While there's an abundance of advice out there about how to handle kids with bad manners, there's no handbook on coping with rude parents. That's why we asked etiquette experts to explain how to handle these offenders -- without losing your cool in front of your kids.
The Perp: The Hypercompetitive Mom
Anything your kid can do, hers can do better, faster, and last year. This is the same woman who, in college, wanted to know what your SAT scores were.
How to deal: Don't play the game, says Charles Dwyer, PhD, a University of Pennsylvania professor who teaches classes on how to influence people. When Hypercompetitive Mom starts gushing about her kid's performance in last week's preschool sing-along (after offering insincere condolences for your child's stage fright), give her a quick compliment, then excuse yourself to talk to someone else. Or, if you can keep a straight face, go a little overboard with your praise. Make predictions about her child's guaranteed showbiz success (the paparazzi will never leave her alone!). Hypercompetitive Mom will stop bragging if she thinks you aren't taking her seriously.
Of course, it's no fun to feel as if your kid is being sidelined. But it helps if you can emotionally detach and see how silly her gushing is. And never offer positive information about your child -- it's just an invitation for her one-upmanship. We know you're proud that Willy just learned to tie his shoes. Tell someone else.
The Perp: The Self-Proclaimed Expert
This mom has endless opinions about whether you should be working outside the home, what preschools you should apply to, and how long, how often, and from what angle your child should drink from your breast. Someday this woman is going to drive her daughter-in-law into therapy.
How to deal: First-time victims are bound to make the mistake of politely explaining themselves: "I stopped breastfeeding because my nipples were sore and the baby was still hungry after every feeding." But this parent isn't interested in your views or experience -- only your compliance. So just smile and give a brief thanks for her concern.
However, if this is a long-term friendship, you can only dodge so many conversations, says Donna Jones, author of Taming Your Family Zoo: Six Weeks to Raising a Well-Mannered Child. Eventually, you'll have to politely explain that your family has its own way of doing things and that her repeated intrusions are unwelcome. In these cases the "sandwich" approach works best -- start with a positive, insert the negative, and end on a positive. Say, "I think breastfeeding is great, but it didn't work for me. My doctor agrees that formula is the best choice. I appreciate your concern, but instead of helping me, you're making me feel bad. Thanks for respecting my decision." Then smile and add something you can both agree on, like, "Being a mom is more complicated than it looks, isn't it?"
The Perp: Selfish Mom
In this parent's mind, no child exists but her own. For example, at the library puppet show, the kids are instructed to sit on the floor so everybody can see. But when the show begins, Selfish Mom signals her daughter to sit up on her knees for a better view -- never mind that now your kid's view is blocked.
How to deal: It would feel great to give this mom a verbal thrashing, but that's not the way to get results. "If you're rude, Selfish Mom will feel justified in being rude right back," says P.M. Forni, PhD, author of Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct. "If you act like she didn't know how was rude she was, she can save face and fix the situation." Whisper, "Excuse me, but my daughter is behind yours, and she can't see. Would you mind asking your daughter to sit down?"
If this parent balks at your request, press a little harder. Say, "I realize that you don't want to disturb your daughter during the show, but I'd consider it a personal favor if you would ask her to sit like the other kids, the way the librarian asked." If she still refuses, there's no point in asking again. Reseat your child, or ask the librarian to step in. Yes, it's important to be your child's advocate. But it's also best to show her that nice trumps nasty.
The Perp: The Bad Influence
Your kids get along beautifully, but your values clash. Your child loves going over to Bad-Influence Mom's house because she lets the kids drink soda by the liter and play M-rated video games -- even though you've asked her not to.
How to deal: Without judging, make one last attempt to explain to this mom why you set your rules and how important they are to you, says Adam Wasson, author of Eats, Poops, and Leaves. "Telling a parent that she's a bad example will just upset her," he says. "All she hears is, 'I'm better than you.'"
If nothing changes after your chat, you have two choices: Make your house the "fun" house (best snacks, coolest G-rated activities) where the kids want to hang out, or relegate this friendship to in-school hours only. Yes, your child may be upset, but children also get upset when you don't let them eat Krispy Kremes for dinner.
The Perp: The Wimp
This mom lets her child flaunt every rule because she can't or won't stand up to him. At a playdate, she pretends not to notice when her kid hits yours. When you take the kids to the park, she lets her child feed the ducks, even though the sign forbids it. Wimpy Mom takes pride in being "laid-back," which really means she never disciplines her child -- she just wants to be his best friend.
How to deal: Be passive-aggressive. Instead of calling this mom's attention to the problem, get down on one knee and enlist her kid's cooperation: "Hey guys, let's use our words if we want something," or "Those ducks are going to get a tummy ache if we feed them crackers." If Wimpy Mom sees you talking to her child, don't shoot her a dirty look. "Give her one that says, 'I'm stepping in, because we all know it takes a village,'" says Wasson.
In the long term, cut back on playdates with this parent. You don't want to get stuck being the bad guy all the time, and your child will get frustrated seeing other kids break rules he has to follow.
The Perp: Thoughtless Mom
She shows up late for playdates, changes her baby's poopy diaper on your living-room couch, then plops it into your kitchen trash can. This mom is more oblivious than rude -- she's too overwhelmed or self-involved to realize how her behavior affects others.
How to deal: Coping with this mom requires a combination of backbone and funny bone. There's no point in getting offended; you need to set boundaries and protect your turf -- be it your time or furniture. "During a playdate, a parent started changing a dirty diaper on my coffee table next to the food!" recalls Wasson. "I swooped in with a big smile and said, 'Oh, look, we have a changing table right over here!' I almost grabbed the half-naked baby." Keep your tone apologetic and hospitable, like you know she would have done the right thing if she only knew where the changing table was.
You can cure recurring lateness by always ending playdates with this parent on time, regardless of how late they start, says Wasson. Apologize for the "previous commitment" that you simply can't miss, and let her know --pleasantly -- that you hope the kids will get their full two hours together next time.
Copyright © 2007. Reprinted with permission from the May 2007 issue of Parents magazine.