When my oldest was still little, someone gave me a tasty piece of parenting advice: Make your house the place where your kids’ friends want to hang out.
I took that advice to heart, and for years, that was my goal.
My house, I decided, would be the cool house. When the kids were in elementary school we’d invest in a trampoline and a state-of-the-art gaming system. Snacks would flow free — and we’d get the good junk food too.
As they got older, we’d be the house that always had an extra chair or two out at dinnertime, and at least a few of my kids’ friends would say of us, “They were like my second family.”
Fast-forward to now.
We never did get that trampoline or that gaming system. I don’t fling wide the refrigerator door and tell all the neighborhood kids to help themselves. I kick my kids and their friends outside when the baby naps and make them clean up after themselves when they drag 247 bikes and balls out of the garage.
Despite my earliest intentions, I’m nothing like the fun mom I’d once hoped to be. And I’m okay with that.
In theory, I completely get why you’d want to have the cool house. After all, if my kids and their friends choose my house as their landing pad, especially when they’re teens, I can keep an eye on them. I know who they’re with and what they’re doing, and I can provide a safe place for them to have fun.
But as I see things now, that’s not my most important job as a mom.
I don’t really care anymore about making my house the place my kids’ friends want to be. I care about making it the place my kids want to be, which has everything to do with love and nothing to do with how many cool gadgets or bottomless bowls of Doritos we have.
Growing up is hard. If my own adolescent years are any indication, my oldest is in for several years of friend drama, boy drama, and more drama. She’ll be under all kinds of pressure to do and be things she’s not. Some days she’ll feel betrayed, and some days she’ll feel like a loser.
And in those excruciating moments, I want her to feel that our house is a safe haven for her. Whatever meanness or disappointment she has to deal with throughout the day, I hope she can come home from school and feel like she’s in a place of refuge.
Creating that atmosphere is no easy task, and I’m learning how to do it by trial and error like everyone else. I haven’t got it all figured out, but I think it takes a lot of dedication and, more importantly, time.
So, sorry, kids, you’ll probably never get to bring along a friend on a family vacation. I know you’d have a good time, but instead of slipping away with your bestie I want you at the table playing a board game with us.
I want you to spend plenty of time with your siblings, building a relationship with them that will last your whole life. I want to spend lots of time with you, unfiltered, when you’re not conscious of how you appear to your buddies or too embarrassed to give your parents a hug.
While I don’t exactly feel like making your house the “cool house” is bad advice, I have a new mantra now: Friends are fun, but family is forever.
I used to think I wanted to help my teens build their worlds around their friends, but now I see my real job as weaving a safety net of family under and around them. No one else loves them as unconditionally as their parents and siblings, and I want to spend as much time and energy as I can on letting them know that.
I want them to feel that even on the toughest days, home is the one place they can be themselves and be accepted for who they are.
And if they want to bring their friends over sometimes, I guess that’s cool too.