It’s Saturday. I have arranged for my daughter to have a friend over. By text, Chloe’s mom and I have agreed that Chloe will come to our house at 1:00 pm, and that she will pick her up again around 4:00 pm, after her son’s hockey practice. The disclaimer here, which is obvious and doesn’t need disclaiming, is that I have taken full responsibility for Chloe’s well-being and survival during these hours. Easy Peasy!
However, it seems in the realm of playdates with the neighbour kids, there’s a whole lot more grey area! A typical, non-school day on our block looks something like this…
7:39am DING DONG!
Eli: Can Simon play?
Me: Uh, we’re just having breakfast. Can you give us half an hour?
8:08am DING DONG!
Eli: Can Simon play now?
General chaos ensues including (but not limited to) kids running back and forth between yards and occasionally disappearing into houses, soccer balls flying into the street, the formation of impromptu biker gangs, food crawls for snacks, (too) little brothers and sisters tagging along under questionable supervision, skinned knees, hurt feelings, kid-drama, missing kids who are a little too good at hide-and-seek, and an endless barrage of ‘Can we’s…’ ending in corresponding messes of slime, markers, mud, sticks, stuffies, crumbs, legos, sporting equipment and rogue items of clothing strewn across the participating (and unparticipating) properties. The adults are not entirely sure who’s coming and going nor what activities and people fall under their jurisdiction of responsibility.
On the flip side, neighbourhood playdates are pure GOLD in terms of their ability to draw kids of varying ages and abilities together in pursuit of the simple pleasures of life. Where else do kids get the opportunity to wile away the hours ‘playing house,’ making up their own rules, building forts in trees, testing boundaries and enjoying the fresh air while engaging in hour upon hour of unstructured play?
How better for busy parents to tend to some gardening or housework while their kids are having fun? Having these types of opportunities on your doorstep (literally) is truly a privilege money can’t buy.
Those things said, it seems the whole arrangement would benefit from some agreed-upon parameters to enhance the sustainability, enjoyment and, let’s be honest, safety of all those involved--some ‘golden rules’ perhaps for neighbourhood playdates…
Most parents can agree that school mornings are off-limits for knocking neighbours, but what happens on the weekend? The S-days are sacred time for many reasons, but none more important than the two-off opportunity to sleep in or, failing that, to enjoy a lazy morning in jammies. It’s not unusual for our kids to be chomping at the bit to go door knocking before they have even swallowed their last Cheerio, but we maintain, and hope you’ll agree, that no knocks before nine has a certain ring to it.
It takes about ten minutes of parenting alongside another family to realize that everybody has their own ideas about appropriate boundaries. This can be a complicated thing to navigate, but in the interest of keeping it simple, why not run with the old adage, ‘My house, My rules?' The reasoning behind this nugget of wisdom is so poignant, it necessitates its own golden rule…
This may not be so much a golden rule as a statute of federal law, but I’m going to make the case that it is a good and necessary one. The simple fact of the matter is that I have the best vantage point in terms of the goings on of my property at any given time, and therefore accept responsibility for that which I see. I will make no hesitation in tending to injuries, breaking up fights and restricting access to dangerous activities and goods, and I hope you will do the same. That said...
There are times when I am willing to take on the responsibility for neighbourhood activities and people and times when I am not. I ask that visitors please ask when they will be at our house for a couple of reasons. The first is that we like the opportunity to say no, and the second is that, if I’m going to accept responsibility for someone’s well-being, I have to know that they are on my property!
I have been water-girl enough times to know to leave out the coloured cups so kids can grab their own and help themselves to some H2O, but food is another story. I have rationed my granola bars to last until Friday’s lunches. I am saving my leftovers for tomorrow. I only have enough pizza for five. I lose sleep at night worrying about anaphylaxis. Cheese is expensive and I don’t feel like sharing, but, oh look, I have 800 bags of Goldfish… You may have some, if offered.
I got a text from one of the moms on our block recently saying, “Just an FYI, the kids are cleaning out the garage today and won’t be able to play until after lunch.” Brilliant. This spared my kids the disappointment of showing up and being turned away and probably her kids from the painful ordeal of having to turn away friends in favour of a spring-cleaning project. Little tips like this are appreciated, but door knocking is fine too.
I’ve given it a lot of thought and there doesn’t seem to be any good way to structure, say, a neighbourhood game of man-tracker such that all individuals are accounted for at any given moment. Sometimes, neighbourhood play is just a bit…messy. Erratic comings and goings, rivalries, too-much time at one house, parents who disagree over appropriate boundaries—these things are bound to surface, and there’s no one-size-fits all solution except to remember that neighbourhood relationships are pretty special and that, in making the best of this unique arrangement, we all stand to benefit.