You don’t realize how much of a control freak you are until your kids become old enough to make their own friends. I’ve always known the parents of the kids my kids wanted to hang out with well enough to completely trust my progeny in their capable hands. We’d clap hands and introduce ourselves as our kids made one another laugh with fart jokes in public. I’d feel them out through conversations during games or see how they were with other kids during school events. If they seemed okayish, I’d invite them over with their kids for coffee or pizza (caffeine and carbs are very persuasive), maybe even making them my friends, too.
If one of my kids wanted to invite someone new over, it was understood that the parent would come and chat with me for a bit before leaving (if they left at all, that first time). I was always happy to host. The parent would see I have a safe home and zero intentions of stealing any more kids (two is plenty, thanks!), and I’d get a sense of whether I’d be cool with sending my child to their house if they offered to reciprocate. And once I knew that, I didn’t worry at all. I knew they’d be just fine, whatever they got up to while in that parent’s care.
But now my eldest is making friends at school who I’ve never met before. Whose parents I’ve never met before. Despite a decade in this town with various sports, camps, activities, parties, and the potential for mutual friends, I’ve never crossed paths with them. I assumed that these parents would want to know their kids were in good hands when they spent time in my home, so when I invited their kids over I was ready to get to know their parents, too.
Sometimes the parents will get out of the car to shake my hand, but that’s it. Other times all they do is introduce themselves through the car window. And some parents drop their kids off so quickly I suspect they didn’t even roll to a full stop before pushing their tweenager out the car door onto my lawn. Not one of them steps into my home before trusting me with their beloved smallish human for hours and hours.
This makes me wonder: am I crazy for thinking they should be checking me out? Don’t they want to take a peek into my home to make sure it’s not a murder den? That I don’t have child-sized cages peppering the corners of my dining room, and actually am the adult I tried to be when I was texting them directions? That I’m not drunk or stoned or watching Skinemax when I’m supposed to be in charge? WHY ARE THEY BLINDLY TRUSTING ME?
Does this mean I’m supposed to blindly trust the parents of my kids’ new friends, too? Because—and I mean this in the nicest way possible—I don’t.
Over the years I have done plenty of new-friend-parent sniffing and home peeking, and have seen red flags that made me suddenly find my kids’ calendars too full to arrange another playdate with them. I don’t even have particularly high standards. But, still. I’m not talking about different parenting styles or permissions—my kids know every home is different in that regard, and we talk about making good choices within the parameters each parent sets. I’m talking about knowing they will be safe.
There’s a gut instinct thing I had as a kid that I’m not regularly seeing yet in my own. I remember walking into friends’ homes as a child and reading the room. I could tell when it was a place I should not return to, which parents or siblings I should steer clear of. I don’t think my kids are totally there yet, and I fear it could put them in bad situations.
Do I let them experience that in order to gain the gut instinct? Because that terrifies me.
Do I insist on meeting every parent before letting my kids spend time in their home? Because I’m being told that just doesn’t happen, and tweens across the county will collectively roll their eyes at me if I try.
So what do I do?
For now, I’m keeping the dialogue open, gently helping my kids understand that not every home is as safe and happy as ours. That not every parent is keeping an eye out for them, so they need to keep an eye out for themselves. Through movies, TV shows, and real-life experiences, I’m trying to teach them how to make the best choices for themselves, even in the midst of peer pressure or awkwardness or a possibly intense situation none of us could expect. While I don’t want to scare them, I also believe that keeping them in a bubble of ignorance doesn’t do them any good. They aren’t babies anymore, so I guess I’ll keep slowly letting go until I think they can navigate these trickier waters on their own — all while keeping my doors open to any friend they want to bring here, of course.