My House, My Rules: My Kids' Friends Are Not Allowed To 'Go Bonkers' When Visiting

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
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I used to have a friend who had some really wild kids. Now, before you angry-tweet me, I have four children myself, two of which I could describe as “wild.” The issue isn’t the kids and their personalities, birth order, or needs. Kids are kids, right? The problem is when my friend would come over, bring her kids, and let them do whatever they wanted. Meanwhile, my kids would stand on the sidelines, slow blinking, and then looking at me like, “Mom, what are you going to do about this chaos?”

I admit, I’m a fairly strict parent. I don’t let my kids jump on the sofa, for example. I want my kids to learn to respect our home and things, as well as know that when they go elsewhere, whether that’s a store or someone else’s home, they should be just as respectful. My kids get plenty of free play, especially outside, and they know there’s a time and a place to let out their inner wildness. I’m not trying to crush their souls or change their personalities. But you’d better bet that when it comes to my house, it’s my rules.

Back to my friend. We have a large, unfinished basement that I call “Kid Heaven.” It’s a dump down there most of the time, with costumes, dolls, toy cars, balls, and a slew of other random toys strewn everywhere. I’m not super particular about this space given that’s it’s sheer concrete. My kids love to go down there, blast music, and have costume dance parties or play dodgeball with their dad. (That’s fine with me, until I rage clean the space once a month.)

I’m very grateful to have this space, which is perfect for rainy days, snowy days, too-hot days, holiday breaks and weekends, and, of course, hosting friends. However, my friend would bring her children over and they’d bang toys onto the windows (the windows!) or put foam bullets in their mouths and chew on them like gum. I had to remove Barbie accessories from the kids’ mouths more times than I’m comfortable sharing. My friend would completely ignore the kids, in favor of sipping from her thermos. I know what you’re thinking: Just don’t invite her over again! Meet up at a park instead! I’m singling her out — but she wasn’t the only friend to do this, unfortunately.

Listen, I get it. All moms need breaks sometimes. However, her break came at my expense. Going into someone else’s home gives me a little parental anxiety, while instead, it seemed to be my friend’s permission slip to lay back and relax while her kids did whatever they could come up with. Meanwhile, my justified worry would go into overdrive: Her kids could choke. Her kids could get hurt. Her kids would accidentally hurt mine. I also didn’t want their bad behavior (or really, lack of parental supervision) to teach my children that it’s OK to roll into someone else’s home and be a jerk. What was I to do?

I try not to get up in another parent’s business. But when your kid is about to shatter a window or choke on a battery (yes, that happened too), I draw the line. I realized that something had to change. Either I could parent her kids for her, right in front of her, and become responsible for all the children—hers and mine—or I could emphasize our household rules. But how? How do you lay down the law when it comes to other people’s children? Is it OK? What’s the etiquette on this one?

This is when I decided that every time other kids came to our home—unless they were regulars and already knew the rules—I would have a meeting with all the kids. I didn’t ask the other parent’s permission to do this, either; again, my house, my rules. I would tell the kids that we were so excited they were here, helped them put their coats and shoes away, and then would clear my throat and begin. Depending on our activity, such as playing outside or downstairs, I would state the rules and check for understanding.

For example, if we were going outside to play in the yard, I’d let the kids know what was up. This served as not only a heads-up for the guests, but also a reminder for my kids. One rule is that we don’t go past a certain point in the driveway since we live on a busy road. I would drag toys out of the garage (to prevent them from playing with the yard tools instead), and let the kids know where we keep the popsicles if they’d like one. I mean, it was really so simple. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this talk-idea sooner.

I discovered that the key is to explain the rules in front of the parent, so they know what you expect. This helps them emphasize the rules to their own kids. Yes, there have still been times I’ve had to remind a kid what’s up, but that doesn’t happen too often. Usually it’s when the other parent is in the restroom or has to grab something from their car.

If we’re playing in the basement, I let the kids know that windows, the elliptical, and the storage room are off-limits. Of course, I shut the storage-room door. It’s not like I have china cabinets everywhere. The space is super kid-friendly as long as they follow a few rules. I show them where the bathroom is, too. I mean, it’s pretty basic, right? Well, I thought so, until I had to go so far as to have a meeting — for the kids and the parents — who think it’s perfectly fine to run amok in my house like it’s an amusement park.

I’ve also done something else. When I invite people over, I tell them, explicitly, how long they can plan to play. I had a few friends who would come and “sit a spell” for four freaking hours (or more.) That’s too long. I have about a two-hour tolerance window for house guests. Maybe it’s my anxiety, my personality, or something else—but I am who I am. Plus, when guests stayed too long, my kids would get hungry and ask for a snack. This meant also making a snack (or even a meal) for other people’s kids. It became a whole ordeal. Now I’ll text, “Want to come over and play Thursday? I’m thinking 3:30-5:30 p.m., and then we need to get dinner started.” This boundary has brought me so much relief.

I’m not talking about my BFF here. She can come over, get into my pantry, and feed her kid if she wants. I don’t care. Her kids already know: roll up to my house, take your shoes off when you get inside, and go have (safe) fun. But others? They need a reminder or an introduction to the rules. It only makes the fun truly fun for all.

I don’t always know ahead of time who will or won’t let their wild kids try to leap our fence, for example. Thus, I have a quick rule-meeting with every family who comes over. It’s just easier, and playdates go way, way better now than they used to. I can actually relax a little and enjoy some adult company instead of blowing my invisible whistle at each kid over every rule infraction. These rules aren’t over-the-top. But do I require safety? Absolutely.

I also noticed that since having the meeting each time we had guests, my kids enjoyed having friends over more than before. When my friend’s kids would start shrieking and trying to scale the toy shelf, one of my wild kiddos would get that look in their eyes. You know the look. It’s the precursor to I’m-about-to-do-that-too (and if not now, later, when mom is in the bathroom.) When they’re younger, they’re more impressionable. I didn’t need my kids getting (any more) ideas.

I know some of you may think, wow, this lady sounds like a lot of fun. However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that we each have expectations for our personal spaces—whether that be our bodies or our homes. We aren’t just teaching our kids to respect another person’s home, but we are teaching them an overall attitude of respect. I want my

My rules aren’t better or worse than someone else’s. If you are cool with your kid running through the flower garden at your house—you do you, boo. I own my rules, I establish them, and I expect guests—as well as my own kids—to follow them. I’m happy to report, so far, so good. Having friends over has become far more enjoyable for all.

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