Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: What do you do when there are zero boundaries with your neighborhood kids? Have your own questions? Email email@example.com
Dear Scary Mommy,
I live in a neighborhood with lots of kids, which is good since I have three of my own. I like that my kids have friends to play with close by. But for some reason they all seem to think my house is the spot to play, and they are always over here. The doorbell starts ringing at 8 o’clock in the morning and doesn’t stop all day long. Kids are running in and out, they’re tracking dirt, they’re eating up the snacks, they’re being loud, the dog is barking every time someone is at the door — it’s chaos. Not to mention that since I’m the only adult here during the day, I feel obligated to keep an eye on them all. They aren’t bad kids and I like their parents, so I don’t want to use “these kids bug me” as an excuse to keep them out, but … they do bug me. How can I set some boundaries without seeming like the mean neighbor?
Well for starters, you could rely on the good old-fashioned pandemic paranoia that’s carried us through the better part of the last year and a half – it has proven to be useful at getting us out of a ton of stuff. May as well get your good out of it while it’s still pertinent, right? Sorry kids, can’t play, I don’t know where you’ve been!
Of course, as mandates lift and recreational activities resume and life returns to some semblance of normalcy, you’re going to need something else in your boundary-setting toolkit. And there are plenty of things you can do without looking like a “get off my lawn” type.
First, if you’ve got any sort of a yard, you can send everybody outside. Think about your own childhood — if it was anything like mine, summers were spent riding bikes and messing with the hose and eating cheap popsicles on front steps. And it was the best! The rules are simple: play outside, go to your own house when you’re done playing outside.
You could also set “visiting hours.” Two hours, fours hours, however many hours it takes to let your kids socialize and still keep your sanity intact. Tell your kids and their friends that they hang out between the hours of 1pm-3pm or whenever, and if anyone comes to the door outside of the set timeframe, kindly but firmly tell them you’ll see them later. It will likely only take a few times of reminding them of this for it to stick.
If a set schedule isn’t your jam, you could use some sort of “code” to signal to potential visitors that you aren’t ready for company: turn the doormat over, tie a ribbon to the doorknob – hell, hang a sign that says “GO AWAY” — anything to indicate that you’re not ready for the thundering of little feet (because we all know “pitter-patter” is a lie) through your house. Just make sure you let them know what to look for.
A little bribery can also be a particularly brilliant tool here — just tell your kids that in order for their friends to come over, their rooms have to be clean first. So one of two things can happen: your kid keeps their room clean for the entirety of the summer, or —the more likely scenario — they find alternate options for hanging out with the neighbor kids. Either way, you win!
Chances are, the neighborhood kids are reasonable and will understand and respect your boundaries; you just have to set those boundaries clearly first. Make your house rules known, and keep them consistent. If the kids don’t pay any attention to them, it will be time for a conversation with their parents, but give them the benefit of the doubt. And speaking of the parents — if you know and trust them well enough to be comfortable with your kids hanging out at their house, maybe you can arrange a playdate “swap” where each family trades off and hosts the neighborhood kids one afternoon a week.
You’re not a bad person or a bad neighbor for not wanting everyone else’s kids at your house 24/7. It isn’t your job to parent any children but your own. They may be off for the summer, but you still have stuff to do — and the right to do it in peace.