One Woman Hates Her Friend's Kids. Another Hates Her Own Kid. I Have Advice For Both.
It can be sexist to tell women to calm down but in this case they really should.
In today’s edition of “People Sent Questions To Other Advice Columnists But I Am Answering Them Because No One Sent Me Any Questions This Week Even Though I Set Up A Whole Email Account For That Purpose,” we have two letters that were published in Slate. The first is about a woman who hates her friend’s children. The second is about a woman who hates her own.
The Mom Who Hates Her Friend’s Kids
Dear Care and Feeding,
I recently hosted an event at my house. My best friend came with her husband and children, 4 and 6, who I love very much. I had never seen these children outside of their own home (thanks, COVID) and I was surprised at their behavior. I was even more shocked by the response (or lack thereof) from their parents. They were running around, throwing my child’s toys, and even hanging from my banister. When I tried to redirect, the children either told me “no” or the parents made some excuse. Even when I said I was worried they’d get hurt, they didn’t seem concerned as “it happens at our house all the time.”
Their father also laughed at their antics, and I had to firmly tell one of the children what I expected him to do (pick up the toys and hand them to me—do not throw them in the air and let them fall to the ground), which he did. The parents were strict on certain things, like making them say please and thank you when they wanted something, but they were lax with other situations. My best friend means the world to me, but I don’t know how to approach this, or subsequent get-togethers, as my husband doesn’t want them in our house again, and the other guests were equally vocal to me. Any advice on how to handle this situation without losing my best friend?
—Not On The Same Page
Dear Not On The Same Page,
Calm down, Lilith Crane from Frasier.
Let me give you some facts about the way the world works before we talk specifically about your letter, ok?
The details of a person’s life are almost always acquitting. You don’t name lobsters you intend to boil, and you don’t learn the backstories of people you want to dismiss as cartoon villains.
A person may do evil, but that does not mean they are an evil person, if you know enough about them to empathize with them. This applies to children too.
Children misbehave. Sometimes they are hyper and annoying and sometimes they are tired and annoying. If you are their parent, you spend so much time with your children that you also get to experience them in the Goldilocks moments when they’re delightful. And because you’re their parent, you have vast supplies of knowledge about their lives, their souls, and their hearts. This supply is exceeded by your inexhaustible empathy for your children.
When they act up, you can tell yourself in an instant an entire novel’s worth of backstory.
You see the best in your children, but you, understandably, do not instinctively do that with all children. As you get to know another child, you learn more about them, and your familiarity breeds fondness, which is why people do often lend love to children outside of their family who they spend lots of time with.
This situation described in the letter is about two children you have no familiarity with. You are very fond of their parents, but fondness for a parent does not equal fondness for their children.
No one likes other people’s children at first. I mean, pedophiles do, but aside from them, it’s pretty standard for adults to love their own kids but find other people’s kids mostly annoying. Having thoughts of not liking other people’s kids is human and normal and something that lives inside of you. And that’s where it should stay. Discretion is the act of an adult and that is why lending voice to these thoughts is not something people normally do.
Children drive their parents mad and their parents love them! Of course, you hate children who reside on the periphery of your existence, mean nothing to you specifically, and only ever come into your focus when they’re throwing a tantrum at the airport. But you keep it to yourself. (Unless you’re a psychopath.)
You know someone’s child annoys you, but you also know that you don’t have the full picture and are not interpreting them as generously as their parents, so you fake it. You grin and bear it. You put up with them and it sucks and you put up with them and it fucking sucks and put. up. with. them. because. you. do. not. want. to. go. insane. and then at some point down the line, you realize that you have grown to know them and think kindly of them and have good hopes for them and then it becomes much easier to put up with them.
Now there are exceptional cases, obviously. Some kids are terrible swine. But you can’t know that from one afternoon.
What sort of event was this? I’m imagining a BBQ or something like that where there was a mix of adults and children in a casual situation. (If that is wrong and this was a formal function, then you made a mistake by inviting these children you’d never met.)
The children’s behavior
These kids are 4 and 6. They are young. They are also coming out of the pandemic and that played a role in their early development. They are experiencing things for the first time. I’m sure the pandemic was pretty rough for you and your husband…and you’re adults!
Sometimes kids that age act up. It doesn’t sound like they burned your house down. It sounds like a pretty standard children misbehaving sort of thing. This means you are not allowed to conclude they are rotten after a few hours spent with them in a new environment.
The children’s father
You say he laughed at his kid’s hijinks. You seem to suggest that means it was an endorsement of the kids’ behavior and from that you conclude that the father is a bad parent who lets them get away with banister-hanging every day. Maybe this is true, but you don’t have enough information to conclude that. Parents get very anxious when their children act up in public, especially when they do it in front of their friends. They get flummoxed and embarrassed and flummoxed embarrassed people sometimes awkwardly try to minimize their child’s behavior.
You say your husband doesn’t want the kids back in his house. Property laws are what they are so you are under no obligation to let these kids back over. But I think your husband is jumping to conclusions. I’m sure your children have acted up once or twice. Does he think they should be banned for life from McDonald’s because one of them pissed in the ball pit?
Your other guests
The ones you say complained to you about the children.
This might be true. Maybe they did complain about it in strenuous terms. But I think they probably did it in less strenuous terms, and if they are also parents then they may have done it in the context of bragging about their own children. Or to compliment you for your children.
It’s also possible, I must point out, that they didn’t complain and that you either intentionally or not are conflating everyone at the event with your husband. It’s ok if you are doing that. You’re imperfect! And it fortunately leads to the answer to your question.
How should you broach this topic with the parents of the Bad Kids?
I really think you all might be overreacting. You need to give the children more opportunities in other contexts before you pass judgment on their eternal souls.
If the kids are such little rats then you are probably not going to be the first people to complain about them. You will not be delivering new information. There is nothing to gain.
It’s just going to embarrass the parents and make them defensive. There is no version of talking to them which doesn’t involve them talking shit about you privately to each other the first chance they get. That’s not the end of the world, but it is something to keep in mind.
There is just virtually no world in which you bringing this up to them actually leads to positive outcomes. Parents aren’t wired that way. Humans aren’t wired that way. If they need to be stricter with their children, that is something they have to decide to do on their own. (And they may have well decided this already! You don’t know! You’ve only seen them with their children once!)
Now, if it keeps happening and you decide you really can’t have these kids in your house because of insurance reasons, and you’ve made peace with the fact that no good will come from it, but you still insist on scratching the itch and confronting the parents…blame the guests.
How to make this particular mistake
Couch all of your husband and your complaints in a way that attributes them to your unnamed guests. DO NOT NAME THE GUESTS. You will be asked to provide their names but do not do it. Anyone who has ever watched a soap opera should understand that will only create new drama.
In the conversation, take the parents’ side. You are enlightened and know the children are little angels who were just having a bit of a bad day, but your guests? Well, they are unenlightened judgers.
“Oh, you know how [our social circle] can be,” etc…
There is a vanishingly small chance that this will embarrass the parents enough to actually make them do whatever it is you assume they aren’t doing. That has never happened in the history of parents having friends but, you know, one day a lemming might fly.
They will still get defensive and talk shit about you behind your back, but you can hope that is overwhelmed by the detective work they will be doing trying to guess who the unnamed guest was with a stick up their ass.
This also sets the table for you to tell them in advance next time you have an event that all of your guests need to get babysitters.
What will happen here is that they will say, “Well, at least you’ll be able to see our cherubic kids in one on one playdates. Maybe we can all go to the park for a picnic next week.”
If you and your husband really refuse to see these children ever again, even when it’s just you and your kids and them and their kids, then go to a therapist. And while you’re waiting for an appointment to open up to get your brain examined, lie to them and say you’re busy next week and your husband gets hay fever and can’t go to the park.
The Mom Who Thinks Her Daughter Is A Freak
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