Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Open House


Over the long weekend (which was LOVELY! with SUNSHINE!! and warm temperatures!!! Much needed after all the cold rain, drizzle and fog of the last weeks), Jason and I earned our Good Parenting badges by allowing both kids to have a friend each over for a sleepover Sunday night. We threw a grand sleepover — we took the four kids to see Prince Caspian on Sunday afternoon, then out to supper, then to glow-mini-golfing (all these things were within a few feet of each other at the mall, so it wasn’t as epic as it sounds). We returned home and allowed first the two girls, then the two boys, to take turns putting on swimsuits and “hot-tubbing” in our new whirlpool bath (then allowed them to take turns wiping up the bathroom floor from all the water they’d splashed), then went downstairs to roast marshmallows over the fire and make S’Mores while playing board games.

They got to sleep at a semi-reasonable hour (before 10:00) and were up at 6:30, but went quietly downstairs and watched Bee Movie until Jason and I became conscious enough to cook waffles and scrambled eggs for their breakfast. Then the sun came out and it was warm and lovely and they all went to play in the backyard, and when one friend left, Chris and Emma and the other friend all put on rubber gloves and helped do a little yard clean-up of Aunt Gertie’s yard next door.

I KNOW. We are The Awesome. It actually went really, really well, partly because our kids were good and partly because the two friends they had over were probably the two best-behaved kids we know. And I was glad and pleased with myself, because making our children’s friends welcome in our home is a top priority for me.

But I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not doing it right (which, when it comes to parenting, is hardly news).

One thing I’ve noticed about everyone’s childhood, a commonality that seems to cut across cultural and socio-economic barriers, is that there’s one person’s house that all the kids — both as children and as teenagers — feel comfortable hanging around in, dropping by anytime. Whether it’s an apartment in the public housing development or a mansion in King William Estates, somebody always has the “drop by anytime” house. And I sort of dream and imagine that when my kids are a little older, that will be our house.

It seems like a good thing. If my kids are hanging out, I’d like them to be doing it under my watchful eye. I want to know who their friends are and be involved in their activities. This idea even fits with my Christian beliefs, since in theory I believe that my house is a gift from God to be used to bless others through the gift of hospitality.

The problem is, I don’t really want my house full of other people’s kids.

My house, when I was growing up, was never the party house where people could casually drop by at any moment. My friends were always welcome, but they had to be invited and the invitation cleared with their parents, and my parents usually organized something for us to do (when I was younger) and supervised us pretty closely. And when the visit was over, they went away, and our house was ours again. And I liked it that way.

So far, Jason’s and my pattern has been much like my parents’ was. We have our kids’ friends over a lot, but it’s always in an organized fashion, we’re always involved, and they rarely casually “drop in.” This may change as they get older, but I suspect it may not, and I only half want it to. I’ve noticed that one common factor of the “dew drop in” kind of house is a remarkably laid-back attitude on the part of the parents — they don’t supervise nearly as closely as I like to. The “drop in” house when I was a teen was the home of some of our most conservative church members, but a bunch of us girls still managed to hold what was practically a seance in the downstairs bedroom (summoning the spirits to lift the body from the ground while sitting in the dark intoning eerie things in monotone voices) while the parents read Ellen G. White upstairs or something. In even more relaxed atmospheres, the drop-in house is often the one with the well-stocked and poorly supervised liquor cabinet.

Also, the parents in these casual drop-in houses have a wonderful ability to go on with whatever they’re doing around the house without caring that a steady parade of their kids’ friends is wandering through the house. I’m not like that. I don’t feel relaxed if someone to whom I’m not related by blood or marriage is in the house, unless I’m entertaining them on purpose. I’m hospitable, in that I like to invite people over for dinners or parties or playdates or sleepovers, but at the same time I like, love, cherish my privacy. I like people to come over on MY terms and then go away when I’m done with them, so I can have peace and quiet again.

My desire to have a house where my kids’ friends are welcome is at war with my desire to make my home a sanctuary where my kids (and Jason and I) can retreat from the cruel world outside. I’m not sure you can have both. If you run the Dew Drop Inn, you sacrifice some of the sanctuary element of the home, I believe. If anyone is welcome to drop by at any time, that might also include the very people your kids sometimes need shelter and refuge from.

I like the mental image of our house as the cool house where all the kids come to hang out, but I’m not sure I’m willing to pay the price in privacy, peace and quietness. Maybe it all boils down to me being an incredible control freak and not wanting to give up control (in the end, I find almost everything boils down to that).

What was your house like growing up — and what’s your ideal for your grown-up home today or in the future? “The door is always open” or “Lock the world outside”? And whichever you had/have, do you believe choosing one or the other involves giving something up?


9 thoughts on “Open House

  1. I think my house may have been a Dew Drop Inn house when I was growing up, but now I’m not sure the house I’m in charge of will be. Like you, I like the idea. I loved that I never really even thought to ask my parents if it was okay if so-and-so came over…and to this day, I use my mother’s house as a meeting place for my friends. Some long-term friends even feel perfectly comfortable rummaging through my mother’s fridge, which is how she likes it.

    But if one of MY kid’s friends rummage anywhere, it seems like some sort of afront. Just who do they think they are, rummaging through my house like that? Why do they think it’s okay? And how come they are eating all of our food?

    I’m trying to change, though, because I do want my kids to feel that it’s okay to bring kids over, and it’s okay to offer them what we have to offer. I’m trying not to let Grumpy Old Man take me over completely (whenever anyone says ‘you are only as old as you feel’ my first thought is, “crap! I’m 87!”).

    The other day, I had some very loud girls running up and down three levels of the house. They were having fun, and I was patient…until the second time the 3 year old got hurt, and then I realized (conveniently) that it was bedtime, and time for the kid’s friends to go. While I used to think of myself as laid back, I’ve realized that was only while I was being taken care of. If I’m the caretaker, then suddenly I’m a little more uptight and on edge.

  2. I have no illusions that I will ever have (or want to live in) the Dew Drop Inn. I think parents and children have to be fairly solid extraverts for that to work, and that doesn’t describe anyone who lives at my house.

  3. Jamie, your parents’ house was a Dew Drop Inn when I was 23 and lived miles away in Oshawa!!

    Watch out for your inner Grumpy Old Man. (maybe that’s what St. Paul means by crucifying the Old Man?)

  4. bubandpie, I hadn’t even thought of it in introvert/extravert terms, but I’m not sure it helps in my case to frame it that way. I know that whenever I do a Myers-Briggs I come out almost exactly evenly balanced between introvert and extravert, which is probably why both models appeal to me almost equally (with the introvert/fortress model having a slight edge when it comes to MY HOUSE … but again that’s more about control). My daughter is almost certainly an extravert, my husband and definitely my son both introverts, so we are all over the map.

  5. Ours was the drop-in house for the friends of both of our children. As proof of this, one day one of Julie’s friends walked in the back door, plopped on the sofa in the family room and said, “I am so depressed.” The interesting things is, our kids were grown and gone, and we hadn’t seen her in five years.

  6. Our house was definitely the “Dew Drop Inn.” Plus, there were a number of relatives or family friends who even moved in temporarily while they found their own place, or moved on to a different job. We shared our home, food and hospitality whenever the situation called for it. One of my brothers friends got kicked out of his house by his dad, and my brother let him sleep in my father’s truck on the sly. Temperatures dropped to minus 12, and he was out in that truck.

    My dad hit the roof when he found out, but only because he was out in the truck, and not in the house where he should have stayed. The next night he stayed on our couch…and for two years after that he had a roof over his head, and good food in his belly. He’s a chef today. We can’t afford to eat he makes. 🙂

    We were a family of seven in total, and I remember fondly the loud, boisterous get- togethers, the extra person who always seemed to be sharing Christmas dinner with us every year, and the extended love that came along with it. Ya, there was definitely little to no privacy, but we coped. It just seemed like the norm.

    When our house burned down in 1991, all those years of hospitality came back double fold, as friends and family came out of the woodwork to wrap there arms around us. While the house was still smoldering, only hours after the last flame was put out, we had 150 people in our backyard. Friends who showed up with 6 barbeques and enough food to feed an army. Everything in the world I owned was gone, but it didn’t matter. We were going to be okay…our friends made sure of it.

  7. Sherry, I remember so well the day your house burned down and the almost party-like atmosphere as your friends all showed up with BBQs and food. It was an amazing experience, and a wonderful tribute to your family’s gift of hospitality over the years. A great reminder of how everything we do for others does come back many times over — I hope I don’t have to lose my house to learn that lesson!

    Aunt Ruth, I love that story, and my reaction to the thought of that happening to me someday is almost equal parts delight and horror. Which just goes to show how divided I am on this open door/closed door issue.

  8. Our house was actually a bit of both. After school, all my friends used to come around to my house and hang and watch t.v. before we went off to the library. And if I had a sleepover, it was always cleared with my mum first.

  9. my house growing up was the drop in house, my mum loved to bake so there was always something good to eat. Plus many of my school friends came from very wealth homes where no one was there for them, they thought our overstuffed house with my four sisters was some kind of heaven, where as I loved their big empty homes with servants for the opposite reasons!! Now my home is the drop in spot for all my kids friends, whether or not my kids are home! I am an artist, so there is always stuff lying around, I’m not that neat, so I don’t mind the extra mess. I regularly host dinners for their sports teams, my son plays football (the British kind!) and my daughter runs track and cross country. My only complaint is the rising cost of feeding so many extra almost grown people!! Although, now my son is much older, his friends usually bring snacks and drinks to help out with the cost of feeding a dozen almost grown men, but I love knowing who my kids are spending time with, and I love the energy of all those great young people in my house. I am glad they feel at home here. You can usually find at least one teen that is not mine sacked out somewhere at my house on any given weekend!!

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