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Joined: 6/22/2009
Posts: 52
Neighborly Neighbors

I have recently been approached by two different families concerning a real problem with neighbors. In searching my library of etiquette books, I found no reference to this and so am addressing it here. The matter at hand is unannounced visits by neighbors. In the ‘old days’ one did not call on anyone without phoning first to see if it would be convenient. Today, this consideration has seemingly flown out the window.

We visited close friends a couple of weeks ago. This was a planned visit and we were to stay for several days. Our hostess was not at home when we arrived and we went to let ourselves in only to find a padlock on the gate. I said to Greg, “I bet it’s because of the neighbors. I bet they were finally forced to take this step. As the old saying goes, ‘drastic times call for drastic measures’.”
We knew there was a history with the neighbors' children just showing up unannounced and uninvited to play or to be entertained; and not only the children, but the parents as well. It turns out that my hunch was correct. The behavior finally drove our friends to having to actually lock their back gate. The neighbor’s six year old son was also too clingy with our friends’ two year old son. It made our friends increasingly uncomfortable, yet they were at a loss of what to do to remedy the situation.
As awkward and uncomfortable as it may be, there really is no alternative than to confront the neighbors head on. This does not have to be combative or unfriendly, but I do feel that the facts need to be clearly laid out as well as the feelings that are generated as a direct result. Inappropriate physical contact needs to be delicately yet swiftly handled as well, as this may require some professional help. Sadly, these behaviors can go unnoticed by seemingly caring intelligent parents.

I recently received a letter via email with a very similar problem. I decided to reprint the letter as well as my response below.

Dear Jay,
I have some very nice neighbors, with some fairly 'pushy' children.  We have a privacy fence; however, on one side of us, our neighbor's 9 year old son will peek over or through the fence to ask my boys (who are only aged 2 & 4) to ask me to invite him over.  Recently, after I said no, he told them to ask me again.  His mother is very sweet and often offers to watch them for me and will talk in the front yard with my children if we happen to see each other in passing.  I want to keep a nice relationship, but I feel odd allowing her son to come over when he is so much older than my kids.  Several other children in the neighborhood (who are also much older and whom we barely know) have peeked in through our gate/fence to ask to come over and play as well.  (We have a swing set structure).  I keep saying no, but they keep asking, and I am starting to dread going in my own backyard when I know the neighborhood kids are out.  Am I wrong to keep saying no?  If not, how do I handle this so they don't keep asking?
Sorry for the long explanation and question!  
Thanks for your help,

Dear Tricia,
Thanks for asking this sensitive question. This is an all too common problem. As I see it, you have two choices. You need to speak with their mothers and let them know that this behavior is bothering you and is in fact worrisome. The kids are acting inappropriately and should be corrected. If you're in a mood to want them over for a play session, let them know you'll invite them. Aside from not having control of your own back yard right now, you also have some liability issues should anyone get hurt. Another alternative is to speak with the kids themselves and let them know that when you have time to watch them you'll invite them over. So, no, you are not wrong for saying no, but following the 'no' with a short explanation may make it sink in better.
I hope this helps,

Looking back on that answer, I would like to add that there is a privacy issue here. People need to respect one another’s privacy. When I grew up this was instilled in me as a very young boy. Although we enjoyed visiting friends and family, we would never do so without phoning first. It is inconsiderate. It shows utter disregard for another person’s time. When we ran the Inn, my time was not my own. I treasured my private time. I learned how important it is to me. I still feel that way and I think deep down inside, we all do.
{community, children, family, privacy}

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