(photo credit: Musical Chairs by David Maddison on flickr.com. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.)
During brunch with my daughters, I told them about a woman I know who is friendly enough to me when I am alone, but when I am with my husband, whom she knows much better than she knows me, she comes over to us, stands between us, back to me, and talks only to him. I can’t recall what led into the conversation, but when I told my girls about this woman, both nodded their heads knowingly. We know exactly that type, they both said.
It’s the deliberate act of cutting the third person in a threesome out of the conversation that is offensive. In that particular situation, I don’t feel any closeness to this woman and have learned to walk away and perhaps tease my husband later about her focused attention on him. No big deal.
A few minutes after the brunch conversation had changed topics, one of my girls’ phones buzzed. She peeked at it and then, laughing, showed something to her sister, who also laughed. Without thinking about it, I asked what was so funny and could I see it and my daughters looked at each other and said no. This wasn’t the first time the three of us were together when one of them shared something with the other or started talking about something I didn’t know about and then both were put out by my asking about it.
I get that there are things that I don’t need to know about my kids (who are both in their late teens) and their friends, and I understand their need for privacy, yet I felt hurt at the moment that this occurred. Almost immediately, my daughter handed me the phone and said she felt bad not showing me but by then, I’d already felt the icky feeling and recognized that there wasn’t anything I needed to see, so I handed her back the phone without looking.
Tears had built up behind my eyes (happens WAY TOO OFTEN) and while I did my best to hold them back, I know the girls, who are both quite sensitive to my feelings, saw those tears. This made me feel worse.
I have no desire to intrude on the minute details of their social lives. Yes, I want to know the big stuff, but I don’t need to know all the minutiae, unless I suspect something is going on that could have a long-term negative impact on their lives. Hopefully, they will let me in when I need to be let in.
Despite my claims to not needing to know things, there have been several occasions when I’ve asked and then felt hurt by their negative responses. This usually happens when the three of us are eating a meal together.
It took several hours for me to subconsciously process, but later in the day, it struck me why I felt hurt instead of simply annoyed.
It was the same principle as what happens when I’m with my husband and I see the woman I told my girls about at brunch. But with her, I am mildly annoyed. Because I don’t care about the goings on in her life. If a close friend pulled the same move, I undoubtedly would be hurt by being ignored.
Because when three people are together, there is never a time to exclude one of them, even if the other two think it is in the third’s best interest. If there is something private that needs to occur between the two, they can wait until the third leaves the table or can talk about it some time when they are alone together, without friend #3.
Some people can pretend they aren’t bothered by an exclusion of that sort, but we all know that is a defense mechanism. Humans do not want to be left out. Period.
It gets tricky when it’s a parent-teenagers thing because the kids often forget, in the moment, that their parents are susceptible to normal human responses. If they are excluded deliberately and visibly, they get hurt. This is the time when kids come to understand how very unlike superheroes their parents are.
I’m not angry with my kids about what happened at brunch (nor about the similar incident that happened at dinner the night before), but I do need to help them understand that when I ask them questions about their social lives right after they’ve talked about it with the other person at the table, it is more about my normal human reaction than it is about prying into things they don’t want me privy to. If they don’t want me to ask, they should not set me up for the ask by talking about it while we are in a small group together.
This transitioning from hands-on parenting to on-a-need-to-know-basis parenting takes time. And there are growing pains. And growing pains hurt. Sometimes more than you expect them to hurt.
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