I am looking for some moral support and direction. There are some issues in the home of my elementary-aged children's friends. For a while I have been concerned that one of the parents is using drugs and about the presence of prescription drugs in the house, unlocked and in plain view on bedside tables, for example. I do try not to have my children over unsupervised by me, but it is getting harder as they get older. Their friends are lovely children. I don't want to cut off contact, but I noticed their parent nodding off and looking high today during a playdate. I am really torn. I do not want to speak to the family directly about this (I have in the past, pointedly, i.e. "if you have medications or drugs lying around and/or are using I cannot let my kids in your home." It did no good, of course). Other than banning my kids from this household, which I am again feeling I must do, how to deal with this?
From: Elem Mom, Anonymous location
Dear Elem Mom,
If moral support is what you are looking for, you've come to the right place. A parent nodding out? If your child was 4, you wouldn't think twice about this. Just because they are older doesn't make it more acceptable. It's true that you can't protect your child from every contingency but don't underestimate the importance of providing a role model for what to do if a situation doesn't feel safe: exit.
Of course, you can't just ban your kids from playing there. They deserve an explanation. Make it truthful but age appropriate. I'd start with a conversation about adult supervision. What is it like at your house when their friends come to visit? Do you pop in on them now and then? Talk to them, show an interest in them? Do you have rules about what they can and can't do or play? Are you there if there is a problem? What about snacks? Are they healthy? Do you think your friends feel safe at your house?
Now ask some of the same questions for what it's like when they go to friends' homes, starting with homes you know are well-supervised and working your way to this home, which you suspect is not. See if they volunteer that there is a difference, or something that makes them feel less safe there. If they don't, you can say simply that as the parent, it's your job to keep them safe, and that includes feeling safe about someone's house. You have seen medicine lying about there and that isn't safe to you. You can talk about how at your house, medicine is always kept safely in a cabinet, away from children. You don't need to get any more elaborate than that.
If you have had, or want to have, a conversation about good and bad drugs, this is certainly one of those teachable moments. Your choice, but if by older elementary you mean fourth or fifth grade, I would probably go there. BTW, wouldn't be afraid that you are being overly intrusive into your children's play lives; by this age, they can see for themselves that something is amiss in this home. They will feel safer for knowing you are setting a limit, even if they protest that limit. One caution: Don't just say they can't go there. Mean it.
Meanwhile, none of this means that the children are off-limits. If your kids want to play with them, invite them to your house.
Of course, there are still thorny questions here: (1) Do you owe these parents the courtesy of an explanation for why your kids can't play there anymore? (2) Do you have an obligation to these children? That is, to notify school authorities or social services? (3) What about an obligation to other potential playmates? At the least, I would argue that you have an obligation to tell the parents, especially since you have spoken to them before. If you're not comfortable doing it face to face, do it in writing.
I hope readers weigh in on this one!
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