Hax: Keep silence about bratty behavior

The Washington PostSeptember 17, 2013 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Carolyn: My husband’s brother has four kids under 10. They are all sweet kids. But they talk back, don’t listen, don’t take “no” for an answer, and seek out trouble for attention. Conversations are interrupted, and we spend a good portion of the visit listening to their parents saying “no” over and over, repeating instructions, negotiating, yelling and making idle threats.

We’ve also started seeing less of them because their family dynamics are unpleasant.

Should we say something to the parents (which will probably be taken badly because we don’t have any kids ourselves)?

IN-LAWS

What would be your intention in saying something — to explain your pulling away? To wake them up to their parental failings? To improve them? To register your disapproval?

Their household sounds more chaotic than necessary, but I won’t bother trying to figure out how much chaos is unavoidable with four under 10, and how much of your opinion is affected by your not having kids of your own. I can’t call these accurately without being there.

Fortunately, the conversation can stop at “What do you hope to accomplish?” I just don’t see any benefit to your speaking up — for them, for you or for family peace. Best just to hang on, at arm’s length if needed, till the kids/parents outgrow this phase.

Re: Family: We took the tack you suggested, but it’s been frustrating. It’s almost impossible in these settings to have a conversation. We’ve really curtailed our time at family events because of this, and his family now thinks we’re standoffish. Is there a middle way?

ANONYMOUS 2

Sure — minimize your daytime exposure by finding day trips, running errands, etc., and be at your most present after kiddie bedtime.

If you have a history of being involved and patient with the kids, you’re also in good standing to ask for adult time. If these parents are touchy, though, it’s best just to ride it out.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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