Recently, a friend passed on some advice she’d heard from her social worker when she asked for help dealing with her child’s disrespectful language towards her. He’d demand her presence, shout at her when she was slow, tell her to get in to his room “right now!”
“Just don’t go,” said the social worker gently. “He’s inviting you, but that’s a bad party. You don’t have to go to a bad party.”
I loved that phrase. You don’t have to go to a bad party. Sometimes our kids throw terrible parties. There’s the I hate you and you’re mean party, where you get to listen to a lengthy rant about your faults. There’s the I can’t find my shirt and it’s your fault party, often thrown in a closet full of dirty laundry, and the this math homework is stupid party, at which no one will listen to any help being offered, because the designated party activity is complaining about the math itself.
You don’t have to go to any of those parties.
Sure, you want to listen to your child when she needs you, to be there when she’s hurting, to offer an ear when an ear is needed. But that doesn’t mean you need to take abuse. It doesn’t mean you have to indulge a rant or endure a monologue that you’ve heard before and that always ends in the same way (shirt found under bed, unwashed, math done grudgingly, but done). There are times to listen, and there are times to simply not join in.
It’s a relaxing approach, this idea that you don’t have to go to the bad party, and it expands. You don’t have to let your child throw a bad party, either, not if it’s in your space. You can require that a tantrum move out of the kitchen. If a child is using your computer for Minecraft and screams at you when you tell her it’s time for dinner, you can reach over and turn that computer off. You don’t have to yell, or get upset, or react much at all. You’re just not going to that party.
It’s not like you will only go to great parties. You’ll go to the “here is a reasonable presentation of the reasons I should be allowed to finish my Minecraft game before dinner” party. You’ll go to the “I hate school and my teacher is mean and I feel unhappy” party (unless you’ve already attended it five times, and know it to be nothing more than your kid’s way of blowing off steam). You’ll go to the “please help me find my shin guards I know I should have put them away but I didn’t and I need help” party.
But a bad party? For those, you get to walk away.
I write a weekly tinyletter on how to be a happier parent, even when I’m not. This was one of them. Subscribe here for more.