Let’s pretend I’m talking to a friend. One of my children decide they need me right now. However, the rule is ,if there are no broken bones, blood, or vomiting then don’t interrupt. You wait your turn.
I glance over to inspect the situation. No broken bones, blood or vomit. My attention goes back to my friend.
Again, I take a quick inventory. It has not changed. I keep engaging in my adult conversation.
A finger shoots up signaling “you better shut up right now or I am going to hurt you”. (No, not my middle finger. Although I’m probably thinking it).
“Could you excuse me for just a moment Sally Sue? Apparently I am needed.”
Then we proceed to have a very in-your-face, intimate conversation that might start with, “What in the world is so important that you had to interrupt?!”
If my children pull me away from a conversation with someone else, it better be important. My children are my number one priority, no doubt, and I am privileged to be a parent. However, it is important for my children to become adults that respect their peers and respect authority. They need to learn patience. I want them to become independent problem solvers. I also want them to understand that the world does not now, nor will it EVER, revolve around them.Thus the reason why I will not answer them right away when I am engaged in a conversation with someone else (unless, of course, it is an emergency).
I have a friend that feels differently. It is not uncommon for us to be engaged in a conversation and her child interrupt us for various reasons:
- She wants mom to see the picture she colored.
- She wants mom to help build Legos.
- She wants mom to have a tea party with her dolls.
- She wants mom to wipe her arse.
It is humiliating really. The message being sent is that no one else in the room is more important than this child. And it doesn’t only effect my relationship with this friend, but any chance of a healthy relationship I could have with this child. This child has no respect for me and she will never see me as an authority figure. I am one of her mother’s accessories.
I remember my mom telling me once about some friends she and dad had when they were a young couple. They were close enough they even vacationed together. When both couples started having children, it seemed like the perfect situation: close friends with children the same age. Unfortunately, it was a disaster. The other couple’s parenting style was intensely different. The child was put on a pedestal and treated like a Queen. She could interrupt any conversation in progress, participate in adult activities at will, and talk to the adults like they were her peers. She did not get along with us I am told (I was too young to remember, although I have a vague recollection of some random child torturing one of my dolls at the beach). On top of that, the parents openly argued about how to discipline and one parent would always usurp the other parent’s authority. My mom said it was painful to see her friendship fall apart, and it was even more painful to admit that it was hard to like this child. But at the end of the day, it was the result of her friend’s parenting style. The friendship dissolved.
It stinks to give up a friendship that you’ve invested so much of yourself. But sometimes you have no choice.
I’ve been in a similar situation before. In the beginning I thought it was just me that didn’t enjoy my friend’s children.
” Well,” I thought, ” I can put up with it for a short amount of time”.
But it became hard to respect my friend after a while when we had such different visions of parenting and different definitions of what was a well-mannered child. I also started to realize that maintaining this friendship was putting my children in an uncomfortable situation – being bullied, disrespected, ignored, etc. First I handled it with avoiding time with my friend as families and just trying to spend time with her alone. When that became impossible or too obvious, I started avoiding my friend all together so that I didn’t have to make up excuses why my family wasn’t available any more. Pretty soon, my friend just quit trying and the relationship disappeared.
I have a huge regret. I should have been honest. As painful as it would have been to say, “I enjoy your company but not the company of your child…” it would have been the right thing to do. I owed her that much, after all, I really did enjoy her and we had built a relationship. Plus, there wouldn’t have been such a mystery as to why we weren’t hanging out together anymore. Perhaps it would have given each of us an opportunity to take a closer look at how we parent, figure out what works and doesn’t work, learn from each other. I know it probably would have ended our friendship anyway because she would have been offended. Or maybe it might not have ended. I’ll never know. Now I will forever be “the friend that just quit being a friend for no reason at all”.
The people we are before children are not always the people we become after children. Children change us – sometimes they ground us, help us re-prioritize, even inspire us to be better people. But sometimes, they cause us to lose ourselves and that is not a healthy change. Our responsibility as parents is not to be their friend, or to make them happy all the time or even to be their constant, private cheering section. Our job is to equip them to be the best adults they can be in the future. One way to impress that message on them, is to surround ourselves with like-minded parents too. When we continually put our children in situations where we have to justify our parenting decisions or explain someone else’s, we are giving our children mixed messages. We are making our job of setting limits and boundaries twice as hard.
And if you find that your friendships are disappearing unexplainably or that your child continually has trouble getting along with everyone else’s child, perhaps you aren’t looking at the situation objectively enough.
Maybe it is your child, or the way you parent your child, that is getting in the way. Is it time to stop putting the blame on everyone else?
It can’t always be someone else’s kid that is the problem. Sometimes, we need to open our eyes and take a good look in the mirror.