I have a friend whose 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter constantly interrupt when she is in conversation with adult friends. If she does not pay immediate attention, the interrupting child has an incredible tantrum that requires the call or visit to end. I don’t have children, but when I was a child, my parents taught me to not interrupt when adults are talking unless it is an emergency. I think that by dropping everything to tend to the children (who interrupt about inane things), my friend is teaching her children to be rude and self-centered. I get so angry that I don’t want to return her calls or visit. Am I being unfair? Or is she failing to teach her children the rudiments of courtesy?
If you suspect that your anger about this situation arises from a need within you to be center stage, then you are being unfair. But if you believe “it takes a village to raise a child,” then you are simply longing to be involved. Robert Shaw, a Bay Area-based child and family psychiatrist, has written a book that can help. The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children is a critique of modern parenting methods (from daycare to self-esteem building). Shaw notes that a 30-year trend of placing the children at the head of the household has created young adults with severe emotional problems and children who “laugh at their parent’s weak attempts at discipline and demand to be amused all day.”
Interrupting a conversation is a normal way for a child to test parents and other authority figures. But, as Shaw points out, “When parents don’t teach their children acceptable behavior, defiance becomes the norm. Not enforcing appropriate limits is neglecting the teachable moments that will ultimately civilize and protect your child.” Shaw writes that parents too easily rationalize their child’s behavior, convinced the child will “grow out of it.”
Such choices breed the “epidemic.” Shaw writes, “Constantly placated children are growing into adults unable to handle the rough and tumble of life.” He cites the growing number of children suffering from depression, the sharp rise in teen suicides and the skyrocketing number of young adults seeking help from college counseling centers for severe emotional problems. I suggest you read Shaw’s book and then talk with your friend, in a loving and supportive way, about what you have learned.
I have a female friend who loses interest in me when I have a boyfriend or when she does. It seems like she only does fun things so she can meet guys. Once she meets a guy, she pours all of her spare time and attention onto him. Even if he’s a loser, she hopes to turn him into a boyfriend. When she has a boyfriend, she only calls if she wants someone to listen to her relationship problems. Is there anything I can do about this?
Yes. Consider her an unreliable friend and stop expecting her to be your best gal pal. She has made her relationship priorities clear. Don’t torture yourself by thinking she should be different than she is. The level of intimacy she offers you in friendship may be all she is capable of giving. Your choice is to either accept that she’s a fair-weather friend or gradually allow the friendship to erode. As it does, you can seek new friends whose capacity for love, concern and consciousness match your own.