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Saturday, November 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The politics of parking an adult at the kids' table

McClatchy Newspapers

Little children sometimes think adults are boring. Comedian Ed Clemens feels the same, so he sometimes prefers to sit at the kids' table during holiday dinners.

"I'm never very serious about anything," says Clemens, 44, of Grays Lake, Ill. "I find that sitting at the adults' table, they talk about things like taxes and politics."

At the kids' table, Clemens teaches his nieces and nephews simple magic tricks and spends the meal joking.

As much as Clemens likes the kids' table, there are times when he'd rather sit with the adults. Childless adults and singles sometimes get stuck at the kids' table.

Sticking unmarried members at the kids table is a form of discrimination, says social psychologist Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., author of "Singled Out" ($24.95, St. Martin's Press.)

Many hosts don't think twice about sending an unmarried aunt to the kids' table. DePaulo says it's part of a cultural lag from the 1950s. In the past, the single years were considered a transitional time between adolescence and adulthood. Now DePaulo says many adults spend more adult years single than married.

Being single or childless is more common these days, but DePaulo says some families haven't caught up with the times.

Rachael Irwin doesn't mind sitting at the kids table as long as free baby-sitting isn't expected.

"For people who are the host, if they are expecting an adult to help the kids eat their food, it's just not right. You're not the baby-sitter," says Irwin, a Phillipsburg, N.J., resident in her late 30s.

Irwin sat at the kids' table as a child and loved the experience. The kids' table was always positioned next to the adults, but the kids felt like they were in their own world. She says that before a host sticks an adult at the kids' table, they should consider whether the kids even want an adult at the table.

Hosts should also consider the location of the kids' table. Irwin feels the kids' table should be in direct view of the adults, so parents can "shoot over the evil eye" if the table gets too rowdy. "The kids will be out of control if they are in another room," Irwin says.

Parking the kids' table in the basement, for example, sends a message to the kids and the unfortunate adults assigned to sit down there.

"That's the dump-your-kids table," Clemens says.

Some families simply feel entitled to free child care by single members, DePaulo says. While researching her book, she heard from a single woman who was expected to baby-sit her sisters' kids at family reunions so the parents could go out and enjoy themselves.

"The singles got together and said, 'No, we are not your baby-sitters,' " DePaulo says.

To avoid a similar confrontation, hosts can consider sitting parents with their little ones.

Hosts can also ask for volunteers for the kids' table. Some adults, like Clemens and Irwin, may be happy to sit with the kids instead of the adults. If there are no volunteers, DePaulo recommends rotating seats during the meal so guests can take turns chatting with different family members.

If a host thinks a fun aunt or uncle might have a good time at the kids' table, be sure to ask the adult and kids for permission first. And then take "no" for an answer if the guest would rather sit with the adults.

"The main thing is just asking," Irwin says.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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