TALK BACK: the "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 have not encounter this yet myself. But I have been thinking about it a lot now that Butter has started school. I have decided our house will be the "fun house" Lots of snacks, toys freedom to play...all the while I will be quietly observing, waiting until I have time to teach the ones.

  2. have you been there? maybe you could try to organize some kind of playdate where the kids are there and you are there too, hanging out with the parents or something? see how they handle kids at their house.

    if you've already been over there and decided it's not a great situation -- I got nothin'. That's a tough one!

  3. Our oldest is 4, started preschool, and seems to get invitations daily from neighborhood kids and schoolmates. My husband and I just decided that instead of having to say yes to some and no to others, we'd just make a family rule that Elisha wasn't allowed to play at anyone's house...we'd either be there with her, or everyone play out in the front all together. When we stated it was our "family rule" all of the parents seemed to understand that it wasn't personal. I even talked to my pediatrician and she said we could "blame" it on her if we wanted and gave us a host of reasons why 4 is too young to go on solo playdates. (She helped me think of issues I wouldn't normally i.e. the ability/inability of our child to call 911 in an emergency, the possiblity of not just unwholesome influences by older siblings but also possible unlocked guns, families with dogs...not to be scary, just to say that she didn't feel 4 was mature enough or physically strong enough to handle some of those situations without her own parents around.) So, I don't know if that helps, but I sure felt better once I knew I wasn't the only one who felt that way (even though there are SEVERAL families in our circle that I wouldn't have a problem with at all...but like you said, how do you limit the others at this age?) So, even though you might have to backtrack now even with the families you like, maybe using a pediatrician or someone like that as a "fall guy" will help folks to understand why all of a sudden you're having to re-set some boundaries...just know the rest of us are SO right there with you!

  4. Oh how well I can imagine! As a child I was only allowed to play at the homes of people whose parents my parents knew and respected. Better safe. Whatever the awkwardness, better safe.

  5. My daughter has had such severe separation anxiety that I have not really had to deal with this question. But, I actually think that it is wise to spend an extended amount of time with the parents and kids that your child is interacting with BEFORE you set up something that you will not be around for. I try to meet up in common places like parks, or offer to host mom and kiddos at my house, etc. I really want to get a feel for the kids and parents that my child is being influenced by.

    I also think that it is so wise for us moms to really be aware of our intuition on situations like these. I remember being in middle school and being mortified that my mom would not let me stay over-night at a sleepover birthday party. I was the only girl who got picked up at 9:30! There had been times when I was allowed to do sleepovers, but this particular one, my mom just said, "Sorry honey, you can go to the party, but I am not okay with you sleeping over." Well, a few months after the party a couple of girls came forward about the father of the home molesting them that night of the party in the middle of the night. It was crazy! I remember talking to my mom about it and she said, "I just knew you were not supposed to sleep there. I did not feel right about it."

    I think we get little signals like this that we need to listen to! I am with Kimberley - better safe!

  6. So I have a different twist on this. My son has been "shunned", unable to have play dates with boys he is friends with at school. He has been religiously shunned by their parents. They all go to a public school. The boys all get along because they are the few "nice kids". You know, the ones that don't swear or play fighting video games all day and are respectful to adults and usually follow the rules - generally good kids from good families. The fact that we don't go to church is the rub. Facinating, since we live in a very diverse, a fairly liberal city and neighborhood.

    In your situation, it is a question of safety - no "responsible" adult supervision.
    Or is it a values situation?
    If there is a real life reason for our family to dislike organized western religions (christian), this might be one.

    Note: after an extended effort to become friends with these families through various school events, volunteering etc. their fear that we were a "dangerous" or "unsafe" family disappeared. They admitted never socializing with the "unchurched" because they were told not to by their different churches and they were basicly afraid.
    No, we aren't weird or anything. Pretty middle of the road, mac and cheese eating, SUV driving, one stay-at-home parent, pharmacy manager dad, average family.

    I hate the word: tolerance.
    Either celebrate differences or
    get informed and make a choice. Integrity in your actions. Kids see that, more than you know!

    Sorry for the harsh words.
    I just feel strongly about this.

    So in conclusion: find out for sure, make a decision and then tell your kids why. If you're uncomfortable having your kids there (at the questionable home), simply say that. Period. If the kids ask why your kids aren't allowed over to play, tell them you'll talk with with their parents. Talk to their parents about your concerns (in a nice way) . You feel uncomfortable about guns in the house? Say so. Say it's just your thing. You like them unloaded, locked and locked again in a steal safe - not loaded sitting in the playroom's cabinet!

  7. Maybe you could invite them over to your house instead or play outside on the block together.

  8. I was a little vague in the post, because I am never sure who reads this, you know? But it our situation, it is some children who, based on a number of observations, seem to be unsupervised for most of the day (even though a parent is home). There doesn't seem to be a big concern for safety or nurture in these homes, and it's apparent they can watch, say, or do pretty much whatever they want to.

    Regarding the previous post, I cannot imagine how painful that kind of shunning must be. My question in the post was not related to religious differences. Although for me, a safety/supervision concern IS a values difference. I could talk to the parents, but I don't think that would change the fact that they seem ambivalent and indifferent to their children. It's a values difference rather than a matter of a behavior I could remedy with a conversation. If my kids go to another home, I want to make sure they are going to be observed by a parent who is concerned about their well-being, as well as concerned about what their own children are up to.

  9. I have not had to face this yet, but I hope that I'll be honest with them on a level they can understand. I would try to find a way to not insult the other family while still giving my children an answer that is open, honest, and makes our house seem like the place to be.

  10. This is so tough. I've been thinking about it. On so many levels. Because you don't want your kids to think your judgmental. And you don't want other families to think that either. Yet you have to keep your kids safe.
    I'm all about the honesty. Saying it like it is in the most kind and understanding way possible to your child. And possibly even to the parents, but only if it's ever questioned.
    This is just too hard. I'm going to just stop rambling cause I just honestly DON'T KNOW! :)

  11. We've been confronted with this tons now that my oldest is in first grade. My concerns come from what television shows may be playing, music, etc. How do the parents talk with each other? Is it a healthy family dynamic? Are there older siblings with friends who won't be supervised? So, I've spent tons of time getting to know the parents of my daughter's closest friends. This has taken away from some of my other relationships but I've seen it as crucial because these are going to be the friends in her life. By creating a little community with these parents I can feel comfortable with my daughter spending time with them: some may be a short playdate while others it could be a longer period of time. I would never let her go to another child's house unless I knew that mother fairly well. I have too many memories from my childhood that confirm that decision.

  12. We haven't had to deal with the issue yet with our not quite three-year-old daughter, but it is something that I've started thinking about. I like the idea of making a family rule and just falling back on that if questioned.
    Our issue has been that we don't trust a certain male relative to be alone with our daughter. Not because of anything that we know has happened but because of an intuition we feel. We have struggled and prayed and talked over and over about it, but we always come back to this: our first priority is our daughter's safety. While we don't intentionally try to hurt this adult, our concern about upsetting him, or even being a bad example of Christianity to him, has to come after our concern for our daughter's safety. Knowing that has helped us stand firm with our intuition.

  13. We have a similar situation in our neighborhood. There is one child that I let my 4 1/2 year old play with outside when I'm watching them, but I am not comfortable letting her play at their house even though she gets invited. Mostly because I just do not know the parents well enough, and the little I've seen I am not comfortable with. After lots of begging, I was finally just totally honest with my daughter, and explained that she couldn't go there because I didn't know the mom well enough,and I didn't feel good about it! and that seemed to make sense to her! She's never asked to go there again, since I decided just to tell the truth instead of making up excuses, like "today isn't a good day." (and of course, now the ball is in my court to make the effort to get to know them better...)


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