Sarah’s 9-year-old son was lying on the sand, having a tantrum. Not the kind of tantrum you might expect from a 9-year-old, where the word “tantrum” is a bit strong. This was a full-out, fists-pounding-the-sand, animal-noises-coming-from-his-throat, 2-year-old-style meltdown on a beautiful, crowded beach in the middle of the day. The cause? Sarah had accidentally brought the wrong boogie board. She brought the little one, “for babies,” and not the new one her son had been given for no particular reason the week before. As Sarah scrambled to find her purse and locate her other child so she could hoof it up over the hot sand to the snack shack by the parking lot where they sold overpriced boogie boards to desperate parents, her 9-year-old son screamed, “You’re the worst mother in the world!” and she replied, “I’m sorry!”
My dear, sweet, wonderful friend Sarah had allowed herself to become a doormat. And as a result, she was actively raising herself some pretty entitled little sh*ts.
Last year, Sarah’s 12-year-old daughter was having a complete freak-out over the “no cellphones” rule at her very high-end, all-girls sleepaway camp. This is a camp where you pack your kid up for the summer, a company comes to pick up the trunk, and when your child arrives at their pristine, air-conditioned “bunk,” the counselors have unpacked them and made up their beds. The pools are heated, and the children are escorted around campus by golf cart. It’s about as far from roughing it as one can imagine. And honestly, I have no problem with it if that’s what Sarah chooses for her child. It’s none of my business. What bothers me is when Sarah’s daughter, who has never said thank you to her mother for sending her to such an amazing and no doubt expensive place, decides to tell Sarah that she is a terrible mother for not calling the camp and making up a lie to compel them to bend the no cellphone rule for one child.
Sarah didn’t have a very involved mother when she was growing up. The kids have a stand-offish grandmother who has never deigned to dote on them, and it’s evident that there was no abundance of love or affection in the house during Sarah’s childhood. Now she’s ruled by guilt, and lacking the skills needed to be a truly great parent, Sarah desperately tries to compensate by being their slave and giving them anything they want, along with an apology for the long wait time.
It was that day at the beach that I’d finally had enough. I shoved an iPad at my own son, who had been put in charge of packing his beach bag and knew better than to complain if he’d forgotten anything, and I followed Sarah up to the snack shack. I told her that I loved her but I couldn’t stand watching this one second longer. I gave her a choice: She could buy the $40 boogie board (it’s literally a piece of foam with a string tied to it) and never have me or my children join her for a playdate or family outing again, or she could take a breath, realize that she’s an amazing mom, and march back down to that beach to take her dignity back. I pushed boundaries aside and invaded her personal parenting space, telling her that for years I’d watched her cower around her children, and that now I was starting to see their character emerge — and it wasn’t pretty. Spoiled 2-year-olds can be cute. Entitled, angry 9-year-old boys who treat their moms like servants can grow up to be something very dangerous. I mean, what if a person like that ever became president?
The immediate effect was a Category 12 backfire. Sarah held back tears while telling me to mind my own business and questioning our years of friendship. But when she was finished processing the embarrassment I’d created by my unwelcome attack, she had an idea. She asked me to take over. She needed a break. And a pedicure. And after my little adventure with no filter, I was in no position to refuse.
So Sarah left both of her children with me and had an afternoon to herself. I had a beach day full of tough love and well-behaved kids (her children are terrified of me, and they should be).
Sarah and I never revisited this topic. We never had some big debrief where I apologized for my tone but confessed my concerns, and she never forgave me while gently setting limits for future confrontations. We carried on as usual, but on many occasions I’ve seen Sarah be firm with her kids, something I’ve never seen before. Maybe it’s just because I’m there, but I’ve witnessed her telling them to wait a moment when she’s busy, and I’ve even seen her call them out on their tone when they are rude.
Most of all, she seems to have stopped apologizing to her own kids. And with that, she seems to have gained more strength.
Everyone needs a girlfriend!
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