Ask Alice – Advice for All

I don’t know how to handle a situation involving good friends who treat their children so differently from the way my husband and I treat ours.

Published August 22, 2014 5:00 AM
3 min read

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ask-alice-thI don’t know how to handle a situation involving good friends who treat their children so differently from the way my husband and I treat ours.

 

ask-aliceDear Alice,

I don’t know how to handle a situation involving good friends who treat their children so differently from the way my husband and I treat ours. We often travel with these friends and see them regularly for family dinners. The father was my husband’s college roommate, and their friendship has been important to my husband.

Our two families do lots of things together, including trips, but we’re increasingly troubled by the way our friends treat their children. When their children misbehave, the parents are very harsh, calling them names, such as “stupid” or “lazy.” We are upset by their verbal abuse. Their children seem scared and unhappy, and we don’t want our children to see this.

How do we deal with such different values and behaviors? My husband wants to continue to see his friend, but our time together as families has become intolerable. Do you have any suggestions on how we can deal with this problem?

Distressed

 

Dear Distressed,

Your upset is understandable. You are right to be uncomfortable when your friends call their children stupid or lazy. Labels do stick — children will often identify with these labels and see themselves as negatively as their parents do. Ironically, parents assume that by calling their children hostile names, the children will miraculously change their behavior.

Now for what you can do. I suggest you avoid family gatherings with them. You don’t want to experience this mistreatment, and I agree that your children don’t need to be exposed to it either. Perhaps you and your husband can arrange to see this couple for dinner without their children. If they push family outings, plead being very busy. There is always the possibility they may ask you if they’ve done something to offend you. It is always risky to tell someone exactly what bothers you, but if they insist on knowing, explain that you are uncomfortable with the way they criticize their children. If they push you for an explanation, assume that they want the truth. Your husband could have this conversation with his friend, since they’ve a long-term relationship.

Perhaps this couple doesn’t realize how negative they are being. Having a “light” shine on their behavior could be a gift to them and improve the well being of their children. Their family might benefit from your observations. If you are inclined to tell them what the problem is, and they end your friendship, this was not a friendship worth continuing.

Friendships are often challenged when children come into the picture. Since your friends do not share your standards, you are not obligated to subject your family to their behavior. Continue to be strong in your beliefs.

— Alice

 

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