When The Kids Next Door Take Over
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
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Years ago, when my younger son was in high school and an avid camper, there were kids of various sorts at the house quite often, frequently with camping equipment in tow. One Saturday morning I rose to find a scruffy group sleeping in the backyard… so I brought them doughnuts and juice. Imagine my surprise when my son told me he didn’t know anyone was camping in our yard that night and didn’t even know who the kids in this group were! Clearly, I had succumbed to Automatic Hostess Syndrome.
Maybe you suffer from Automatic Hostess Syndrome too. Are children from the neighborhood always at your house? Do you frequently find the pantry empty, raided by children from the house next door? Do you have trouble finding space in front of the television, because a gang of your children’s friends is lounging in your family room? Is there always someone in the family bathroom, but not always family?
If it feels like you’re raising more kids than you actually have, with less authority over some of them than feels right, then you probably are being taken advantage of. You likely have Automatic Hostess Syndrome. Luckily, there is a cure.
The cure involves putting your foot down and no longer offering an open door to everyone your children let in the house at any time of day. It requires setting some new parameters and following through. And it means no longer confusing “being popular” – which many parents wish for their children – with “being a pushover.”
First, decide if you really want to fix this problem. Will you be sad when your children don’t have these playmates to rely on? Will your actions to restrict the play destroy something valuable? If, really, things are getting ridiculous and your home has become a community center, then probably more will be gained by closing things down a bit than will be lost in not having non-stop playmates. But it’s worth it to imagine how others might react to new limitations and how this will affect your own children and yourself. At the very least, thinking things through first will help you to make the changes you need with tact.
Second, take a look at your own parenting style and your relationship with your own children. Do they act entitled, as if you were their servant? Do you find yourself waiting on them hand and foot, fulfilling their every wish, or trying to fit in as if you were their age too? If so, then no wonder other people’s kids like your home best: at your house they get to be royalty. Find out from your own children why they don’t play at other kid’s homes. Probably you’ll discover that other parents are a bit more restrictive, a little less accommodating than you are.
Third, set limits. Decide what it is that bothers you most and set some parameters around that. Maybe you’re bothered that friends come straight to your house from school, never even touching base at their own homes first. Your front hall is filled with backpacks every afternoon. Maybe you’re bothered by strange children raiding your fridge, rummaging through the pantry, and using the microwave without so much as a by-your-leave… and your grocery bill looks like you’re feeding an army. Maybe you have trouble getting others’ children to leave your place a dinner time. You find them lurking in the yard, waiting for your children to finish their meal and let them back in again. Pick one thing to start and set a firm limit.
A “firm limit” is easy to understand. Don’t say, “I want you to spend less time here,” because no child will be able to tell what “less” is or how much “less” is enough. Instead say, “We can have friends in from 4 pm to 6 pm only.”
Pick one thing as a start and enforce that carefully. Don’t worry about the other things that are bothering you. Work on just one. Once that one is established, add another. You may find that imposing just one rule solves most of the others without any effort on your part. Once you quit being an Automatic Hostess, kids understand: the party is over.
The advice columnist Ann Landers used to say “no one can take advantage of you without your permission,” and that’s so true. If you need to take your house back, take back the permission. Give up being an Automatic Hostess and be, instead, go back to being only your own child’s parent.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.