While it is possible you’ll never hit a bump in the road, it’s likely that at some point, something will go wrong, and it’s especially difficult when the only thing you have in common with the other parent is your children’s friendship.
We all have our own ideas of what is OK and what isn’t when it comes to behavior and to managing misbehavior — parents of the same children often disagree. So do you open with “here are my rules” or are there things you just presume are commonly accepted? What do you do about an aggressive child or one who uses scissors to cut their friend’s hair or the child who throws a tantrum an hour before they are to be picked up?
It depends. It depends on whether it’s your own child or their friend. It depends on how close the friendship is between the kids. It depends on how well you know the parents. It also depends on whose watch it happened — was it in your home or their home?
Every household has their own rules. Some parents are happy to let their kids walk or bike alone; others drive their kids everywhere. Dietary restrictions are common, especially with the rise in awareness about food allergies and sensitivities, and some parents don’t blink at their child filling up on sugar-filled snacks and drinks for an entire afternoon.
For me, anxiety is always highest with a new child in the mix — either the first time our daughter goes to another home or the first time a new child is in our home. We always ask parents about any food issues and try to remember to ask if there is anything else we need to know (will they be picked up by a different parent? Is there an emergency contact? Are they afraid of the dark?) and often get looks that suggest we are crazy-over-planning things.
We’ve had very few issues with kids at our place — at least few we knew about — and they seem to happen more often at sleepovers. More than one child has had a full-on meltdown at bedtime to the point of crying until a parent came to take them home. One very awkward moment arose when our daughter and her friend came up for breakfast each looking a little like Mike Tyson — they had drawn all over each other’s faces, thankfully with washable markers. We marched them into the bathroom to scrub up but the results lingered thanks to setting overnight. I emailed the other parent with a full apology. Thankfully she laughed it off — it wasn’t a real tattoo after all.
Another incident was a little scarier and I have never been happier for having given our daughter a cell phone. When I arrived to collect our daughter from her friend’s place, I was told they were at the park. Glancing down the road at the park, I was about to walk over when his mother corrected herself, naming another park — they had taken the bus, with another girl who was old enough to babysit but completely unknown to myself or my husband. A flicker of panic welled up but I immediately called my daughter, located the group (they had not returned because they had missed the bus back and were walking) and set off to collect them. I dropped the others back home then lectured my own child about the importance of letting us know when plans changed. Meanwhile, the mother of her friend was immediately apologetic and realized how it had felt from our point of view.
Sometimes, I’ve realized mid-explanation that there will be no further play-dates with that child. Other discussions led to my decision to be more explicit about what is OK, or to be more watchful, or have more structured get-togethers.
If you are a new parent yet to experience this, I can only suggest one thing: always err on the side of caution. If you aren’t sure if there are nut allergies, don’t offer nuts! If you didn’t explicitly arrange for the kids to leave the property, and if you can’t reach the other parent(s) then stay put. And if something goes wrong, deal with it in the calmest way possible.
If you’re a parent, have you had things go wrong? How have you dealt with it?
Playtime, by Cheryl DeWolfe on Flickr
Tantrum, by Chirag Rathod on Flickr