Too much kid, not enough grown-up

I was chatting with a work colleague today, and she was describing a recent dinner she and her husband had had at the home of friends. Her frustration at that dinner stuck a chord in me, as I have had similar experiences. I wondered if it was just me and my colleague – as in, we are ornery old bitches – or is this something that bugs other, more normal people too. You tell me …

My colleague and her husband have three children in their late teens, early twenties who are all still living at home. They don’t do a whole lot with their kids any more, as the kids all seem to have their own social lives. They eat dinner together as often as they can, which is maybe twice a week, but long gone are the days when daddy, mummy, and the children all went visiting together. In my colleague’s opinion, this is how it should be, and she does not expect her kids to hang around their parents much, nor do she and her husband wish to hang around their kids all the time.

So they had been invited for dinner at the home of these friends. Their friends, while more or less the same age as them, waited a little longer to have their family, so their two girls are only in their early teens. They are starting to have their own social agendas, but since they’re both too young to drive, their parents are still quite involved. And since this dinner was at their house, naturally both girls were there to eat with everyone.

Now, according to my colleague, those girls were allowed to completely dominate the conversation that night. Her friend would bring up a topic, then one of the girls would add a comment – a very long comment, usually – and then it was basically a conversation between that girl and her mother. My colleague felt that she simply couldn’t participate, that she was almost excluded. Or her husband and the other husband would start to discuss something quite interesting to my colleague, who wanted to discuss it with them, but at the same time, one of the young girls would start a monologue with my colleague. She then felt obligated to listen to the girl, but she really wanted to participate in the men’s conversation. Or my colleague would say something to her friend, then one of the girls would announce that this reminded her of whatever, which she would then proceed to explain in great detail, thereby eliminating all possibility of a conversation between the two women. This went on for the entire dinner.

After dinner, the older of the girls went up to her room to do whatever young teenage girls do these days, but the other followed the adults into the living room. With her homework. Which she didn’t do. What she did do was take over the conversation again. The men eventually went to the TV room to do whatever men do in TV rooms these days, leaving my colleague with her friend and the thirteen-year-old. They were again unable to have a real adult conversation between friends.

The parents of these two youngsters didn’t seem to find any of this odd at all. In fact, they seemed to welcome and overtly encourage their daughters’ participation in their adult social life.

And in my colleague’s view, these girls are really nice girls, who actually are interesting little people in their own right. She has had perfectly fine chats with both of them, many times. But what frustrated her that evening was how they were permitted to take over. She felt upset that she and her husband couldn’t have a real visit with their friends, not only because of the constant presence of their daughters, but because of the constant overbearing presence of their daughters. This has happened a number of times, she said, both at dinners at their home and at their friends’ home, as well as at occasional restaurant dinners (which the girls always attend, unless my colleague and her husband absolutely specify that it is an adult-only evening. The girls’ parents themselves never suggest adult-only evenings, but seem to have no problem with it.).

When my colleague recounted this experience to me, I quickly reassured her that I would have (and have!) felt exactly the same way. Sometimes adults want to have adult conversation. Without the children hovering around. Yes, children need to be taught social interaction, but they also need to be taught how not to do it, that dominating conversation is never a good plan. As fascinating as we all believe our own children are, we parents don’t have to have them around us all the time, do we? We don’t have to make them the focus of our own social life, do we? We shouldn’t expect that our adult friends and acquaintances want to spend huge amounts of time with our children, at the expense of spending time with us, should we? There is a time and a place for everything and everyone, right?

I do like and enjoy kids quite a bit (witness my choice of career!), but that’s what I think. And if that makes me an ornery old bitch, so be it, I guess.

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8 responses to “Too much kid, not enough grown-up

  1. Dominating any conversation – whether child, teen, or adult is just plain rude, no way around it. I have friends with the most engaging teenagers and I love to listen to them talk at the dinner table, if only becasue I am not around teenagers much (nor did I have a close in age sibling) and find these three endlessly entertaining. But they are all shuffled off (and at this stage willingly go) so that the adults can visit alone. It was difficult to get them to leave us alone when they were younger, but even then they didn’t dominate the conversation – they more or less stifled it simply by their presence.

    • VioletSky – This does sound like a rather unique situation, doesn’t it? I wonder if these particular parents, after having waited quite a while to have their children, are now so completely enamored of these wondrous creatures that are their daughters that they’ve totally lost sight of the fact that yes, dominating a conversation is simply bad manners and needs to be stopped. Well, I suppose when they lose all their friends, they might figure it out. Or not.

  2. I’m a crabby old cow and childless but I’ve generally found it to be more annoying at the other end of the child’s age spectrum. I’m very close to two families where I’ve known both sets of parents for 37, 30, 25 and 20 years respectively and between them have 6 kids that range in age from 10 to 17. I would much rather have the kids around now than when they were little, tyrannical and unbelievably demanding. They wouldn’t let you have any kind of conversation with the parents and it used to drive me demented. One of the girls (who is now 17 and lovely) used to really hate me when she was about 4 or 5 and intensely jealous of the friendship I had with her father. If I was talking to him and she spotted it, she would interrupt and start getting stroppy and, in the end, throw a massive enough tantrum that all attention had to be paid to her, so I would just leave. I must remind her of that one day, as she’s now in the realms of having massive arguments with her dad – she’ll never believe she was once such a daddy’s girl!

    • Mrs Jones – At least when they’re little, you expect them to demand attention and tantrum and do all those awful things that kids do whenever there are other people around to witness it, as nasty as it can be. When they’re teens and they still demand all kinds of attention, but in different ways, that’s just crappy parenting, I think. Parents should be parents, not the kids’ best friends, and if that means telling the kids to go do kid things and let the adults hang out on their own, so be it.

  3. Oh this is a question fraught with conflict. My husband and I are DINKS (dual income no kids) and sometimes we avoid dinners with the kid pitfalls and sometimes we bend over backward to make them kid-centric. I do have to admit that this evening seems almost appealing to me however having been treated to so many of the silent and crabby teen participatory events that having an engaged young person seems like a refreshing change. I’m lucky that the one very close friendship I have with this potential is an honest relationship. I can actually say to them, “Hey – let’s have some us time…no kids – ok?” And then I’m conscious that on their side when they call us to say “Come to a family dinner” I know that means kids are central. Balance. In all things. Is the key. (P.S. I sound all sweet and zen-like in this, but I have to admit to having NO patience when I’m not in a kid mood for the kid thing…more specifically the brat thing….so I’m quite the ornery old bitch inside too)

    • Wenderina – Balance, that is the key, you’re absolutely right. It sounds like my colleague’s friends have entirely lost sight of that, I think, and have become entirely kid-centric (lovely word, by the way). I suppose they run the risk of losing some of their social circle if that continues – but they probably couldn’t care less!

  4. Well, if you are an ornery old bitch, I am a curmudgeonly old bastard because I completely agree with you. I would have been broodingly livid in that situation. I have nothing against teens; in fact I generally like them, but I have to question why the kid would even want to be there in the first place. And I think it is rude and inconsiderate of the parents to allow this sort of thing. We have some friends who are exactly the same with their daughter, and we’ve actually begged off social occasions with them for just that reason.

    • mrwriteon – Good point: why did the kid want to be there? I suppose her parents have encouraged her to do this so much over the years that now she just expects to be welcomed into any adult gathering as a full participant. And now I wonder if my colleague will do the same as you have and just avoid socializing with that couple now – I’ll have to ask her. (I’d also like to ask her if she would like to be an ornery old bitch with me and her husband a curmudgeonly old bastard with you! Our club could be growing!)