the "good friend with questionable parents" dilemma

When I was a kid, one of my best friends lived down the street from me. Her parents were free-thinking hippies, and one night at the beginning of our friendship my mom let me spend the night there. The house was full of incense and, ahem, some other smokey smells. The dad spent the evening in a daze, painting a picture of a topless woman under a rainbow. The mom let us watch an adult romantic comedy with a racy shower scene. My friend's teenage sister arrived home drunk out of her mind, and the mom cursed her out in front of me. I ended up going home and relaying the whole story to my mom, who promptly decided I would never be allowed back at this girl's house. She could play at our house, but I was not to play at hers. I was devastated, and it created a very awkward dynamic with this other family.

Now, as I parent, I find myself facing the same dilemma. We have a street full of young children, and fortunately many of them have parents who are great people and even close friends. But then there are some other kids, whose homes seem a bit more questionable, whose parents seem a bit too lenient, whose supervision of my own children I might question just a bit. I'm not really ready to let Jafta play at a house where I have no idea what goes on. But the invitations have started coming, and he's asking more and more. "Why can't I go to his house, mom?"

So, what do you do? How do you handle this as a parent? What do you say to your child when they ask why they can play at one friend's house, but not another? How do you respond when a parent invites your child over to a playdate, but you don't want them to go? What to you say to a child who plays frequently at your own house, who asks why your child can't play at theirs?


  1. I keep it really short - little half hour visits and then back to our house (only about once a week, if that). I then bake some really yummy cookies, and make sure I stay the "cool house." ha!

    My kids ... and everyone else's ... migrate here more. One mom is a yeller, so the kids have discovered they don't enjoy being there (in their little 30 minute allotment occasionally). That one solved.

    There is another kid in the neighborhood that I would TOTALLY let my kids play with at their home - but the mom never, ever wants other kids over ... like, ever. So, that kid is always at our house. Strange.

    I also sit down with my kids and find out what was done, and how it was done (even with close friends who may not supervise as closely as I do, etc.). My daughter once had to say, "I can't play that game. It has cuss words in it." Wasn't long after that when I started to hear more from that mom, and she would ask me specifics on what was - and was not - okay.

    Ah ... from the mouths of babes.

  2. Move :)
    Just kidding.
    So far, I just say "not right now."
    When my kids are older I'll probably explain more. After hearing your story, I feel the need to keep them at home all the time:)
    Most of the kids in our hood like to play at our house so far, so that works for us.

  3. Anonymous4:39 AM

    Hey Kristin,

    My approach has changed over the years. When I was younger, I would cast a wide net and be friends with “everyone”...even when my instincts warned me otherwise. I’ve since realized that God gives you those instincts for a reason and He expects you to listen to them. I’ve also come to the conclusion that life is too short and I would rather I (and my kids) take the time to cultivate really good, strong, loving friendships and keep some relationships casual...even if the other person wants more. I’ve also found that if I really like the parents, then my kids like their kids...and if I don’t feel comfortable with the kids don’t either. I want my kids to learn that it’s Ok to be discerning in who they let in.

    Oh, I have a comment too about being the Mom who doesn’t want kids over. Around here that would be me. We often have children in the yard which is great, but I joke with my kids that there are inside friends and outside friends. Over the years, we’ve been burned...I’ve had kids over whose parents drop them off and leave for hours with no contact info, kids who break toys...or steal, so now I’ve made it a rule that my kids have to ask Mom first.


  4. I think I am still trying to figure this one out. I always feel reluctant to turn kids away, or tell my kids that they aren't allowed to play with certain children at school, etc. There are definitely some homes where I am much more reluctant to send my kids. Especially now that they are in school, this issue becomes a bit more complicated because I don't always know the parents. If I don't know the parents they aren't allowed to visit their house. period. But I am always open to meetings and phone calls to get to know people. My main criteria is that if they are going to be visiting a friend at their house, they still need to abide by the rules of ours. That means, shows, video games, words, etc. that might be allowable in their home still are not acceptable for my kids. You stick with the rules even when you are away from home. When they were little we would even review some of the basic rules together before they were able to go play. In some extreme cases, in which I feel another child is a threat to my child's safety, I will tell my kids that they always need to be friendly, but they don't always need to be friends (that is to say, spend lots of time together).

  5. THIS is why we lock ourselves in the house. It's just easier this way. I think this is a hard age to make those distinctions - I think it gets easier to explain as they get older.


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