Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I are planning our summer vacation and are considering inviting one of our daughter’s friends to join us. I know it sounds like a great idea, but I’m sure there are all sorts of potential pitfalls. What do we need to watch out for?
A: You’re right. There are plenty of ways your plan could go awry. Here are a few steps you can take to minimize the potential hazards.
Get permission. If your daughter’s friend has divorced or separated parents, make sure you get written permission from both parents. If this sounds odd, consider that single parents can’t generally take a child outside the U.S. without written permission from the other parent or legal proof of having sole legal and physical custody or documentation that the other parent is either dead or can’t be found.
Plan. If you don’t know your daughter’s friend pretty well, invite her to dinner first or at least make sure you spend some time together so you can all get to know each other. If your daughter is thinking of inviting a boy (or a romantic interest of either sex), you’ll need to set up a few family-only dinners to clarify exactly what your thoughts are on that issue, as well as your expectations. This can be a big deal, so you and your wife might want to have a few conversations first to be sure that you’re both on the same page before you lay down the law for your daughter.
Discipline. Sometimes your children will behave better in your presence because they don’t want to be disciplined in front of their peers (other times they behave worse, because they want to show off how much they can get away with). Someone else’s philosophy of discipline may not be yours but it’s fine to explain that during the trip, your daughter’s friend will have to abide by your rules or go home. Smaller children may not understand so readily why your expectations differ from their parents’, but the same guidelines should apply. That said, if you happen to know that your methods of disciplining are very different from that of the parents of your daughter’s friend, I would recommend postponing travel together until their child has experienced other authority figures and has learned to adapt to different situations.
Logistics. Be ready to adapt to traveling with a larger number by arriving early to a restaurant or making a reservation to accommodate your group size. Also, be flexible enough to split up the group, for example, in a movie theater, if you can’t find seats all together.
Who pays. Be clear with the other child’s parents about which expenses you are willing to cover and which ones you expect them to cover. The more specific, the better. If one or more of your guests are paying for their own meals, it’s easier to keep an expense log and settle the bills later, rather than collecting money at every meal. If you discuss the arrangements verbally, follow up with a note so that you’ve got a nice, detailed paper trail.