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.