The young boy in the way back of my minivan begged his mother to be allowed to come play at our house “because they have XBox!” She and I laughed and she declined – this time – but I smiled. My master plan is working.
You see, when your kids come to my house nowadays, they can play Minecraft or Lego Star Wars down in the playroom, sometimes for hours on end. If the weather is good, I’ll send the kids outside, where they’re allowed to try things like jumping off the deck steps in attempts at parkour or taking a sled down the slide of our playset. When they ask for snacks or juice, I always say yes. I turn a deaf ear to potty talk and gross jokes and good-natured name calling where the word “booger” is applied liberally.
There are rules, of course. My son has to take off his glasses if they’re having a pillow fight with the playroom couch cushions. No one is allowed to hurt my 2-year-old daughter. Nerf guns may only be aimed at inanimate objects, not people or animals.
No one is allowed to be unkind.
I’ll expand all of this as my daughter grows older and wants to have her friends over. Her castle play tent will be populated with Barbies or American Girls or superheros, depending on tastes. The kinetic sand she loves will never run out. I’ll indulge the whims of young girls who want to mess around with play makeup or sing to a karaoke machine.
They won’t be allowed to be unkind either.
Why am I so permissive? I’m not. Not really. There are careful parameters to what I allow; there are hours of thought behind all of it. There is Minecraft but no Call of Duty. Video games are allowed as long as they’re two-player and I can hear the sound of collaborating and discussing, but sitting silent in front of a movie is off the table. They can’t get online. The snacks are on the healthier end of the kid-approved spectrum, mixed with minor indulgences like Hershey kisses or microwave popcorn. I’m striving to make a happy haven here, but not a free-for-all.
Why, you ask. Why are you looking to attract hordes of kids?
Someday, these kids won’t be 6 and 7 years old. They’ll be high schoolers with cars and a burning desire to use their freedom. They’ll want to be allowed to swear and listen to their music and play their games. They’ll want food between meals and room to be themselves, whoever that is on any given day.
I want them to want to do that here. I will give them a place to do that safely. To bring them here, I’m laying groundwork now, and I’ll expand it all as they grow and want different things. I will have the video game systems, the big TV, the pool table or Foosball, space for band equipment to be loaded in. I’ll eventually let them mess with a computer – with parental controls, of course, but the right ones. Ones they know about and understand. There will be rules, still, but not too many and not too onerous. Kindness will still rule the day.
There will be Madden football, but not Grand Theft Auto. They can play their music, but rest assured, I will know it as well and pick my moments to talk to them about the lyrics and the people who write them. Same with movies because there will come a time when I’ll allow those. Same with the Internet, in the same way. They can still have snacks, but they’ll have to get them themselves, and clean up too. They’ll be allowed to use words like “fuck” and “shit” but not racist, sexist, or homophobic language, and you bet your ass if I hear any slurs they’ll be getting an impromptu history lesson on what they just said and why it’s not OK. Not in my house.
I’ll have birth control in my house. They’ll know where it is. I won’t ask questions if I notice we need more. I want teens to use contraception.
I won’t be a full-on narc to other parents, but I also won’t keep secrets that shouldn’t be kept, and any kid coming to my house will know when I plan to tell a parent a tale.
I’ll do all this because I want my kids – and yours – close by. I can keep them safe here. Part of that means giving them a long leash on some things so they don’t mind the short leash on others. I understand that not all parents will want their kids hanging out in a place where the pizza is unlimited and the words are four-letter, but those are the gifts I will offer to kids in exchange for the gift they give me of trusting me and my home enough to be in it.
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