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Reality Check: No Kids Allowed!

Q. My sister and our friends take their babies out to late movies and fancy restaurants. We leave our child home. How do I get them to do the same?

A. Being out with another couple and their toddler isn't my idea of a relaxing, grown-up evening either, and there's nothing cute about sitting down to a candlelit dinner and trying to have a mature conversation while your friends struggle to keep their baby from pulling the tablecloth and knocking over the wine glasses. The kids suffer too: The 3-year-old next to me at a Saturday night showing of one of the Lord of the Rings movies had his hands over his ears during most of the film. I silently wished his parents good luck with the nightmares that were sure to come.

Why do parents think it's okay for their children to accompany them to grown-up movies and restaurants? They figure their kids are too young to understand the film or follow the dinner conversation, or they couldn't get a sitter, or they'd rather not pay for one, or they work all day and want to be with their child at night  -- whatever. They may also think that you shouldn't be bothered by a child underfoot because you're not responsible for any kid who's not yours. But they're mistaken.

That's why you should make it clear when setting up a date that the invitation is for adults only: "Can you guys meet us for a couples' dinner?" or "Do you think you can get a sitter Friday night so the four of us can go to a movie?"

If they show up with their baby anyway, then kiss the child hello (it's not her fault) and ask, "What happened  -- did your sitter fall through at the last minute?" Your message will be clear. After that, limit your get-togethers with this couple to those that are family-oriented. Or take matters into your own hands by arranging for your sitter to watch your kids together (if everyone's willing), with the parents splitting the cost.