I have a question: How much should we as parents intervene / involve ourselves in our children's friendships and relationships?
There have been a few incidents recently that have got me thinking about what is the right thing to do.
Adam and Kate have a friend called K. K has been at school with Adam and Kate since they were 3 or 4 years old. K's mom and I have become best friends and we often joke that we co-parent together. We have a lift club and the kids spend each afternoon together until K's mom comes home from work (which is early some days, late other days). 2 afternoons a week at my house, 2 afternoons a week at K's house and 1 afternoon apart.
K and Kate are officially best friends and K and Adam are going to get married one day when they are big. K's mom is going to live in a house on the one side and me on the other side. We have it all worked out. We are like one, big extended happy family and the three kids love each other and get on really well. Most of the time.
The good and bad thing is that they have become like siblings, K biggest wish is that she could be Adam and Kate's triplet. She is the perfect best friend for Kate as she is also a tomboy and loves the outdoors and making stuff. She is the perfect friend for Adam as she loves sport and is strong enough for to play tough. Kate and K are in class together for the fourth year in a row. They play together at school, they do the same extra murals and they are together in the afternoon. That is a lot of togetherness.
Because the lines are a little blurred between normal-best-friend-who-comes-over-for-a-play-date and sibling-who-is-there-all-the-time-and-gets-on-my-nerves, sometimes things get a big messy. And this is where I need your advice. When it gets messy, how much do we (my best friend and I) intervene?
I'll give you an example: Kate has been quite moody lately. She will suddenly decide she doesn't want to speak to K anymore. She wants some 'alone time'. K is a really exuberant, sweet natured girl who doesn't need alone time at all. She just wants to play with her best friend Kate. And so Kate will ignore her or say 'blah blah blah' and stick her fingers in her ears when K tries to talk to her. K then gets very upset and cries "why doesn't Kate want to talk to me? Kate says I must go away. Kate hates me".
I then intervene and either say "Kate! Stop being such a mean girl and play with K", or I will say "K, just ignore Kate, she is obviously in a bad mood. Just ignore her and go play with Adam". Poor Adam is standing there jumping up and down saying "I will play with you K, I will play with you!" Pick me, Pick me! (Adam is such a sweet boy, seriously). And then K will happily go and play rugby with Adam on the field. Kate will lie on the couch and chill.
An hour later, Kate decides that she has had enough self imposed time out and goes to join K and Adam outside. Five minutes later Adam comes in crying to say that the girls are being mean to him and told him that he may not play with them. Often! Poor guy. They play so nicely as pairs -Adam and Kate together, Kate and K together or Adam and K together. But the three thing often ends badly.
I know three is a crowd, and someone is always excluded. That someone by the way is never Kate, unless Kate decides she wants to exclude herself. Kate is the ring leader. Poor Adam never excludes anyone. He is on the bottom rung. K is sometimes the excluded (by Kate) or sometimes the excluder (to Adam). I explain to K that what she is now doing to Adam is what upsets her when Kate does it to her. And then K feels bad. Unlike Kate who doesn't seem to feel bad at all.
I sort of alternate between telling him that they are being mean girls and he must stay with me and we will do something together or marching over to them and telling them to stop being such mean girls and play with Adam.
What do I do?
Do I sit Kate down for a stern talking to about being a mean girl (which I do, often. But it doesn't seem to get through to her. I am not sure what to say to her that will hit home about how she is hurting K's feelings when she ignores her.) I absolutely hate that she can be a mean girl. She doesn't really do it to other kids except Adam and K. It is worse that K's mom is my best friend. I want to DIE when Kate is mean to K.
Do I MAKE Kate play with K when she doesn't want to? Or is she entitled to some time out if she wants? It *is* a lot of togetherness and I myself am a big fan of self-imposed time out. But being mean is not acceptable.
(Just had a thought - perhaps I can try to teach her to use nice, non-hurtful words to explain to K that she needs time out. Plan! I have been so focused on the fact that Kate doesn't want to play with K at that particular moment that I was trying to MAKE her want to play. Instead perhaps I should accept that she doesn't want to play for a while, but insist that she does it in a way that is acceptable? Hmmm, blogging your thoughts does help!)
What about poor K? How is she going to feel when her best friend says "I want to spend some time away from you"? K is a sensitive child and she will often say "Kate doesn't like me, she doesn't want to be my friend" when these things happen. She gets heart-sore.
(Side note: K is an only child so doesn't have any other experience of sibling interaction besides what she is getting from Adam and Kate)
Do I MAKE K and Kate play with Adam, or does he need to learn that sometimes kids don't want to play with you? (Even if you were perfectly acceptable as a play date to either K or Kate just five minutes ago. Poor Adam)
I will give you another example of Kate being a mean girl. K will say "oooh, the pink one is our favourite hey Kate, and Kate will (with deliberate intent) say "actually, I prefer the purple one". Poor K has then committed herself to choosing the pink one but desperately want to choose the same one as her best friend and will then say "actually, I like the purple one best too". I want to say to Kate "dont be such a cow, you did that on purpose" and I want to say to K "don't let Kate influence what you want, if you like the pink one stick with it, you don't have to like the same colour". Argghhh! (And if Adam is there, he will say "you guys can choose first, I don't mind taking whatever colour is left over)
I am also very conscious that I am more sensitive to the situation because K's mom is my best friend - I hate that someone is sometimes mean to my best friend's child. And I especially hate that that someone is my child!!
Or do we just leave them alone to sort their own battles out?
Just as an aside, but on a related note: Adam told me last week that a boy at school (a well known naughty boy) took him in a neck-hold and threw him to the ground. So I said "that is not very nice, I think I must have a word with him" (half joking). Later on in the day Adam said that one of the boys in his class (who he is actually quite friendly with) said "my brother is going to kill your mother". So I said "that is not very nice, perhaps I should have a word with his mother". So Adam said "No no Mom, please don't have a word with anyone if they be ugly to me, its fine". Poor boy. I felt quite proud of him for not wanting me to fight his battles. Which I will totally do if I felt he was being bullied in anyway, but I strongly suspect that the first incident was probably after a period of rough play (in other words, Adam is not totally innocent) and the second incident wasn't a real threat, it was more a 6 year old being silly. I have told both my kids that if anything happens on the playground, go and tell the teacher immediately. The teachers keep a watchful eye and the teacher can decide whether it was bullying or not. I wasn't there and I am only hearing one side of the story.
Believe me, I will be there like a bear if anyone bullies my child, but I am not one of those moms who is going to be on the playground every five minutes shaking up some young child for being ugly to my child.
Somehow is harder for me to be the parent of the child who is mean rather than the child who someone is mean to. I can't stand the thought that one of my children would be mean to someone. And that is exactly what Kate can do. I hate it and I don't know how to handle it. As sensitive as Adam is to other people's feelings is as insensitive Kate can be to other people's feelings, especially her 'siblings' (K and Adam). I think when they were handing out sensitivity in the womb, they used Kate's share up on Adam.
(Adam was playing rugby on Monday, they were put in pairs and one poor little boy didn't have a partner so he started crying. Adam put up his hand and said "Coach, I will be his partner". He is such a sweet, sensitive child. A total PITA sometimes, but he has such a good heart)
So dear blog readers, what do you think? Do I leave the children to their own devices in terms of managing their relationship with each other, or do I intervene and make them 'do the right thing'?
PS Please do not say anything horrible about Kate, K or Adam. They are all three lovely children and while they each have their flaws, they are good children. I want constructive comment, not name calling or insults. Just in case anyone was tempted to go that way. You are welcome to call me names, I am quite used to that.