Every neighborhood has one—it’s that house that always has a few bikes in the front yard and a few blades of grass on the front lawn. It’s loud, active, and a whirlpool of activity. Food is plowed through in record time and it never stays clean for long. It’s also the place where all kids feel welcome.
It’s the kid-friendly home.
I always wanted one and—lo and behold—that’s just what I’ve got. Sure, it’s noisy, messy, and constantly challenging, but I love it just the same. If you want your home to be the neighborhood welcome center, then follow these dos and don’ts. But keep these wise words in mind: “Be careful what you ask for, ‘cause you just might get it!”
Do manage the mess. If you really want to scare away kids, then keep a “hands off” policy when it comes to your home. But if you want to pull them in, then allow them the freedom to make a mess. Kids need to know that they can make messes and also need to know they are responsible to clean them up. It’s just like life. You mess up; you clean up; you mess up some more. The trick is to manage it well.
Don’t freak out about the little stuff. And let’s face it—it’s pretty much all little stuff when you think about the magnitude of childhood. Teenagers stay up late doing stupid things, kids play in the mud as soon as the rain stops, lipstick gets smudged all over the wall, milk gets spilled all over the table, eggshells will always land in the batter. This is life, so don’t let it throw you. A huge part of motherhood is just adjusting our standards to embrace the reality of childhood.
Do keep an open heart and an open mind. Kids get scared away by judgment, and they can smell it a mile away no matter how old they are. If you think that little girl in the neighborhood acts like a brat, she’s going to sense it. If you think your teenagers friends all look like derelicts, they are going to sense it. You’re attitude can build bridges or walls. It’s up to you. Judgment never goes over well. We’re all human and we all have flaws. Make it your job to bring out the best in people not to pick apart the worst.
Don’t stop being the mom. Just because your kingdom has been invaded by kids of all shapes and sizes, doesn’t mean that you no longer sit on the throne. You still have to insist that your house rules are being followed. When teens sleep over, they know that cell phones must be turned off and put away at a certain hour. When toddlers are over, they know they are required to share toys. When middle-school boys are foraging in my kitchen, they know they have to keep food in the kitchen and clean up after they’re done.
Do keep communicating. More than likely, kids will be drawn to your home and to your heart when you freely open up the lines of communication. Look for opportunities to talk with your kids (and their friends). Don’t be surprised or shocked by anything, and don’t try to turn every little thing into a lesson. Sometimes, conversation is just conversation. There are times when you need to correct and offer guidance, and then there are times when you just need to talk. Let them know you are available for both. Share your own trials and successes, and they will be more likely to open up about theirs.
Don’t forget what it’s like. The biggest part of creating a kid-friendly home is to remember what it was like for you when you were a trepidacious child, an awkward middle-schooler, or an insecure teen. When you can really get in their frame of mind, then you can begin developing the kind of home that truly embraces their character. Give them the kind of home that you would have wanted. And remember to be careful—because you just might get it!