Sad Bastard of the Week: The incredible power of the umbilical

Posted at 7:30 AM Feb 23, 2010

By Andrea Grimes

The strength of the umbilical cord is mighty, and yet not. Mighty enough to do whatever it is umbilical cords do. And yet, it is swiftly snipped by a spouse, partner, doctor or midwife. But then, occasionally, it comes back from umbilical cord heaven to stretch invisibly between overbearing parents and the kids who can't or won't escape their reach.

If you want insight into the minds of parents like this, look no further than today's Sad Bastard of the Week, from a Dear Prudence live chat on the Washington Post's website. "Back of the Bus" doesn't like that her kids weren't invited to their grandparents' anniversary dinner late in the evening at a nice restaurant.

... I discovered yesterday, six days before the event, that not only has the reservation for this "family" event been made for 8:00 PM (bedtime), my children (ages two and five) were explicitly not included in the head count.

My husband swears he told me that we'd need to get a sitter, and he confirms that my SIL told him over the phone a few weeks ago that the kids weren't invited. But this is the first I've heard about it, even though I've talked face-to-face with my SIL about it on three separate prior occasions. My SIL has a long history of excluding my kids from family events, and my husband has even spoken gently with her about it.

I'm deeply offended that she explicitly excluded my kids this way. If she'd spoken to us about it and let us decide whether we wanted to bring the children, and we'd opted to get a sitter, I'd have no problem with it. But the fact that she decided that she didn't want the kids there with no regard for our opinion (or my mother-in-law's, for that matter) strikes me as incredibly selfish and deeply inconsiderate.

First: seriously, back of the bus? As in, you think you are having a similar experience to racially oppressed African-Americans who were literally not allowed to sit next to white people on buses because people were ignorant and hateful? Because your kids can't come to dinner?

Where to even go from there? There's so much. Back of the Bus (hereafter: BotB) seriously thinks everyone should eat dinner at, what, 5:30 p.m. so she can have the kids in bed by 8:00? She believes her S-I-L is the selfish one when she wants to bring her small children to a nice restaurant?

Prudie is miffed, and brings up a great point:

If I had the opportunity to go to dinner at the nice restaurant, the last thing I'd want to do is to have to attend to my two small children throughout the meal, even if these "progeny" did share a surname with the "celebrees."
We go on to find out more information about BotB, in a later chat. She says:

The problem isn't that I really wanted to have my kids along at a nice restaurant -- it's the fact that my SIL talked to my face about it being a family event (and planned a family portrait session that includes my kids for earlier in the day) and then excluded my kids for the meal. Additionally my brother- in-law is bringing his baby -- it's just because my kids are old enough to walk and talk that they're being excluded.
Oh, BotB, you're right. Your S-I-L is really inconsiderate! How dare she organize an actually fun activity like a portrait session that kids might dig, and then want to spend a few kid-free hours with adults later in the day? What the hell is wrong with this woman, really? Doesn't she realize that she's in the presence of Jesus Christs Junior and The Third? Having an infant in a restaurant is more or less like bringing along a curling stone that needs a chair--a far different and less intrusive ordeal than two talking, fidgeting small children.

Says Prudie:

Your kids adore their aunt. Auntie set up a photo session which will be really exciting for the kids and far more fun for them than having to sit through a boring dinner. You may be annoyed that a baby is there, but a baby will probably sleep and it's hard for a breast-feeding parent of a newborn to be away for hours. I'm glad you wrote in to clarify because you sound less angry here than in your first letter. Accept that you are incurring an unavoidable expense, let go of your resentment, and show your kids that you love your husband's family and are happy about the big day.
Readers with kids, do you sympathize with BotB? Do you stay home if your kids have to?


comicshopgrl said:

I read this one this morning. I have no sympathy for this woman. Obviously, little kids don't go to fancy restaurants late at night. Duh.

I think you missed another winner in her reply. She was also cranky about spending a night out sans kids with her husband's family. She said something about not wanting to be bullied into paying for a portion of her in-laws dinner. Wasn't the point of the dinner to celebrate the in-laws anniversary? Of course they don't have to pay for their meal; you are taking them out! Terrible.

Ethan Moore said:

It sounds like there are two issues here.

I'm a childless, never married man who is part of a community of friends that have had many children over the last 5-10 years. This issue comes up regularly. If someone tries to organize a retreat/get-away with child inappropriate activities, a few people always get offended. (And yes, they use inappropriate, overblown "back of the bus" metaphors too.) Fortunately, most people understand that whoever organizes the events makes the rules about who can attend, which is certainly my thought on the matter.

But having friends with young children has made me sensitive to one key issue. It sounds like this woman's husband and SIL didn't make it clear that it was a no kids event. Getting child care for two kids ages two and five on just six days notice can be extremely difficult. So make the event child free if you want, just don't expect people with small children to attend with less than two weeks notice.

erika said:

Perhaps an even sadder bastard of the week chimes in later in the chat, to discuss how her 18 month old goes EVERYWHERE with her - including conferences, concerts, and dinners. In her words: "If he's not invited, I don't attend."

Boy, am I glad I'm 25 years older than THAT kid, because he's not going to grow up entitled with Mommy issues, no way. I feel sorry for any girl - or boy, for that matter - who marries into that family.

palad said:

Only one quibble:

"Auntie set up a photo session which will be really exciting for the kids and far more fun for them than having to sit through a boring dinner."

In my experience, children view formal photo sessions with almost the same enthusiasm as a dental appointment. My children actually prefer going to the dentist, because at least the dentist gives them a small toy and a toothbrush when it's over.

Katrina Miller said:

I have kids...and I DON'T feel the same way. I look forward to adult only conversation and being able to eat a meal in peace with out having to juggle parenting duties.

Especially since it seems like the SIL went out of the way to include the children, where appropriate.

I would say, if I was at that dinner, I would have CHOSEN to leave my children home. Since the hour and location are obviously not "kid friendly" and would have been VERY miffed if someone else DID bring their kids.

That's my pet peeve. When I've taken the time and expense to find a sitter, to attend an adult activity (movie, concert, dinner) and then be subjected to the crys and shenanigans of someone else's kids.

Calvin said:

I think the larger point may be going unattended here. Obviously the issue was partly the 'kids or no kids' argument, but there are quite a few signs that the relationship/politics between the woman and her in-laws is the bigger issue.

Nephews and nieces are often used as ammunition with siblings, and there can often be politics in families about which nephews/nieces are 'allowed' at the adult functions and which aren't. If in-laws don't have kids, then the couples with children are often looked at as a drag. They often hear the "We like you, we just don't like your kids" speech. Is that fair? Is that something a parent should be okay with hearing? I don't think it takes an unholy umbilical cord to make parents feel offended when friends and relatives put down their kids' very existence.

If a younger couple is always treating your kids like baggage, it can be really hard on parents. I have many friends with kids, and it isn't that they whine about friends wanting 'child free' nights; I think they share Katrina's sentiment above. It is more that their friends constantly say things like "Man, if only you never had those kids, amiright?" or make gestures and side remarks that are outright insults to the person who has chosen to have a family.

If this were an article about a guy whose friends never wanted him to bring his wife around, I think he'd get a little more sympathy. A 'Guys Night Out' can be very therapeutic for husbands and wives, but when your friends are constantly trying to exclude your wife, it would be a personal issue. The "We like you, we just think you never should have married her, amiright?" thing would not fly on this blog. So why is parenthood under fire?

If we are trying to change people's minds about gender in this blog, hoping to make some shift in the way people think and operate concerning what is acceptable for women and the roles of women, then why can't family/parenthood be an issue? Friends treat peers-come-parents like lepers nowadays, and I think it has to do with those friends being selfish. The friends want to have a single drinking-partner as a friend, not a committed mother.

Also, if a couple makes a reservation for and invites you to an expensive restaurant and then simply expects you to pay for their meal, that can be, again, a very underhanded move in family politics.

More affluent siblings often know exactly what they are doing when they invite the poorer siblings to a very fancy dinner: the poorer siblings feel very awkward, have to order the cheap thing on the menu, are put on display as 'the poor ones.' etc.

Or, if you're ComicShopGrl, you could be blissfully ignorant of the financial situations of those less fortunate, so maybe it was a mistake afterall.

VictorianModesty said:

I feel bad that this woman apparently seems to have an unsteady relationship with her in-laws, but having fights with family members happens to everyone. However, I disagree with bringing small children to a nice restaurant, especially an expensive one. I have worked at a very high-class restaurant for quite awhile, where our cheapeset dish is $20. The last thing that other guests want is to be sat next to children, especially small children. Kids are cute, but when you're laying down $200-$300 dollars for a meal, you don't want to sit next to a crying or shrieking child. And unfortunately, that seems to be the case every time. Not all toddlers are screaming banshees, but I have yet to see a small kid that does not throw a fuss OR food during dinner. 9 times out of 10, if people with small children are seated, the guests around them will ask to move someplace else. And this is not an attack on parents with small kids by a cranky waitress. They have every right to enjoy a meal with their kids away from home and have fun. But a fine dinning establishment is NOT the place. When people are drinking $200 dollars worth of fine wine and $300 dollars worth of caviar, it is NOT appropriate to openly ignore your 3 year old when she/he "happy-screams" nonstop for 5 minutes straight to get your attention. It is also not appropriate to let your toddler or small child wander unattended throughout the restaurant as if it were a Chucky Cheese or a daycare, and then get pissy when the hostess or Maitre d' says have NO idea how often that happens; it's dangerous and neglectful.
I agree with Katrina Miller's post above. Most other guests at a nice restaurant are celebrating something, enjoying themselves or have hired a sitter for the night so that they can enjoy themselves away from the kids. It's obvious that the SIL in the above post intended for the celebration to be adults only; 8:00pm + nice restaurant = no kids please. That should be a given.

sarahjo said:

Calvin, parenthood isn't under fire, overbearing parents are.
This is different than "a guys night out" for a few key reasons. First, a partner is the same age as you, and hopefully enjoys the same activities and company. Naturally one would assume that someone would prefer to have their partner with them at a fancy dinner, vs having their screaming spawn, who happen to both be at very loud and attention seeking ages. Second, partners spending time away from each other with friends is not anti-feminist, and shouldn't bother their partner unless that guy and his buddies have reputations for irresponsible behavior when together.
Also, just because you and yours decide to reproduce, why should that require everyone around you to change their habits. Just because my sister in law is pregnant and not drinking, does not mean I will not have a beer around her.
It also sounds less like the woman is worried about being put on display as "poor" (because apparently poor people are entertainment at fancy places?) but is instead miffed her kids weren't invited... as she said. Not to mention, I can speak from experience that when we "poor" go to fancy places we aren't ashamed of eating something inexpensive, as long as we're eating. When I'm worried about money, the last thing I'm thinking is how nasty and manipulative it is for my sister to order duck while I have a grilled cheese.
And if they try to trick you into paying, and you can't, then don't.
Not to mention that if money is the issue, why would the mother want her kids to eat there as well?
This isn't an attack on parenthood, and certainly not motherhood. It's simply pointing out that expecting your toddlers to be invited to adult venues is expecting a little much.

Adri said:

I've ranted on Andrea's hatred of children and mothers before, so I somewhat expected to get my hackles up over this, but NOPE. Not this time. For the life of me I cannot imagine how this woman can justify being pissy about her extremely young children being politely excluded from an adult event.
Personally, I think her husband is a complete ass and likely is to blame for the lack of proper information making it to the wife. If he know this was a child-free event then he should've ensured that the appropriate arrangements were made, and not a few days beforehand.
This mother is off her rocker though, no question. Why in the name of all that's holy would anyone WANT to drag their babies and toddlers to a fancy restaurant at 8 pm? WHY?

Adri said:

Forgot to add that the wife has every right to be pissed about the fact that someone else's baby is welcome at this meal. Babies cry and vomit and are just as much of annoyance at an adult event as toddlers. If the baby is still on the boob then Mommy either needs to pump or stay home. I'd be raging about that if I were in her shoes.

JenX said:

Wow, her in-law's sound like mine. However, no matter where I've lived, I've known at least 5 people I could hire at a short (one week to two days) notice and be alright. The nicest place I've EVER had the inkling to take my 10-year-old (throughout his life) was Applebee's. If it's a place where fine dining is happening, I'm probably going to find him a sitter. For one, this is normally an environment where conversations about random topics are appropriate. My son is King of Randomness. Also, I don't have the time in my life to explain what everything is on a menu to a kid before the waiter/ess gets back to the table wanting our order, especially at a celebratory function. And, finally, kids get BORED. Not just a little bit, either.
But it totally sounds like there was a complete lack of communication, on both her husband's part and her SIL's part. The "Of COURSE I told you!" schtick has played out about a million times in my family, and I usually respond to it by not doing whatever it was that was "planned", especially if part of the plan going down is any of my funds. Not being *right there* with the rest of my siblings keeps me out of the loop, but I hate being excluded from plans or invites, simply because one of my jackass sisters forgot to call me. And, I make it a point to let them know.

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