Mama Says: “My Best Friend’s Kids Are Out of Control!”

Dear Mama—I have a sticky dilemma. My best friend’s kids are out of control! We both have 4 and 6 year olds and we started out thinking how perfect the timing was, but now I am not so sure. She caves on everything, gives her kids whatever they want to keep them ‘quiet’, and there are no rules or boundaries. Worst for me is the terrible way they talk to her. I am not saying my kids are perfect, but we are all exhausted after spending time with them. I still keep my rules when we are all together but I am continually interfering before someone gets hurt. I am now trying to find excuses not to see them. She is very dear to me and I want to remain friends but I don’t know how to continue our relationship with her kids’ uncontrolled behavior. I have tried to gently talk to her about what I see, but she shuts down or changes the subject. Help!

Oh Mama this is a hard one. On one hand I run a tight ship when it comes to kids’ behavior (both mine and others)—manners, chores, respect to adults—and on the other I love watching (not participating in) the wild and sometimes explosive energy of learning a new trick, the high-spirited noise of figuring out how to share with someone, the bangs and bumps of navigating new people and territories. In theory your friend may think she is allowing their little spirits full-rein in their development, she may have had controlling and demanding parents where nothing she did was good enough and by golly she is not going to do that with her kids! Believe it or not she is doing the best job she can with the tools she

One thing I DO know, is no one will take parenting advice unless they ask for it. Let me repeat that—no one will listen to your well-intentioned advice unless there is an active interest in hearing it. So forget ‘gently talking to her about it…’ That is not to say you do not have a role in helping her. You are best friends. There is a measure of trust between you, and you are in a good position to be an example of consistent and fair parenting practices, just don’t count on it changing anything until she is ready, and be prepared that she may never be ready.
Here is what I would advise you:
• Go places together where your kids can disperse and play with others to dilute the impact of one-on-one transgressions–playgrounds, beaches, parks, public swimming pools—while you can chat with your friend
• You do have the right to guide all children who enter your house. Remind them when they enter your home it is like a little country with its own rules to follow. That means that everyone in your country needs to obey the rules, then briefly go over the most important issue to you. Just one. You will lose them if you go on and on about all your rules. Some examples:
o “We all speak nicely to each other here…”
o “We only eat at the table and not run around with food…”
o “We don’t hit and grab here. If you want something ask…”

• It is not necessarily a bad thing for your kids to play with troubled kids while you are around. The world is full of troubled people and when we expose our kids to them young, we can explain their behavior and why you think it is happening. Two things occur then: 1) Your children can develop a deeper understanding of humanity in all its forms. 2) You can model how to respond appropriately—hopefully with firm compassion
• If you can, avoid playdates or time spent at her house because she has every right to her own rules in her own little country, UNLESS physical or emotional abuse is happening and then it is important for any adult in the vicinity to step in swiftly. It does take a village to raise a child!
• Remember that all kids need loving adults in their lives, and that they can come from many different directions—grandparents, teachers, neighbors, best friends. You may play a strong and kind role in your best friend’s children’s lives without even knowing it. My philosophy is to err on the side of compassion

I am reluctant to say curb your relationship, or avoid getting together. We need each other, and cutting off a long term friendship requires a great deal of thought. Often the most unlovable among us are the ones that need love the most.

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