When I was growing up, there were Kool-Aid commercials where the mom’s were making pitchers of Kool-Aid for all of the neighborhood kids. Their houses were the gathering places for everyone. We never had a “Kool-Aid” house in my neighborhood when I was growing up. Mostly we played outside and the fewer adults that were around, the better.
But when my kids started growing up, kids were hanging closer to home and weren’t allowed to freely roam the neighborhood. They needed places to go. I decided early on that I wanted my house to be that place that we used to see on the commercials, the place where the mom always made every one feel welcome, especially when my oldest son became a teenager. The first thing I had to do was get over my aversion to mess. Any place that kids hang out in regularly will get messy. You just have to learn to live with it to a certain extent. With that idea in mind, when we built the house we are now in, we carpeted the basement, painted the concrete walls and didn’t bother with a ceiling. The furniture is is a hodge podge of things we have acquired. Over time, we’ve managed to get to the point where it is cohesive, but it wasn’t always so. It was a matter of choice not to “decorate” the basement. The less done it was, the less upset I would be if someone spilled soda on the carpet, dropped pizza on the loveseat or through balls all around the room.
My boys helped by saving up for new video game systems every time a new one came out. We now have four game systems in our house. Sometimes we will go downstairs and find kids playing a different game system on each television. We pick up the games for the systems for birthdays and Christmas’; I never went out of my way to provide that entertainment for the kids. What I have made a point of doing is keeping my freezer stocked with frozen pizza, pizza rolls and ice cream and my pantry filled with chips, granola bars, pudding cups, soda and juice boxes. Kids, boys especially, will eat any kind of pizza. You can go cheap but the kids are thrilled if I hit a good sale on a better brand. The kids that hang out here regularly know where the food is kept and what food they can have without even asking. Sometimes they want something more and they will ask. Chances are, I’ll left them eat it or make them whatever they are craving.
The most important thing you can do to make kids want ot hang out at your place, is to make them feel welcome. Make sure your own children know that everyone who comes in the house needs to be introduced. You have to know who’s in your house. Then it’s up to you to talk to them. Most teenagers will talk to you if you only make an effort. Treat them like you would another adult you are just meeting. “Do you have a job?” “Are you involved in sports?” “Where do you live?” “How did you meet my child?” Before they are old enough to drive, but when they are old enough to want to go places, they will need rides. Make your self available. The kids appreciate it more than they will say and it’s a great way to either get a chance to talk to them or just sit and listen. If you’re quiet, they will soon forget you are in the car and start talking as if you weren’t there.
Follow up on what you hear with your own child when everyone is gone. Did someone mention that one of group is having trouble at home? Take some extra time with that young person the next time you see them to ask how things are going. Is someone’s birthday coming up? Encourage the kids to bake them a cake. Did someone get an award? Be sure to congratulate them.
When kids come to my house, they mostly hang out in my basement with each other. But it’s not uncommon for them to be found hanging out in the kitchen with me or sitting down in the family room and chatting with my husband and me. Many of them call us family; I am “Mom” to more kids than I can even remember. And it wasn’t hard – I just had to learn to live with a certain amount of mess, a lot of noise and a higher grocery bill. In exchange, I can sleep easier at night because I really know what kind of people my sons are hanging out with. And most of the time I know exactly where they are and what they’re doing! Your kids may not tell you now how grateful they are for you making the effort to be the “Kool-Aid” house, but they will grow up to appreciate it and love you for it.