Giving Unsolicited Advice to a Mother

Dear T,

I’m going to try and keep this brief.  I’ve been friends with this girl for a little over a year.  Recently, I have been going over to her house to hang out from time to time, and noticed how she treats her children.  She has two boys and treats them both completely different. The youngest, she babies a lot and caters to his needs.  With her young teenage son, she is a bit harder on him.  I’m all for tough love, but she treats him like some neighbor’s son instead of her own.   Better yet, it’s like the teenager is Cinderella, and the youngest is one of the sisters. Except in this situation, the youngest is not mean at all, and the oldest is biologically my friend’s child. He rarely cracks a smile when I’m over there.  When I tried talking to him one on one, he was reluctant to share his feelings with me.  Everything in me is telling me to mind my business, and let my friend parent how she wants to parent.  However, she recently shared with me that the youngest boy asked her why the oldest boy hates him.  It seemed to break her heart, and I want to tell her that it’s her fault.  What should I do here?  Sorry if it’s not that brief.

-Cautiously concerned.

Dear Cautiously Concerned,

Thanks for writing to me.  First off, no need to apologize here.  You had a question, and you asked it.  As promised, I’m just here to help if I can by offering some advice.  Given the sensitivity of the issue here, I’m going to try to give you some guidance that you can use to help this family while maintaining your friendship.

As most people know, or should know, giving unsolicited parenting advice to a mother is dangerous business.  If done the wrong way, it’s like asking a lion to maul your face, and then to drag you for a mile or two.  So you’ve got to be careful here.  You don’t want to say anything that your friend will find offensive.  However, I do think it is important you say something for the sake of the young lives at stake here.

I’m not a licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, but I’m pretty sure the older boy doesn’t hate his younger brother, but is rather frustrated by difference in love this mother shows toward her children.  I can’t help but to think about how many times this older son has gone to bed wondering what he has done to have his mother be so hard on him, and why the younger son is treated so differently.  By the mother parenting the way she does, she is by default causing a rift in the brotherhood.  So you’re right, it is her fault.

And looking past the fractured brotherhood, I have a feeling the teenager may (or will) lash out at others on occasion, because of problems stemming from his relationship with his mother.  You know the saying “hurt people, hurt people”?  Well the saying has a lot of truth to it.  Your friend could negatively impact this boy’s current and future relationship with women, and cause him to be an overly stern parent with any children he may have on his own.   A simple word from you could help save this boy from such future problems.

The next time that your buddy, NOT YOU, bring up the kids, use the opportunity to delicately voice your concerns.  Avoid phrases like “if I were you,” or “it would be better.”  Reading that last sentence, you may think you’ve been limited in your word choice.  However, I just did you a favor by listing those phrases.  Those expressions will make it sound as if you are coming from a place of having better knowledge on how to raise the kids she pushed out her nether regions.

Suggestions going forward.

  1. Remember, that REAL friends should be able to talk to each other about anything. However, it’s important to keep in mind your tone and delivery.


  1. Without coming off too nosey, try and gauge the relationship of your friend with the children’s father(s). If she has some issues with a father here, she may be taking it out on the poor teenager.  And should that be the case, it’s okay to lightly suggest she deal with the issues for the sake of her kid.   (Really important to tread lightly here.  I find having a conversation like this works best, when you reveal an issue of your past that you had to find the courage to work through.)


  1. If you’re able to, try see if you can become a mentor-like figure in the older child’s life. If he isn’t getting some easy loving from his mom, perhaps you can offset that a bit with a little kindness every now and then.  Just keep in mind, he is still her child.


  1. It’s worth nothing again, there is nothing wrong with counseling and therapy people.


As always nothing but love,


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