    You need a different party planner. Perhaps a 3 employee planning committee that is representative of all employees?

  83. frida*

    My mom’s old company had an issue like this, and instead they made the Christmas party adults-only and added a Halloween event for kids. Employees could bring in their kids to do some crafts and go “trick or treating” to a few dept offices, the security desk, etc. It worked out really well and the kids always had a blast. Could be a solution OP?

  84. Foxgloves*

    My dad’s firm has always had a fantastic policy for holiday parties:
    1. Two family orientated events- a) one for children 5 and under, where they go to a soft play, have a tea party, Father Christmas comes and gives all the children a present, and b) a trip to the pantomime for children aged 5-12, everyone gets ice cream in the interval, and a box of chocolates at the end. Obviously parents (including spouses) attend these, and grandchildren can go to the under-5s event; and they can attend the pantomime if there are extra tickets after the children of staff/ staff and spouses have chosen whether to go or not..
    2. A big party for all the staff and their spouses/ partners/ whatever.
    3. Departmental lunches/ dinners out for those departments who want to do it. Usually these are an “everyone pays for themselves” type thing.
    All of these are totally optional.

    Would it be worth suggesting something along these lines to your party planner? Everyone obviously has to RSVP to everything, but it’s a great way to keep everyone happy AND cover all bases!

  85. theletter*

    So throwing out some solutions here:

    A company at your size should probably invest in a social committee, someone who can help the party planner, especially day-of. And if you want your opinion heard, you’re going to have to join that committee. Given that the event planner was overwhelmed, she or someone above her is going to insist she get some help.

    Getting her to change will be difficult, but if you get kindred spirits on the committee, you can go over what worked and what didn’t and emphasize that things need to change.

    The next thing you’ll want to do is to separate the child party from the adult party. Santa visits are best done in an open-house format – block off an afternoon, let parents and grandkids RSVP for a timeslot, then have a buffet or passed appetizers and a limited booze list available for adults while they wait. You can do this in or near the office, allowing any employee to drop in for a beer and a snack if they’d like. Chances are childless employees will see this is pretty much just for kids and won’t bother with it or worry about it.

    The official employee holiday party should be run like a normal party – rent a conference hall or restaurant and a band, do the whole raffle business, and everyone gets a +1. Do this on a Thursday night (it’s cheaper) and then have the Santa party the next day, as Fridays after holiday parties tend to be a wash.

  86. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    The intransigent nature of this rule must have its origins somewhere. Like some popular and valuable member of staff with a wonderful sense of faaaaaaaaaaaaamily who’s been there for over 30 years and who has been bringing her children every year, wouldn’t miss it for the world, and had the rules extended to include grandchildren once her youngest became an adult which happily coincided with the year her eldest has her first baby. And at some point somebody said that it would be most embarrassing if their gay staff member turned up with their same-sex spouse, and since this was also the year they hired a record number of staff, the spouses were eliminated to make sure of no embarrassment as well as keeping numbers down so they could stay within the budget.

  87. Elle*

    Jeeeeesus, this workplace. As someone who has been experiencing miscarriages and infertility for years, I would quit this job immediately. As if the rest of the world doesn’t signal that you’re worthless or broken without kids— we don’t also need that judgment from our employers. What the actual fuck.

  88. Bopper*

    We had the following over the years
    1) Bring your family to work on Christmas Eve morning…usually each department would have people bring in treats for their department. They would also have Santa/activities for kids.

    2) Have a “Snowflake Breakfast” with activities and breakfast food in the cafeteria only for employees (during work hours)

    3) Have an party off site (during work hours) for only employees

  89. Former Teacher*

    One of the firms my brother worked for did this on Christmas Eve. It was a winter party for the kids. No Santa (lots of Jewish lawyers in the firm) but tons of cookies, and snowmen and games and presents wrapped in silver foil. My mom and I brought my nephew and my sister in law stayed home and took a nap in a quiet apartment.

    They also had an adults only party that was a more traditional office party one evening, but this was intentionally set up as for kids. It was a good way for the Jewish folks to not resent that virtually everyone took the day off and no work was done–they got to count it as work if they didn’t want to burn leave that day.

  90. MCMonkeyBean*

    This is just so bafflingly weird.

    “We can’t accommodate everyone” is reasonable and seems like it even proved to be true last year, but excluding spouses and including grandchildren is such a weird and impractical way to go about it! I fully agree that the starting point needs to be everyone is allowed one plus one, and then build out from there. I don’t know about a cutoff of 12 years old for children, but there’s got to be some more reasonable rules that people can come to an agreement on.

  91. Owner'sGrandkid*

    As an adult, this rule is stupid and OBVIOUSLY spouses should be invited.
    As a kid, I LOVED the company Christmas party, including into my early teens.
    My dad worked for my Grandfather’s company, and every year, on a Sunday there was the company family Christmas party (no idea if there was a separate adults only event, and I don’t think that anyone without kids was excluded). It was in a giant park, there was a bouncy castle, food, drink, and activities like a sack race and three-legged race. Santa also gave out presents to every single kid (presents were bought/given out on the basis of age and gender. Can’t remember what the upper age cut-off was). It was ginormous and amazing. The kids certainly loved it, and I think the parents did too.

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