The Death of a Dream and The Adult-Parent Line

We went to my sister’s house this past weekend to celebrate my two nephews’ birthdays.  We had a reasonably good time, but there were two snags.

The first involved my older nephew (who we’ll call A).  He just turned 5 and wasn’t playing nicely with NHL or JSL.  For example, he has one of those pop-up play tents.  At one point, NHL, JSL and I were inside it together.  He walked up and pushed the tent over on us.  Then, when JSL walked out of the tent, A pushed him down so his head hit a table.  After making sure JSL was ok (he was), I politely told A that that wasn’t nice and JSL could have been hurt.  A responded by putting his foot on my face (yes, touching!) and saying "Smell my feet!"  Then he stuck his tongue out at me.  NHL told A that he was being bad and had to go to a timeout.  I corrected NHL by telling him that only A’s mommy or daddy could send him to a timeout.  I couldn’t do that and NHL certainly couldn’t.

NHL had said that he didn’t want to come to the party because he remembered A being mean to him at last year’s party.  Now he’s totally convinced that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with A.  This saddens me.  When I was growing up, my family was never very close.  My youngest cousin was 5 years older than me and we saw them only once per year.  To this day, I’m ashamed to admit that I can’t tell all of my cousins apart.  I wouldn’t be able to name their wives and kids if you made it multiple choice!  When I was a child, I made a pledge to myself that my sister and I would be different.  We would see each other often and our kids would play together.

The reality, however, is that we only get together once or twice a year.  When we do, our kids don’t play well together.  A & NHL are seven months apart, so age shouldn’t be *that* much of a factor.  NHL is going to be even more leery of spending time with A now and it really pains me.  I’m just glad that they get along with their cousin on my wife’s side.

But the bad playtime between NHL and A wasn’t the worst incident that day.  That distinction goes to my sister’s husband’s friend S.  She is, as my parents put it, "bossy," but what she did transcended bossy and crossed a line.  She threatened my child with punishment if he didn’t perform an action.  Specifically, she told him he wouldn’t get any cake if he didn’t help clean up.  (This is one example.  She did this many times that day.)  Not only did she do this, but NHL was already helping to clean up.  (Which couldn’t be said for A.)  And, just to toss some additional salt in the wound, she did this while B was standing directly in front of her!  B was dumbstruck by the audacity of a person who wasn’t NHL’s parent or teacher… who wasn’t even a RELATIVE of NHL, threatening to punish NHL *RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIS MOTHER*!

Can you tell I’m really mad about this?  After the party, I told NHL that what she did was wrong.  Adults can and should help control situations with kids.  If you see a kid running or beating up another kid, you’re more than welcome to stop the action and tell the child that said action is wrong/dangerous.  That’s called being an adult.  You can ask my child to help clean up a mess.  That’s being an adult also.  But telling my child that not doing what they say will result in the loss of something is crossing the line.  Only parents (and a few others) can do this.

Not only are her punishment threats hollow (would she have seriously kept us from giving him cake?!!), but they weaken any punishment threats we might make.  NHL might reason that S told him he couldn’t have cake and yet he had cake, therefore, when Daddy says "No TV", he can watch TV anyway.  She’s lucky that we were too shocked to actually respond.  Next time, I assure you, we will respond and will put her in her place.

How do you handle it when your children don’t get along with close relatives?  Have you ever had an adult cross that parental punishment line?  How did you react?


  • Hmmm….my kids are sooo attached to my neice its amazing…I do threaten my neice w/ punishments etc and she knows i will follow thru but there have been times she has stayed w/ us as long as 3 weeks….
    and they get along really well w/ my husbands relatives as well(sometimes better than I like)

    as for the parent/adult line…i guess my line isnt quite so black and white….
    was the threat made to all kids or only yours?
    i have made similar threat to several kids @ my house as in”until this mess is picked up noone will have any cake”

    most of my friends and i are comfortable disciplining each others kids though and I am not around many that would be further out of that line of friends/family so I can’t see it bothering me. Also though I am that mom who at mcdonalds threatened a bunch of older kids (10-14) to get off the equip so the lil kids could play and when they diddnt i went to the mgr to insist that they do get off there….
    Steff(summer moms)

    Steff Jones’s last blog post..Firsts

  • TechyDad

    Not counting the two young ones, there were only two kids at the party – NHL and A. (My other nephew, age 2, and JSL, almost 2, were too young to really help out and weren’t being bossed around.) Plus, this wasn’t being done by a relative or the owner of the house, but by a friend of my sister’s husband. It would have been different had my sister been doing the threatening. Not that I would have been 100% OK with it, but at least she would have been a relative and at least it would have been her house. That would give her some level of authority. This woman was acting with no authority at all over my child with my wife right there!

    In the case of the McDonald’s incident, you acted on the Adult side of the line. You told the kids to give the little ones a chance. When they didn’t comply, you went to someone with actual authority over them (a manager). You didn’t attempt to punish them with no McFlurries if they didn’t get off right away (i.e. crossing to the Parent side of the line). That would have been an empty threat and the older kids would have known it.

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  • Holy crap – that’s almost unbelievable.

    much more than a mom’s last blog post..Finish This Sentence