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?