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.