It started so perfectly: a new lady moved to town and sat next to me at church. Her baby was a little older than mine, dressed in the same Sam’s Club plaid overalls. It was an instant conversation starter and she made me laugh. Not long later, Monica (names have been changed) invited me over. Things were fine till I saw her interact with all three of her children. They were out of control and didn’t listen to a word she said. It happens to us all sometimes, so I felt sheepish for her and moved on. But it happened again and again, every time I spent time with their family.
One night I was over to watch a movie after the kids went down. Monica tried to bribe the 9-year-old to put the 5-year-old to bed. At the park one evening for a picnic, same thing. “I’ll give you a dollar if you take your brother to get a drink.” Really?
I have another friend, Kathy, with whom I love to discuss books. We each worked as English teachers before having kids and are both avid readers. I love Kathy’s brain—she’s an interesting, intelligent woman.
Kathy has a horrible child. He’s difficult in every possible way. He doesn’t sleep, even as a 5-year-old, obsesses about things, and has a lot of issues with his rear end. Though Kathy and her son are hard to be with, I’ve always suspected the boy has some developmental problems and have accepted him as such. Kathy also has a younger daughter; mom thinks the sun rises and sets with this little girl. When the kid screams, Kathy smiles at her independence. When the girl hits her mother, Kathy concedes ground and does whatever the kid tells her.
Is it possible to stay friends with women when you can’t stand how they raise their kids? I like a lot of things about both Monica and Kathy. If I didn’t, this wouldn’t even be an issue. As women, I want to be friends. As mothers, I don’t want to be anywhere near them.
For a while, Kathy and I had a time out. I had to tell her that my son didn’t want to play; who would? Her kid always hurts mine and is sticking his fingers up his butt. It was awkward. I blamed it on my son which wasn’t fair. Sure my son didn’t want to play, but I make him do lots of things he doesn’t enjoy. The truth is, it wasn’t pleasant for me to be around them. It is hard to bite your tongue constantly when you see kids out of control.
After about six months, I called Kathy and invited her and the kids over to play. I figured the kids might have grown up a little, we’d try again. The boy had grown up. He was taller and stronger and more verbal. The girl was pure terror to her mother—pulling and demanding and tantruming.
As for Monica, I’d say we’re associates now. I miss her great creative qualities. But I genuinely can’t respect her after seeing her with the kids. And she’s pregnant with number four—I can’t imagine how that will improve the mix.
I feel judgmental when I say that I can’t be friends with these women. I disagree with lots of people, including my sisters and my husband, about what good parenting looks like. There’s a lot of wiggle room in the equation. The mom down the street who is neurotic about safety; I think she’s over the top but she’s doing what she thinks is best. There’s much to respect even about various parenting strategies, and I have many friends who have do things in alternate ways.
I think the problem for me is how Kathy and Monica have essentially given up, even though their kids are still quite young. Yes, parenting is hella hard. Yes, I hate correcting my boys and making them go to bed and listen and a hundred other things. I’m frequently tempted to scrap it all and let them be in charge.
I don’t do it though. Maybe because I spent enough years teaching at an alternative high school where parents would talk to me, wanting to build a relationship with their teenager. Inevitably I would think, it’s kind of too late. You have to work on that every day for fifteen years.
I don’t respect people who don’t take parenting seriously. This is the biggest deal out there. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but at least I’m trying. If you want to be my friend and you’ve got kids, it turns out I have some requirements.
What it comes down to is this: you have to be the adult. That doesn’t mean you get it right every time. It means you don’t let your kids boss you around, hit you, defy you, at every turn.
If that isn’t your vision of how you want things to be with your kids, then I guess we aren’t going to be able to hang out. I’m sorry.