The 'highs' and 'lows' of making a call to parents hosting a party: Three parents' experiences (one wonderful, two not-so-good!)

Last week's blog entry looked at questions parents need answered to assist them in making a decision about whether their child should attend a sleepover, party or gathering or not. In most cases, to get those answers you need to access a number of sources, including calling the host parents. It's never going to be easy to make that call and I can guarantee your child (no matter what their age) is going to want you to do it. They'll moan and groan and say you will 'shame them forever', but as one Mum wrote on my Facebook page in response to the piece ...

"If we all do the call it stops being embarrassing! They may try to whinge that we're the only parents who are uncool enough to call but it's great to be able to reply that Jon's, Matt's Lucy's, Mary's, Laura's and Dave's parents called too."

That's so true! If more parents made the call and it just became part of what was done every weekend, it would make it easier for everyone. Sadly, I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon. That said, I certainly think we are seeing more parents actively parenting in this area today than we saw in the past, it's just that we could do a heck of a lot better! The problem is that as another mother wrote, even if you do make the call, there are no guarantees that you are going to get the whole truth …

"Parents lie though .. I've had face to face discussion with a parent re no alcohol being at a party my daughter attended. She came home to tell me that they in fact allowed alcohol. Don't trust on face value all the time is my suggestion …"

I've written many times before about parents lying to other parents about the parties they are hosting. I've also discussed why this may be happening and the very real problems this has caused parents I have met over the years. The one thing I've never done, however, is discuss some of the experiences Mums and Dads have sent through to me when they have actually put in the effort and made the call. As already said, calling another parent and asking them about an event they are hosting is never going to be easy but as you will see from the following stories, sometimes the call goes extremely well, while at others it's a complete disaster!

Most importantly, for many parents the experience is likely to be fairly 'benign' - you'll introduce yourself, ask your questions, get some responses, thank them and get off the phone. Sometimes though, something special may happen …

Caroline's 14-year-old son, James, was invited to a sleepover. He had attended a number of such events over the previous 12 months and almost all of them were hosted by parents that she had either known or at least met either at the school or school/sporting events. She still made a call or made a point of talking to a host parent even if she knew them. This sleepover, however, was being held by a family that were new to the school. James bought an invitation home and Caroline, as always, made the call, although as she said "For some reason I didn't do it as quickly as I usually would and ended up speaking to the mother only a couple of days before the event." The phone call was uneventful and Caroline and on the night of the sleepover she took James to the door, as she usually did, met the Mum briefly, had a quick chat welcoming her to the school and left. Early the next week she received a card in the mail from the mother thanking her for the call (apparently she was the only one who did) and also for introducing herself that night (once again, she was the only one). She also asked her if she would like to catch up at some point for a coffee. They did and Caroline and Sarah (the mother) are now the closest of friends …  

Then you have the other stories. Sadly, these are just some of the many I have received over the years ...

Serena, the mother of a 15-year-old son, Gary, had always either met up with parents hosting sleepovers, gatherings and parties or made a phone call to find out what will or won't be happening. There had never been an issue with doing this all the way through primary school and even in the early years of high school, but things started to change in Year 9. Gary had never liked her making calls but knew it was a family rule, i.e., if she didn't make the call, he couldn't go. When he asked to attend a party at the beginning of Year 10 Serena had a feeling that it was a different type of event and when she finally got access to the host parent's phone number and made the call, she was right … Serena had three questions that she asked when she made a call and before she could even ask the first she was accused of 'overparenting' and shaming her son. "I was told by this woman that he was 15 and did he know that I was making the call?" Serena told me. "According to her, I was embarrassing him by calling and he would be the laughing stock of his group if they found out. She went into a long rambling speech about how she trusted her son and would never dream of doing what I was doing! I was stunned by what she was saying and how fast the call had got completely out of control. All I had done is to introduce myself and tell her that I was calling to find out about the party my son had been invited to …" Not surprisingly, Serena thanked the mother for her time, got off the phone and informed her son he would not be attending the party!

When Cecilia's 16-year-old daughter Jayne was invited to a 16th birthday, she had no idea that the call she would make to the host parents would end up leading to her child having to leave her school after almost 6 months of intense bullying and harassment. Cecilia had always made a call to parents hosting events and had never had a bad experience but from the moment this mother picked up the phone, she knew something was wrong. The actual call was not particularly problematic - Cecilia asked her usual questions and got answers but as she told me "I should have known something was wrong when she asked me to repeat Jayne's name." What she found out later was that the mother had then gone straight to her teen (the birthday girl) and told her about the call, apparently mocking both Cecilia and her daughter and the fact that she had made a call, actually repeating the questions she had asked. What followed was a period of systematic bullying by the birthday girl and her friends, both face-to-face and via social media. Jayne was totally ostracised and even though the Principal, teachers and counsellors became involved and tried to help, Cecilia had to finally remove her daughter from the school. "When I finally had a face-to-face meeting with this mother that had been organised by the Principal it became quite clear that she was just as much of a bully as her daughter was. I still find it extremely difficult to understand why she did what she did and I will never forgive her for what she has done to Jayne. It's almost impossible to believe that simply asking what time a party was ending would result in such a response."

It's difficult to believe that any parent would respond in such a negative way to a simple request for information regarding an event they are hosting. Realistically, both of the host parents in the final two stories above obviously have serious issues … You certainly don't have to agree with the parenting choices of others and no-one can tell another parent what to do with their child, however, when you are concerned about the health and safety of your teen, you have every right to ask whatever question you want. Of course, whatever your questions are, they need to be asked respectfully and without judgement (i.e., if you don't agree with what the parent is going to do, just thank them for their time, hang up and inform your child that they're not going. You don't need to have a debate with the host parent about their choices when it comes to running a party).

What these three cases highlight is that making these calls can result in better 'parent networks' (and, in Caroline's case, a strong and valuable friendship) that will potentially assist all concerned, particularly as your child gets older and alcohol starts to become a part of the events they will be attending. If you get a difficult parent on the other end of the phone, however, it can be an extremely confronting experience and lead to you never putting the effort in again ...

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