Sunday, October 4, 2009

And Now, For Something Completely Different...

Here's the thing: a situation just came up which was so annoying to me that I have been upset about it all day, even though maybe it's no big deal. So, I figure I'll just tell y'all what happened...

Now, whether or not you have pre-teen kids or stepkids, I can assume you fairly well remember what it was like to be elevenish. And this is an elevenish thing, so think back to those wonder years and tell me if you recognize any of this:

My daughter's friend asked to sleep over last night because her mom had some kind of early appointment Sunday morning and she didn't want to be left alone with her teenage brother. Okay, fine - We were supposed to go to a charity thing but my husband was really happy to get out of it by agreeing to stay home with the two girls. He took them out for pizza, then made popcorn for them while they watched a movie. So far, so good.

I came home from the concert (architects showcasing their musical talents to benefit Habitat for Humanity - not bad, actually) about 11:00 to find my husband fuming. He had just told them it was time to get to sleep and he saw that the friend was in my daughter's bed and my daughter was on the air-bed. The friend had all the blankets - the quilt and small blanket from the bed, and the big fleece blanket that he had brought in with the air-bed sheets. He mentioned that even though our house is warm at the end of the day, it gets cold during the night so the fleece needed to go back on the air-bed. Fifteen minutes later he heard them still talking and said they really had to sleep - my daughter has a workshop on Sundays and really couldn't be up until midnight. He noticed that the friend still had the blankets and my daughter had a little throw blanket from the sofa.

In the morning, I found out that the friend had said she didn't sleep well at home the night before and she needed to sleep in a real bed that night. She also said she gets really cold at night, so she needed all the blankets. (Her pajamas were a tank top with boxer-style shorts.) When we were alone my daughter said she really didn't sleep well since it's kinda weird to sleep in your own room but not in your own bed, plus it was cold with just that little throw so she kept waking up shivering, and that she was too tired to go to the workshop. She hadn't wanted to switch beds with the friend, but she felt bad saying no, so she did it anyway.

I said she had to go to the workshop. I told her that she was manipulated out of her bed and her blankets and that she should have either figured out how to say no or asked her dad for more blankets for her friend. This wasn't even a serious problem and she just allowed things to be bad for her because she wanted to be "nice". She would just have to be tired at the workshop because she had to live with the consequences of not standing up for herself in her own room, and that next time she should think twice before agreeing to let somebody else have whatever of hers they want. If she wants me to trust her in sticky situations, she needs to learn how to find solutions without just giving in to somebody else's wants.

Was I mean? I'm bummed that this friend did this (it turned out she had done it last time she slept over, too, but we just didn't ever find out), but I'm also bummed that my kid let herself be walked all over. If this friend was just horrible, I would put a moratorium on any more sleepovers with her - especially if she invites herself! But this is a generally good kid, although it seems that she has learned too well how to negotiate getting her own way by playing her recently divorced parents against each other.

I'm just worried that I was too hard on my own kid. She isn't very savvy to the kind of manipulations that kids with siblings are used to battling on a daily basis. I think that's one of the big benefits of having siblings - to learn when you need to stand up for yourself. But she doesn't have that tough skin - she doesn't want to say no if she thinks the other person will be upset. And in a few years, if that situation involves drugs or getting into a car with a drunk driver or some unwanted physical attention, I just want her to have the strength to say what she really means, instead of just giving up and muttering "Umm, okay, I guess...".

It was only a sleepover, and maybe I was overly influenced by my husband's bad reaction, but it really bummed me out. Why didn't she just grab one of the blankets back when she woke up shivering? Why didn't she come wake me up if she couldn't find another blanket in the closet? Did she even bother to look for another blanket?

At the same time, I don't want to teach her to be selfish. How do I make sure she can be a good hostess AND take care of herself? And later, how do I tell her that she has to be a good friend AND call the police if something scary is happening? All I know now that this teenager thing is not going to be easy...


NoodleGirl said...

I really enjoyed reading this. After blog after blog post about IF (including my own!), it's nice to ponder something different.

I think this is one of those circumstances that seem like tough love in the short-term, but a valuable lesson in the long-term. At first I was surprised as I read how you handled it, that instead of sympathizing with your daughter (at least to her face), you made her take responsibility for her part in the dynamic. But as I kept reading, I think that was the perfect response. You would be doing her no favors by helping her feel victimized. She needs to know how to handle these kinds of situations in the future, because as she gets into those teenaged years, there will be plenty of girls trying to manipulate her (mostly for little petty things) and plenty of boys playing their own games with their own agenda.

I was one of those girls like your daughter. I was soft-spoken and tried to be everyone's friend, often to my own detriment. I wish someone had told me that it wasn't the way it was supposed to be and that I needed to start fighting my own battles. It wasn't until I had graduated from college that I became good at standing up for myself, and there were way too many instances in way too many years where I went along with things that I did not want to, simply because I wasn't aware how, or even if I could, stand up for myself. I needed to learn that a little confrontation is not always a bad thing.

Good for you for teaching your daughter that her voice needs to be heard at a young age.

PJ said...

I think you did the right thing. I'm big on "natural consequences". I think they teach some of the best lessons.

She has to know she's being manipulated. I mean, I could see it if it were a compromise, like they took turns, you have the bed this time, I'll have it next time, that kind of thing. But it wasn't like that.

She'll learn. :)

Mad Hatter said...

I, too, support your approach. Well done! Your daughter is going to be stronger for it. I'm not sure if you've done this, or plan to do this, but the next thing I would do is sit down with her and go over what she might have said, such as, "I have a workshop tomorrow, so I need to sleep in my own bed. Why don't we talk to my dad and see if he has a solution for us?" I find it's helpful for kids to have a script to draw on for next time.

Evergreen said...

To tell you the truth, my first reaction was that you were being too harsh. But then, as you went on, I agreed with you - your daughter needs to learn to stand up for herself so she doesn't get manipulated into dangerous or emotionally-yucky situations. Maybe having a relaxed conversation with her later to go over with her why you responded like that, and that you want her to be able to stand up for herself with self-confidence. Women are people pleasers, and it is a hard thing to unlearn, even at an early age.

RoseAG said...

I think you did the right thing. Kids have to learn these things the hard way.

However I also think I'd put this friend on the "watch list." First she invites herself over, then she blows off Dad's direction and hogs the bed and the covers. How do you know that in 2-3 years she won't be the one pressuring your daughter to climb out the window after the folks turn in and have a little late-night adventure?

I never went so far as to ban certain friends for my kids, although when I was a girl I knew of parents who did this. But I did allow myself opinions about them, even if I kept them to myself.

Your kid + some friends = happy results.
Your kid + other friends = trouble waiting to happen.

It's fair to subtly encourage and discourage friends. You don't need to get on your soap box, your daughter has to learn about people herself. You just need to help her understand that with some people saying no never works so it's OK to steer clear of them.

If this girl were a toddler and you had her over and she ignored the Dad, then bite your daughter you wouldn't hesitate to have something else to do the next time a playdate came along.

Rebecca said...

I don't think you were too harsh, and I think it's important to teach children at a young age how to politely but firmly assert themselves and not let themselves be walked all over. I'm a people pleaser (and also an only child) and even now as a full-grown adult it's something that I struggle with.

I agree with Mad Hatter's comments that sitting down with her and going over what she might have said (and could say next time) could be very beneficial. I would even recommend role-playing it with her so that she becomes more comfortable with it.

I totally admit I have no parental experience, only the experience of being the same kind of not-standing-up-for-myself child, so this next part may sound a little weird: I'd even suggest maybe inviting that friend for another sleepover (or allowing it if the friend invites herself), because now that your daughter has had experience with the situation twice with the same friend, she'll know what to expect. It might be easier for her to practice asserting herself in a situation she's already faced, especially if you and she walk through it together beforehand.

stillhopeful said...

I think you did a really good thing for your daughter. I was one of those shy, people pleasers when I was growing up, and it would hae been nice to be taught how to stand up for myself a little more. At 41+, I've become much more assertive, but it didn't come naturally for me as a child at all!

chicklet said...

I'm with you on teaching her that she enabled this to happen. Yea, you need to support her, but I think it's also important to teach her that these kinds of situations are partly in her control. It'll do her well for relationships with boys too...