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.