Our family is fortunate to live in a great neighborhood, with lots of families and children. Most of the kids go to our local public school, so they see each other at school, on the bus, and around the neighborhood.
While I’m glad to know all these families, it has taken some time to figure out what it looks like for me to be a good neighbor – especially to all the kids. Confession: I’m a wee bit overprotective. I love for my kids to have friends around the neighborhood, but I like it best when the kids are playing at or around my house, so I can see what’s going on. I want our home to be a warm, welcoming, and hospitable place for our neighbors and friends …but our home should also be a safe place of respite for my family.
It’s hard to balance those two goals, sometimes. My kids need to do homework, and my oldest is an introvert at heart. It’s important for me to protect his alone time to recharge. However, my daughter is an extrovert like her mama, and playing with friends gives her great joy. Right now, we’ve settled into a groove, but it probably will change as my children get older.
I’m learning to set limits. In previous school years, I’ve had kids over right after school and haven’t enforced homework with my children until later. This year, my two are required to come in, do homework and have a snack before they can play. I don’t feel guilty about telling the other kids that my children aren’t allowed out yet, because I know that this schedule works best for our family. And we keep our outdoor toys (balls, etc) out so that other kids can use them.
My boundary-setting abilities have improved as we have gone along. Take the garage, for example. There are a ton of boys in my neighborhood, and one of their favorite games is to devise battles and build forts. I used to open the garage so that kids could have a shady place to play, but then they started using my Easter baskets and Christmas stuff in their fort-building. So I learned to set better limits. I found two big plastic bins and filled one with balls and outdoor toys (jump ropes, etc). The other holds our entire collection of weapons – Nerf guns, water guns, walkie talkies, and light sabers. The kids are welcome to play with any of those items, and they know to put things back once they’ve taken them out … although they sometimes need reminders.
Snacks are hard. I tend to keep popcorn in my pantry, because you can feed a lot of people with a couple of bags of microwave popcorn. And for my conscience’s sake, I try to keep fruit around, too – apples and grapes are good and easy. But I don’t feel obligated to feed all the kids. When my kids get off the bus, they come inside, have a snack and do homework. And I say no to our neighbors during that time. [Related Article: After School Snacks]
Here are my rules of thumb for entertaining neighbor kids:
- Kids are always welcome in our house to use the bathroom.
- I keep a stack of plastic cups on the counter, and everyone knows how to get their own water from the fridge dispenser.
- Every so often I plan a special activity or snack – I made a ton of sugar cookies at Christmas, and invited all our afterschool friends to hang out for a decorating party one afternoon.
- I keep some cheap and easy snacks in the pantry, just in case.
- If people aren’t getting along, I reserve the right to send them home. I will referee if needed, but sometimes, it’s just not worth it. Everybody needs a break.
- Kids are encouraged to play outside rather than inside. If it’s a nice day, I shoo everybody out. I’d prefer to have a big game of foursquare than an afternoon spent playing video games or making a mess in our playroom.
- I try to meet everybody’s parents. This is more difficult than you might think.
I’m still figuring out how to be a good neighbor.