Q: My fiancé and I have been together for five years, and our closest married friends are our best man and maid of honor. We spend A LOT of time with them. But within the last year or so, that time together has been getting more and more stressful for me. Our best friends have two children, ages six and two, and we’ve pretty much been around since before they can remember. The issue is… and I really, really hate saying this… our friends’ kids kind of suck.
When we go to our friends’ house (and it is almost always their house, #bedtime) the kids won’t leave us alone. At all. They want to spend every second with us, and if we decline playing with them, we are treated to tantrums and tears, which their parents don’t discourage. We are often enlisted to help with bedtime, which is a tear-stained, scream-filled affair that takes close to an hour. Once the kids are down, we can enjoy a glass of wine and grown-up time with their parents, which is awesome and why I want to hang out with them, but the torment of entertaining their children just to get to that point is exhausting. I frequently suggest we go have dinner or do some activity somewhere, but I always get vetoed because they don’t want to spend money on a babysitter, or they bring the kids who inevitably have a meltdown and we have to leave early. When they come to our house, I spend the entire visit reprimanding the kids (they are very lax in the discipline department) and hardly any time enjoying the visit. I once worked up the nerve to suggest we come over after bedtime, and it was like I suggested we sacrifice a dog.
We don’t seem to have this problem with our other friends, whose children are much better behaved and are capable of playing by themselves. And they don’t climb our furniture and pick on our pets when they visit. This problem has been building so gradually, so I’m at a loss for how to address it. But I’m starting to dread spending time with my best friend, and I don’t know what to do. It know it’s never my place to suggest how they parent, ever. We’re at that place in our lives where we are the only couple without children. I fully understand that means we have to change the nature of how we spend time with the people we love. And for the most part, that hasn’t been a huge problem. Do I just have to suck this up until they’re grown? Do I sound like a terrible person?
A: Dear Anonymous,
Not terrible. I’m a mom of three, and I still think kids can be the actual worst.
But it sounds like what’s bothering you here isn’t exactly these kids, but the way your friends are choosing to parent them. You mention that they aren’t disciplining them, that they aren’t discouraging certain behaviors. That’s a bit different than, “Ugh, this obnoxious kid is so irritating to be around,” if only because you’re holding the kiddo behavior against the parents. That resentment won’t help anybody. So knock it off.
It’s easy to chalk different kids with different temperaments up to “good raising” versus “bad raising.” Some kids make parenting look easy, and the parents look like pros. Some… do not. Because honestly, some kids are just different. Louder, rowdier, filled with more energy and enthusiasm and curiosity. And those kids sometimes need to be handled differently. Yeah, little Olivia might be quieter, or wee Jackson doesn’t run around indoors, but that’s not necessarily because their folks are better at parenting. It may just be their temperaments, or that they’re wired to respond better to traditional discipline. In an ideal world, all kids would be equipped to follow the same rules and there could be expectations across the board. But people in general aren’t built that way, and it’s at its most obvious with the under-six crowd.
So try to change that mindset. Stop thinking about how your friends could be doing this better, and that’ll help you to stop blaming and resenting them. Instead, imagine that maybe these kids can be difficult for the parents, too. Assume it isn’t a fun situation for them, either, to feel like they can’t see you without unloading a ton of cash on a sitter, or shuffling out of dinner early because of an embarrassing tantrum. You suffer through it once in awhile. Imagine that this god-awful bedtime routine is something they have to endure nightly. See if thinking about things this way helps to change how you’d like to address it. Maybe (hopefully) from, “Uuuuuuugh why have you done this and why don’t you just FIX it,” to, “Whoa, this seems hard, how can I help?”
And in that frame of mind, give your friends a call. Be honest(ish). Clearly you’re not gonna say, “Hello, your children are demon spawn, how might I best avoid them?” But instead, something closer to, “I love spending time with you, but I feel like our time together gets diverted when the kids are around. How can we have some one-on-one time?” You mention they’ve shot down your ideas. See what they’ve got.
If coming to your place again seems like a possibility, it’s totally fair for you to establish boundaries in your own home, just as long as everyone is aware of them. Stuff you take for granted, like not climbing on furniture, may not be a rule in their house. Again, just a short honest(ish) conversation with the parents: “I worry when the kids start tormenting Buster. How can we keep them from bugging the dog?”
It’s irritating to be around some kids. It’s frustrating to see parents raise them in a way that (at least you think) you never would. And it’s hurtful to know that you’re not top priority for your friends because of their life choices. But, coming at the whole thing with a little understanding for the kids and a little compassion for the adults will make it easier to handle.
With any luck, maybe the little hellbeasts will outgrow this phase. It might be worth sticking around.
Editor’s note: For more reading on not-so-easy kids, you can start with this primer on spirited children. (Because no, that’s not another term for brat.) And this fascinating Mother Jones articles outlines a lot of the more up-to-date research about discipline, and it outlines how (and why) approaches have changed.