Every responsible parent faces this sooner or later: How do you decide about letting your children play with less disciplined children? It’s not that we expect perfection. There were days when I was only caring for my own children, when I would have this little humorous conversation in my head, where I would tell them to “stop acting like a child!” Then, I would quietly laugh at myself, proceeding to reality to address issues with them.
But a child of a neighbor or friend, who doesn’t respect your position as the parent, whose own parent has shown dubious signs of careful disciplining of the visitor/child in general, is a problem. Maybe you haven’t even met the other parent (very bad sign), but the child seems to like your home environment, probably for reasons they can’t identify. Unfortunately, they have little self-control and some bad habits. And you have no real authority, particularly because that child’s parent will do next to nothing.
The fact is, that no matter what you do, you can never parent another person’s child. I’m not talking about adoption here. That is a totally different scenario where the child becomes part of your family and you become the parent. I’m talking about situations where the child has a parent, no matter what “kind.” The home is the strongest sphere of influence. Even the government, with all its programs and enticements to abandon effective parenting, can never take the place of the parents. It can only create a void that the children react to and a system that the chilren learn to survive in. The child is designed for and yearns for a parent and a home.
You see it in children looking to teachers, but never getting that same level of involvement that a parent can provide. You see it in children becoming involved with gangs in order to get that sense of community and leadership. You see it in children turning to other activities to make themselves feel worthwhile and valued. There can be some good influence or some bad influence, but these attempts at substitution always lack something important.
When the neglected children look to your home, you face a moral dilemma. You KNOW so much that the parent could do to make a difference. You have compassion on the child and wish you could adopt them! It isn’t the child’s fault. Yet, it is obvious that it is putting a strain on your family in various ways.
Kids who unwittingly create this dilemma for you, typically fall into 2 categories. There are those who respond reasonably well to a more disciplined environment, no matter how much they get away with at home. Even in this case, close supervision is key. CLOSE superivision. The only times I’ve seen this work is if the real parent is actually supportive of others (you) being firm, and shows some significant signs of learning from observing wise parenting. Most of the unfortunate children fall in the other category.
If the child is regularly disrespectful, cannot seem to control their conversation or vocabulary, coaxes your child into wrong choices, manipulates your child emotionally, or just can’t be trusted, you have to say “no” to them coming over. It is hard seeing the other kids suffer, but your first responsibility is to your kids and your family. Your kids DO need to be protected from those of bad or damaging influence. It is pointless for you to waste your energy attempting the impossible job of being a parent to kids that will not respond to you as such. Your whole family will feel the brunt of that, too. It can seem hard, especially at first, but the other child(ren) will move on. They and their parents will either decide to change and try again later, or they will find others of the same habits. You just don’t want that to be your kids in the long run, from exposure!
The crux of the matter is that there has to be a loving, parent-is-in-charge relationship in order for training, a.k.a discipline, to work the right way. And the child can only have that kind of relationship with so many people. Your ability to do that is going to be limited due to many factors. You are already lower in the child’s world than parents. The influence of the real parents is already diluted due to the hours most children spend away from home. A few play sessions in your house are not the same as the interaction that must really take place for a parent to build a relationship with a child.
The propaganda is that “it takes a community” to raise a child. I don’t see any evidence for that. It is a mantra that the government uses to make their system seem acceptable. What it takes “to raise a child” is that particular child’s parents. You can support the parents as best you can, if they will let you. But the parent-child bond is like an atom. It takes something very traumatic to break it, and if it does break it often causes damage for miles.