Years ago, I knocked on my neighbor’s door to collect my four-year-old daughter from a playdate. My neighbor and stay-at-home-mom comrade in arms opened the door, kept me on the doormat, and said, “Hi. It’s so funny, how your daughter won’t share. It’s just so funny, how she won’t give my daughter a turn with her own toys, in her own house.”
That was our last trip across the street for playdates or anything else. My neighbor showed me her passive-aggressive and after I hastily extracted my kid, I showed her my backside as I walked away, never to return. There were just too many other houses in the ‘hood where passive-aggressive wasn’t the color of the wallpaper. Houses that were more empathetic and less off-putting.
I’m sure my daughter didn’t share well that day. My kids are capable of bad behavior and poor choices, and they were especially so as littles. I’m not an, “Oh, my kids would never do that,” kind of mom. I’m a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the, “Yep, my kids can be royal pains sometimes,” club. And I didn’t take issue with my neighbor wanting to alert me to how my daughter had behaved. I relish a good teaching moment, the same way I do a sunburn, but after an initial flash of, “Really, another one?” I dig in and deal with it. I educate and instruct in hopes of keeping the offense from being committed again.
I did take issue with the manner in which she told me, though. I was sure my neighbor didn’t think my daughter commandeering her daughter’s hula hoop and dress-up box was funny. She told me she did, no less than three times before I was able to flee from her doorstep, but not with a smile on her face, or love in her heart or any empathy or commiseration. She wasn’t spreading mirth. She was spreading aggression, the passive kind, but aggression all the same.
What she was really saying to me was, “Neither my daughter nor I enjoyed our time with your daughter today.” OK. Fair enough. I wasn’t going to argue my kid’s behavior or my neighbor’s perception of it. But I did contest the way she chose to talk to me about her concerns. I wish she had spoken to me in a way that conveyed she knew there was still so much good in my daughter, even though she wouldn’t let go of her daughter’s Breyer horse that day.
That memory came up for me recently when I was pondering a question that’s been popping up in my friend circles with frequency lately. If my kid messes up, hurts someone, behaves badly on social media, causes a problem for themselves or someone else in any way, shape or form—would I want to know about it? Would I want a friend to tell me about it if they found out before I did? My quick and easy answer is a resounding yes because my husband and I are trying to raise good people here, folks.
Mistakes are inevitable but they are also teachable moments. And though kids often learn well and best from the natural consequences of their mistakes alone, I still want to know about their missteps so I can do my job. Which is to set some expectations, lead by example, and guide my children through life towards some end goals. For us, and in short, those goals are love and kindness and safety for themselves and those they interact with. And I can’t do my job well if I’m unaware there’s a circumstance in which I need to rise up in worthiness of my pay grade.
There is a qualifier though. If you become aware that my kid has caused a genuine problem for themselves or someone else, please don’t come at me with the fact that my kid has erred; come to me with that knowledge instead. The difference is not at all subtle. It’s the equivalent of steely eyes, pursed lips and a finger pointed in my face vs. a head tilt and a hand rested on my shoulder. By all means, come to me with concern and care. The light is always green for that. But don’t come at me with indignation and self-righteousness. You’ll run right through a red light if you do and you’ll cause a big wreck.
It stings when our kids make mistakes because as their parents, we tend to take on that mistake, too. We can feel like it was our misstep somehow, like we messed up as well. Our kids’ blunders often hit us right in our parenting guts. When we know our kids know better and they still make bad choices anyway, it can mimic a failure of our own. Working through these inevitable periods of trial and error and living and learning are sensitive and tender times fraught will all kinds of yuck. And the last thing we need is anyone piling on with holier-than-thou judgment, haughtiness or mean-spiritedness.
If you have love in your heart, if you care for our kids and their well-being, please show us by coming to us if you have knowledge of their indiscretions. If you don’t lead with love and you choose to come at us instead, we’ll recognize it instantly and you might indeed risk our friendship. Because it does take a village, we know this already, but we need that village to be full of lovely people who mean well and people who want the best for one and for all to help us raise our kids up in the way we would have them go. Not a village full of the sanctimonious and the smug. Please don’t live there.