Other People’s Kids, Homes

A fun one from the advice bag:

Hi,

I suspect I might not be the only person in this situation, so I’m interested to put it out there and get feedback. I’m in my mid-30s and many of my good friends are having children. I’m not a big fan of children, and have chosen to have none myself. I don’t HATE kids; they generally just make me really uncomfortable. Of couse, no matter how I frame this viewpoint, no matter how I carefully I contextualize this opinion, I am labeled as a “child hater” by most people. Especially parents. It’s all part of the same tired old narrative that we ‘child-free’ people live with every day that includes “you’ll change your mind some day,” and “you never know,” and “my kid is different.” Many of my close friends have become parents, or want to be parents, and I like to think I have made a concerted effort to be interested, helpful and understanding, despite my feelings about kids. I value my friendships, so I have tried to work on being more open-minded about kids.

That being said, my question is part moral dilemma and part etiquette. My husband and I live in his hometown. My hometown is a few states away. I’m elated to have visitors, but the last two home-slice visits have not gone well. These friends of mine can’t afford hotels, and we have a big house with extra bedrooms and bathrooms. The last two families to visit us (both wives: friends of mine for 10+ years) — each brought their one kid.

Now. We keep a clean house, have some very decent vintage furniture, and a couple old cats. It’s no museum of delicate china, but it’s a nice place. To both families that visited, I made it clear during the planning, “our house isn’t very kid-friendly or kid-proofed, just so you know … you’re more than welcome & I want you to stay here, but little So-And-So is going to have to mind their manners. No climbing on stuff or harassing the cats, and ask first if they want to touch/handle something.” Just like that. I didn’t make a big deal, I wasn’t passive-aggressive, and didn’t unfurl a list of rules a mile long when they arrived. Both kids I’d met before, on their own turf, when they were younger.

Both visits were a NIGHTMARE. Both sets of parents (one a five-year-old girl; one a nine-year-old boy) basically let their kids run crazy wild in our house. I was appalled. My husband, who has been a schoolteacher (elementary & high school) for 15 years, was also shocked. The five-year-old girl ran around, chasing the cats, making the whole house shake, grabbing onto the walls and doorways, leaving huge dirty smudges and hand prints. She never wore shoes or socks, inside or out, and the carpet was filthy by the time they left. She talked, begged, whined & yelled, monopolizing and interrupting every adult conversation, and always got what she wanted. At the dinner table she made disgusting food messes and threw things at her mother. Her parents either praised her or ignored her. After four days of this, we were exhausted and our house a mess. My husband said after they left, “she isn’t learning good social cues at a time when it’s crucial to her development.” He is so nice. We spent $100 to have one of our vintage brocade chairs steam cleaned after she covered it in black foot prints, orange juice, and glitter lip gloss.

The nine-year-old boy hid all our remotes, hid our phones, would “hide” whenever we were all ready to head out the door, re-programmed our DVR (erasing a bunch of shows), pulled the mattress off the bed and onto the floor to sleep (breaking a lamp in the process), ate a box of expensive chocolate truffles in our fridge without asking, and stormed out in a rage when he found out we didn’t drink milk or have any in the house, calling us “stupid” and telling his mom he wanted to go to hotel, right in front of us. Again — his parents praised, coddled, or ignored him. They acted afraid of him, using bribes and begging to try and calm him down. That was only a two-day visit, but again, it was so tense it was bewildering. When he “hid” the cats’ dishes (in the oven), I did ask his mom to please ask him not to do that, and she snapped at me “he’s just having fun, let him be a child!”

Neither sets of parents ever apologized, acknowledged, or showed any accountability or even awareness of their kids’ bad behaviors. Neither of these kids are “special needs,” in case you’re wondering. And we didn’t say a WORD; when you have the spectre of being “child-free by choice” hanging over you, it’s too scary to say anything to anyone about their kids. They’ll just yell CHILD HATER at you. Both visits, we smiled through gritted teeth and kept saying “nooo! It’s cool. No worries!” Plus: these are dear old friends of mine. I’m struggling to accept how much parenthood has changed them. I’m struggling to accept the idea that we are expected to embrace, tolerate, and welcome their children in our home no matter WHAT their behavior. I’m struggling with what to say if they ask to visit again. So many parents seem to get HYPER DEFENSIVE about EVERYTHING! I’m scared.

Is anyone else out there fed UP with parents and their kids expecting non-parents to adapt to/accommodate their needs/wants (no matter how inappropriate)? And parents seeming to have completely lost their ability to adapt to/accommodate non-parents’ needs/wants? Has societal child worship created this imbalance? Is anyone else seeing children & parents behaving like this, with seemingly no discipline, rules or manners? Or am I just a big poop-head who is too inflexible and clean to have kids in her house? What do I say to my parent friends then? I don’t want to lose friendships. How do I handle this?

Oh my god. Well, I’m definitely not the right person to answer this, not least because everything I own is also covered in footprints, orange juice, and lip gloss, but maybe other people have ideas. Parenting continues to sound like a trip!

Or maybe the children were from the underworld.

Yes, the children were from the underworld. I feel confident in this answer.

Anyone else?

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