Recently, my 9-year-old received an invitation to attend a pool party for a girl that she considers her (current) “best friend.” My two oldest girls and I arrived at the gathering on a Sunday afternoon. Upon entering, I scanned the backyard for familiar faces yet knew nobody. I met the friend’s mother previously — she seemed warm and hospitable — and after we walked in she graciously invited me to an alcoholic beverage. I was a little surprised—alcohol is not part of our kids’ parties—but I accepted a light beer. I slowly sipped it, all the while observing my two precious princesses interact nicely with the other kids already in the pool.
I also noticed the father. He was comfortably seated, beer in hand, and surrounded by several empties. No biggie, I suppose. It’s his kid’s party — he’s “planted” and not getting behind the wheel. But something didn’t feel right.
Dad was civil, very quiet and polite, yet engaging him in conversation beyond our introduction was more work than finding out what my 5-year-old son does in school on any given day. There was a certain vacancy in his eyes, and I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable and, let’s be honest, a little spooked.
I hung out about 45 minutes as other guests strolled in. These folks were very different from us, but, hey, I’m not a xenophobe. I’ve traveled and resided for many years in several foreign countries, so I am used to other cultures. My kids were born in South America and were constantly surrounded by others far different from themselves. So I eventually headed home, where my three younger kids were awaiting my return.
When I returned to the party to retrieve my daughters several hours later, they began begging me to allow them to sleep over the birthday girl’s house. All three girlies, tears in eyes, pleaded dramatically in hopes that I’d give in.
The first word that came to my mind was NO. I liked the girl. She was sweet, well-mannered and bright. I liked the mother. She seemed to have it together. But this relentlessly stubborn NO took hold of my brain and would not let go. Truthfully, I wasn’t sold on the father, and the whole family dynamic seemed a little off. Despite all the melodrama, I would not budge.
Look, the only thing we had in common with this family was being zoned in the same school district. Period. We didn’t have any information about one another’s families, values, backgrounds, priorities or ethics. I couldn’t imagine my girls partaking in this family’s intimate evening rituals and subsequent morning routines. And, as lying is not my forte, I couldn’t explain my misgivings at that moment. It just had to be that way.
This is not the world in which we grew up, a world in which neighbors knew each other, and our lives intersected at many points. Frankly, we are at the mercy of many unknowns — clearly problems of a curious older brother or a domestic fight can occur at any level of society. We have decided we would rather be safe than sorry, although the issue still nags at my consciousness.
My husband and I have reconciled this problem by becoming the “cool” parents — hosting coveted sleepovers and pizza parties, and always making other people’s kids welcome in our home. This way we can “assess” the kids as well as the parents, inviting them in for a coffee when they drop off or pick up, and getting to know them — yes, like in the old days.
Only when we are 100 percent comfortable will we consider allowing ours to sleep at a friend’s house. But, for now, we prefer to lose sleep with all-night giggling, chatting, music, movies or whatever other disturbance these sleepovers generate under our own roof, rather than worrying about what might take place in the home of someone we don’t know.
Where do we draw the line when it comes to loaning our kids out to another family– albeit for a party, play date, sleepover or weekend getaway? Are we being overprotective if we say no? Or do we just go with our instincts? Are we denying our children the same experiences we enjoyed as kids?