“There is no excuse for abuse.” This is an important lesson in The Total Transformation, and one of the first things I put into law in my own home, once I began utilizing the tools and techniques taught by James Lehman. But what do you do when the same choices are not made in your friend’s home — or in the home of your children’s friends?
My daughter’s best friend, I’ll call her “Jen,” is bright, outgoing, and what her mother describes as a “bossy” girl. My daughter needs a friend like that to balance her shy, introverted, and indecisive nature. A few play dates ago, on the way to our home from Jen’s, I could hear Jen berate my daughter, Anna, for touching her bag.
“Anna, quit touching my bag,” she scolded in a nasty tone, each time Anna brushed up against her backpack resting on the seat between the girls. (“Abrasive, definitely, but abusive? We’ll see,” I thought.) From the rear view mirror, I observed Anna, and her body language said it all. She’d completely turned away from Jen and was staring out the window on the verge of tears.
The next play date was at Jen’s house. Jen’s mother is one of my good friends, so we decided to make it a girls’ afternoon. We were not there too long before I heard Jen say to Anna, who was in the bathroom washing her hands, “Anna, don’t wipe your filthy, smelly hands on my Dad’s towel.” I asked my friend if she’d heard what Jen had just said. When she told me she hadn’t, I repeated it. My friend told Jen to be more polite to Anna. Jen did not respond, except to make a mocking gesture at her mother.
While my friend and I cyber-shopped, my attention was constantly diverted to the girls, Jen mostly, who was yelling at Anna for things like eating her crackers too loudly as they watched a movie, to lying down on the blanket, which Jen did not approve of. My friend acted as if nothing was happening. Finally, I put my hand on my friend’s and said, “Jen must be angry with Anna because of how she’s treating her.” My friend is a very gentle-hearted person, and said to me barely above a whisper, that Jen was not angry with Anna. She then said to Jen that she needs to be nicer to Anna. Jen did lighten her tone when talking to Anna, only to then turn and hiss sharply at her mother, “There! Does that make you happy?”
I continued to observe Jen speak to both her parents in a disrespectful and often abusive tone for the duration of my visit. At one point Jen ridiculed her father’s foreign accent, saying that he “talked funny” and “sounded stupid.” Her behavior went unchecked and uncorrected. Her parents remained complacent to her disrespect and abuse, reacting only with, “OK, Jen.”
Anna has asked me not to schedule any more play dates with Jen. I came to the conclusion that I cannot expect Jen to treat Anna differently if she is being allowed to treat her parents even worse in her own home. My obvious responsibility as Anna’s parent is to live as an example of “No excuse for abuse,” and make parenting decisions in support of that.
After some debate about what is my business and what is not, when it comes to the choices other parents make about raising their children, I believe it’s also correct to be a support system for my friend and help her realize that no abuse, even from your own child, is ever “OK” (as in “OK, Jen.”) I clearly need to make my friend aware of what is going on with her daughter’s behavior. My friend needs to realize that they are both creating damage within their relationship, and within their friendships; one by being abusive, and one by allowing it. Yes, these are tough places to go with people, and you can feel like the bull in the china shop when having these difficult conversations. Knowing about it though, and letting it happen is worse.
That would be making an excuse for abuse.