Welcome back to Parental Advisory, where I answer all of your social media and IRL parenting etiquette questions. This week, let's talk about parents who put their kids on the phone with their friends (whether their friends like it or not!).
Dearest STFU Parents,
My best friend has a toddler, who speaks adorable toddler-ese. It would be even cuter if, every time we spoke on the phone, I didn’t have to talk to him as well.
Let me explain: ever since this kid got out his first word, she’s put him on the phone with me. Every time we talk, at some point during our conversations she’ll say, “Craig [his name is not Craig], do you want to talk to [name redacted]”? And then I’ve had to engage in conversation with a baby. At this stage he can say things like “I got ball!” or “I want cookie!” But let me tell you, it’s a little hard to come up with much to say after that. It’s not like she keeps me on the phone with him for hours, but sometimes I just want to talk to my friend, you know? Yes, he’s cute. Yes, she’s proud of him and his verbal feats. Yes, she’s trapped at home with a toddler and wants someone else to entertain him for a few minutes. I get it. If I only had to converse with him once in a while, even, it would be okay. But every time? Every single time?
This is not even when the toddler interrupts – she’ll literally say, “Craig, do you want to talk to Aunt [Redacted]” and then I have to sit on the phone and listen to a baby breathing at me while I say things like, “Hi, Craig, how are you?” and “Are you playing with your mom?” I think it might be an attempt to get us to bond. Which is very sweet, really. I’m probably being a jerk about this. I don’t actually know why she does it because I feel like if I ask it’s going to have a judgy tone.
Can I say anything, or do I have to keep my mouth shut and chat up li'l Craig until he’s a teenager and doesn’t want to talk to his mom’s dumb friends?
— Aunt [Redacted]
It pains me to say this, but you should probably keep your mouth shut and chat up li'l Craig, if only because your options are pretty limited. Sure, you could get passive-aggressive and sarcastically tell your friend that her son explained photosynthesis to you the next time he gets off the phone just to highlight the low level of discourse one has with a toddler — but that's probably not going to get you the results you want. I agree that saying point blank that you're "all set" on chatting with her kid won't win you any friend awards, but beyond that, the only thing you can really do is stop talking to her on the phone altogether, and that doesn't sound like a great plan.
If she's your best friend, it's important to you both to find the time to catch up on the phone, and besides, technology has only made it easier for parents to encourage "forced bonding" between their friends and their kids. [See: last week's column about Snapchat.] If your friend is determined for you to "get to know" her preverbal son (and I'm assuming she and her son don't live in the same city as you do, A.R.), she'll find other means to do so. With FaceTime, Skype, email, text messaging, Facebook, Instagram, etc., parents have a bevy of tools at their disposal if they want to show off their kids or live-broadcast a school play.
There are so many ways parents can force grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends to opt into their children's world that for some, the temptation is too great. They're powerless to stop themselves from sending a daily photo, video or Boomerang, even if they're not sure the recipient watches or cares. They also yearn for their kids to have heartfelt, established relationships with their friends and family, even if those friends and family live far away.
It's also possible, A.R., that your friend is putting her son on the phone every time you talk because she's teaching him how to use the phone, and you're the "lucky" guinea pig of the day. The good news is that she's not cutting you off in the middle of a story or dismissing your side of the conversation just because her son wants attention. She's waiting for a pause in the conversation to ask him if he wants to talk to you, and while this is annoying because she's asking him if he wants to talk to you and not the other way around — thus, assuming you always want to talk to him — it's better than her acting like the world revolves around her kid and nothing you say matters. Your words and stories and feelings still matter to her; she's just mildly insistent that you become best buddies with her son too.
So in essence, you only stand to gain a "friend" (in her toddler son), and you're not actually losing a friend since she's still the same person she was before becoming a mom. It's a net positive — just a somewhat irksome one since it involves regularly chatting up a 25-pound baby.
Perhaps the worst side effect of this baby talk is that you've likely come to expect it every time you and your friend get on the phone. It might even deter you from calling to say hello (if you're not in the mood to express fake enthusiasm and speak toddler-ese), but do not fret! Toddlers eventually become slightly more interesting, and most important, they learn how to be independent kids. Before you know it, her son will be too preoccupied playing with LEGO to get on the phone, and his mom will probably welcome an extended break from hearing his incessant factoids about dinosaurs or engines or whatever he's obsessing over at the time. You may even grow to appreciate those phone chats with him once they're less frequent and include complete sentences. (Maybe.)
Until then, might I recommend distracting yourself during these chats by squeezing a creepy stress ball that's shaped like a baby's head? No one has to know because no one will be able to see you.
Embracing "old school" communication methods still has its perks.
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