Tips for Staying (In)Sane While Hosting the Neighborhood Kids This Summer
I live on a block stocked with kids. This, I have learned, is a blessing and a curse because while it means that my own children are almost constantly occupied, it also means that I’m not hearing the pitter-patter of little feet – but more often than not, the constant thumping of what sounds like a herd of elephants running through my house, sprinklers on and draining my bank account, and, “Mom! Can we have a snack?”
In the last few years, we’ve graduated from setting up scheduled play dates where the parents stay to watch their own kids and then leave at the previously agreed to time…to children just showing up at my house parentless, expecting to be fed and entertained. And it’s taken me a while to get a handle on how to be a good mommy hostess while simultaneously holding onto my sanity for dear life.
And as a parent to three children from an almost teenager all the way down to early elementary school, this is what I’ve learned.
My house, my rules.
My 11-year-old daughter actually told me the other day, “I like that you’re so strict. Some of my friends have no rules at all. I like that I know where I stand with you.”
I smiled and thanked her for the compliment while thinking, “We’ll see how long this lasts.” But whether she likes it or not, the rules are here to stay.
I’m the one constantly reminding my son and his friends that I don’t care if it’s a cotton ball…you don’t throw things in my house. It doesn’t matter to me if my youngest daughter’s parents let their kids use their living room sofa as a trampoline…you either sit on mine or you’re outta here. And it’s fine if, at your house during the summer, your parents don’t care if you stay up until 3 AM; here we’re in bed by a reasonable time or we’re all completely wrecked for the next couple of days. And, frankly, I’m just too lazy to deal with that.
My house, my rules has gotten more complicated as my kids have gotten older because what it really means is that I’m parenting other kids while they’re here. I try not to step over that invisible line that encroaches into the territory of the actual parents. But when it comes to respecting authority, listening, and having manners better than a goat – that can mean the difference between getting invited back here and not.
I’m not feeding the neighborhood.
It was mid-way through last summer when I looked at what I was spending on groceries and nearly had a heart attack.
“How did this happen?” I thought in disbelief. And then I looked over at the table full of children happily munching on hot dogs, the back porch with empty fruit containers everywhere, and Otter Pop wrappers littering my yard.
It was then that I realized that I’d probably been feeding at least three extra kids lunch every day the entire summer.
Sure, most of what we eat during the summer isn’t all that expensive. But it adds up. And I don’t mind if we’ve scheduled a sleepover with a few kids or have invited them over for a prearranged play date. But it seemed that my children, in an effort to be the hosts that I myself strive to be, had been offering food to the entire neighborhood. Daily.
I sat my three kids down. “No more,” I said. “At 12:00 you tell everyone you’re taking a 20 minute break. Send everyone home for lunch and tell them they can come right back. But I can’t afford to do this anymore.”
Now, when I see a kid that is not my own eying my pantry, they get my standard answer: “I’m not feeding the neighborhood.” Then they will either swallow that craving they had for a Fruit Roll-Up or head to their own homes for a minute to re-fuel. And my bank account breathes a sigh of relief.
You are responsible for your friends.
My kids know my rules. They know what makes me tick and what makes me blow. And for the most part, I’m happy to let them run around the backyard with their buddies, play a few video games on a rainy day, or, in the case of my now pre-teen daughter, shut themselves away in their rooms to discuss the many problems that plague middle-schoolers these days.
I’m happy about that until I walk outside and I see fifteen paper airplanes blowing all over my backyard, snack wrappers littering my TV room, or the absence of carpet that’s hiding under the mess left in my daughter’s bedroom.
My kids know by now that “but so-and-so did it” doesn’t fly with me. Because my answer to that is as follows:
“You know the rules. If your friend is doing something that they’re not supposed to be doing, you’re just as responsible as they are.”
This means that if they leave trash everywhere…guess who’s picking it up? If they eat a box of crackers in the TV room…guess who’s vacuuming? If they’ve trashed your bedroom and you let them walk out the door before they clean it up…guess who will be doing that for the rest of the afternoon?
I’ll give you one hint. It’s not Mom.
It really boils down to one rule: If a friend is behaving in a way that you know is inappropriate and you don’t say anything…you’re just as guilty as they are. And that makes you responsible for enforcing the rules of the house as well.
One of my neighbors and I have a running joke that involves taking a poll with the kids on the block every once in a while on who the stricter parent is. And while I have always run a close second to him…I really don’t mind that I’m in the running. Because when kids come over to my house, they know what to expect. They know that I can be fun – buying large quantities of water balloons for the ultimate water fight and hosting variety shows in my living room for all the parents to enjoy – but they also know where they stand.
Only two months to go.
Catherine Tidd is a widow, mother, and the author of the upcoming book “Confessions of a Mediocre Widow” (January 2014). She is the founder of www.theWiddahood.com, a free peer support website dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other and has a Facebook peer support page under the name Widow Chick. She has been published in several books about grief and renewal and also writes a blog on anything that pops into her nutty brain called Bud Light Wishes and Cheeto Dreams.