A Divided Village

Welcome to the "On Balance" guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Diana Beckmann

My sister and I are two years apart. I'm the oldest. We have always been very different, and not able to appreciate each other. So ours was a tense childhood. But then we both got married within a year and had daughters 13 months apart. Suddenly, we had so much in common, or so I thought.

I knew that my sister and I were raising our kids differently. But she lives hundreds of miles away, and the differences weren't so obvious over the phone and via e-mail. Then, last summer, I realized just how different we are as parents.

As a village-type parent, I can deal with letting other adults acting as an authority figure even when I'm there. My friends have scolded my kids for jumping on the furniture -- and they have also given them ice for their bumped knees. I have to be comfortable with other parents making minor decisions about my child that I might not -- like giving them popsicles an hour before dinner. No big deal in the overall parenting scheme.

My sister is what I call an island type of parent. It is important for her to make every decision. She doesn't want anyone else to impose their rules or parenting styles on her children. If her kids are misbehaving or want something, she wants to be told so she can handle it her way.

The event that brought this to light was a family reunion at a beach house in Nags Head, a happy trip to celebrate our parents' 40th anniversary. At the time, my daughter was seven and my son nearly four. My sister's daughters were six and four, and my sister was four months pregnant. Our four kids ran around in a happy pack.

So when my six-year-old niece asked if she could stay with my husband and our son at the pool instead of going to the beach, he thought he was doing something nice. But because it wasn't cleared with my sister first (she informed us in no uncertain terms that she would not have let her daughter stay at the pool), she was livid. We had no right to change her family plans, she screamed at me. We were never to make any decisions for her children without consulting her first. From them on, we didn't get my nieces a glass of juice without asking my sister first.

For many months afterward, I replayed this incident in my mind. Was I imposing too much of my own parenting style on her children? Was she overreacting? Eventually, my sister apologized and all was forgiven. But on a recent business trip to her hometown, I made sure to tread lightly with her children -- even when her girls were swinging golf clubs in the dining room while their little brother crawled on the floor. I calmly picked up the baby, asked my sister if the girls should be doing that and let her take care of it.

What's your parenting philosophy? Are you a village or an island? How do you balance parenting styles in a multi-family environment? Have different styles ever broken up a friendship? What's your advice on handling different approaches to parenting in the same family, neighborhood or community group?

Diana Beckmann lives with her family in Washington, D.C.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  March 11, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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Wow...she sounds a bit like a control freak. Maybe the problem was that her daughter wanted to spend time with you instead of her? Small wonder...

Posted by: Catwhowalked | March 11, 2008 7:28 AM

I could see balking at someone else disciplining my child if their practices were super-draconian or something, but good God...

Posted by: Corvette1975 | March 11, 2008 7:50 AM

I am little island a little village. Overall, I think it is a positive thing for kids to take direction from other adults. I also think there are some things that a purely a parent's domain. I don't have any issues with my brothers or their wives. But my SIL, who is a village, has a very different parenting style. She is a screamer and a hitter. She hits her two kids for simple things like a 2 year old wetting their pants or her 3 year old sucking her fingers. She also is verbally abusive to her husband. So in general, we are total opposites. We are big fans of the time out method and we have no issues with potty training and thumb sucking. Overall, we find those two issues very kid dependent. They will stop when they are ready and they will train when they are ready. But even on serious issues of safety, when I do yell and even do some light hand slapping, I reserve it for safety issues. Not for spilling milk or wetting your pants. But we have both found a way to live with each other when we are together. And we are together for a fair amount of the time. I wasn't thrilled when my SIL told my daughter she couldn't come into my house when she was in the back yard one day. I think she got that I wasn't thrilled by my face and she stopped doing it immediately. I guess my rule is when in your house, you set the rules and in my home I set the rules for at least my own kids. I would never think of setting the rules for her kid because I know how she feels. I think your sister yelling at you, is wrong. She needed to take a breather and talk to you about it rationally.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 11, 2008 7:55 AM

I think your sister has issues that goes beyond parenting style. I think this points more toward her feeings toward you-
the hostility seems out of place over such a minor issue.

Posted by: marielley | March 11, 2008 8:00 AM

I am a village kind of parent. I want my friends and family to act as authority figures...thankfully they feel the same way about me with their kids. On Sunday when my sister-in-law gave my daughter thirds on dessert all I could do was laugh. I would have let her kids have more too.

Posted by: marcia | March 11, 2008 8:55 AM

I think different parenting styles definitely can break a friendship. I have had a number of people tell me that they have stopped inviting certain friends to their homes because their kids are not taught the proper behavior. I am not not talking about a toddler but a 4 year old and up. However, it seems to me that the sister in this post is a bit of a control freak. Of course, if we had a rebuttal from her side, we may be able to judge her parenting style better. There is always another side to any story.

Posted by: tsm | March 11, 2008 9:00 AM

It's interesting to me that your sister displays her "island" parenting style so agressively within the family. I would be less surprised if she was uptight around strangers at the playground, but shouting at you over when a kid leaves the pool makes her sound a little nuts.

Posted by: TashaMike | March 11, 2008 9:03 AM

In the sister's defense, an answer of "it's OK with me, let's check with your mom" would probably been in order. But...her reaction was still a bit over the top. Sounds like there is more to the story here...

Posted by: Catwhowalked | March 11, 2008 9:05 AM

I tend to fall into the "whatever" camp as long as the kids are safe and happy. My friends are people I'm pretty comfortable with correcting my child; they are my friends, after all, in part because we're compatible. I'll stick up a bit for the sister here, though. It seems to be a matter of where her child is, which of course I would want to know and if they're not where I expected that is unsettling. Second, it would've been an easy response to answer the child's request with "ask your mother". No, I'm not going to check in with the mom every time -- she's not MY authority figure. But she is the child's, and when they're young, that's a notion that needs reinforcement, so have them check with their parents.

Posted by: topicaltimely | March 11, 2008 9:09 AM

I'm lazy. So I'm a village parent, particularly in a social situation. I'm likely to let many things slide in the name of "getting along." And hey - if somebody will watch my kid at the pool so I don't have to watch them at the beach you won't hear me complaining!

As many have suggested, I think this was a lot more about your sister relating to her family than a parenting issue.

When I get together with my family I become my more exaggerated worst self. My sister, who is a bit of a control freak herself takes over. I get more laid-back than usual. In non-family situations I'm more likely to move towards the controlling side.

Perhaps all-family vacations are not the way for you and your sister to relate. Try a girls-only trip or something.

Posted by: RedBird27 | March 11, 2008 9:26 AM

Was this the only time she reacted in this manner? I wonder if maybe the pregnancy hormones had something to do with the severity of her response?

Posted by: mdsails | March 11, 2008 9:33 AM

It depends on the situation. If I'm standing right there, I don't like for other people to discipline my kid. I think that's pretty rude. However, if I am in the bathroom or otherwise distracted and my kid is doing something particularly naughty, by all means, say something!

"In the sister's defense, an answer of "it's OK with me, let's check with your mom" would probably been in order. But...her reaction was still a bit over the top. Sounds like there is more to the story here..."

That sounds right to me, too. If my daughter's friend asks me for an extra cookie, I always tell him to see what his mom says. It's really not my call.

Posted by: floof | March 11, 2008 9:36 AM

I am a village parent, by and large, and appreciate other parents showing the same concern for my children that I would for theirs. However, because we so often get requests for friends and kids in the family to stay with us or go somewhere with us, my response is always "it's fine with me if it's okay with your mom/dad." This respects the authority of other parents and reinforces with the child the need for parental permission to do something unexpected.

Having said that, I do think that yelling about the occurrence described is totally over the top and may have made the child feel bad depending upon the circumstances (when the child really did nothing wrong).

My hardest issue as a parent around other parents is when parents don't follow through and enforce their decisions. I almost have to follow through for them. That's where the island parent is going to get REALLY mad at me. LOL.

Interesting piece. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: hlee | March 11, 2008 9:38 AM

I'm mostly village - I come from a cultural background where everyone is in everyone else's business, so I couldn't hide anything from my folks. But I do find that I take discipline of my daughter better when it comes from either people I've put in a position of authority (i.e., teachers) or from other parents. When my brother (who has no kids) snaps at her for doing something stupid (as she is wont to do) I get irritated but try to let it go. If my friends with kids did that, I'd probably be more forgiving -- I think because I feel like people with kids, or people who are around kids a lot, have a better calibration on what is normal behavior and what is not.

I have gotten irritated with my parents for letting my daughter stay up past her naptime, or bedtime, or feeding her chocolate chip cookies at 6 and then wondering why she won't eat her dinner at 6:30. But I figure that's part of grandparent prerogative. Maybe the sister knows some secret behavioral pattern that mandates going to the beach instead of the pool...? I still remember how livid I was when my parents took my then-six-month-old to a party and promised to be home by 7 p.m. and showed up at 10 p.m., with the baby screaming and overtired. They palmed her off on me to "fix" and make her stop crying. Maybe the sister had some sort of early parenting flashback...? I don't know.

Posted by: anny | March 11, 2008 9:40 AM

Good topic today, Diana. However, defining your sister's parenting style based on a single incident when:
1. She is 4 months pregnant
2. There are a Bunch of little kids running around the house
3. The situation involves life-threatening surroundings such as beaches and pools, and
4. She apologized for her behavior;

I think you're being a little unfair here.

But it reminded me of and incident that happened at the park when my son was about 5 years old. After he ran *UP* the slide, a lady blasted him with, "No running up the slide! Do you understand?" At which point my son answered, "You're not my boss! You don't make the rules!"

I thought to myself, "Good boy! Heh Heh. and I wasn't about to interfere with their dialog. Had she been polite enough to ask, "Please don't run up the slide, I'm afraid you'll hurt my daughter", I would have helped her encourage my son to engage in a different activity. As it stood, if she has the will to make the rules, she should have the will to enforce them!

Posted by: GutlessCoward | March 11, 2008 9:42 AM

I KNOW this is off topic; and, let me just say that I'm not a natural Madona fan, but has anyone notice how fabulous she looks. She will be 50 in a few short months. I know we're talking about parenting style, but not everyone reading this post is not a parent. Young or old, everyone reading is or will have to deal with the getting old issue. I want to sweept it under the carpet, but has anyone else notice how all the websites has winkle erasing pencils with women pictures, turning these pictures from 80's looking to 20's. What's going on? Coming back to Madona, she is not my role model, but I can't stop looking at her. I know she's had a lot of work done and .... But can you belive how good she looks. Does it bother anyone that she's setting the bar so high in the youth looking in your 50's thingy.

Posted by: lourd | March 11, 2008 9:45 AM

Good Lord. Your sister is a loon.

I'm with Redbird: I'm just too damn lazy to insist on controlling every minute aspect of my kids' life. If everyone gets fed, gets to school on time, gets homework done, and gets into bed at a reasonable hour, preferably without an ER visit along the way, then I've succeeded; if we're all relatively happy and meltdown-free, that's the cherry on top. I LOVE group outings, because the kids entertain each other, and my work is limited to the periodic "no. stop. don't." (channeling Willy Wonka, of course). And if someone else wants take over that job, more power to them!

I also think there are a variety of ways to raise kids, the vast majority of which won't harm the kid, and it's not necessarily a bad thing for my kids to learn that other grownups' have their own rules, which need to be followed. I would draw the line at someone smacking or yelling at my kid (and would never treat someone else's kid that way). But other than that, go at it.

Posted by: laura33 | March 11, 2008 9:45 AM

I agree that the sister's response was over the top, especially since she's acting this way with her own family.

You mentioned your family trip to beach and then separately to her house. If she had been visiting your house and she was not around to supervise her childeren, would you step in?

Posted by: bdk64 | March 11, 2008 9:45 AM

What I've seen, over time, is that some parents start out as "islands" and become "villages" as their kids grow and they get more confident (or exhausted) as parents. It becomes increasingly hard to be so controlling when you have several children, and as they become more independent.

Also, some kids are just crazy when they are young, and they become better behaved as they mature.

I would step lightly with friends and relatives, be understanding of their overinvolvement or uptight ways, at least for the first few years. If the parents are still controlling when their kids are teenagers, get out of the way! THAT's nuts.

Posted by: leslie4 | March 11, 2008 9:55 AM

I am not sure there's enough information here to form an informed opinion about the sister. There's a lot of grey area on this subject matter.

Posted by: lourd | March 11, 2008 10:01 AM

Off topic alert: I posted this yesterday, but in case you missed it, I'm working on a project that explores the reality of the challenges stay-at-home moms face when they return to work. There is a brief 20 question survey at Moms at Work (http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=MGKrtmhhg2AUepXCZErkaA_3d_3d). There are many myths and misconceptions about moms who stay home and then transition back -- share your story to set the record straight. Thanks -- back to the discussion...

Posted by: leslie4 | March 11, 2008 10:01 AM

I appreciate good parenting and will let others discipline my child, as long as it is not physical. Once they cross the physical line, they do not have authority to discipline. Also, if they do not discipline their own child when that child has harmed my DS, we tend to reduce our contact with them.

My reaction was the same four items that GutlessCoward cited. All bets are off when the woman is pregnant and hormones are running rampant. The only thing worse is pre-egg harvesting in vitro when they actually pump the woman up with hormones.

Posted by: WorkingDad | March 11, 2008 10:11 AM

"For many months afterward, I replayed this incident in my mind. Was I imposing too much of my own parenting style on her children? Was she overreacting?"

For "many months afterward"? And you're wondering is SHE was overreacting? Yes, she was - but that's beside the point.

You need a hobby. Why would anyone wonder about something like this for months?

Posted by: achilli | March 11, 2008 10:14 AM

I'm definitely a village parent, since I live in a cohousing neighborhood. This is a neighborhood set up to have folks be neighborly-- everything's pedestrian-oriented and we know one another very well. It really is like a village, and my children have friends of all ages (one of my 6-year-old's favorite friends is a 69-year-old who shares her love of science). Here's a link to the national website: http://www.cohousing.org/

Different cohousing neighborhoods vary, but the one we're living in now has a norm that any adult can gently correct a child they see who's doing something dangerous or destructive, and the child is supposed to listen to him or her. If the child thinks this is inappropriate or unfair they can talk to their parents about it. But since we all know each others' kids, and we have about 10 good interactions for every one disciplinary one, the kids take it very well.

An example is a few weeks ago, when I saw some kids in my neighborhood throwing the wood chips from the playground all over the place. For safety reasons, we have a rule that wood chips should stay underneath the playground. I asked them to stop, once, and two minutes later one of the kids (who'd recently moved here) did it again. So I asked ALL the kids who'd thrown woodchips to help me pick up the wood chips off the grass (and I did some myself). The kids understood the justice in this and obeyed. I didn't tell their parents about it, and I doubt they did either.

This is mostly for older kids, not younger ones. I think Leslie's right-- parents are more easygoing as their children get older.

Posted by: mlscha | March 11, 2008 10:15 AM

Diana, your sister's problem is with you. Being the youngest, she may have felt overshadowed and overruled by you as a child, and therefore overreacted to a small event that pushed some old emotional buttons with her (pregnancy probably didn't help in the situation). You might try talking to her about how she feels about you. Get her alone at the right moment and find out if there are things that you do or have done that annoy her or make her feel bad. Listen carefully to her answers and tell her you will try to do better in the future. You need to work on building trust with her and moving beyond the sibling conflicts so that you can really become friends.

Posted by: pinkoleander | March 11, 2008 10:20 AM

What I think would be fun is Easter dinner this year (assuming the author celebrates), you think her sister was mad before? Easter oughta look like fourth of July!

Totally OT, in light of the recent Spitzer situation and as a compliment to the piece last week, I'd like to see an article in the WaPo about how dumb men are - doing stuff like this again and again.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 11, 2008 10:22 AM

Moxie, you make me laugh, again. You also sound like my husband -- every time some highly-paid athlete or CEO or whatever gets in trouble, he says, "You know, how stupid do you have to be? All he had to do was keep it in his pants, and he had it made."

Posted by: laura33 | March 11, 2008 10:36 AM

My biggest issue is as a clergy spouse (my kids are a bit older). I feel I have to tread very carefully with congregants' children acting inappropriately... if the parent is nearby, I might quietly say something to them. If not, it depends on the kind of behavior. It's a very fine line I tread - part of the clergy life.

This is also why I will never teach Sunday school :)

Posted by: lorenw507 | March 11, 2008 10:45 AM

"In the sister's defense, an answer of "it's OK with me, let's check with your mom" would probably been in order."

This sounds nice enough, but if you've been on the receiving end of it, it becomes a leverage point. "Mommy, they said it would be okay. Can I? Can I?" If you seek to tread as lightly as possible and not back another parent into a corner, the answer is, "Have you asked your mother (or dad, depending)?"

The sister's concern could be as simple as wanting her kids not to spend a beach vacation exclusively hanging around at the pool. They have a pool back in Des Moines. They only have the beach for a week. I've known many parents who require their kids to all stay together (so as not to have the other kids say, "I want to stay at the pool, too" and create beach mutiny) on beach vacations. It's not a battle I'd fight but I can understand.

Posted by: anonfornow | March 11, 2008 10:45 AM

I tend to be a village with my family and close friends, otherwise, I'm an island.

Years ago, when my son was about 3, he was playing a little roughly with his friend at the park. No hitting or aggression, but he was holding his friend by the shoulders and swaying back and forth. The other kid was laughing and playing along, but I did call out for them to stop swaying, because I was afraid that they would bonk heads. Just as I did that, the other kid's father grabbed my son by the arm and pulled him away very roughly, yelling at him to stop, and frankly scared him. My son ran to me in tears, pointing at his friend's father and telling me that he had hurt him. I did not have to say anything to the other kid's dad, because my son was explicit and forceful enough himself, and the other guy looked pretty embarrassed afterwards. I was pretty irked though, that he put his hands on my son, and I think the look on my face was enough. Ever since then, I don't let my son go to that particular friend's house by himself. His friend can either come over to our house, or we can meet at a park where I will supervise. I just don't trust this man to be appropriate in the way he disciplines. With my family, I am very laid back. My brothers play with my son all the time, and they tease him a bit as well, but he takes it and gives it back in kind, so I don't interfere. I just figure it is part of their male interaction. My mom grandparents in her own way, and I pretty much let her set her own rules when she babysits or when we are at her home.

Posted by: emily111 | March 11, 2008 10:47 AM

I was watching the today show today, and they were talking about the same thing. I almost spit out my coffee as I saw clips of various politicians in their moments of crisis -- Spitzer, Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, Jim McGreevey, and some others that I don't recall right now. A litany of powerful men who got in trouble for a little bit of hot sex. I goes to show you what a powerful impulse it is.

Posted by: emily111 | March 11, 2008 10:53 AM

emily/moxiemom: Dina McGreevey is the "expert" on shocked politician's wife perspective. She must be ok with it as she too was on today show. I couldn't believe Lauer asked her why women stand by their husbands at the press conference acknowledging the misdeed. Um, you're in shock; the man is still the father of your children, ...

Posted by: tntkate | March 11, 2008 11:24 AM

I find the biggest playdate issues are food and tv watching.

I usually ask the kids "Do your parents say it's okay to watch TV in the afternoon?" or "Have a popsicle for dessert?"

The kids ALWAYS say "yes" but I can usually tell if it's the truth or they are trying to get away with something.

For older kids, one of the issues is whether they can go to the park with my kids alone (no adult supervision). This is trickier. I would hate to do something another parent felt was dangerous. And parents know best whether their kids are responsible or not.

When in doubt I usually call the parents to check. And I've gotten better at asking in advance whether certain stuff is okay.

Posted by: leslie4 | March 11, 2008 11:50 AM

I'm mostly village but I expect other parents to be engaged. My willingness to step into the breach has sometimes left me in a position where others rely on me to set limits for a group of kids when I feel it should be a team effort. It does affect friendships. Most of my good friends share similar attitudes to children and discipline. I really appreciate it when someone else reinforces some message I'm trying to teach -- maybe that's a particular function of being a single parent. I'll take all the help I can get!!

Posted by: anne.saunders | March 11, 2008 12:00 PM

tntkate- frankly I don't get the standing by your man at the press conference. I would have told my husband, "you got yourself in, now get yourself out". The sad, sad thing about Spitzer is that he has three teen/late teen daughters - what does this do to them? Frankly, I'd like to see one of these gals do a waiting to exhale on these louts!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 11, 2008 12:20 PM

I am a village kinda person. I will correct other kids if they need it and don't have a problem with others talking to my kids. I would have a problem with someone being physical, though.

I think the people that say that their kids should only be disciplined by them are a little nutty. My SIL is that way - she doesn't want ANYONE disciplining her boys (dad would never do anything anyway). I think that sends the message that if SHE isn't there, then it's okay to do 'bad' things, cause no one else is 'allowed' to discipline. In that way, are you also saying that teachers/police officers/whoever shouldn't talk to your kids and be able to discipline? I don't really agree with that...

Or maybe it's just that my SIL has a problem with my DH disciplining her child due to sibling issues. Who knows.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 11, 2008 12:25 PM

moxiemom: I am with you... I couldn't stand there in the glare of the cameras with my every facial expression being analyzed during such a publicly humilating moment.

As for Spitzer's daughters -- what did Monica affair do to Chelsea Clinton? I can't forget the photo of her walking between her parents on the White House lawn...

Posted by: tntkate | March 11, 2008 12:28 PM

Your sister's reaction, even if it would have been better to consult her, was completely out of control. And clearly, control is her thing. I run screaming from folks like that, can't handle the stress of their obsessiveness. Sorry you have to deal with that.

Posted by: lorikay | March 11, 2008 12:43 PM

We went from village parenting to island parenting when we moved closer to family. In-laws felt free to push us out of the way to yell at and discipline DD yet bent over backwards to fawn over her petulant, manipulative cousin (ten months older). FIL refuses to stop tickle-touch games which apparently are inappropriate for five year old girls only to me (and DD's doctor, daycare provider...). MIL grabbed DD and shook her over a minor infraction. SIL & FIL grabbed infant DS and insisted on an evening photo shoot (to get the Grandparent of the Year photos for in-laws), passed him around until he was screaming, then handed him off to precious niece. And they wonder why I don't trust them?! The village concept works fine if you have trust and equal treatment for all the kids.
And yes, we're the family bad guys here for daring to set some boundaries.

Posted by: StrollerMomma | March 11, 2008 1:14 PM

StrollerMama, I'd say all bets are off when you are dealing with the kind of behavior you describe, particularly FIL. That's not a matter of island/village, that's a matter of safety, and I'm glad you have the wherewithal to take appropriate steps in spite of whatever labels your family may apply.

Posted by: LizaBean | March 11, 2008 1:55 PM

I've never thought about this before, but I guess I must be an "island" when it comes to discipline and a "village" when it comes to everything else.

I don't believe anyone has the right to discipline someone else's child unless you have a very close relationship with that person. My parents are more than welcome to get involved when she's being naughty, but anyone else? No way. A member of my family yelled at my daughter recently, and you'd better believe I took that person to task. If you have a problem with my child's behavior, you talk to me about it and I will handle it. But if my sister wanted to feed dessert to my daughter or let her play at her house, I'd be fine with it.

Posted by: lkahern | March 11, 2008 2:06 PM

Wow! That could have been written by me about one of my sisters. Not the details, but the overall sibling relationship.

I'm oldest, middle sister has no children of her own, but currently over-controls a soon-to-be step-daughter. In her previous marriage, she over-controlled a step-son.

She's only hit my older son once, at our parents's home at their 40th wedding anniversary. She'll never make that mistake again, I'm sure.

Youngest sister and I are great buddies, and while our parenting styles are somewhat different, we respect each other, and love each other's kids to pieces. I have no problems with her disciplining either of my boys, because she'll do it in a loving way, and to keep them safe. Not physical punishment, although that's her choice with her daughter. I can't remember having to discipline her daughter, but it wouldn't be an issue for her if a situation called for it and I stepped in.

Somehow, I think middle sister and I have some sort of history or incident that goes back to toddlerhood, and that neither of us can remember. If she remembers whatever the grudge is about, she hasn't told me. Anything I say, she immediately disagrees with me, and will accuse me of being mean to her because I don't agree with her. If she says something, and I don't happen to agree with her, I know I have to shut my mouth and walk away, because anything else is, again, me attacking her and being mean to her. Please understand that it's her view that I'm always mean to her, and always picking on her. My view is that I am discussing facts and opinions, not making personal attacks.

The rest of the family kind of considers it a joke - Sue and (middle sister) are at it again, let's watch the fur fly! I'm just not willing to keep putting myself through it anymore. Some number of years ago (I don't even know how long) I was forced to learn my email filtering software, so I could set up a twit-filter and not see email from her anymore. About a year ago, she finally resorted to something similar - although she requested that I stop emailing her, and I've respected that.

We live in different states, so we almost never see each other. But I'm really not looking forward to our parents' 50th wedding anniversary. Everyone will be all together, but not at the parents' home this time, where I could walk to the back corner of their 5-acre pasture to get away from her. Dad is taking everyone on a five-day cruise to Mexico. I'm really hoping that the ship is big enough that I can completely avoid her - and that she lets me!

I guess some people really have nothing in common, except having the same parents. And if there's no respect or tolerance for differences, it's easiest not to have contact.

Posted by: sue | March 11, 2008 2:09 PM

Diana - I wonder how your sister feels about being portrayed as a control freak in a national newspaper.

How do you think this article is going to impact the dynamics between you and her? I bet the next family reunion will be even more fun than the last.

Posted by: confusedeasily | March 11, 2008 2:14 PM

Diana -- I'm in agreement with the other people here who think your sister has issues. If she was unhappy with your inadvertent parenting intervention, she should have talked with you calmly as an adult. How were you or anyone to know this would upset her, since as you say you're not around her enough to know her style?

As for making your the object of national ridicule here, all I can say if my brother were to act this way, I'd say he deserved it. Likewise myself. You're family; siblings need to learn to deal.

Posted by: sb | March 11, 2008 2:25 PM

Okay, I'm going to regret this, but I'll bite - StrollerMama, why is it inappropriate for your FIL to play "tickle-touch games" with his 5 year old granddaughter?

Would it be inappropriate for the grandmother to do that? Would it be inappropriate if it was a 5 year old boy?

I grew up in a family where "roughhousing", piggy-back rides, hugs, and other physical contact was part of the norm. I guess I would be offended if some future DIL told me not to touch my future grand-daughter.

It's completely different, of course, if the 5-year old herself doesn't want to be involved in these games. No one should be dragged in to such roughhousing against his or her will.

It's also completely inappropriate if the tickling/touching is done in, shall we say, "private areas". We've taught our kids from the start that no one - including their parents - should invade their privacy in that way.

And if indeed that you believe your FIL is trying to molest his granddaughter then you should take it to authorities, pronto. Stop before he molests somebody else.

But to say that any non-sexual, consensual physical contact such as tickling/touching is inappropriate just strikes me as wrong.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 11, 2008 2:28 PM

Oh, and as for the village/island thing, I'm both. If my kid is misbehaving and I'm not present, of course any trusted adult should deal with it. But I'd also like to know, not to second guess, but so I can make sure it doesn't happen again. Or if said adult overreacted, to deal with the aftermath. But I wouldn't blame a trusted adult for not doing exactly what I would have done.

And I generally wouldn't leave my child with an untrusted adult, except in extenuating or unforseen circumstances. So if you're such control freak, don't leave your kid out of your sight in the company of other adults. Sheesh!

Posted by: sb | March 11, 2008 2:29 PM

Sue: I have to say your post scares me a bit. I am currently pregnant with my second child. A big reason for another child was to provide each of my children a sibling. We especially worry when we are dead and gone. We wanted them to have a life long bond with another person outside of their spouse and children. Of course loving and nurturing another child was an attractive thing as well. But mostly we wanted them to have each other. My question is, do you think you guys do not have a good relationship because of the way you were raised (parents not supportive of sibling relationships) or that you just have really different personalities or that one person is just toxic? I keep telling my husband that siblings are not necessarily friends. He is convinced when siblings grow into adults and still have issues it is because their own parents did not foster a postive sibling relationship. My husband and I both get along with all our siblings. So we don't know how this happens in families.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 11, 2008 2:32 PM


Thanks for biting. I was wondering the same thing myself. I will sometimes tickle my 5 year-old stepson because he loves it. I was starting to wonder if I was doing something wrong and didn't know it.

Posted by: Billie_R | March 11, 2008 2:34 PM

Re: the Spitzer situation - yes, indeed, men do stupid things all the time. Given Spitzer's background as a prosecutor, this looks even more incredibly stupid than it first did. It now appears that the reason this came to light was his secret movement of money among various accounts to pay for the services without getting caught. Banks are required to report suspicious transactions, and the IRS and FBI started investigating Government corruption. Once it became clear what the money was being used for, the investigation forked into one part looking at the escort service and the other group still looking at money/corruption.

From his investigations of the financial world, Spitzer HAD to know his money transactions would raise flags and that the prosecutors would come looking.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

(An anecdote about different reactions. DW was reading the story on-line and came across a line that noted that the service in question charged $3,100 per hour and higher. Her response to that "What on earth could you be doing to get paid $3,100 per hour? No, don't tell me; I just don't want to know." My reaction: Somebody wake up Vince! There's a story that when Vince Lombardi used to coach the Green Bay Packers, Max McGee always used to break curfew and sneak into town to party. Lombardi got tired of catching him. So one night Lombardi caught McGee sneaking in late yet again, and told him "Max, this time it'll cost you $500. Next time it will cost you $1,000. And the time after that it will cost you $5,000." Knowing that McGee only made $20,000 for the entire year and this was a quarter of his annual income, Lombardi continued by saying "Max, if you ever find anything that's really worth $5,000 wake me up because I'm coming with you!" So - at the rate that service charged, somebody go wake up Vince!)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 11, 2008 2:39 PM

I also find that things get sticky when someone disciplines your kid in a way that is inconsistant with your own parenting. It's hard figuring out what to do in those situations without stepping on toes. For example, I am working on being assertive with my 3 year old daughter so that she knows how to deal with other kids if they are mean or too rough with her. She has a little friend (a 3 year old boy) who tends to roughhouse more than my dd likes. I have told her that she can tell him "no!" or "stop!" if he does something that she doesn't like or that hurts her, but the boy's mother wants her to be polite and say "please." Um, no, if someone is hurting you, you don't have to say "please!". You just tell them to stop. What kid of message does that send my daughter in the long term?

Posted by: floof | March 11, 2008 2:49 PM

Hey, I can't speak for the poster, but TICKLING is not the problem. My sister could tickle my 11 year old and he'd love it.

But there are some insensitive adults who tickle kids even when the kids don't like it and ask for it to stop. Then it's invasive, and teaching the kids that "no" is meaningless. A bad message for any kid, of any age.

Posted by: leslie4 | March 11, 2008 2:57 PM

ArmyBrat, hope you don't mind me butting in on your question, even though of course I don't know the specifics of StrollerMama's situation. But it all depends on intent and context - I have no problem with roughhousing, joking, tickling, and physical play IF it is done respectfully. Which means you stop when the child says stop. Which often doesn't happen. Molestation often begins with those types of games that involve tickling and touching, which slowly move into inappropriate touching. Because the child has participated and even enjoyed the game early on, she may feel complicit or guilty and not voice her concern or discomfort as the game becomes abusive, particularly if it already involved overriding a request to stop (or his, it happens to boys too). If StrollerMama's FIL is acting in ways which are disrespectful of the child's wishes and bodily integrity, that's a red flag, and taking steps to stop those sorts of games seems entirely appropriate to me.

Posted by: LizaBean | March 11, 2008 2:57 PM

My friends and I generally tend to be "village" types, though one couple takes this a bit too far, putting us in the position of having to watch (and discipline) our child and theirs while the parents have a bit of downtime. We've taken to limiting our visits with them, as it's too much effort to play babysitter to their child when they're right there.

Posted by: vgrl | March 11, 2008 3:24 PM

"But there are some insensitive adults who tickle kids even when the kids don't like it and ask for it to stop."

Right. Tickling a child who does not want to be tickled is somewhat abusive. It has to be consensual. My son loves to be tickled, and one day, I could hear him and my stepfather in the family room as my stepfather tickled him. I became a little concerned when I heard my son yelling for it to stop, but my stepfather did stop immediately when my son said this. A few seconds later, I could hear my son begging once again, "grandpa, tickle me, tickle me again." And so it went for a few more minutes. I never liked to to tickled myself, but my son loves it. I don't see what the big problem is if the kid enjoys it.

Posted by: emily111 | March 11, 2008 3:28 PM

"A few seconds later, I could hear my son begging once again, "grandpa, tickle me, tickle me again." "

That's pretty much how the game is played in our house. My son loves to be tickled - we tickle until he says stop, we stop, and then says, "do it again!" And on and on it goes, as games tend to do with three-year-olds, LOL.

Posted by: LizaBean | March 11, 2008 3:34 PM

Foamgnome; as long you don't encourage sibling rivalry (as my paternal grandparents did in subtle ways) you have a pretty good chance that your children will at least respect their sibling and maybe even like them. I sometimes think my boyfriend's mother is a little crazed about even/fair between her two sons; but she does one thing I really like -- both sons have had all of the important stuff - health care wishes/planning/etc - communicated equally. Those are the things that can drive you crazy latter.

Posted by: tntkate | March 11, 2008 3:35 PM

Leslie and LizaBean - please read what I wrote:

"It's completely different, of course, if the 5-year old herself doesn't want to be involved in these games. No one should be dragged in to such roughhousing against his or her will."

So we're in complete agreement.

Note however that that is NOT what StrollerMomma wrote, which was:

"FIL refuses to stop tickle-touch games which apparently are inappropriate for five year old girls only to me (and DD's doctor, daycare provider...)."

There was nothing about consensual, her daughter saying "no" or "stop" or anything else. If her daughter is say "no" or "stop" or indicating unhappiness with the game then of course Grandpa should stop. What I read was an implicit "this is always wrong; it's never okay; get your hands off my daughter" and I disagreed with that.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 11, 2008 3:37 PM

ArmyBrat, I did read what you wrote, and I don't think we disagree. But part of my point was that sometimes the line between consensual and non-consensual, appropriate and inappropriate is not entirely clear in these types of games between an adult and a child. And some adults think that a protestation to stop is just part of the game and will blow right past it, because that's how it was played with them, without necessarily seeing that as non-consensual; in my mind that's problematic.

But we did read the original post differently - I figured StrollerMama saying that she, the doctor, and other adults believe the game is inappropriate meant it's probably something more than plain old tickling, hence my reaction.

Posted by: LizaBean | March 11, 2008 3:44 PM

Tickling of one of those issues that many disagree on...I couldn't (and still can't) stand being tickled, so that was like waving a big red flag to some adults, who thought it was "cute" or "funny" to tickle me. Of course when I got upset, I was scolded for being a baby. I guess what I am saying is that it can get out of hand very quickly.

Posted by: Catwhowalked | March 11, 2008 4:02 PM

Foamgnome, don't worry too much about your kids. The reason I posted about my sister in response to the guest blog, is that this sort of sibling conflict seems to be *very* unusual.

I get along fine with my youngest sister. We're so close that we were labor-support for each other, and neither of us wanted anyone else with us except the baby's father. There's a level of trust and a closeness that I don't have with anyone else - although DH is a pretty close second.

Her daughter, my niece, is as close as I'll ever be to having a daughter of my own, and my sister feels the same about my two sons. Because of our relationship as sisters, our kids have each other as favorite aunties.

I'm not so close to my brother, but I like him, and get along fine with his wife and their three kids. My children and all the kids will have a great time on that 50th anniversary cruise with the grandparents and all the aunties (my mother's two sisters are going too), uncles and cousins.

I would love to blame the whole mess with me and middle sister on her. There is some support for that position, since she doesn't get along as well with anyone in the family - gives *everyone* insulting nicknames, bullied the younger two sibs when we were kids and still gets away with some verbal bullying today, rude/insulting/bossy with our mother, even when Mom is taking her medications and behaving like a reasonable adult (sister's behavior isn't helpful *at* *all* when Mom's off her meds, either), bullied her first husband and over-controlled him, then dumped him for the current fiance when she was fed up with his drinking problems, which she probably contributed to by running around on him.

Well, I could go on and on with more of her faults and failings, which is why it probably isn't fair for me to blame her for all the conflict. Thing is, I got tired of these conflicts in my twenties. I'm 48 now, and will be 49 a month before the cruise. I've spent half our lifetimes trying to understand what's going on between us, and how I can stop it, or at least stop my behavior from contributing to the problems. Whatever my efforts, she'll still keep pushing and pushing and pushing - she knows my "buttons" and if I can't get away from her, eventually I do explode!

Hey, if there's a news report of one sister throwing another off a cruise ship in June, you'll know it was me and her. Regardless of who went swimming, the other would be in jail, so I wouldn't be back to post here.

Sorry - sometimes the gallows-humor makes me feel better. Seriously, don't look for your kids to have this sort of relationship. It's just not all that likely. Nearly all sibling relationships are friendly and peaceful.

Posted by: sue | March 11, 2008 4:02 PM

I'm back... in our case, FIL refused to stop until the kid was in tears and only stopped briefly when a parent intervened --apparently he did the same with DH, who flinches any time anyone puts their hand near his stomach and acknowledges he does this because his father tickled and poked him past the point of a request to stop. I agree that kids love to be tickled and it can be great fun. But a grown up who cannot or will not control the game is a problem. He did this to a kid who was already working through impulse control issues of her own, then wondered why she couldn't stop herself from doing the same to younger siblings and cousins.
I'll throw it out there -- at what point does a grown up tickling your kid make you uncomfortable? When he or she's two, five, ten, sixteen?

Posted by: StrollerMomma | March 11, 2008 4:04 PM

tickle games can be abusive. it depends on the context. the powerful hiding behind the "fun" of tickling to overpower somebody weaker. practical jokes are also acts of aggression.

Posted by: quark | March 11, 2008 4:13 PM

StrollerMomma, I understand where you are coming from. The tickling story reminds me of my youngest niece. Her father played an innocent game with her where he pretended to be a troll and he would grab her foot. Sounds like something out of a Grimm's fairy tale. Anyway, she told him to stop, but he was so busy thinking his game was cute and fun. Fast-forward to a lesson in school on "inappropriate touching," defined in part as a touch you don't like. My niece gets upset and starts crying. Her parents are contacted. Dad is clueless and Mom is defensive. But the school was doing its job. Let's just say that troll game was never played again. Not the most comfortable way of learning that no means no.

Posted by: shearincotton | March 11, 2008 4:16 PM

"I'll throw it out there -- at what point does a grown up tickling your kid make you uncomfortable? When he or she's two, five, ten, sixteen?"

If the child clearly wants it to stop and the grown-up won't stop, then the answer is "at any age".

If it's a game that the child is enjoying, then up to ten is fine - again, assuming that the "tickling" is NOT occurring in "private areas" of the body.

An adult family member tickling my sixteen year old daughter? It would be her call, but I'd expect her to object more stridently and I'd support her objection quickly.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 11, 2008 4:20 PM

folks, some kids NEED a village to raise them!

I came home from work one afternoon and the 8 year old across the street was sitting on his dad's Harley with a small friend watching him. I knew his parents weren't home yet, so I marched right over there and made him get off that motorcycle. He was always doing things like that, hence my assertion that some kids need more than one mom.

The funniest part was as he was climbing off, his friend looked at him, then at me, then back at him. "Is that your mom?" he asked. "No." he grumbled. Tee hee hee.

Posted by: oldbam | March 11, 2008 4:25 PM

foamgnome--I can only speak for myself but my sister and I did not get along for about 29 years (we are 34 and 31, so you can do the math). After years of therapy both of us have pretty much realized that our parents had a lot to do with it--we were raised to be in competition with each other and for our parents' attention. It didn't help that our mother was probably clinically depressed. After their deaths 13 and 10 years ago, my sister and I started to develop the relationship we could have had as children. It's such a terrible loss. We have different personalities and may never be best friends, but we rely on each other a lot and have gotten to the point where we really enjoy each other's company. I think our parents could helped make things a lot better when we were little. I have read a lot of really great advice on this blog and on Parenting about siblings (I think there is a book, Siblings Without Rivalry that was well-regarded, but I have not read it). I really believe that if you love your children and you show them that you do, and you make your home a happy and welcoming place to be for both/all of your children, they will survive all those inevitable sibling squabbles. After all this time I really feel lucky to have my sister so I know it's possible even under bad circumstances. I lurk a lot and I think you are a sensible and intelligent and caring person and your children will be just fine.

Posted by: teaspoon2007 | March 11, 2008 4:28 PM

vgrl: yeah, my one sister doesn't always like to invite the other sister over, cause, among other things, her and her husband decide: no, we're not going to go swimming today - oh, and we'll be inside, but YOU have to watch the kids in the pool (young kids, oldest of three is not yet 8).

And, re: siblings: foamgnome: just create a good environment for the kids - don't favor one over the other, let them develop a relationship themselves (i.e., not forcing them to be with each other, take care of each other). My DH and I discuss this a lot - since we each have two sisters and aren't particularly close with any of them. We both think that our parents did a lot to foster rivalry (not disciplining when appropriate, forcing one to take care of others - oh, it was great when I was younger and my sisters would have knock down drag out fights about who had to stay home with me to babysit me on Saturday nights. That was fun). That having been said, we have our oldest who is definitely responsible for things for his brother (cleaning up after him from time to time, or getting him a plate for dinner). The other day we asked him to help clean something up and he answered that he didn't make the mess. I pointed out to him that everyone in the family helps everyone else out - that I clean up plenty of messes that I did not make, it's part of being a family, etc.

So, if you are even worrying about it and discussing it - then you are probably halfway there regarding sibling rivalry.

Oh, and another thing: our boys are completely different. We look at them and figure that they might not have even met in other circumstances (i know, they're young, what do we know...). So I think it's actually an interesting thing to have a sibling different from you - it might be someone you never even would have talked to otherwise, but it opens you up to different perspectives of the world, which is good, and can show you how you can get along with people different from yourself, etc. I know I'm probably reading too much into this, but my DH and I (as mentioned) really don't have much to do with our sisters, and we would really like for our kids to get along.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 11, 2008 4:32 PM

"Nearly all sibling relationships are friendly and peaceful."

Based on . . . . what exactly? Many are. Nearly all? I doubt it.

Posted by: anonfornow | March 11, 2008 4:57 PM

"Nearly all sibling relationships are friendly and peaceful."

Based on . . . . what exactly? Many are. Nearly all? I doubt it.

Posted by: anonfornow | March 11, 2008 04:57 PM

Based on, oh, nearly 37 years of observations of siblings in other families. Sure, dismiss that as anecdotal, but do you have a more reliable source for your view?

And yes, I can pretty much pinpoint when my sister and I went into the spin-cycle. She was 11 and I was 13. During that summer she got to be the same height as me which made her very proud - and didn't matter at all to me - but she turned into a nasty, hateful b!tch. I couldn't figure it out, and I started really watching every family I could looking for clues to what had happened.

We were really good friends until that summer. I would have said she was my best friend, but in hindsight I doubt she'd ever have said the same about me.

Posted by: sue | March 11, 2008 5:15 PM

"at what point does a grown up tickling your kid make you uncomfortable? When he or she's two, five, ten, sixteen?"

It's hard for me to pin down an age - to me it seems to be a lot more about the nature and quality of the relationship and the specific interactions. It seems normal for a grandparent or other relative to engage in physical play with a child; not so much for a teacher or a neighbor she or he barely knows. There are just a lot of questions that spring to my mind in thinking about it - Who initiates the contact? Does the child seem comfortable with the adult generally? Does the adult seem overly eager to establish that kind of play? Does the adult generally respect boundaries with other adults and children?

Like ArmyBrat though, around 10 or so makes me particularly uneasy.

Posted by: LizaBean | March 11, 2008 5:22 PM

Oh, another two cents on the tickling issue. DH really, *REALLY* hates tickling. He says one of the regular babysitters when he was very young used to remove his pants and then tickle him until he wet himself.

Our kids love tickling, but it's absolutely clear that "stop" means stop right now, and don't start again.

In fact, we have an agreement that stop is the family safe-word. No matter what, if someone says stop, everyone has to stop immediately. Older son sometimes needs reminding, but younger son knows he'll get help if he shouts stop more than once.

Posted by: sue | March 11, 2008 5:32 PM

umm....you sounded super-harsh re: pregnant sister. she may have had a good reason for not wanting to be over-ruled - she wanted them in the shade, they had still-wet sunblock on, its snack time or they go bonkers. Spending months worrying is also a red flag. not sure she's an island mom - kind of a passive aggressive putdown.
this sounds like score-settling. hope the cousins will be less judgmental of each other, as they grow up...

Posted by: OrlandoNan | March 12, 2008 4:15 AM

The reaction itself seems harsh, but I know a lot of parents who are very, very protective around water. Many of the pools around us have arm's reach rules where parents of children under 4 or 5 must be within, well, an arm's reach of their children. If the daughter wasn't a strong swimmer or had trouble not drifting into the deep end while playing, I could see where she'd want to be there herself. Pools (we've never been to the beach with kids in tow,) are one of the few places where I want either me or my husband to be with our 3-year-old, regardless of who else is around. Playground, sure; another house, no problem, but a pool? Not unless that 6-year-old is swiming the indvidual medly at swim meets.

Also, I wonder how the sister found out her daughter was at the pool with her uncle? Could it have been after frantically looking for a child who was supposed to be on the beach and was now missing? I'd be pretty mad if I'd come up one short on a beach headcount and imagined the worst only to find out no one bothered to tell me my daugther was at the pool.

Posted by: sjneal | March 12, 2008 11:11 AM

Your sister's behavior as described by yourself certainly sounds questionable. However, far more questionable than that is your choice to write a rather insulting article about her in the Washington Post!

Posted by: omeara | March 12, 2008 3:03 PM

I guess I'm more of an island, Diane.

I think your sister over-reacted over the pool thing because screaming, in my mind, is really never justified unless you're trying to stop someone from imminent harm. But I do think that your sister had a point. I wouldn't want someone else changing plans with my kids without my knowledge either.

I try to stay clear of making decisions -- small or big -- for other people's kids, even relatives. I would jump in if a child were at risk of harm, but other than that, I let his or her parents handle it. Sometimes, that means putting up with things I wish I didn't have to. (I've seen kids licking every potato chip at a party as their parents watched in silence. In that case, I'd throw out the chips and move other snacks, but I wouldn't scold the kid. I just don't feel that's my place if the parent is there.) Now if the parents isn't there, than I think it's fair game for me to impose some order.

I expect parents to do the same with my kids. I've been annoyed when a friend scolded my son -- in my presence -- for jumping on her couch. I was just about to tell him not to do it; she didn't even give me a chance to say it. Then it's annoying to watch her son acting out while she does nothing.

Posted by: gchen | March 17, 2008 12:38 PM

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