One of the tricky moves parents have to master is how to say no to invitations for their children. Actually, saying no is not the problem. The problem is how to do it without hurting feelings, giving offense, or feeling guilty about it.
Let’s say someone is having a birthday party, and your four-year-old (or six or eight or ten-year-old) is invited. Let’s also say that you know that the home has different standards than yours when it comes to humor, movies, or even the way they speak to one another. Or you may have good reason to think that the kids are not going to be well supervised. Whatever the reason, you don’t have a good vibe about it, and you know that your four-year-old is not wise enough to navigate his way through the possibilities. All he knows is that there will be cake and lots of it. Or, he may not want to go because the boy whose birthday they are celebrating is a mean kid. Either way, your duty seems clear that you must send your regrets that your child will not make it to the party. Just say, “No thanks. Johnny won’t be able to make it.” That is what parents are for. Parents are supposed to make decisions on behalf of their little kids.
Your job as a parent is to protect your kids from weird set-ups and situations until such time that they can figure it out for themselves. And there is no sense in sending kids to parties or play-dates they don’t want to go to unless it is something entirely different you are dealing with, like a debilitating shyness or an arrogant unfriendliness or some other issue. But that is not my subject here. From time to time you will have to say “no” to really nice people simply because you feel it is wise to do so. It may have nothing to do with conflicting standards at all, but simply with the fact that you don’t know them well enough to drop your kids off.
“Can your child come play sometime, and when would be convenient?” That sort of invitation requires more social delicacy. If you can’t side-step it, then say you’ll talk about it and get back to her. Maybe you can invite yourself to go along so you can see how things go.
When my kids were little, sometimes I found things out after the fact. For example, I had no idea that the mom was gardening in her bikini while the kids were playing, until she told me that one of my kids had told her she was immodest! You may find out that there is a whole lot of coarse jesting going on at so-in-so’s house, and you file that away for future reference.
It’s good to ask lots of questions, like “What movie are the kids going to watch?” And if it is not your cup of tea, then you can decline. When the kids are old enough, you can prime them for different contingencies: “If they want to watch a movie, call us to see if it’s okay.” “If they want to walk downtown, tell them you are not allowed to do that.”
But the point is, we should not take offense when parents say no to our invitations. Parents are supposed to be watching over their children in this way. And if someone asks you a direct question about why your child did not come to their party, you should be prepared to say something like this: “Last time our kids were at your house, they were not comfortable with some of the things that went on.” Or, “We have different movie and tv and video game standards, and we didn’t want to put our kids (or yours) on the spot.”
This is the way it is. Nice Christian people have different standards for their kids, and you do not have to subject your kids to the neighbors’ standards. But it’s still nice to be invited.