I have a strong desire to be the “hang out house.” You know, the one where my kids and their friends come to after school to play and eat and build deeper relationships. I want to be that mom and I want that to be my house. In theory anyway. But sometimes replacing the hypothetical scenario with the real life one can feel tricky.
I like my own stuff and I like my own schedule. I like knowing what my kids are saying and who they are saying it to and how they are spending their time. To be succinct, I like control. And opening my own life and home to others feels as though some of that control is stripped from me because opening up my life and home to others means inviting in many variables. And sometimes all those variables and their uncontrollability make me squirm.
In her book about building community, author Kristin Schell quotes an old Danish proverb, “If there is room in the heart, there is room in the house.”
Gut punch. Tap out. White flag raised.
If I want to open up my home to my kids’ friends I need to take a look at my heart and weed out all the selfish parts of me that don’t want them around because I need my quiet afternoon coffee time or because I don’t want them to eat all the ice cream or because I can’t figure out how to continue my to-do list with a handful of six-year olds running around upstairs and interrupting me every four seconds.
If I want to build this type of community and invite these kids in, it starts with my heart.
As I’ve continued to consider this truth I have asked the Lord to show me some ways I can practically establish an open-door policy for the neighborhood kids that my kids like to be with. It’s taken much prayer and surrender and a good deal of reevaluation of my day but I’m getting there. I might be moving like a turtle, but I am trying.
Here are just a few practical ways I am trying to open up my life and home to the little ones around me.
1. Keep my schedule open for the first hour after everyone comes home from school.
When the big yellow school bus rolls into our neighborhood and drops the kids off a few houses down, I want to be ready for anything. I have tried to make it a habit to cut off my work at 2:45 and be ready to receive any number of energetic elementary students with arms wide open.
Now they don’t always want to play together and they don’t always want to be at my house, but making space for that to happen has been crucial for my attitude.
2. Have an ample supply of drinks and snacks.
I don’t have to supply freshly baked cookies and tall glasses of milk to every first-grader on the block, but having an adequate stash of capri suns and popsicles goes a long way. And the occasional tray of pizza pockets or mini corn dogs can’t hurt.
It is my humble opinion that truly and actively listening to someone is one of the most primary ways to show that you care about them. It is true for adults and it is true for young people as well. I want to communicate to the kids that come through my front door that their words are important to me and their hearts are safe under my roof.
4. Know that it’s ok to say no
Can we play video games? Can I have a soda? Can we get out the paints?
When my son’s friends first started coming over I felt like I had to say yes all the time because I didn’t want to discourage them from coming back. But I have learned that it is ok and it is important to set limits and boundaries. It keeps me from feeling like my authority has been stomped on and communicates to them that not everything is a green light.
5. Remember that people are the most important thing.
More important than my white couches or getting dinner to the table on time are the little souls that spend time with my kids. I never want stuff of any kind to come before the eternal influence I can have over this future generation.
I am not perfect and I still struggle with this everyday. But the Lord continues to remind me that I truly want to build community and relationships with my kids and their friends. And opening up my heart to them is the right place to start.