The other day, a neighbor told me that her cousin took her aside at a family holiday party to make a comment about her energetic but totally normal, bright teenager, who was happily going nuts on the dance floor. The gist: Is her daughter on medication for ADHD? Attention issues are very common these days, you know, and nothing to be ashamed of!
Um, who does that? Who says that? My neighbor was flabbergasted and is seriously considering cutting her cousin out of her life (or just hissing about her until the end of time). On the other hand, the comment could have come from a good place and tumbled out wrong. That’s the kind explanation.
With the holidays upon us and school break looming, it’s prime time for plenty of parties, forced togetherness and visiting. Not to mention alcohol! The potential for social snafus is rife, especially when it comes to interacting with family and friends who are also parents. What’s off-limits? What should you never, ever say? What’s the meanest thing anyone has ever said to you?
Well, dear reader, I asked my parent network to chime in. Here are some of the worst things that you should never utter to another parent…when in their home, or ever.
- Commenting on a child’s behavior. I don’t care if the child is splashing eggnog on your walls and performing a tango in his underwear in front of 20 people sitting down for prime rib. Don’t editorialize. Yes, it’s fine to hand Junior and his mother a sponge and ask that they clean up the mess and put on some clothing, but don’t speculate that Junior’s lack of manners stems from, say, a neurological problem. If Junior behaves in a wildly unacceptable way, chances are, the parents already know and have received a diagnosis from a doctor, who is not you.
- Commenting on a child’s clothing. Unless it’s to say how cute a child looks, shut up. “My mother-in-law always asks me where I ‘managed to find’ my son’s clothes, as if I ‘found’ them at the bottom of a trash can,'” one friend confessed. She now keeps a special “in-law” wardrobe for her son.
- Commenting on how much more advanced your precious child is as compared with another. The parent who pontificates about their young Einstein could someday become the parent who’s bailing teen Einstein out of jail. Pride goes before a fall.
- Offering housewarming gifts that suggest the need for improvement. “My aunt came to stay with us for a week and gave me a makeup mirror and blush,” one tired parent confessed. “A mirror! She told me I looked pale.” Keep such perfunctory gifts neutral. Flowers, candles, soap (unless it’s given to suggest that the person needs to bathe) and wine are all lovely hostess gifts. A gift card to Weight Watchers is not.
- Bragging. Remember this rhyme: The more you feel the need to start bragging, the more your ego must be sagging. So can it.
- Rearranging things. When you are a guest in someone’s home, do not try to be helpful by cleaning the cupboards, furniture, child’s rooms or play areas. You are a benign observer, not a feng shui master. True enough, peanut butter really doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but that’s not for you to say.
- Offering to “help” in backhanded ways. “Let me wash your floors for you. Your house looks lived in,” is something a houseguest actually said to one mom I know. How…kind?
- Offering unsolicited advice. No, sleeping with a child in your bed until age 8 probably isn’t the best way to get a restful night’s sleep, but unless you’re sharing their memory foam, it’s also not your problem.
- Foisting your dietary habits on others. A good host or hostess will offer an assortment of food or beverage options to satisfy, say, non-meat-eaters and people who don’t drink. Visitors with children could reasonably expect some kid-friendly snacks on hand. But do not arrive at someone’s home expecting a gluten-free, vegan, high-fiber, low-calorie, paleolithic, Whole 30, oat-and-flaxseed-centric buffet orgy. If someone’s fridge isn’t stocked to your nutritional specifications, go shopping. It’s not a personal insult, nor is it an opening to pontificate about your superior habits.
- Not being sensitive to allergies. If you have pets and know that a visitor is allergic, respect boundaries. Don’t let your cat waddle all over the guest room because that’s Fluffy’s habit. Let Fluffy wander elsewhere for a day or two. Vacuum. Offer up some Benadryl. Not everyone finds Fluffy as adorable as you might, especially when they’re breaking out in hives.
- Commenting on the cleanliness of a home. “I once had a friend come over, run her finger down the corner of my television screen and proceed to grab a tissue to dust it off before we all watched a movie together. It left an indelible impression,” one mom reveals. Or the person whose house is always spotless, who says: “Oh, don’t clean up on account of me. My house is a mess too!” What do you mean, “too”?
- Asking when the family will “try” for another child. This one came up a lot. It’s not your business! One useful reply: “Tonight. Hope you shut your door!”
What did I miss? What’s the worst thing anyone’s ever done when staying at your house? Long ago, someone stole makeup from me. Which is almost as bad as buying someone makeup because they look pasty! Remember to be a good guest and always bring your own pillow, don’t steal, don’t rearrange, don’t boast and definitely bring plenty of booze.