Why you want a house full of kids (even if you think you don’t)

Group of teensWe are back in town for two short days in the middle of our two-week long winter holiday break. Although we had a wonderful time skiing, snowboarding, attending parties and seeing all our friends up north at our cottage, our preteen twins also missed their school friends. So even though I’m nursing a wicked head cold, and I have a list of things to do in these two short days, I told them to invite a pack of friends to sleep over.

They are good kids, with really nice friends. Still, the shrieking, giggling and general disarray was not exactly what I would have chosen as the backdrop for these two days of laundry, groceries and work-related commitments.

But I learned a long time ago that it’s the right thing to do. I want to know my kids’ friends. I want to have a sense of who they are, what they talk about and how they interrelate.

To achieve this, I need them to feel comfortable in our home. So I make our basement available for  and hanging out; I stock our pantry with precisely the kinds of refined sugar and flour junk food I’d carefully avoided throughout their childhoods. Let’s face it, teenagers aren’t so thrilled by white bean carob chip cookies or vegetarian chili. Though most will smile politely when you offer it to them, you just sense they really want to be rolling their eyes.

Like bean cookies? WTF?

No, if you want them to come over, you need to have a supply of pizza, cookies and chips. I also put out fruit and veggies, just in case. And I more or less try to disappear into the background. They didn’t come here to hang out with me.

They congregate around each others’ iPads, lie in front of the TV, hang out up in their bedrooms or down in the basement. Sometimes they are clearly playing a game, other times it seems to be mostly talk and laughter. It’s all good.

What do I get out of this? I get to know my kids’ friends. There’s a fair bit of banter as they come in, or eat with us. I get a sense of their values. Sometimes the plans require that I communicate with their parents, and we exchange telephone numbers. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that most of my girls’ new friends from high school have parents who want to meet or talk to me before their daughters come over. It’s certainly one of my rules for allowing my child to go somewhere new.

I’ve begun to keep my eyes and ears open. As the years pass and they all get older, I’ll be watching for anything that raises concerns. If they are around here, I’ll be more likely to see anything that comes up, and also more likely to offer help. I’d like their friends to feel comfortable talking to me, in case they ever need a less emotionally invested adult alternative to their own parents.

Perhaps just as important: I’m also letting my daughters know their friends and social lives are interesting and important to us.

What do I do if they befriend someone I don’t like? Although this hasn’t happened yet, I realize it can be tricky.First of all, I need to remember that these are their friends and not mine. Unless there are compelling reasons to say anything, I will probably just back off.

Outright banning of a friend should only happen in extreme circumstances (if you think they are a danger to your child), because teens rarely react well to this kind of intervention. Sometimes it makes the bad friend seem all the more intriguing. But if they are in my home, I can impose certain standards of conduct (no swearing, no smoking, no drinking, etc.). I can also observe specific kinds of behaviors or language I can discuss afterwards with my own kids. Rudeness, mistreatment of someone else, excluding others — these kinds of stories need to be dealt with, and our values made clear.

But for the most part, a house full of kids is a noisy, happy thing. I retreat to my own space and make a mental promise to deal with all the clutter later. I remember the many, many happy hours I spent at home and in my friends’ basements way back when, and it makes me feel good to provide a safe, welcoming space for my own kids.


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