Good Fences Make Good Neighbors? What is Swing Set Protocol?

Recently, we ran into a situation that I am sure is common across America. We have a swing set and our neighbors don’t. When we first put it in, our neighbors behind us (whom we don’t know very well) came by, and we—in an effort to be friendly—said they should feel feel free to use it. It seemed like the right thing to say at the time.

Everything started off fine, but we soon noticed that these neighbors were using our swing set and backyard as if it were their own. Our swing set is not very fancy, and it cannot take weight from more than a child or two at a time. I had to ask the husband not to hang off it one of the first times he was out there. One a few occasions, they sent over their kids to use the swing set with someone else such as their grandparents or a babysitter (who also hung off the monkey bars until I came out and asked her not to). They also left some toys in our sandbox and came over and used the swing set one night while we were eating with guests on our deck (who commented that it was very awkward). We also saw their kids bike through our yard on several occasions, which is something we don’t even let our own children do. And these are people we don’t even have any real social relationship with.

I was initially reluctant to say anything because I did not want to make things awkward or come across as unfriendly. And while I worried about people getting hurt, I hate the litigious nature of our society and did not want to hide behind the liability angle. Then, last Sunday, our neighbors held a big party for friends with children, and we came home to find unsupervised kids playing and biking in our back yard. Several kids were on the swing, and some were way too big for it. They were climbing on top and creating a very notable bend. We watched for a while from our window and most of the time no adults were supervising them. This was the breaking point for me. I went over and made a somewhat regrettable scene in the middle of their dinner party. I was angry because I felt they were being completely disrespectful of our property and our space. It’s one thing to invite a neighbor to use your things; it’s another for them to extend that invitation to others without your permission.

So now things are, as predicted, a bit awkward. When cooler heads prevailed, I told them I was happy for our kids to play together on the swing set, but I’d appreciate it if they wouldn’t use it without us there—so now the boundaries have been set. I also told them I don’t care if people run through our yard, but I would prefer that they keep their bikes in their own yard or driveway. The odd thing is, they don’t seem to feel as if they did anything wrong, which I just can’t understand. But, I guess that’s how we got into this in the first place.

So my question to you all is, what is the protocol when one neighbor has a swing set and the other does not? When you extend an invitation, do you need to set limits? Should the neighbor without the swing set ask each time? I’d be curious to hear people’s own stories and suggestions about how they have dealt with this issue.

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4 Responses to Good Fences Make Good Neighbors? What is Swing Set Protocol?

  1. photomom says:


    Sounds like your neighbors are the same sort of folks that make lousy house guests when the come to visit — basically, their parents never taught them how to be a good guest.

    We have a play set and our neighbors do not! We also have a fence. However, the fence actually has a gate connecting our backyard to our neighbor’s. We also have trees that were put in during a property line dispute with them covering up the gate for a 4 yr. period- but that’s water under the bridge now:) – true story…we’re friends again…

    Anyhoo, before coming over, the girl next door yells over to us,”Can I play with Janey?” And I say yes or no if it’s inconvenient. In the beginning, the neighbor and I agreed upon some very basic ground rules and she happens to be very respectful. It’s a very easy setup. The only uncomfortable part comes when my daughter has a friend over without inviting the neighbor or vice versa.

    I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when you stormed in on their dinner party – very entertaining to the guests I’m sure! But I think the bottom line is communication and being extremely clear and direct which you obviously have done. Time is a great healer – the 4 year dispute we had as an example – so just continue to be pleasant, but clear. Good luck!

  2. For many years my neighbor and I shared a lawnmower. I made the upfront purchase and he filled it up with gas every few weeks. This was an openly discussed agreement and it seemed to work. I liked the opportunity to share the expense and have a mutual agreement that worked for both of us. Then my neighbor bought himself a very expensive snow blower. He made it quite clear that this was not like the lawnmower when he said, “so when are you getting yours?” He also bought a lawnmower the following summer season making sure there would be no mistaking the new arrangement. We now have separate garden equipment. An unnecessary expense for both parties. These things are complicated and strangely political.

  3. Jack Tors says:

    I have to agree with Mr. Banfield. During the Clinton years and the 90s things were great in my neighborhood. The economy was booming and we would all share each other’s BBQ equipment, children’s swing sets, and even lawn and garden equipment (for example lawn mowers, weed whackers, etc.). Following the disputed election of 2000 and the increasing partisanship of the 00s, exacerbated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, sub-prime mortgage mess, and the housing bubble, our neighborhood has been sharply divided along political lines. Case in point. I am a Democrat and my neighbor in the house behind ours is a Republican. We have gotten along terrifically for over 15 years and our children have grown up together. We would always share everything: our yard and swing set was open to them and their pool and jacuzzi was open to us. All of this changed when I had the audacity to place several Obama ’08, “Yes We Can” signs and placards on my front lawn and house. “You will do well to stay off my property” was the note from my neighbor surreptitiously slid between my screen door. When I approached my neighbor to try to straighten things out he would have nothing of it. Now, my family and I are banned from interacting with our neighbors and enjoying their pool and jacuzzi. It’s strange because we weathered the Lewinsky scandal, Whitewater investigations, and everything without any problem. And as you might have guessed, there was a counter attack of McCain 08 signs placed on my neighbor’s lawn, not surprisingly, strategically positioned so that I see them every morning and night.

  4. Brent says:

    You Gotta love the burbs!

    If I were you, I would take the hit and buy the greedy neighbors a swing set for their yard! $100 and they are out of your hair FOREVER!!!

    A hundo well spent if you ask me.

    Good Luck!

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