couples

'My friend's daughter is 'difficult'. Should I tell her?'

There are two basic rules of friendship I always try to follow: Never flirt with a friend’s partner, and never criticise their kids.

There are plenty more (the response to “I’ve put on so much weight” is always “no you haven’t!”), but these two are my touchstones. Mess with them at your peril.

BUT. But.

When their child becomes an issue that will affect your friendship, you have to say something.

I have a friend I’ve known for 30 years. We’ve been through thick and thin together – studying, working, dating, marriage and children. My pre-teen son is the same age as her daughter, an only child. But because I have an older child, one who has crashed through the crazy adolescent years and turned into a pretty great young adult, I can see problems looming.

Author, Margot Saville.

Her daughter, quite frankly, is a challenge to be around.

She doesn't look you in the eye, or respond to your attempts at conversation. She doesn’t want to join in any family activities, like going to the park or hanging out over a meal. Organising any joint outings is tricky – she likes hiding in her room and listening to music or playing computer games. Her mother forces her to come out with us, but it’s obviously an effort and there’s always conflict, between her and her mother, her and the other kids.

We pretend not to notice, but it makes everyone tense.

I totally understand the dynamic and I have huge sympathy for her mum. She works full-time and the last thing she wants to do every day is have an argument with her daughter. I remember bouts of full-time work when my kids were little – you have so little time with them every day, it’s much easier to just suck up the bad stuff. Most days, I just did the household chores after they were in bed because I wanted them to go to bed with a cuddle and a story, rather than an argument about their room.

Mother/Daughter fighting is common in their teen years. Watch the clip from Gilmore Girls below. 

Disciplining children is thankless and exhausting and a parenting chore for which the reward is way, way in the future. I’ve spent years of my life muttering “say please”, “say thank you” and “what do you say to Mrs Green?”, usually through gritted teeth with a forefinger poked sharply in the child’s ribs.

ADVERTISEMENT

Another friend has a very shy child and they used to role-play social situations together. “When we go in the room, you have to go up to all the adults, look them in the eye and say hello,” she’d say. “And you have to have a conversation for a few minutes before you can go off and watch TV.”

They would practise this at home before they went out. It worked, and her daughter is now a delightful 22 year old.

When mine were little, nothing made me happier than having people tell me that my kids had good manners. Usually I’d fess up – “home devils, street angels;  they’re not like this at home!”  But at home, I tried not to let standards slide.

My 19-year-old daughter reckons that between the ages of 13 and 16, we spent half our lives snapping at each other. “Don’t speak to me in that tone of voice, go to your room!” I’d hiss at her. Recently she confessed to me that when she broke the rules, she was scared of the consequences, knowing I’d follow through; no TV, no phone, no sleepovers.

I knew that she was swearing at me behind my back and mouthing off to her friends, but I pretended not to care, even when I was secretly in tears. “Your daughter is a monster!” I’d ring up and shout at my husband. Some days he would come home, take-away dinner in hand, to negotiate a cease-fire (in which we both screamed at him).

Michael Carr-Gregg’s book about teenage girls, “The Princess Bitchface Syndrome”.

Recently, I found my copy of Michael Carr-Gregg’s book about teenage girls, The Princess Bitchface Syndrome and re-read bits of it. It’s a great book; in it, he argues that many parents are surrendering their authority and allowing their daughters to rocket head first into early adulthood.

“We appear to be losing it when it comes to parenting our girls and it's time to grab back the reins,” he says. You are not your daughter’s best friend, he says. She needs guidance and discipline – yes, it’s hell but it does get better!

So what should I say to my friend? And am I subject to an unconscious gender bias; would I be quite so aware of it if she was a boy?

Should I get involved or let the two of them sort it out?

And by the way, the flirting rule still stands. I once saw a photo of me chatting to the class hunk at a school play. In that picture was a red-faced, middle-aged woman with her head thrown back, laughing at a  hilarious joke. With parsley on her front tooth. My daughter loved that one…

Click through the gallery below for some celeb mothers and daughters.

Like this? Why not try ...

The letter your teenager desperately wants to write to you, but can’t.

Can’t understand a word your teen is saying? We’re here to help.

The mystery that has teens locking themselves in their rooms – for years.

00:00 / ???