Ever have a weird flashback? That happened to me the other night when I was watched the Australian TV series The Slap (an Americanized version was broadcast on NBC in 2015). The story revolves around the fallout after a middle-aged man slaps an unruly four-year old boy named Hugo who kicks him in the leg at a 40th birthday party.
The flashback I had wasn’t about my mom or dad. It was about Michael, my first childhood friend.
Here’s what I remembered about Michael before watching the show: His family lived three doors down from mine in suburban upstate New York. He was five, just my age, and liked G.I. Joe action figures, splashing in the wading pool in my backyard, and running his Hot Wheels cars over the elaborate track set up in his bedroom.
Here’s what I remembered about Michael after watching that TV show: Michael was a hellion. He swung from the canopy over my bed (yes, it broke), rode his tricycle into our dog (she was upset, but OK) and crayoned on the new wallpaper (hey – it was the 1960s!) and on our kitchen walls (the marks were always visible).
I don’t have kids, so I’m not around them every day. When I am, they are usually the children of friends. I enjoy them because they’re joyful and high-energy and observant and pretty darned smart — usually.
As I watched “The Slap” and saw Hugo rip up flowers meticulously planted in the party hosts’ garden, slide their precious CDs across a hardwood floor, and angrily swing a cricket bat at other kids, I couldn’t help but think of my friend Darcy and her son. Let’s just say he had Hugo-like inclinations. And, like Hugo, he was indulged by his parents to the point of being spoiled.
I’m a firm believer in not reprimanding other people’s kids unless they are causing true destruction or personal injury. And no, I would never hit a child. But that doesn’t mean I enjoy having time with friends ruined because of unruly kids.
Keep the Friends, Lose the Kids
Clearly, your friends love their kids — so you don’t want to tell them (or otherwise indicate) that you don’t share that affection. The trick is to maintain your friendship and lessen the time spent with the kids. How do you do that? Consider these ideas my friends and I have adopted:
1. Establish kid zones in your home.
When I have friends with young kids visit, I make sure our nearby family room is kid-friendly. Basically, I remove all items that I don’t want destroyed, ensure they have a supply of parent-approved snacks and drinks, and provide games, videos, or other entertainment. It’s not ideal, but it does contain them for a good amount of time.
2. Invite your friend for coffee when their kids are busy.
My friends take their kids to camps, clubs and other events. I often invite them to have coffee with me when the kids are occupied. That way, the kids are busy elsewhere — and my friend and I can bond over our brew without interruption.
3. Plan adults-only events.
There are plenty of events you can plan with your friends that would bore their kids silly. Wine tastings, book groups, and other adults-only get-togethers almost certainly ensure the parent will enlist a babysitter for the kids and arrive alone. Fair warning, though: This doesn’t always work. I’ve had people show up at wine tastings and high-end dinners with kids that threatened to tear the venue down. In those cases, I work hard to ignore the kids’ bad behavior, and in some cases I’ve been pleasantly surprised; it’s surprising how peer pressure from other diners and waitstaff pushes parents to keep their kids in line.
4. Remove triggers.
If the kids love to swing on a canopy bed, keep that room off limits. Do the kids take your outdoor hose and spray others? Remove the hose. No, you shouldn’t need to do so. Why wouldn’t you, though, if it makes for a more enjoyable visit?
5. Don’t let kids’ interactions with pets boost your stress levels.
Even if the parent says their kids love pets, it’s best to put your pet into an off-the-limits space (with plenty of food and water, and you checking on them regularly to ensure they don’t need to relieve themselves). Explain that your dog/cat/pet is often upset by changes in habit (it’s true for many animals) and remove them from the scene.
You can’t control other people’s kids, but you can control your schedule and your personal spaces. Take a few extra steps to enhance your time with friends while keeping their kids (happily!) at arm’s length.
This post was written by Nancy Dunham, a freelance journalist based outside Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at NancyDWrites.