I discovered very early on in my mothering career that FOR ME (not saying this is the rule for everyone, of course), I’m incapable of maintaining a friendship with a fellow mom whose parenting style is completely different than mine. Not because I think she’s bad or wrong, but simply because get-togethers involving all of the children will cause my head to explode. If Little Billy is, for example, sitting on top of Chickadee and kicking all of her teeth out one by one (plink! plink! plink!) and Billy’s mom is laughing and saying, “Boys just play really differently than girls, huh?” well, THAT’S A PROBLEM. You know?
My tolerance over the years has grown; I’ll confess that in the early days everyone in my “inner circle” was extremely similar in this regard. My death-grip on The Truth And The Way has relaxed as I’ve mellowed over the years (stop laughing; yes, this is the mellow version of me… scary, I know), and now, sure, I have friends who parent differently, but still, there’s some basic sense of unity there, for sure.
For example—and I know this comes as a HUGE SHOCK—I believe in talking.
(I KNOW! Who could’ve guessed??)
The belief in talking—as it applies to parenting, and other people’s kids—goes something like this: If a child comes to visit and misbehaves, I have no problem explaining the house rules. Monkey used to have a friend who is more of a monkey than he is—this kid was a compulsive furniture-climber. It sort of drove me crazy, because in my house we don’t climb on furniture. In his house, there were different rules. But it wasn’t a big deal; I would simply remind him, “Hey, in our house furniture is not to be climbed on, okay? Please get off the coffee table.”
On the rare occasion when a child visits here and misbehaves in a way that I find truly disrespectful, I have to make a judgment call as to whether the parent needs to be involved. That’s a case-by-case thing; usually I handle it myself, with a quiet but firm tone and, sometimes, the Mama Death Glare, but occasionally I will speak to the kid’s mom about it. “Hey, today when the kids were playing, something happened that I want to let you know about….”
Maybe it’s just me, but if it’s something I feel I can (and have) handled, I don’t then tell the parent about it later. Let’s face it; all kids act up now and then. One little transgression doesn’t worry me. If it’s something that’s really a problem, I’m going to inform the child that I need to talk to Mom about it.
And that brings us back to befriending parents with similar philosophies. My kids are getting old enough, now, that they have friends whose parents I don’t really know, sure; but I’ve been lucky enough here to make a bunch of wonderful friends who DO have kids my kids’ ages, and while we’re all different, I feel like we all hold philosophies which are similar enough, at least. I also feel like I could go to any one of these women with a concern, and likewise that they will tell me if they have one about one of my kids. We all care about all the kids. We have each others’ backs.
I mentioned yesterday that I let the kids go over and play with the neighbors this weekend, which is something I don’t often do. When we moved in, we were thrilled to discover ready-made playmates, the right ages and gender and everything! And it took about a week to figure out that this family and ours have… different philosophies.
I’m not saying they’re wrong. I’m just saying they’re different.
(You know. Different, that’s all. Different in a way that often makes me want to pop the heads off of those kids.)
To make matters worse, the mother is extremely well-meaning and clearly wants for the kids to be bestest pals, and I suspect it’d be okay with her if she and I became buddies as well, but that’s just not in the cards. I can’t explain it. She’s very nice. She’s very generous. We just… don’t have a single thing in common. And her parenting style is made up of a lot, “Oh, you know, he means well”s and “I think she’s just misunderstood” and the like.
But a couple of times a month I let my kids play outside with these other kids for an hour or so. What could happen?
Well, here’s what could happen: Yesterday I was working away here in my office when the neighbor showed up at my door. I was on the phone, but let her in and gestured for her to sit; I finished up my call and asked her what was up. And she said, “Well, I’m not quite sure how to do this, but I wanted to talk to you about Monkey. Mother to mother.”
She then proceeded to go through an extensive recounting of poor behavior my son has been exhibiting while playing with her kids. And it wasn’t just from this weekend; oh no! That would’ve been too easy! No, she wanted to tell me about certain VERY UNACCEPTABLE behaviors she has witnessed repeatedly over the last COUPLE OF MONTHS.
I sat here in my chair and tried not to cry. Because I was mortified.
Finally I managed to ask her why she hadn’t told me this before. Say, the first time it had happened? “Oh, I didn’t want to worry you,” she said. Well, um, why hadn’t she simply told him that such behavior is unacceptable and he needed to go home immediately? “We handled it,” she said.
Really? REALLY? Because walking into my office in the middle of a Monday to detail several months’ worth of misbehavior DOES NOT SOUND LIKE HANDLING IT, to me.
She kept saying that she was telling me “mother to mother” because she was “concerned” and “very worried for Monkey.” I blinked back tears and she kept patting me and saying, “Oh, don’t be upset. I don’t want you to be upset! I’m just trying to help; I thought you ought to know!”
I held it together and thanked her and managed to get her out the door.
I spoke with Otto. I spoke with a friend. I fired off an email to the kids’ counselor.
The kids came home and sent Chickadee off to do something and sat down to talk to Monkey. “Do you want to tell me what happened at the neighbors’ the other day?” His face made it clear that he knew he was busted, and he was very forthcoming about most of what I’d been told. “Sweetie, what in the world would make you think to [insert obnoxious behavior here] NeighborBoy?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” he said, visibly relieved to be asked a question he could actually answer. “NeighborBoy does it to me ALL THE TIME.”
Look; my kid isn’t perfect, and this behavior will be dealt with—believe you me. It’s unacceptable; he knows it; consequences and preventive measures are being put in place, as well as heaps and heaps of that TALKING thing I love. Because you know that I believe everything can be healed if you just TALK ABOUT IT ENOUGH. I’m not saying he’s right. I’m not even saying this is excusable. It’s a problem. It will be handled.
But as for the solicitous mother-to-mother shtick of the neighbor’s? Mother to mother, you deal with something like this the FIRST time it happens. Not two months later when you suddenly decide to be “helpful” with your laundry list of transgressions and “insights” that begin with things like “Well I used to work with abused children and we often saw behavior like this when….”
Pardon my French, but that is absolute fucking bullshit.
I told the neighbor that in the future I would appreciate it if she would send Monkey home immediately if he misbehaves at her house. But we’ll never know if she would’ve complied with my request, because my children are never setting foot on her property again.