Dear Suzanne and Amanda:
My children are close friends with my neighbor’s children. It’s a seemingly-perfect fit — we each have an eight-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy. They go to the same school and ride the bus together. Even better, they all get along!
My problem is that my neighbor, Kate, often uses scheduled playdates with my kids as leverage with her kids. If her daughter acts out or otherwise gets into trouble, she won’t allow her to play with my daughter as punishment. Same with her son. It happens often enough that now that my kids know that until they are actually playing with their friend, they shouldn’t count on the playdate.
Last week my daughter was so upset. Ten minutes before Kate’s daughter was due at our house to play, Kate called and said her daughter was misbehaving and wasn’t allowed to come out.
I understand that she needs to punish her kids her way, but I hate that it always seem to be at the expense of my children. What should I do?
– Not Fair!
Amanda: Well, you could invite Kate to tell your children herself about her decision and let her deal with the aftermath.
I’m kidding of course, but wouldn’t that be nice?
Have you tried discussing it with Kate and offering your perspective? She may not realize how upset your kids get after she cancels. Tell her you understand that grounding her kids from a fun afternoon may be an effective punishment (although it sounds like she does this often, so is it really?), but that when she does it, she’s punishing your children as well. A talk mom-to-mom might do the trick.
The one good thing (if you can call it that) from all this is that it sounds like your kids sort of get what is going on. I’d remind them of what has happened in the past the next time they make plans with one of Kate’s children. You don’t want them to be cynical about the situation, but certainly you need to make sure they are realistic about it and know that they may very well not play with their friend as they hoped.
Not all life lessons are happy ones, hopefully your kids will be able to take something from it.
Suzanne: Up until about two hours ago, I would have echoed Amanda’s sentiments on this one. But around that time, I did something similar to your neighbor and vowed to cancel my daughter’s plans on Saturday with her friends.
Why? Because it was the most effective way to get her attention and recognize the consequences of her actions. Was I really going to carry out the punishment? No, not this time. But the warning was effective enough that I didn’t have to go that far. I realize it might not be so next time, which would leave me with a big empty threat. An big empty ineffective threat that would never hold water again.
Sounds like your friend has already been in that position and made the decision to put her money where her mouth is. It’s just too bad that your kids are caught in the middle. But hey, a parent’s gotta do what a parent’s gotta do. Respect your friend’s frustrations. Honor the solution that seems to work for her. And the next time she or her children suggest a play date, just let her know that you’d rather not make “official” plans until the time actually arrives when she knows she can go through with them.
Explain that you would be happy to have her children come over or vice versa, but you will have to play it by ear since you don’t want your children to be disappointed if anything changes at the last minute. That way, she has the choice to make and can decide whether there might be a better way to carry out discipline that doesn’t involve innocent bystanders. (Which is exactly what I need to do for next time).
Have you ever cancelled a playdate or otherwise scheduled outing because of the way your child behaved? What should Not Fair do?
If you have a problem that needs two perspectives, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.