DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I made friends with a single father. He has an 11-year-old daughter who is an angel (except that she’s glued to my hip whenever they are over, taking any adult time), and a 3-year-old son who craves attention in a reckless way.
I love kids and have a knack for them, but don’t have any yet. Neither of these children has a mother figure, and they bid for my attention. I find myself essentially babysitting his kids whenever he’s over for my own peace of mind.
The little boy is a terror. On his first visit, he tried to smash a piece of electronics. But I’ve come to find him extremely intelligent, and see that he’s being destructive as the only way to get attention.
We had several conversations, and he no longer tries to smash my things; he pets my dogs nicely, instead of trying to hurt them; he won’t go near the wood stove, and is, for the most part, a little angel -- here, at least.
But I think I offended his dad. I’m aware it’s rude to parent other people’s children, but the only alternative would be to end the friendship, which I find extreme.
There has been an ongoing issue with the child touching kids at preschool. So I sat him down, explained to him how it’s disrespectful (we went over respect when he was smashing my stuff), and his dad cut me off, saying that talking to him about an issue for more than a moment makes it worse. (I’ve never seen him speak to the child except in a disciplinarian tone.)
I haven’t seen or heard from him since. It hasn’t been that long, so I doubt he’s absolved the friendship, but how do you suggest I proceed if we continue to be friends?
GENTLE READER: When it comes to the rearing of children, outsiders (those who do not live with them -- inclusive of, but not limited to, friends and grandparents) are usually only seeing part of the situation. What has worked for you and the child may not be working for his father, and vice versa.
You should, however, be able to dictate decorum in your own house, especially when it comes to the preservation of your furniture, dogs, the little boy’s life and your own sanity.
Still, you would do well to make amends proactively: “I am afraid that I have offended you when I thought I was helping. Darwin has responded so well to the chats about respect that we have had that I thought it would help him to understand how it transfers to his friends at school. But I am not the parent and I did not mean to overstep. I hope that we can continue the friendship, as we have come to love you and the children like family.”
The “like” is a critical qualifier, Miss Manners points out. It ensures that you do not cross boundaries -- and that your guests eventually go home.