05 December 2006

How to deal with a friend who's overprotective of her children? Talk amongst yourselves.

My heart went out to this reader when I read this note. I too had a run-in like this when my first child was a baby, and it left me dumbfounded:

Five of us are in a mom's group, and our kiddos are about 10 months old.  About three weeks ago, we were all at the park.  My girlfriend’s baby put his fingers in my son’s mouth and (we can all guess what happened next) my child bit her baby's fingers – not hard, but it hurt. She swooped him up and proceeded to get more and more upset.  I was a little shocked as my child was laughing as he always does; he’s a very happy, jolly kid.

Anyway, four days later, she called me and told me that she can no longer have her child around my child as he’s a danger and for the safety of her child and other children, she advised me to not make plans with the group and that we could no longer hang out. She was dissolving our friendship over finger-biting infants!  How ridiculous, I thought.  However, I was upset, appalled, hurt and confused, too.  Aren’t they just kids? Three weeks later, the entire group still had not called me.

What do other parents do when they feel that other kids pose a danger to their child?  Do overprotective moms actually keep and maintain friendships?  Are their children growing up to be little cranky, whiny wimps?  I am not sure.  I sure wish I had a snapshot of a few years down the road.  I have never had this come up in my life.  My kid is not a bully; I am just shocked about the ridiculous behavior of this young, new mom.

This is a biggie, because on the one hand, we all want to keep our kids safe, which sometimes gives rise to awkward social interactions. On the other hand, this situation is extreme (the kid's only ten months old!). Anyone with experience to share?

Update: The overprotective mom in question has since called and apologized for her behavior.

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Excuse me? If the story is truly as described, you've got a bigger problem here than the one mom. HER child stuck their fingers in your child's mouth, got chomped and the whole group bought this boycott of hers? Little kids figure anything shoved into their mouths is fair game. I'd be more concerned about the dynamic of the whole group in relation to this other mom, and I'd be looking for a new play group.

I think it's clear that the worried mom's response was WAY out of proportion - I mean, hello? they're BABIES, of course he will byte whatever 's in his mouth. But I also think this demonstrates the trickiness of the many parents/many babies interactions.

Everyone has their own idea as to what is okay and what is not, much like every baby has a different temper - some are more physical and will willingly bump into each other while others are much more gentle and will cry over the slightest intrusion of their personal space.

Because there are really no rules and norms and discipline you can apply to this kind of situation, the key here, IMO, is to find parents that share your instincts regarding the proper response to "misbehaviors". As your baby become toddler and will need more real discipline, you'll find it much easier if the parents in your playgroup have the same notions about it, and do not expect you to be very harsh with him over something you find slight, as I would expect the worried mom to do, judging by this event.

Put it this way: If the mom had put her finger in my mouth I might have bit it too.

I think new parents are more likely to overreact. I'm in a playgroup for my kid #2 and most of the parents are with their #1, but his age. I see huge differences in our parenting standards. Most of us mellow (give up?) with time.

I agree with the other posters that you need to find a new playgroup. You might also call some of th eother moms and see what they think. Maybe this Mom did overreact, but they never heard you speak up for yourself so they aren't bothering to call you. Or maybe they do agree with her! In which case you are better off with other people. I wonder what she'll do when her baby bites her [the Mom's] fingers? Remove the child from her presence? LOL Babies bite. Toddlers bite. It's not something we can even try to prevent until they are old enough to understand us. And 10 month olds aren't! And it's not like a baby's bite will kill you or probably even break the skin (or if it does, not much!).

Reminds me of the mom I heard about who wiped down every single thing her kid put in his mouth or fell on the floor with antibacterial wipes and washed his hands like 10 times a day. She'd have a heart attack in my house--daughter shares toys with our dogs and nothings been washed except when things were brand new to make sure chemicals weren't on them.

Playgroups with this age kids are tricky, no matter what. As one poster already said, the parents all have different personalities and so do the kids. I am not in a playgroup, but within our extended family there are 6 kids under the age of 18 months (mine being the oldest). Since they are all family, they can't cancel our familyship, but there certianly are a lot of different personalities involved.

As my child is my 3rd and the others are all 1st children, I see a huge difference in the protectiveness/ overprotectiveness of the mothers. What I have tried to learn is that each parent reacts differently and so, I watch my child differently based on who he is around. So if he is playing w/ baby E., who cries every time he is bumped, I try to make sure my baby gives E. lots of personal space. If my baby is around K. then they can wrestle and play and I am not concerned. But, I don't let my baby play with C.'s toys, because her mom will sterilize those toys immediatly if they come in contact with anyone elses drool.

In the above example, I would definately find a new play group since that just seems rediculous, though.

The reaction was completely uncalled for. At ten months old, that is a perfectly normal reaction. I agree that the dynamics of the group may be more at play here than the situation. It sounds like you have a mother hen. Before questioning the reaction, first assess your relationship with the mother. Odds are, this is the one woman that doesn't take kindly to others questioning her parenting and your apology was a result of all the other mothers telling her she was over reacting.

Speaking from personal experience, please recognize a big yellow flag here when you see it with this mom. I should have done that several years ago with a ridiculously over-protective mom friend of mine. In the end, I got a phone call from her where she griped ME out for a child biting her kids at school (not my child, mind you) because my son had gotten a little too wild when he played with her kids a couple of times. It was ridiculous and caused a huge rift and problems for everyone involved since these were next-door neighbors.

Everyone is protective of their kids, but I think it does great damage to your children to go to the extreme this woman did. It teaches them to grow up with that victim mentality--the world does bad things to you all the time, instead of teaching them to face problems head on and forgive others for making mistakes.

"Reminds me of the mom I heard about who wiped down every single thing her kid put in his mouth or fell on the floor with antibacterial wipes and washed his hands like 10 times a day."

My heart goes out to that poor kid. I hope he grows up with a functioning immune system, no thanks to her. I've read horror stories about people growing up in such hideously unnatural conditions -- our bodies weren't built for that.

(Reading the headline, I had expected this post to be about such matters. I guess I run into the hypersterilizers more than I do the unreasonable moms like the one here.)

Of course, with an anecdote like this, you really can't know the whole story. We did have some close friends who were overly safety conscious. We put chain locks on our french doors leading to the backyard (which had a pond) so their kids wouldn't wander out and fall in the pond (mine were never more than a couple inches from me anyway). They always pointed the finger at my kids when something went wrong. Most of it was the dad who up and left with the mom's best friend not too long ago. Hanging out with the mom is much nicer now.

oh jeez, if this is what having kids is like, i have a long way to go...

-mr naive 26-year-old

The worst thing that has happened to date is always considered a crisis. I think that most new moms start off with no pre-set crisis levels, so the first worst is always the worst ever possible. And their response to it is set at the 'worst ever possible' level in response, not at the 'specific details of the incident' level. It is the gut/emotion reaction that determines the response, not the actual event, IME.

It only took one trip to the ER with a child I wasn't sure was still breathing for me to stop considering lesser (but still upsetting) events 'crises'. But each area of experience, I still had that gut crisis reaction the first 'worst' I hit. I became much more rational and functional once I had some better sense of what a 'bad incident' could entail, either through my own experience or through experiences of my closest peers.

So, hey, maybe this is the worst experience she's had with toddler/baby peer interactions. She'll likely experience worse in time, and have a way to measure all the incidents more effectively. In the meantime, it sounds like time has allowed her to gain some perspective, which is reassuring. Maybe she's not a loss at all.

Let's not forget that any parent has been a parent for the first time. Give her a little slack and at least talk to her about it. If you are friends, and that friendship is worth something to you, let her know it. That by itself will do a lot to mend the whole relationship.

We have had the opposite problem -- on at least two occasions, we have lost friendships because of the other couple's kid hitting our kid on a playdate, and getting upset when we intervened to prevent imminent danger.

In one case, our friend's 2-year-old was hitting and pushing ours, repeatedly. After a few times letting them handle the situation, rather ineffectively (during which our son got hurt once), they stopped monitoring their son. At which point, he met my eye, and swung a wooden toy on a three-foot stick at our 2-year-old's head. I caught the toy midair, took it away, and said to their son, "X, I'm sorry, but I can't let you do that. That's not OK." After that playdate, they have never returned our calls again, even though we were pretty understanding, and said as we left that it looked as if their kid was having a rough day -- we should try again sometime.

For every parent who's oversensitive about their kid getting hurt out there, I'm sure there's at least one who blames others for gently stopping their kids' misbehavior, when they are unable/unwilling to do so.

For someone who hasn't been around kids a lot (like me), it's hard to know how to navigate so much unfamiliar territory at once. Many people make mistakes. Not only does a new mom have the stress of caring for an infant, she also faces the challenge of navigating relationships with other people's children.

When our boy was about 6 months old I listened to the audio book of "Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads". http://www.amazon.com/Queen-Moms-Kingpin-Dads-Make/dp/1400083001/sr=8-1/qid=1165357360/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/104-3503229-8162345?ie=UTF8&s=books

Although it's more about grade school and high school parent culture, some of the personality twitches develop soon after the child is brought home.

For me, it was an insightful book that me do some real self-examination about who I want to be and how likely I am to be that person. Hopefully, it will inoculate me against some future patterns of obnoxious behavior.

I've never been personally involved in a situation like this but a couple of moms in my playgroup are and still currently at odds. It's hard to say what's the right thing to do. I only hope that there can be some sort of middle ground for these two women. Selfishly speaking, I hate it because it forces me to have to "choose" sides on the days when we all take our children to gym class. Talk about uncomfortable feelings for everyone involved.

I have a 12 month old and understand that kids don't mean harm and are excited about everything and will chomp down on whatever comes near their mouths. It's all perfectly natural. It's not like the one mom who said that she met the kid's eye as he was about to swing a toy at her kids' head in an act of hostility. I've seen that too and unpunished, that behavior is bound to elevate to full-on bully status. Seriously...Life is too short, ditch those weenies and get a new playgroup.

Please keep in mind that some moms who disinfect everything may have a perfectly good reason to do so, whether they have shared that reason or not.

My biggest regret thus far into my youngest's life is not being more of a "disinfectant" mom.

Just wait. When your child starts hitting 2 to 2 1/2 and up things get REALLY ugly.

I don't think of myself as absurdly over protective, but until you realistically appreciate the children you have and the children they play with, you simply can't let children play together unsupervised.

10 months is nothing. Any child would chomp down on anything in their mouths at 10 months. However, you will soon start seeing little girls who CONSTANTLY make other little girls cry (and the parents who insist they should let them "work it out amongst themselves"), and boys who jump on other boys heads while their parents shrug it off to "boys will be boys."

Ironically, the parents of these mini social monsters are often the "disinfectant" moms.

I've run into more of the hypersterilizers and the "have to keep the schedule and have to tell you the whole schedule in order to try to keep the schedule" type moms. I had a friend who was so paranoid she wouldn't come to visit me when she was pregnant because my son had a runny nose ...

This is a really tough situation, regardless. I have a friend that I've known forever and love dearly. Her oldest child is 3 and my youngest is 4. She won't let her kid play with mine, and my daughter hasn't done anything to her son. It's actually kind of sad because my friend is so overprotective that she carries her son everywhere. He's never been on a swing or a slide and just learned how to walk up steps (with help). I think she's basically afraid that he might have fun running around with my kids and won't want to sit and be held all the time. Being a protective mom is fine and responsible, but at some point it's important to let the child be a kid.

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