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Heavy Meddle: I Want The Neighbor Kids Out Of My House

The problem is, she invited them in and they have no intention of leaving. (Anouk Van Houts/Unsplash) MoreCloseclosemore
The problem is, she invited them in and they have no intention of leaving. (Anouk Van Houts/Unsplash)

Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.


Dear Steve,

I don’t mean to sound like a grumpy old lady, and be assured that I love children and cherish my relationships with them. My issue is that I live in a condo among several families with small kids. They love nothing more than to invite themselves into my house whenever they are bored. I have probably encouraged this by inviting them in when they knock or ring. But I really want to curb the behavior. I have a busy life and my personal time is precious. How do I discourage this behavior without alienating these kids — and their parents! — forever.

Thank you for any advice.

Fed Up Neighbor

...

Dear Fed Up,

Repeat after me: kids need boundaries.

I’m emphasizing this because it’s a truth that I’m reminded of (as the father of three young children) every few seconds. And even with those incessant reminders, I still struggle with boundaries. So you’re to be forgiven, Fed Up, for failing to recognize and remedy the situation.

To be clear: when you invite little kids into your home (by which I mean answering the door and allowing them to “invite themselves in”) you are saying to them, in essence: Howdy, little neighbors! This is your new play zone! The place you can come whenever you get bored at home! Yes, that’s right! Whenever you get bored. And unlike your parents, I don’t really understand your rapacious nature, so I don’t really set boundaries! That’s what makes me so irresistible!

So okay. That’s how they’re thinking. And what they need to know, now, is that you are not their new play zone. This means setting up a boundary. Obviously, you’re feeling worried about alienating them and their parents. Don’t. Their parents understand full well (or should) that you are not a grandparent or even an auntie. You’re a kindly neighbor who is trying to be nice. You owe them, and their children, nothing more than you’re willingly able to give.

Your job now is to figure out what that is, and to make sure the kids and their parents are aware of this. This might be as simple as letting the parents know that they need to check with you before their kids even knock on the door. It may be figuring out designated times that you’re willing to have the kids visit, and communicating this. It may mean telling the kids not to knock on your door at all, and that you’ll let their parents know when it’s okay for them to visit.

Again, you can decide what the boundary is. But you need to be clear in your mind and direct with the parents and/or kids about what it is.

This is in everybody’s interest. Because the worst outcome here is that you grow to resent the kids and their parents, as well as losing your own personal time. That’s already starting to happen, Fed Up. Which is why you wrote me.

You are not, in fact, a grumpy old lady. Setting up boundaries will make sure you don’t become one.

Go forth in courage.

Steve

Author's note: I hope Fed Up trusts me on this, because one of our favorite neighbors is a woman a lot like her, who has kindly opened her home to our children many times. Still, she does set up boundaries, especially about her lovely yard, and the kids obey them. Obviously, making these boundaries clear to our kids, and to us, is the key. What do you all think? Offer your counsel in the comments section below. — S.A.

Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond is a writer. His new book, "Bad Stories: Toward A Unified Theory of How It All Came Apart," will be out in March 2018. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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