Dealing with another parent shunning your teen

Guest post by Polly Trout
Happy Birthday, Me

Last summer, my daughter wanted to celebrate her birthday by having her two best friends over for a slumber party. I emailed both moms with an invitation and some possible dates. One of them emailed back that it didn’t matter what the date was, because she didn’t feel comfortable having her daughter in my home. Ever.

Whaaaaat? Sure, I’m unapologetically counterculture, but my kids are safe, healthy, happy, and thriving. I routinely care for other people’s children without any mishap greater than sugar overload or a mud fight.

What could I have possibly done to convince this woman that I was unfit to supervise children? Had I shown up drunk at a school function? I didn’t remember doing that… maybe I was blacked out? Had she been stalking my Facebook page and found out that I “liked” the Black Panthers and Zapatistas? Was it my neo-pagan wardrobe? Was it the tattoos on my hot young lover? Because bitch, he might look like a gangster, but he would never hurt a woman or a child.

My daughter was heartbroken and inconsolable, so I swallowed my pride and emailed back: was the problem the house itself, and if so could we have the party at a different location? Was it me, and if so could somebody else host, maybe my completely inoffensive mom?

She snapped back that it was rude of me to imply that she was being intolerant — it didn’t matter where the party was or who was supervising — I made bad choices and her daughter would not be attending.

Following a different drummer is all well and good, until your kid gets shunned for it. Then the panic sets in.

Six months later, the anxiety attacks are subsiding. I think I can go to the school’s winter concert without Xanax. My daughter has been resilient and gracious about the situation. And I’ve gleaned two blessings from the experience.

First: I am so grateful that I don’t have to live with the fearfulness that this woman must have. It must be so terrible to be afraid of people who are different than you. I’m glad that I can raise my daughters to know better. I’m grateful for my joyful and diverse community of friends who agree with me that shunning a child for a parent’s perceived faults is not OK.

Second: I have increased awareness and compassion for other people who have to go through this. If my white and middle class daughter had to endure this awful attack, how many other kids in her class have gone through it, too? How many more times would it happen if I was transgender, or mixed race, or lived in public housing? How many times does something like that have to happen to a child before they internalize the shame and stop reaching out to people? How many adults secretly carry around those ancient wounds?

I wish I knew, and knew who they were. So I could invite them all to a slumber party.

With too much sugar and a mud fight.

Comments on Dealing with another parent shunning your teen

  1. I was shunned because my father had HIV/AIDS and were a couple parents at my elementary school who thought their children could catch it – I remember people telling me their parents didn’t want us to touch because they’d get sick too.

    It’s an awful feeling, but I’m sure that your daughter will figure out how to feel about it – and hopefully she’ll gain confidence in her differences later on. I know I did.

  2. Hm. I feel like I was the daughter of the overprotective mother in this story. My family was very strictly religious when I was young, and I recall several situations where I wasn’t allowed to participate. If any reasons were given to the other adults, even fewer were given to me, the protected child.
    There were definitely experiences I missed out on because my parents were fearful. I’m very thankful that as I’ve grown in my adult life, my parents seem to be coming out of their own shells, mellowing out and experiencing new things themselves. It’s kind of beautiful. I wish the same for this fearful mother and her daughter.

    • We weren’t allowed to sleep over at a friend’s house if the adults weren’t married…..Like, a divorcee and her new boyfriend are more likely to suddenly start shagging on the dining room table in front of the kids than a married couple?

  3. I too feel like I was the child of this mother. I feel like my mother was so judgmental of other parents and my friend’s homes. I can remember being allowed to play with certain friends, but only if they came to our house. I can remember being allowed to go to birthday parties, but not allowed to participate in the sleep-over that followed. I never understood why and I was always really embarrassed the next time I went to school after those parties happened. I was sad I didn’t get to spend time with my friends and know the inside jokes that came from those sleep-overs.

    I’m glad you’re coming to terms with it and I totally agree. It must really be a sad way to live, being in fear of other people like that. I know my mother to this day is fearful of people and judgmental beyond my comprehension. Most of all, I’m sorry you had to go through it.

  4. That sucks. It sucks even more that she was unwilling to come to any form of compromise because it is her daughter missing out. I agree that I feel sorry for her.

    I also want to hold onto that myself as a lesson, that if I have concerns about how someone else chooses to live, that it’s smartest to talk to my kids about it instead of trying to protect them. I remember talking with my Mum about the very fundamentalist Christian Bible camp I wanted to attend. We talked about the fact that I did not have to agree with all their views and that it was okay to believe something different. I went prepared for the fact that I might disagree with what I heard but I also had it reinforced that I could think for myself. I hope that I instil that in my children, that they can talk to me about differences they see and that we can discuss what that means rather than limiting our experiences to avoid difference. Because I had a great time at that camp. Even if I did believe in evolution.

    • Jealous! When I was 11 I went to a Christian camp. I was raised athiest and had no idea it was a religious camp. I wanted to go because two friends went and they had horses. Unfortunately there was a lot of weird stuff that went on that totally traumatized me for years. I wish someone had explained anything to me before I went. I definatly plan to be as open as I can with my kids and explain things to them so they can understand why some things happen.

      • This totally happened to me. I wasn’t an atheist, but I wasn’t super religious growing up and around 11 also went to a camp with a friend because she begged me to/I wanted to, and it turned out to be a Christian summer camp. I HAD NO IDEA!

        • Oh my goodness, that’s the worst! I feel your pain, Ariel. I was a counselor for two weeks at a Christian camp this summer, for kids who were about 10 years old. I felt really bad for kids who obviously were there because they went with their friends, or because their parents forced them to go. The general things they were telling the kids were very catered to kids who are of a certain denomination, and a lot of the kids were confused. I just wanted to tell them, “You are allowed to have your own opinions! You don’t have to agree with this stuff! I am Mennonite, and I don’t believe ANY of this stuff!” But that would definitely be breaking the unspoken “You may not complain about or disagree with anything said at camp AT ALL” rule. For the record, at some camps like this, they specifically tell the counselor’s Aides they aren’t allowed to share their opinions, so I wasn’t allowed to share anything “spiritual.” They’re to scared of my Offbeatness, haha. But whatever. Just my message to anyy parent who is sending their kid to a religious camp, sometimes these camps are not accepting of different views, which is tough. I think it would probably help to explain that to your kids before they attend, because sometimes they end up confused and frustrated, and we aren’t really supposed to say, “that pastor who came to talk to you wasn’t necessarily right,” because we’re supposed to affirm what they say. I went to the same camp when I was a child, and I would have benefited so much more if someone had told me these things. Good luck, families!

          • OH Mennonite summer camp, the only place less comfortable with offbeat-ness is Mennonite highschool.

  5. Sad for your daughter but in some ways worse for her friend. Hard to grow up in an environment of intolerance and fear. Your choices are limited; fight against it or cave and manage it by starting to believe it too. I hope she quietly fights against it and your daughter and her remain close despite her mother.

  6. I would honestly try to do as you have and try to move past it. I think most parents have situations in which they question whether a home is a decent environment to send their child to, but this was handled poorly on the mother’s end.

    This mother’s reaction is incorrect because she’s basing it on biases or assumptions that haven’t turned out to be true. But it raises a larger question about whether it’s ever okay to shun or punish a kid in the name of discomfort or dislike of the parents. Unfortunately, the mother here didn’t really want to to enagage you constructively (but then again, would you really have wanted to if she was going to critique your lifestyle?). I’d be curious as to what her exact objection was. If her objection was to her daughter being in your home, but not socializing outside of the home, that suggests that she’s fearful of somebody in the home, or worried about what her daughter might see, or something else. If its a more general objection, then that’s harder to deal with, because you can’t really satisfy her short of changing your lifestyle (which you shouldn’t have to do). Overall, I don’t think you can do anything more than what you’ve done. One of the unfortunate side-effects of living in a way that is outside the mainstream is that you will encounter people with biases and pre-conceived ideas who will not want to interact with you (and by extension, your kids).

    I would choose to focus more on your daughter. It sounds like she has handled it well. However, this type of situation runs the risk of planting resentment between a parent and child. I’d focus on talking plainly to your daughter about it and letting her know that she can talk to you about it without the risk of hurting your feelings. But then you have to stand by that, even if she is angry or upset with you (and with teenagers, that’s common). I’d focus on HER and YOU now, not a person whose bias is their own problem.

  7. I’m confused because I feel like the part where the mom gave her reason was skimmed over. Did she say what decisions of yours she disagreed with? Was there a past incident with her child in your care where something happened that bothered the mother? I just wonder if she had a legitimate reason for not allowing her daughter, that may have nothing to do with your counterculture lifestyle. Everyone parents differently and it could be as simple as a parent disagreeing with movie, video game or food choices, just for example. The implication is that she doesn’t want her daughter around your counter culture lifestyle, but did she actually say that?

    • She didn’t give any reason, except that “I make bad decisions,” and did not want to discuss it further. We do not have any history of past conflict. So I was confused, too.

      • So… basically, your “bad decisions” are your lifestyle choices or outward appearances that she can see and judge. Which basically tells you all you need to know about this mom! That sucks.

      • I’d be curious of the true reason as well. Depending how old your daughter and her friend are, it’s possible her friend has said something that would shed some light– even flippantly like ‘ugh, my mom is scared I’ll watch r-rated movies’
        Have you had a conversation with your daughter about this at all?

  8. I was not allowed at home-school event with several of my friends because my parents had decided that the next year they would not continue home-schooling me. I called to RSVP to the monthly teen gathering, and the host mother called my mom back and said I was not welcome because I was “loud, rude, obnoxious and had an overwhelming need to be the center of attention.” My mother called several other moms who had been at the previous get-together and they told her that no such thing had happened, and this mother was just concerned because her children had been asking to go to school. She thought I would poison their minds or something.
    I was hurt and my mom was furious. But like a good mom, she just let me host my own party that turned out to be way more fun.
    It sucks when people are intolerant of those who are different from them.

  9. I’m really appreciative of this story because I feel like it can be such a lesson for anyone — not just parents. It’s hard to believe that the beliefs we have (any of us) and our tangential perceptions (unavoidable) are based in something… wrong. It just is. Everyone feels they have a “good reason” for believing what they believe, otherwise, they wouldn’t think that way.

    In some of the comments above people have expressed confusion about this story, because on a lot of levels, it is unclear: what was that other mom thinking? The author sounds thoughtful, intelligent, and loving! There must be more!

    It’s so easy to forget that in real life we are often swayed by visible cues (tattoos, hair, clothing). No one wants to admit they’re making decisions based on fear and close-mindedness — they just want to think they’re making the best decision for their kid.

    This is a wonderful reminder how important it is to step outside ourselves, our preconceptions, and our prejudices; beyond them might be people we’d want to get to know.

  10. My mom was told that a “friend’s” daughters would not be spending time with me and my sister any more because we watched and read Lord of the Rings. These girls were in their late teens and early twenties.

  11. This happened to me as a 6th grader. One of my friends was not allowed to come over to my house because, according to her father, we lived in a bad neighborhood and my hippyish mom didn’t have a man around to keep us safe. It was deeply hurtful at the time.

    As a mother now, I hope to that my child has a wide range if friends from many different families. I will never pull that kind of bs on another kid or parent. And apparently it’s still a sore spot, because this article made me positively weepy! I’m so sorry this happened to you and your daughter!

  12. I’m curious: How has this affected your daughter’s relationship with her friend? Is your daughter welcome in the friend’s house? Has the other girl’s mom forbade her from remaining friends with your daughter?
    If your daughter is still friends with this girl and goes to her house, I would be pretty careful to watch what ideas she comes home with. It would suck to see this mom try to turn your daughter against you. I hope your daughter’s other best friend is an awesome support to your kid because it sounds like she needed it!
    Kudos to you for not letting it become a bitch back and forth fest with this woman and for being willing to offer another host or location to make your daughter’s birthday party happen.

  13. I wish I knew you! My kiddo isn’t quite school-aged yet, but I can see definitely see myself in your shoes in the near future! And if not in your shoes, then befriending mamas in your shoes.

  14. My mama – a very offbeat parent herself – was very VERY overprotective and there were definitely things, places and friendships I missed out on because of that. I used to hate her for it, to me it felt like she didnt want to be normal in ANY way.

    When I was a teen she finally explained to me that she was molested as a young girl and apologised for letting that experience effect my life but that when she felt unsure in any way about something her only way of coping was to remove me from the situation to keep me protected. I am sad that she was carrying this pain with her my whole childhood but i dont believe anyone involved was really hurt in the long run and if it made her able to handle raising my brother and I then thats what matters to me now. I know its hard but its important to not take others reactions personally because you never know where it comes from. That being said my mama was always polite and kind and gave people a chance by getting to know them – she never would have behaved like the mum in the story.

    At the end of the day, whether you agree with the method or not, this mother was just doing what she believed to be best for her daughter… I don’t believe we have a right to judge her for that.

    • I was about to make the same point so well-expressed by the above poster. It certainly sounds like the woman you are speaking about was way out of line, and I’m sorry you had to deal with this (and I bet she’s done the same thing to many, many other people!!).

      In general though, — where people aren’t totally rude and obnoxious like the woman in question — it is good to try to remember everyone is coming from a different place. I was also extremely sheltered, and was NEVER allowed to have an overnight anywhere, and would not have been allowed in many people’s homes. But my mom was always nice and pleasant and open to having anybody in our home, so we just usually socialized at our house/yard. But, I, too, suspect that something happened to someone in our family and that just made my parents super protective.

    • At the end of the day, whether you agree with the method or not, this mother was just doing what she believed to be best for her daughter… I don’t believe we have a right to judge her for that.

      Thank you so much for saying this. I always get worried with posts like this, because they can so often result in a pile-on of judgment against another parent… ultimately, we can’t ever know the full story of what’s going on. The author did a great job of focusing on what she’d learned from the experience (instead of throwing shade)… and while we may not agree with or understand why the other mother did what she did, ultimately she’s just another parent trying to do what she thinks is best for her child.

    • Thanks for this, it is something I’ve been meditating on as well, and I have also talked to my daughter about it. I don’t want to have any negative feelings about this woman and I wish her and her family well. I’m sure her decision made sense within her own worldview. I think that when other people judge us, it is an opportunity to work through our own issues with shame and social status versus living an authentic life. Judging back is not the best solution.

  15. My parents didn’t allow me to visit certain neighborhoods when I was a teen, but that’s because there were actual shootings in these areas. I feel sad for people who judge others based on apperance rather than actions and what kind of person they are. I would hsve missed out on meeting some really great freinds. For us, the “scarier” my freinds looked, especially the guys, the more comfortable my parents felt letting me be out with them. They figured no one would mess with us. ha!

  16. I just want to offer you many kudos for being an awesomely open person who expressed a clear willingness to work with this other mother and her concerns so that your child could have her friend at her party.

    You chose to take her concerns seriously when you did not have to recognize that your offbeatness might be a “concern” to others. And there are a zillion more reasonable ways she could have responded even if the answer was that this was non-negotiable and even if she did not want to share her reasons.
    The fact that she immediately leaped to the conclusion that you were accusing her of intolerance says more about her than about you.

  17. I was the teenage daughter who got shunned by my friends’ protective (often religious in our community) parents. I wasn’t a troublemaker, I got very good grades, and I was polite and friendly with adults. The issue most often cited for the disapproval I got was that I was “too opinionated”, “rather bold”, and “precocious”. I also wore zebra print pants and midriff baring tops, because it was 2002 and I was 16. My parents were both painfully normal, average people who were pretty blindsided by the vitriol that would get tossed at them by other parents for having raised me “that way”, when they had mostly just raised me to stand up for myself and do my own thing.

    I think what parents need to be aware of is that their daughter probably gets that this isn’t about her. It sucks when your friends can’t have you over, and you feel left out. It stings, but it isn’t world-ending because it’s about the parents’ fears and insecurities and nothing else. If she’s self-aware enough to march to her own drum, she probably knows that. What matters most in those moments is having a parent to lean on for support, to say “man, this sucks” to, without worrying that said parent is going to harbor a grudge and prevent you from seeing your friend later. And it helps if the parents refrain from making it an Us vs. Them situation, which doesn’t help matters for a teen trying to find a place for themselves as a square peg. In my experience, that can get lost in the hurt and anger at seeing a child hurting.

  18. I was the Shunned One when I was a teen. I was not allowed at several houses because I looked “too Jewish” but my cherubic-featured little sister was welcomed warmly. It sucked le ballz.

    Thankfully, I had my mom, who told me that people shunning me for my facial features was stupid and I could look forward to making my own friends as I got older who would be less stupid. And she also gave the the insightful warning, “There are assholes everywhere.” And she was right.

    Good for you, mother of the Shunned One. You’re raising offbeat kids and your house is probably also the Cool House, the Weird House, as was my mom’s house back then. You’re doing more good in the world than you can possibly know.

  19. I can kind of see both sides of the coin. I was the sheltered kid growing up. I had gone to my best friend’s house to visit for the day, and conned the moms into letting us have a sleepover. When my mother arrived with pjs and fresh clothes after work, her mother was drinking beer (I’d thought she had a diet soda…clueless 10 year old). My mother asked us to go play for a moment, and spoke with my friend’s mother. She explained that she was mistreated by alcoholic stepfathers and was not comfortable around anyone drinking, nor was she comfortable with me being around anyone who was drinking. Her mother was very understanding, and they chatted often afterwards. I didn’t get to spend the night that night, and was SO bummed! But later, my mother explained their discussion. She also admitted that if my friend’s mother had offered to discontinue her drinking for the one evening, she would’ve let me stay, because my friend was a great kid and her mom was a very nice lady, but she had to do what she felt was best for me.
    I think for me, as a reader, viewing this story, the most frustrating point was the mother not explaining what she took issue with. Open dialogue is SO VITAL in all relationships.

  20. Wow. The truth is that people have a really hard time with anything that is even the slightest bit different (from where they sit). We have been dealing with some intolerance by us and we are really not that different, at all. I would like to know if this woman was involved in your “bad decisions”. I know that I have made quite a few of those, but not one of them would affect my ability to have my daughter’s friends over for a slumber party. I applaud your conclusions. Your children are the only ones you can affect. Keep doing what you’re doing.

  21. I grew up on an Indian Reservation. I went to school off-Reserve and had a lot of friends who did not live on the Reserve.

    I only had a few close friends who were allowed to come to my house. We lived in a very nice house, my parents were teetotalers and it was a very safe environment. BUT, there are many ideas that people have about Indian reservations and the people who live there. This kind of thing happened to me all the time. I eventually stopped inviting people over and stopped expecting to have new friends come to birthday parties. It was pretty depressing. Thanks for bringing it up!! LOL

    • I’m really sorry, although not surprised, to hear about your experience of your friends not being allowed to come to your house on the Reserve.

      I’m a non-Native who spent a couple of years living on a First Nations reserve in Canada and grew up spending a lot of time around other reserves because my father worked with different bands to help them set up independant school systems. Almost everyone I ever met were genuine and caring people who had a very positive impact on me growing up.

      Of course there are problems on reserves — just like there are problems off reserve! Shame on those other families for not bothering to try and overcome old, racist attitudes and so denying their kids the chance to meet great people from a different path in life.

    • Oh my gosh, I probably would’ve embarrassed my child because I would’ve begged to be able to go with her! What an interesting opportunity that not a lot of people get to experience. It’s unfortunate that those parents didn’t take a minute to push their own biases to gain new understandings for themselves and their children.

  22. It is a very difficult thing, trying to still protect your kids from scary or dangerous situations as they grow older and more independant. I sympathise with the other mom’s delemma, if not her reasoning or the way she handled it.

    When I was coming into my pre-teen days, I had a really tight group of four friends — two boys and two girls, including me. We were utterly inseperable, like a very, very geeky and unmartial three Muskateers and d’Artagnan.

    Looking back on it, I can see what my parents must have seen at the time, which is that our d’Artagnan had a very messed up home life. He had very irresponsible and immature parents who were in the habit of going out of town and leaving him looking after his younger three siblings (including a sister still in diapers) over night from the time he was 12 years old. This, among quite a few other things, convinced my parents that they didn’t want me going over to his house anymore.

    They’re solution? To make my friends welcome at our house any time. They volunteered to host everything from relaxed hang out sessions to full on birthday parties for my friends. At the cost of rather a lot of inconvenience at times for them, my parents kept me out of a potentially unsafe situation WITHOUT targetting a kid who desperately needed his friends.

    I really admire my parents for this and will be trying desperately to follow their example as my son gets older.

  23. I was the kid that was shunned. I went to a private middle school, and had an Atomic Turquoise streak in my hair in 8th grade. I was young enough that I didn’t realize hair color was a “statement”. I invited a bunch of my friends over to hang out, and was told one of the girls wasn’t allowed to hang out with me because her mom thought I was “loose”. It was really shocking, and heartbreaking to me at 12. Also, confusing since I had no idea what loose meant. The mom in question ended up being a chaperone on our Girl Scout campout. I made it my mission to prove what a kind, respectful, good influence I was that weekend. It worked, and the girl was allowed to be my friend.

    I have never forgot that experience. I learned a valuable lesson about how your appearance can put you at a disadvantage. I learned that a real friendship doesn’t unravel due to outside opinions. My friend was going to be my friend no matter how her parents thought. I also grew up to be an adult that is very mindful to not judge anyone without truly getting to know their character (if ever).

    I’m so sorry your daughter had to experience this. It is an awful feeling to be judged like that, and so hard to understand. I hope the best for your family in taking this as a growing experience.

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