Dealing with our friend’s child, when our friend parents different and have different values is one of the topics that often comes up when I’m talking to mothers of toddlers. What do we do when a parent doesn’t take notice of their kid’s misbehaviour? What do we do when it affects our child?
I was recently told this story: A mum had her friend and two little kids (a toddler and a baby) come over for a cuppa and visit. While the two mums sat in the lounge room, the little boy managed to find an empty bottle of hair dye in the bin, helped himself to nappy rash cream from the bathroom, paint from a cupboard, and tipped golden syrup through the pantry. Since the mother didn’t clean him up at any stage the mess was spread to the leather lounge chairs. There was no apology – not even when the mess was commented on. It took a couple of hours to clean up – with a lot of stuff having to be either thrown out or permanently stained.
This is one of the most extreme examples I have ever heard.
What to do? Well, as I encouraged my friend, you can either address it head on and confront your friend for damages (probably not a very nice solution) or you protect yourself next time your friend comes to visit – I suggested meeting in a park!
You may not have had such an extreme thing happen (and I hope not) but we are all familiar with the kids who don’t respect our property or who are mean to our kids and the parents just tune out. I think that is the worst of it – the parents seem to forget they are the parents, and take no responsibility for what their kids do. This irks.
Tips to Help when your Friend’s Child Misbehaves
Though we cannot change our friends, there are a few proactive things we can do when we are in this situation:
—Take our visits somewhere else – for example a park, or their place – be creative!
—Child-proof your house before their visit and put out specific toys or create a specific activity for the kids to play. Our kids don’t have to share their most precious toys with careless kids.
—At the beginning of the visit, make comment that you’d like the kids to play in this specific space today. In doing this up front you are setting the ground rules. Most people will either respond, or if you have to point out that the child has wandered away, they will respond then, or if they don’t, you have grounds to gently go and encourage the child back to the appropriate place. Of course if the child reacts, you have to hand it over to the parent. If the parent reacts, you may have to cut your loses!
—Plan visits for a different time of day – for example, in the evenings when dad can look after the little ones in bed (I know this doesn’t suit everyone, but it is an idea to consider). Or catch up regularly on the phone, and have physical visits less regularly – put it down to a season of life, and when their little one grows up a bit, maybe you can try again.
—Allow our little ones to sit on our knee, a safe place. They don’t have to play with a bully.
—Keep your visits short – this is a bit tricky if they are visiting you, so you may have to find creative ways to bring a visit to an end. For example, plan a playdate/coffee date before another commitment, and tell your friend your time restrictions. Use your timer so you give yourself plenty of time to get them out the door, get yourself ready, and still be punctual.
These are just ideas to help you start thinking of the boundaries you need to set to protect your family. We need to realise that our family comes first and though we want to be hospitable and be a loving friend, we need to set boundaries that protect our family. Hopefully we can do this lovingly but subtly, and that our friends respond; it is always hard to let a friendship go, but sometimes that may be the answer.
How Diligent am I on Playdates?
Whenever I get annoyed at how someone else chooses to live I have to remind myself to do a heart check and to assess how I act in these or similar situations. The question has to be asked: How aware am I of my kids when we are out and about?
It doesn’t matter how exhausted I am, or how needy I am for adult conversation, my children are always my responsibility. This means when I go out for coffee, or a visit to my friends place, I need to make sure that my young children are doing the right thing. I need to make sure that they continue to do the right thing. For this to happen they may need to play nearby so I can see them, I may need to bring some toys so they have something to do, I need to be prepared to interrupt my conversation in order to help my child, I may need to cut my visit short if they are not doing the right thing and are unable to respond to my correction appropriately.
Please note, I am not saying that we let our children do whatever they want (isn’t that the scenario I started out with), but rather that we are responsible to continue training our children in respect, obedience, self-control etc even when we are out and about.
This means that for many years, catching up with friends is spasmodic, interrupted, and often unfinished. I remember going on playdates/coffee dates (because my kids played while I visited!) and coming home, only to phone my friend, once my kids were having their nap, to finish our conversation. Being a mum means having many unfinished conversations! But it is a seasonal thing.
The benefit of being prepared to deal with your children even when you are visiting is twofold:
- Your children learn how to play appropriately at other people’s places – because you have shown them by your consistency what is the right way to behave.
- Your friends will be more than happy to have you visit
We cannot change our friends parenting style or values. All we can do is live by our own values and respond to any person or circumstance with character – with grace and yet good stewardship, with love and forgiveness, and yet with discernment. And most of all, we need to ensure that we ourselves are diligent in our parenting.
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