When Your Friends Don't Realize What's Wrong With Their Kids
There's a sweet spot in new motherhood where you take your bitty larval human to a playgroup on Wednesday mornings to wobble around on his hands and knees with other larval humans. You coo and cluck with the other young moms for two hours, daydreaming about how your Jack and Meggie's son, Scott, are going to be best friends in first grade, and all is well with the world.
What you don't know is that in two years you'll be trying to push strollers around the elementary school sidewalks with Meggie, whose little Scott has now morphed into a full-blown monster. Her kid has already dug his fingernails into your son's bare leg once that morning, and then he laughed when he made it bleed.
You tried to forgive that, because this is a toddler, right? But when Scott reaches over, pulls Jack's favorite THINGMYKIDCANTSLEEPWITHOUT out of your stroller and tosses it in the gully, Meggie only smiles and says, "Scottie's arms are so strong lately! He's at 75% on the growth chart now."
She never scolds him. She doesn't ask him to get out of the stroller to pick the thing up. She thinks her little hellion is adorable.
You take a deep breath, and while pulling the THINGMYKIDCANTSLEEPWITHOUT out of the mud, you try to remember that Scott was a premie, and how scared Meggie was when he almost died those first weeks, and you try, and try, and try to make the excuses she makes for him. But deep down, you know he's just spoiled, and selfish, and you honestly kind of don't like him right now.
It's a terrible realization, because we want to like all kids, right? But as an older mom, let me just tell you... most mothers experience this feeling at some point or another. It's hard not to when there are selfish kids in the world whose parents seem to have the ability to completely overlook their flaws.
From what I've seen, this tends to be the first big tension between young moms those early years. Then, as toddlers get older, the divide widens. Personalities strengthen. The disparities between what is considered "cute" in one family and "beastly" in another become more evident. Patience wears off. A sense of justice rises. Playgroups and small groups break up. Adult friendships that were once supportive and nurturing fill with irritation. "Why don't you stop your kid from doing ________ to my kid? What kind of person are you that this doesn't bother you? I thought I knew you!"
I remember when this first started happening to me. I was so naive back then, I thought that surely people with similar world views could work little things like this out. What I see now is that there are deep differences in certain women, key influences that took root in us decades ago that have strong impact on how we think children should be trained. And even though some of us might "know" we are "right," when it comes down to the nitty gritty details of what our kids do to each other, we are probably going to disagree on some stuff.
So I'm writing this to do two things. First, if you are a young mom experiencing this social weirdness for the first time, don't feel like you have failed by running into it. This just happens to a ton of moms. It's normal.
And when it comes time for you to make hard decisions about how you and your kids spend your time with others, it's probably going to feel like there's no easy way out. You haven't necessarily messed up when that hits, either. There might not be an easy way out.
It's just awkward when other moms (even moms you love dearly) let their kids do rude, threatening stuff. And even though you can extend love, patience, gentleness, and every generous trait to that mom and her kid, sometimes there's no real solution but making the distance needed to protect your own kids.
There are a few rare friends who will let you address this kind of thing and lovingly find a middle ground with you, but from what I've seen, many moms make these decisions down in their gut. Gut decisions are hard to move around. So if you try gently talking about it, and if that doesn't work, it doesn't mean you've done something wrong. It just means that other family uses rules that don't jive with yours. It's a sad discovery, but it doesn't mean you're a goof up because you couldn't find a pleasant resolution that lets your kids keep playing together all the time. And it doesnt mean there won't come a time later on when the fit works better than it does today.
The second reason I'm writing this is to admit the fact that all of our kids probably already have faults that are going to rub somebody else's parenting the absolute wrong way.
My older kids have issues that I can tell need work and change. Those faults might not drive me absolutely batty (well, some of them do), but even if they don't, I can still tell how my children's faults would be mortal sins in another parenting system. I can tell how what I'm trying to work on slowly over time might even cause another parent to need to make some immediate room until the shift takes place.
See, most of us moms just have this weird soft spot for our own. It's probably good that we have it, because we'd probably kill them if we didn't. That softness helps us be more patient while training instead of harsh and severe. But that soft spot can so easily become a blind spot over time, and most of us have blind spots, too. None of us do this with perfect wisdom, see?
I'm around kids most of the week, and I always have been. Over the past twenty years (as a parent, as a minister to young people, as a teacher) I don't know if I've ever seen a parent who didn't overlook or minimize a severe weakness in his or her kid.
That realization calls me to humility. It asks me to a different sort of love for the moms, toddlers, children, and teenagers who kind of drive me crazy sometimes. I'm not saying that love is always easy, but even as I'm making decisions about healthy boundaries between my children and others, I do need to keep my compassion burning.
A lot of us tend to feel this weird internal pressure to either not notice the really bad stuff in other people's kids or to kind of be disgusted with them because of it, but grace isn't blind, and that's one of the most beautiful things about it. It's not some wishy washy, spineless disregard of wrongs done. It doesn't let a bratty kid destroy your child's life.
Grace looks into a legitimate problem squarely and then sees down the road far enough to claim the beautiful, distant end of what God is doing in a little person; it sees the someday in the present. It frees us up to see the bigger picture of a life in process.
Grace for someone else's irritating kid says, "You know, I'm going to try to work this problem through and help our kids stay close. But if in the end, I need to make a little space here for now, I'm not going to let that present need destroy my vision for a whole person. I'm not going to mark anybody's kid off as a hopeless case. I'm going to believe the best of him, and cheer for him, and expect change. And in whatever (maybe limited) way I can be a part of that process now without hurting my own kids, I want to stay engaged. Because just like God is growing me and my kid up, He's chasing that kid, too."
The older I get, the more I think that kind of relational health allows for an even tighter bond than forcing ourselves to smile stiffly and pretend we don't see the truth. It helps us give each other processing time and breathing room. It keeps our expectations and needs in check. It helps us manage the tasks we have been given and trust (without anxiety) while we leave the rest to God's sovereign care.