Mom: Stop blaming the friend who's a "bad influence."

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 21, 2012 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

Three and a half years ago my husband had an affair with a neighbor. She and I weren't friends but we were friendly since we had children in school together. Our kids are now 13 and 16. I've since found out that she is not well-like in town. My husband and I separated and they stayed together for a few years but are now apart. My daughter never liked her daughter because she was the mean girl at school. They never played together or hung out. My daughter's friends weren't allowed to play with this girl either. After our separation when my husband had his visitation times, he would sleep at the girlfriend's house creating an environment that made my daughter have to play with her's. The girls eventually became friends since they were together so much. This girl is still the mean girl and she's rubbing off on my daughter. My daughter was never disrespectful to me, mean to other children or anything like that. She is a very good kid. She gets excellent grades and plays 2 sports. But lately she has been very disrespectful to me, talking back, gossiping about other girls, swearing and things like that. Now that my husband and this woman are no longer together, I don't want my daughter at her house. Even though I don't like that she's friends with this girl, I told her she can be friends with her but I don't want her hanging out at her house due to my feelings about this woman. This causes a huge fight everytime I find out that she's over there. My daughter always uses the excuse that the woman isn't home when they're there. I also think the girls shouldn't be in the house alone. Other parents have told me they don't let their children play there because there is no adult supervision a lot of the time. Obviously I despise this woman and don't want her near my children. Both my kids are aware of the affair. Am I wrong to not want her in that house?

Dear GoingUnder,

No, I don't blame you one bit, but let me suggest other ways to think about all this.

Every time you say something negative about the friend, your daughter takes it personally, as if you are attacking her. It's not something she does rationally, it's just what happens with kids this age. It would be better if you can turn this around, so it's about YOU. Yep. What I have in mind is that you make "I" statements ("I feel attacked when you say blah blah...") instead of "you" statements: "You are disrespectful! You are....."

But speaking of ages, it's unclear to me whether you and your ex have two children, ages 13 and 16, or you and the woman have two children, 13 and 16. If it's the latter, that's a huge age difference and puts the two kids at different developmental stages with different emotional and social needs and abilities. If the kids were siblings, they would have different curfews, different limits for programming, different social activities, etc., and that would be normal and accepted because of their ages. If it were not for your extenuating circumstances, these two girls would likely not be friends. My point is that if this girl is three years older, she's an inappropriate friend and that's a much more palatable (to your daughter) reason to want to contain the friendship: "Honey, she's too old for you. Period."

If I have this wrong and there is not a big age difference, (and even if there is), here's another thing to consider:

The past is past. Move on. Set clear limits with consequences that are spelled out. For instance: She is not allowed to be at anyone's home unless there is adult supervision. This has the advantage of not singling out this particular girl/home and it puts some responsibility on your daughter: "Honey, it's your decision whose house you go to but I need to know there will be an adult on the premises and I need confirmation from that adult beforehand. You can decide if you want me to call the person or you can find out and tell me. I'll trust you, but you need to know I will periodically call and check to see that you're where you say you will be, and that there's an adult. It's also your responsibility to check in with me at xxx time or if your plans change. The consequence for not doing this will be x and x."

She won't be happy. She'll say you don't trust her. Your job is to tolerate her unhappiness. Take responsiblity: "It's my job to keep you safe. In the past I wasn't as ____(pick your word: careful? responsible? on top of things?) as I wish I had been. I'm making some changes. It's going to be an adjustment for both of us."

You can take the same approach with her language or disrespectfulness: "Here's another change. In the past, I haven't been firm enough about what is acceptable language." Make it about you, not about her: "It hurts me to be spoken to that way; I have to stand up for myself. Here are the words that aren't acceptable." List them, specifically. Let her know what the consequences will be. And then you know what? You can't use these words either.

In all of this, your job is to be clear, firm, matter-of-fact and open to hearing her point of view so that she feels she has had a say. But don't back down. Tell her, "We're going to try this for a week. We'll see how it goes." You may be surprised: she may be happy to have you paying attention and setting clear limits. At the end of the week, evaluate together what worked and what didn't.

This might also be a good time to help her find some extra curricular activity where she will have the chance to meet a new circle of people. Use the guidance counsellor or school psychologist to brainstorm ideas.

This is a process. It won't be easy, but I think it's better than blaming everything on the other girl, the other mother, and the other home.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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5 comments so far...
  1. I don't think "I" statements are a good idea in this situation. The behaviors this daughter is picking up, such as disrespect, talking back, and swearing are completely socially inappropriate. I know teenagers are teenagers, but other adults (teachers, shop clerks, kids with caring parents) will quickly label and treat her as a behavior problem. Being labeled a "bad kid" is the quickest way to fall permanently into that crowd and never be able to recover.

    The letter writer doesn't say what kind of environment she lives in, either- in low-crime neighborhoods, it gets written off as just a phase. In high-crime ones, it's a sign that the kid is about to get into serious trouble with law enforcement.

    I'd consult a counselor and then the divorce attorney. Clearly, the husband is not doing his job in supporting the kid and his visitation needs to be modified.

    Posted by AP September 21, 12 10:04 AM
  1. No, do not make it about you. no "I" statements. Make fair, reasonably expressed moral judgments. Yup, judgments!

    If a behavior is immoral or socially unacceptable, then tell her so. Don't tell her it's wrong because it hurts Mommy's feelings. That's what you tell a two year old about calling his brother stupid.

    Posted by di September 21, 12 11:59 AM
  1. "Clearly, the husband is not doing his job in supporting the kid and his visitation needs to be modified."

    A legal battle to deprive the father and daughter of time together is just the cure, you think, AP? No way. And on what grounds would she convince the judge to cut father-daughter time? "He used to be dating her and they'd spend the night, but now they have broken up and they don't." So - the problem isn't there anymore.

    But anyway - if daughter knows of the affair, and knows how mom feels about the ex-girlfriend, my guess is that the daughter has been put in the middle of the divorce, and at least one parent has expressed his/her feelings about what's happened. Which is inappropriate, and really, with that background, the last thing that should be happening is more piling on the girl about how mom feels/dad feels. Just be a grownup for a little while, don't talk to your daughter about who you dislike and why, why your feelings are hurt, who the bad guy is, etc. Just set household rules, be matter of fact about it, and set (and follow through on) consequences when she breaks the rules. Dial back the drama and emotion, and just be straightforward and firm and loving.

    Posted by jjlen September 21, 12 09:07 PM
  1. Think back to being a teenager: Emotionally up and down, potentially outwardly caring but perceiving everything as about yourself. She's saying those rude, disrespectful things IN ORDER TO HURT her mom. Using "I" statements sends a message that she succeeded.

    We were given a cold, "I'm sorry you feel that way. Your disrespect has cost you ___" (the car for tomorrow, your afternoon plans tomorrow, a month of cleaning the bathrooms, etc.). No reaction, no escalation. It's hard not to engage, but engaging with the disrespect validates its power.

    Good luck! That's a tough situation.

    Posted by Just Nobody September 22, 12 10:21 AM
  1. Most of the behaviors described are typical of a teenager, but your marriage failed, and you are taking it out on your daughter, in part. You readily admit that you don't want her over there because you "despise the woman". It's time to put on your big girl pants and move on.

    Posted by Bill September 23, 12 05:50 AM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. I don't think "I" statements are a good idea in this situation. The behaviors this daughter is picking up, such as disrespect, talking back, and swearing are completely socially inappropriate. I know teenagers are teenagers, but other adults (teachers, shop clerks, kids with caring parents) will quickly label and treat her as a behavior problem. Being labeled a "bad kid" is the quickest way to fall permanently into that crowd and never be able to recover.

    The letter writer doesn't say what kind of environment she lives in, either- in low-crime neighborhoods, it gets written off as just a phase. In high-crime ones, it's a sign that the kid is about to get into serious trouble with law enforcement.

    I'd consult a counselor and then the divorce attorney. Clearly, the husband is not doing his job in supporting the kid and his visitation needs to be modified.

    Posted by AP September 21, 12 10:04 AM
  1. No, do not make it about you. no "I" statements. Make fair, reasonably expressed moral judgments. Yup, judgments!

    If a behavior is immoral or socially unacceptable, then tell her so. Don't tell her it's wrong because it hurts Mommy's feelings. That's what you tell a two year old about calling his brother stupid.

    Posted by di September 21, 12 11:59 AM
  1. "Clearly, the husband is not doing his job in supporting the kid and his visitation needs to be modified."

    A legal battle to deprive the father and daughter of time together is just the cure, you think, AP? No way. And on what grounds would she convince the judge to cut father-daughter time? "He used to be dating her and they'd spend the night, but now they have broken up and they don't." So - the problem isn't there anymore.

    But anyway - if daughter knows of the affair, and knows how mom feels about the ex-girlfriend, my guess is that the daughter has been put in the middle of the divorce, and at least one parent has expressed his/her feelings about what's happened. Which is inappropriate, and really, with that background, the last thing that should be happening is more piling on the girl about how mom feels/dad feels. Just be a grownup for a little while, don't talk to your daughter about who you dislike and why, why your feelings are hurt, who the bad guy is, etc. Just set household rules, be matter of fact about it, and set (and follow through on) consequences when she breaks the rules. Dial back the drama and emotion, and just be straightforward and firm and loving.

    Posted by jjlen September 21, 12 09:07 PM
  1. Think back to being a teenager: Emotionally up and down, potentially outwardly caring but perceiving everything as about yourself. She's saying those rude, disrespectful things IN ORDER TO HURT her mom. Using "I" statements sends a message that she succeeded.

    We were given a cold, "I'm sorry you feel that way. Your disrespect has cost you ___" (the car for tomorrow, your afternoon plans tomorrow, a month of cleaning the bathrooms, etc.). No reaction, no escalation. It's hard not to engage, but engaging with the disrespect validates its power.

    Good luck! That's a tough situation.

    Posted by Just Nobody September 22, 12 10:21 AM
  1. Most of the behaviors described are typical of a teenager, but your marriage failed, and you are taking it out on your daughter, in part. You readily admit that you don't want her over there because you "despise the woman". It's time to put on your big girl pants and move on.

    Posted by Bill September 23, 12 05:50 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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