Now, I'm a mom. I have 3 kids and I walk this line between it being too stressful (like my parents) and wanting to be the cool house where all the kids play! This isn't a 50/50 line; I am most definitely more on the play date house side of things. Whether they're 3 or 8 or 15, I want my kids to know that their friends are welcome here. I want to worry less about how clean the house is, what I'm making for dinner, or whether I was hoping for some peace and quiet. That stuff I can work on internally and I do! But what about the other stuff?
How do you make your house the play date house? The cool kids house?
What else? My daughter has come home from a play date with fresh baked cookies, telling me that they baked them together. My head sags and I feel like a defeated Charlie Brown (cue the music). I never bake cookies when the kids have friends over, let alone let them bake cookies by themselves. I may have a bit of a control-freak-possessiveness over my kitchen, er, the kitchen. I can work on that, though! I should mention that they've never asked! I thought when the kids had friends over they just went to play. You know, imagination, dolls, games... Do you let your kids cook in the kitchen with their friends? Do you encourage it? Discourage it?
Technology. Where do you fall on this spectrum? Kindles, iPads, phones, video games, and even movies and TV shows. Are the kids coming to play with that? Or to play with each other? I'm winging it here. When my kids have friends over and they want to do something technological, I set a timer, just like I normally would. If there are technical difficulties, I play on my ignorance and hope they'll ditch the screen and go play outside. They usually do. On sleepover nights I am all for a movie and some extra screen time, but there's still a cut-off and there's still a lights-out.
It's boundaries like this that make me wonder (worry) if my kids will prefer other homes to play at because we have rules here that I may bend, but I rarely break. What if everyone is playing a video game that you don't approve of and you don't allow in your house? Will your house not be the cool kids house anymore? Will your kids just end up at someone else's house playing a game (or watching a movie, or visiting a website) you strictly forbade? I don't know. I do know that boundaries are good, healthy and desired by our children. I watch my kids bump up against the boundaries we set and they bounce back, sometimes frustrated, but in general unfazed by the restriction.
Boundaries are like a HUG: firm, strong, consistent, and filled with love.
Opposite sex. Remember the guest room I mentioned? My oldest likes to take a friend in there and play ponies or puppies or whatever other imaginary game they've invented. I let her have sleepovers in there, too. Since our kids share a room, I know it's important to have a little space to herself when a friend is over. But my middle child has a boy friend she adores! I try to keep things fair and let them go play, but next thing you know there are pants "falling off" and they're hiding from me and nope, the door is now open, if not removed from the hinges. Tell me your stories and tell my what works for your family!
Going to other kids' houses....
What are realistic expectations when you allow your child to go to someone's house? Besides keeping your child safe, do you expect the parents to watch them the whole time? Probably not, but therein lies the fear of what could go wrong. Insert family members you're unaware of, older siblings, and a very different set of boundaries and you have the stuff mommy nightmares are made of.
And guns. I have to bring it up because one of my friends is so amazing and courageous, in that she asks parents about guns before her child goes over to play. I admit I haven't asked and I feel disappointed in myself for not doing so. She asks if there's a gun, if it's loaded and if it's locked away. I abhor confrontation, but I understand that these are important questions. Do you ask?
Trust. Faith. Awareness. Hope.
And then I have to trust. Every day my girls go to school and are influenced far more by their teachers and peers than they are by me and their dad (if you're looking at hours spent = influence). Every day they come home to us and we try to pry out of them details of not just their education but they're social interactions and emotional experiences. I have to trust that they hear our words and store them in their hearts. I have to trust that the influences they're receiving at school are mostly good and that they'll choose to turn their backs on the negative voices.
I have to have faith. Whatever your belief system is, it takes a certain degree of faith to watch your child(ren) walk into a building away from you for 8 hours every. single. day. Without faith, I would be beyond a bundle of nerves. My imagination is far too good to let run free in this arena. My girls ask me to pray every morning for their angels and this is what I pray: "God, surround the girls with the angels you've assigned to them to protect them. Bring them home to me safely this afternoon." I don't know who it comforts more, me or them. But on a cute note, my 2-year old now asks, "Mommy, can you pray?" because he hears his sisters ask me all the time.
Even with trust and faith, I have to remain vigilant in my awareness of what's happening around me, around my children and in the world. Not too vigilant, lest I lock us all up in the name of safety. To remain aware I go to their schools to have lunch with them or help with parties. I talk to their teachers and bus driver regularly. I attend field trips when I'm able. I read every scrap of paper they bring home, even if I forget most of it a second later. Being aware is allowing myself to become a part of the community that my children call home 5 days a week. By being a part of it, I can see who they surround themselves with and make decisions accordingly.
I can't end this without mentioning hope. Because even though this started out as a blog post asking for advice on how I can have the cool kids house where all the playdates happen (is it play dates or playdates?), I have opened some doors on some dark and scary places that are inherent to the discussion. So let me a shine a light in those dark places with hope. I have hope that children (mine and yours) are good and will choose goodness. I have hope that love will conquer all and peace will be found despite the battles that rage all around us (hello, Facebook fighters, I'm talking to you). I have hope that kindness will be the tool of choice in my children's daily lives. And I aspire to be that example for them, so they know what it looks like to offer friendship instead of criticism, to offer help instead of turning their backs, to to offer empathy instead of mockery, and to offer acceptance instead of judgment.