A couple years ago, my son had one of his friends over and he went into my garage and started going through boxes looking for toys. He made a serious mess. The kid was probably eight-years-old — old enough to know better — but since he was at another person’s house, he obviously felt liberated to do whatever the hell he wanted. This was the same kid that often left the toilet seat down when peeing at my house, and nearly broke the arm of my couch by jumping on it.
Then there was the little boy who was still figuring out how and when to use the potty. He was 7, and ended up pooping his pants in my hallway, letting it slide down his leg, and rest on my carpet. Naturally, he didn’t say a word about any of this. He just wanted for some unsuspecting person (myself) to stumble upon his turd.
There are the little girls who come over to spend time with my daughter and screech and run through the house. In the summer, everyone wants to turn on the hose and track water into the house, or eat my food and leave my milk out of the fridge, or get all the toys out and not put any of them back.
Outside of the poop in the hallway, none of these grievances are felonies. They are just what it looks like when you have three kids in the house, all of them 10 or younger. But at the same time, they aren’t all that enjoyable either. I have to assume that most people with young children have had comparable experiences with their children’s friends. And if you haven’t, if your children’s friends are always well behaved and polite and have never once peed on your toilet seat, bless you. I’m happy everything is working out in Oz.
But in our house, that isn’t the case. Whenever friends come over, we end up with a mess, and a lot of noise and chaos. The funny thing is, my wife loves all this. None of it bothers her at all.
But for me, when there’s more than my own children in the house, it all gets under my skin. It feels exhausting. Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert at heart. I find a lot of social interaction exhausting, and I view my home as a shelter from too much people-ing.
But here’s the kicker: My children have friends over all the time. I rarely tell them no unless I have a good reason. And I keep my feelings about all this to myself. I play with my children’s friends. I shoot them with water guns and make them sandwiches because I love my kids.
The fact is, disliking having my kids’ friends over doesn’t make bad parent or person, and this is why.
When I took Ethics in college, I was asked to imagine two philanthropists. Both donate the same amount of money, only they donate money with different motivations. Whenever philanthropist A donated money, he made sure that people knew about it. Praise was his primary motivator, and if he didn’t get praise for his philanthropy, he wouldn’t donate money any more.
In contrast, philanthropist B hated to donate money. He complained about it. However, he did it because, at the core of his being, he knew it was the right thing to do.
The question is: Who was the better philanthropist?
I said philanthropist B. Both were good people doing good things, but philanthropist B donated because his motivations were pure.
Much like philanthropist B, parenting isn’t about being comfortable all the time. It isn’t about loving all of your children’s fiends. And it obviously isn’t about keeping poop out of your hallway or your milk in the fridge 100% of the time. It’s about pure love and doing a lot of things you don’t really want to do, but because you know it’s what your kids want and need.
I want my children to enjoy their childhood, and a huge part of that is having friends over. So when my children ask for a play date, I agree. I’m uncomfortable the whole time, but I do it because I know it’s the right thing to do.
So if you are like me, and you don’t really like having your children’s friends over, but you do it anyway, you are doing the right thing. You are doing what real parents do. You are making a personal sacrifice for your children’s enjoyment, and that is, indeed, a wonderful thing. Because the fact is, love is a verb. It is an action. And allowing your children to have friends over even though you dislike it shows your love, and makes you one hell of a good parent.
And, hopefully, there will be no stray turds in your hallway.