I once wrote an article about Five BS Excuses Parents Give for Mean Girls. While most of the feedback was extremely positive, there was a very vocal group that basically called my article, well, BS.
Normally negative feedback gives me anxiety. It rips my heart to shreds and grows the pocket of insecurity that steeps deep in my veins. But these comments — some polite and articulate and some calling me a fool — well, it just made me think. And I can’t shake it off.
There seems to be a major divide when it comes to interfering on your child’s behalf when it comes to their relationships. Some people look at it in a positive way — tweens and young teens do not have the emotional intelligence to deal with some of these issues, so when possible, it can be effective for all involved to sit down together and hash things out. And even when the issue is a misunderstanding — and especially if there was an established friendship between families — you let the other person know that their feelings matter and you exemplify how two people can resolve conflict in a peaceful and mature way. If your child was the one doing something wrong, you also could make them accountable for their behavior.
Other people think I am smoking the crack pipe. Kids need to work things out on their own. Calling another mom is a ridiculous notion and borderlines on helicopter parenting. We can only control our own responses to abhorrent behavior, and we cannot get involved in the way other people raise their kids. Meanness is a part of life, and we need to prepare our kids for it early and often.
I am having a real internal struggle with this one. On one hand, I agree that as parents we have to resist the urge to “fix” all our kids’ problems. We have to prepare them for the big, ugly world out there. It’s my job to both toughen my kid up while also teaching them how to address problems and resolve conflict — two very important life skills.
On the other hand, I think of the tweens and young teens I know and the emotional range of these kids is vast. Some are full of empathy and maturity and kindness, and others are completely egocentric or obtuse or just plain clueless.
The kids under my roof have all the aforementioned characteristics. Even with my guidance, I am not sure how well they could get a relationship they care about back on track — whether it was their fault or not.
To interfere or not to interfere, that is the question.
I loved this recent article on Scary Mommy entitled: “I Want to Know if My Kid is Being an Asshole.” Most parents chimed in that they, too, would want to know, but the underlying problem is how we react when someone approaches us about the unflattering behavior of our children.
We may think we want to know, but how we choose to handle that information, and how we treat the messenger, is what makes the difference.
Of course, a lot of how this type of conversation goes depends on things like how well you already know the other parent. Calling up someone you’ve never shared more than a parking lot greeting with is a whole lot harder than sitting down over a cozy cup of tea with a friend, especially if what you’re saying is likely to make them uncomfortable or defensive.
But there are ways to approach other parents without making it a hostile situation. Most of these are related to not what you say, but how you say it. For example, it’s important to ensure the other person knows that you’re sharing information and not calling them out on what a crappy parent they are; not participating in a tit for tat war on who has done the most dubious acts; and that the goal is to figure out how to get everyone back on track. And it’s important to remember that everyone will always be looking out for their own kid’s best interests.
In my mind, it might seem like interfering — or perhaps even tattling — but when you talk to another parent, you’re modeling grown-up behavior for your child. Kids today often rely on texting or social media for communication. By attempting to have a conversation with another parent about an issue that occurred between adolescents, you are actually demonstrating what mature adults do. If two people have a problem, no one should have to suffer in silence. If the other parent does not cooperate or takes the conversation to a bad place, then you can model that sometimes it is okay to walk away from a bad situation. When kids have a problem, it’s still important to think of other parents as allies, not enemies.
If you are on the receiving end of a parent who is informing you of a problem between your kids, or maybe even some illicit behaviors your chid may be involved with, then how you react is even more important. In the first instance, taking the other person’s feelings into consideration — no matter how irrational or inconsequential they may seem to you — models empathy and compassion. Justifying your child’s actions away or belittling someone’s opinion is not parenting. It’s enabling.
In the second instance, if another parent approaches you about your child doing something unhealthy, unsafe, or perhaps even illegal, the first thing you need to realize is how difficult it is for one parent to approach another about a topic like this. Force yourself to believe the other person is operating with a positive intent, even if you believe they may be experiencing some satisfaction out of your parenting woes. Then, it’s up to you to do some recon on the situation, either by confronting your child or increasing the supervision of your child.
Perspective is in the eye of the beholder. Since my kids are in their young tweens, I plan on first giving them the tools to help them solve a problem on their own, and then stepping in if it spirals out of control. I know it won’t be easy, but if I can’t show my girls how to repair a relationship, how can I expect them to learn?
To interfere or not to interfere. The answer lies only with you.