Manners & Misdemeanors
Parenting Etiquette: When Your Children And Their Playmates Go From One Home to Another, Who Sets the Rules?
What do you do about your neighbor’s kid always showing up and staying longer at your house?
ILLUSTRATOR Pepper Roxas
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Parenting has never been more challenging. Parents today are more hands-on, health-conscious, aware, active, and more involved in raising their children. Where dentists and pediatricians used to be able to give lollipops to well-behaved patients, today they must think twice and then ask parents first if the treat is allowed.

My U.K.-based nephew’s best buddy has a life-threatening nut allergy. Because of this, even the school gift shop keeps nuts out of its inventory. Classmates’ snacks and lunches are likewise nut-free. When the boy comes for a visit, my sister makes sure the nuts in her pantry—or any food with nuts—are in airtight containers and kept securely out of reach. She wipes counters down for added safety. She is in constant touch with the child’s mother before and during his visit. Nothing is taken for granted. This is but an example of what the modern parent faces today.

Basic courtesy dictates that parents discuss visits together. At the very least, this practice teaches our children that we do not barge, uninvited, into other people’s homes.

I find that I have to create my own boundaries as well, making my own rules as situations present themselves. There was a brief period years back when I would come home to find my pool full of kids I did not invite and my poor staff frantically leaving their dutiesto make sure no accidents occurred. My children would be in the midst of it, having a blast but also looking and behaving out of sorts. The first time it happened, my older son greeted me with a slightly hysterical, “Mama, look!” Though his greeting was definitely wrapped in pride, it was also clearly tinged with uncertainty, because part of him knew that the whole scene was a first in our home. I stood there mutely, a frozen smile on my face, trying to hold my own against yet another one of those life scenes I didn’t get the script for. 

I considered letting it all hang loose, despite the hives beginning to surface at the thought. Why not let everyone enjoy, my conscience whispered, what’s the big deal anyway? But my children were still looking at me expectantly, waiting for approval—or some sort of parental gesture that would tell them which way to go next. 

Decades ago, my little brother unearthed leopard print undies from a parent’s closet. He then decided they were perfect to play Tarzan in. As if on cue, neighborhood children barged in.

That look of uncertainty behind the excitement of their newly experienced “freedom” told me they needed to be affirmed in what they already knew: Something about the entire situation was not in sync with the rules. Let it hang loose? I could picture them years down the road, behind (hopefully germ-free) bars, with me sobbing at the memory of this very moment when I consciously let them cross a subtle boundary.

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This did not sit well with me, of course. I maintain a rhythm at home that my children are used to. When people appear unannounced, the entire day is thrown off. If the regular flow of their day has suddenly changed, certain things tend to happen to children: rushed, unpleasant mealtimes, whining and, worst of all, inexplicable tantrums. To maintain relative peace at home, it is always good practice to tell them if and how their day will change. They are then better able to meet the changes with equanimity. Alas, you can only do that if you are in the loop and not on the receiving end of social surprises. 

Basic courtesy dictates that parents discuss visits together. At the very least, this practice teaches our children that we do not barge, uninvited, into other people’s homes. We show respect and consideration. But that’s not all. Other subtle but more relevant issues are at play as well. 

I did write a note to the mother of one child who was innocently but constantly showing up at my doorstep and staying longer than was comfortable for us. I simply suggested we plan the visits so that I could make sure I was home to watch over everyone.

When other children are in my home, I want to be there because I trust only myself to carry the responsibility. I can only do that if I know, in advance, that guests are expected. I also want to make sure that the children are playing well and no one is left out or bullied. Then, of course, I want to make sure that everyone is fed properly and dietary restrictions, if any, are honored.

I think it vital that one parent is always there to supervise everyone and make sure the day flows smoothly and pleasantly for all. Parents today are firm about specific things and I want to make sure that their children are not doing something in my home that their parents would not otherwise allow. I do not encourage my children to show up uninvited at other people’s homes because I also do not want to impose on the parents of other children, who may have had other plans, or simply want some peace and quiet.

Decades ago, my little brother unearthed leopard print undies from a parent’s closet. He then decided they were perfect to play Tarzan in. As if on cue, neighborhood children barged in. When asked about the origins of his quaint though unarguably perfect costume, my brother gamely pointed at the owner who, as fate would have it, happened to be home at the time. If only to give others space for their, er, eccentricities, we must erect and respect social boundaries.

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Effective parenting means setting boundaries and being consistent about them, especially when dealing with the outer world.

My children know that my permission must be sought after they have been invited for a visit, even if just to the neighbor’s house a mere wall away. This also gives me the chance to remind them of their manners before they saunter off through someone else’s door: Always greet the owners properly, say goodbye the same way, never enter anyone’s bedroom unless asked in or accompanied by their playmate, etc. I don’t expect them to be perfect little angels all the time but I believe in planting the seed consistently by word and deed and then hoping for the best! 

I did write a note to the mother of one child who was innocently but constantly showing up at my doorstep and staying longer than was comfortable for us. I simply suggested we plan the visits so that I could make sure I was home to watch over everyone. My note was ignored but the boy never came by again. Well, there are some constellations that aren’t meant to be, but I don’t suffer the loss. 

Effective parenting means setting boundaries and being consistent about them, especially when dealing with the outer world. How else do we teach our children respect and consideration for others? It does begin with the seemingly little things.

As they get older, the rules will change according to their needs and we must be open again to adjusting our boundaries, but always with a full view not just of the pleasure of our children, but also the safety, privacy, comfort, and wishes of others.


SOME HELPFUL HINTS

* Be the first to set the rules. Be the one to issue the first invitation for a planned and organized play date. Make sure you specify the time. Don’t say, “at 2 p.m.” Do say, “from 1 to 3 p.m.” You may say you’re serving a healthy snack and will make sure the children play rather than watch a video, if that is what you also want for your child. Assure the other parent that you will be home and with the children during the visit, to show how it is done in your home. The person you are inviting will get the picture and follow suit when her child comes a-calling. Making the first move illustrates how you do things, and anyone who gets the invitation will get a clue of how you like things done. If they don’t, a personal card can follow with a pleasant explanation of how you prefer future play dates.

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* Be firm and consistent about rules with your children. This is your insurance that social booboos happen less and less as your children get older. Simply explain that one must be invited to another’s home; we don’t do drop-ins. My older boy is now quite the social police with his little brother, always asking first if he got an invitation each time the little one says he’s off to play at someone else’s house. This is the source of much glaring between police and policed, but hey, at least you know lessons are being learned.

* Laugh. Things will go wrong here and there no matter how well you plan. If your brood overstepped boundaries, simply apologize with a handwritten note (a great opportunity to whip out underused stationery) and offer to host the next visit. If that doesn’t work, take a deep breath, smile, stick to the boundaries you have set, and trust that social constellations that aren’t meant to be, won’t be. A social booboo is not the end of the world. It’s just one more imperfect thing in life we ought to learn to laugh about.

 

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Panjee G. Tapales
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