When people are just bad parents

One thing I strive for in my parenting is being tolerant and understanding of other people’s parenting. There is a mom who I socialize with semi regularly. Her daughter is close in age to Gus and such a wild child. I think her kiddo and Gus are fairly similar, all things considered, but parented very differently. I’ve watched her with her daughter- what she does and doesn’t do. I think she’s a great parent. I think about the implications I fear of having a boy who is wild and the implications I know she fears of having a girl she tamed. We parent differently but both kids are doing just fine.

We just had friends come and stay with us for a week. These friends are some of our best friends from our twenties (Hereby mom 1 and mom 2) and they have two kids, kid 1 is 4.5 and kid 2 is 18 months. After a week of them in our 1142 sq ft house I am saying what I try so hard not to say: They are bad parents.

I tried to keep an open mind about it. I dreaded the visit and then hoped that I was expecting the worst and it wouldn’t be. Mom 1 does all the parenting while mom 2 does nothing. Mom 2 spends 14 of 16 waking hours sitting on the couch playing games on her phone. The only interaction she has with kid 1 is to yell at her and tell her she is doing something wrong with such fantastic parenting lines as “If you don’t shape up I’m going to return all your presents” which, don’t get me wrong, is the kind of thing that sometimes comes out of someone’s mouth out of frustration but these kinds of threats seem to be her parenting philosophy. She does a lot of praising of kid 2 but only in front of kid 1 so kid 1 notices that she doesn’t get praised. Kid 1 is not able to deal with her feelings or emotions at all and anytime she expresses a strong emotion, good or bad, mom 2 is upset with her. Mom 2 consistently threatens kid 1 with punishments and does not follow through. She “jokes” with her constantly because she believes kid 1 needs to “toughen up”.

Mom 1 tries. She really does. Kid 1 favors mom 2 so mom 1 clearly has a stronger bond with kid 2 who does not speak so doesn’t do much wrong (besides hitting and biting people non stop with little consequence. Mom 2 “fixed kid 1’s biting as an infant when mom 2 bit kid 1 back…) I feel for mom 1 because she does try and I can see it is so hard when she is the only one trying. But she honestly has no idea what to do. She talked to her counselor about it and her counselor suggested they watch some episodes of Super Nanny. Kid 1 doesn’t eat anything. She doesn’t eat anything because the food struggles are the only attention she gets. Mom 1 sits next to her, forcing her to eat a number of bites with promises of cookies, and reminds her that there are staving children in the world who would love to have that food. Whenever she does try to make her do anything she does not follow through with it and whenever kid 1 explodes (often) mom 1 tries to talk to her but doesn’t force the issue. In the week they spent with us I never once heard kid 1 use a feeling word to describe what is going on with her.

Kid 1 gets no praise and little to no attention. When kid 2 naps moms either nap or play on their phones leaving kid 1 to do whatever. They pride themselves on how independent she is – the entire time they were here she followed Lesley and I around. Yes, she can play by herself but she doesn’t want to – she just knows you won’t play with her. She repeatedly asks her parents to play with her – play is never offered to her. Moms never made her pick up after herself so she basically tore our entire house apart multiple times a day every day as we tried to put it back together. They do not care at all about what she does, as long as it doesn’t bother them.

In addition to their less than stellar parenting mom 2 is very mean to mom 1. She is not helpful at all, criticizes her when she tries to parent, and undermines any decision she makes. Their relationship dynamic is uncomfortable to be around.

After a week they left and we took stock of our lives. That’s where the benefit of the visit came in. We feel more confident than ever in our parenting and while it is a lot of work to parent Gus the way we do we are sure it is the right path for us. It also made our relationship look awesome so that’s cool. We got to see some of the things we fight most about (phone use, household helpfulness) played out on a jumbo tron. It gave both of us a better understanding of what the other sees (intensified times 1000) and a desire to make our own shit better. Those things are great.

I’m not sure what to do about our friends. We will likely see them this summer (we will not stay with them but we haven’t told them that yet) but we don’t want them back to visit. If they came back to visit they would not be welcome to stay with us. It would likely be 3 years or so before they came back to visit and how would we tell them no then, after all this time? I did mention mom 2’s behavior to mom 1 at one point when I saw an opening. She said she noticed it too but that it is unlike her and she doesn’t know what is going on. We have known them for 10 years and while the behavior was worse than I expected it was not unlike mom 2. I should also note they had a great time – they saw nothing wrong with the visit.

So here I am trying to figure out if I navigate this now or at some point in the future. I would hope to never navigate it at all. If we lived close to one another I would slowly let the friendship go without any big conversation but unfortunately, that is harder to do here. So that’s where I end after this visit – trying to figure out how to not rock the boat but also never have to experience that again.

And now, Gus pictures:


Posted on December 27, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Wow! Yeah, sounds like they go beyond just different parenting styles and are in crappy parents land.

  2. I like that you wrote about this, not that you lived it. I know I’m on my phone or other distractions more than I should be. I know I have made weird unrelated and random punishment threats before (and usually not followed through with them). I know I need to offer to play with and do projects with my kid. But! I actively work to put down my phone, look at my child, hear what he says, engage with, and offer to read books to and play with him. He plays great independently but also likes to get involved in whatever I am working on. I would love to completely not have a smart phone but it’s not really an option these days and is sometimes my only way to check emails, write blogs, or interact with my peers. If mom 2 were my wife, I’d have some major issues being addressed in therapy and be enrolling us both in parenting classes. I feel bad for the kids, who mom 1 clearly has no interest in parenting. I have no idea how you can address this. I’d probably go with slowly disengaging myself from the friendship as best I can.

  3. Oh my goodness, this was just heartbreaking to read. I feel so much for these kids, especially the older one. In some ways, I wish you saw them more often so you could be a force of kindness and encouragement in their (the kids’) lives. There doesn’t seem to be a single healthy dynamic among them. But I suppose it’s good for your own mental health that they’re not a regular presence in your life.

    In terms of what to do, I think I would start by writing them a letter (letters?), expressing your concerns/dismay over what you witnessed. I wouldn’t send it, at least not in its first draft form, but I would want to know what my hypothetical action would look/sound like if I were to take it. I think there is empathy to be had in how you couch what is obviously going to read as criticism–parenting is hard, overwhelming, etc. and adding more children to the mix is exponentially exhausting. I don’t mean you should condescend or preach or naively present your way as the be-all-and-end-all (honestly, I can’t imagine you doing that, but perception is, pardon my choice of words, a bitch), but if your friendship is as long-lasting as it sounds like, is there a chance that they will see it as genuine concern for their current state of being?

    At its worst, though, it sounds like an abusive situation–mostly emotional. I am not well versed in being a support person in those circumstances, but LGBT centers and domestic violence centers are. Worth reading up?

    I hope there are people in these children’s lives to tell them that they deserve love and positive attention, and that they are able to hear that message. I also hope the parents can move beyond their moment-to-moment struggles to see the effect their behavior is having on their children–to have it pointed out to me, even (or especially) by dear friends, would be mortifying, but you can darn well bet I’d be doing some serious soul searching after hearing it, whether or not I ever admitted it. Are there mutual friends who can play a role/provide some insight? So tough.

    EDITED TO ADD: I went back to read your post before hitting send on this comment, and it seems I missed the bit about not wanting to rock the boat my first time through. Still, I’m going to post this anyway, because it sounds to me like a boat you shouldn’t let go down without throwing the people at the helm a life preserver, mostly because there are children on board. I actually see no reason to NOT say “look, last time you were here, things did not go well–I was concerned about X, Y, and Z and I’m uncomfortable being in the presence of this dynamic and about exposing my family to the behaviors I witnessed” beyond making things awkward and I think the risk is worth it, especially if you don’t care about seeing them again. Probably they will write you off as oversensitive/delusional, but burning bridges give off heat, and if there’s a chance they feel that heat and find a way to turn it into warmth for their children, I think it’s worth a try. Those kids deserve it.

    (Easier said than done, I KNOW. Good luck and support however you choose to deal (or not deal) with it.)

    • I think you are onto something about writing it down. At some point this is going to come up again and if nothing else it will be good then to have concrete reasons why they are not staying with us or we are not staying with them or whatever besides general statements. It will also help me focus on what are real issues vs. things that blow we away but are not totally harmful (4.5 year old has had green beans once, from a can. 98% of her vegetable intake comes from a can or freezer bag. She has never had brown rice – only white.) Once I write it out I can figure out whether or not to share now or hold onto for a bit.

      • Great thought on focusing/filtering. Plus writing it down now gives you a better chance of remembering later and lowers the odds that you will normalize/minimize your valid concerns down the road. Plus, if you’re anything like me, it will get your thoughts out of your head, hopefully clearing space for things you actually want to be thinking about!

      • Omg, I don’t think my kids have ever had brown rice! Now I’m questioning everything I thought about with the kids and what good eaters they are…


      • I don’t know! I actually prefer short brown rice, I do t know why I always buy long white!

      • Make America white rice again? #brownricelivesmatter

      • We love brown rice! That being said, brown rice has way more arsenic than white rice depending on where it’s grown. And frozen vegetables often have equal or more nutrients than fresh veggies because they can be picked at ripeness and immediately frozen, with no added preservatives. But the eating struggles are so unnecessary and unhealthy-habit-forming. Can you send them one of Ellyn Satter’s books to help them ditch the eating struggles? (and maybe How to Talk So Kids Will Listen…)

      • Of course you have the answers. 😉 it was just the overall lack of fresh foods that caught me off guard.

      • The answer is books. Always books. 😀

  4. He’s such a cute newt!

  5. I have friends like this too. We basically froze them out. Very rarely see them now

  6. I (obviously) have these same friends and shared your views after their last visit. I have written about 3 different responses and deleted them all because what do you even say about this? It makes me so sad for mom 1 and the girls.

  7. What to say? It’s a dilemma. I mean, you can always avoid the issues and claim “not enough space” in your house, especially if their next visit is 3 years away, and it’s easy to come up with excuses for staying at a hotel when you go visit them. If mom1’s friendship is important to you, that’d be better than cutting ties. But how sad to watch the neglect (and possible spousal abuse)?

    Can you arrange some 1-on-1 time for you & mom1? Maybe spouses take Gus and the 18 month old out somewhere and you two hang out together with the neglected kid? Or spouses take all the kids and you focus on the friend? I know you said they think the visit went well, but is there a chance they’re just putting up a front, and they actually feel embarrassed/ashamed about all of it?

    I have some similar judgements about my brother’s parenting/spousing, but we see them once a year for a day or two at a time, so I haven’t said anything and probably never will. It just seems futile.

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