Other People’s Families

How do you defy someone else’s parents? How do you stand up for someone against their own family?

It’s not like I have any right to do so, after all. I know I have no business telling other people how to raise their kids. But sometimes they drive me mad.

My Mao-friends and I are going to have a sleep-over and Harry Potter marathon this Sunday. And now, all of a sudden, Midnight can’t come. Her dad has been in the hospital – nothing critical, I am given to understand, just a small problem – and has just come home, and she herself says “There’s no way he’d let me leave two days after his return.” Implied is the much more straightforward “There’s no way he’d let me go.”

She said earlier that she would be implementing a grand master scheme of deception to ensure that she could come. Apparently her father’s return ruins this plan, and now it’s hopeless. I don’t like that she had to implement such a scheme in the first place. It’s not her whole family that’s difficult, she says, just her father; but she was going to deceive people if she was going to come. I don’t know the details, but still – that’s not right.

I will never be the one to encourage anyone to lie to their parents. I think I did it once, by accident, in ninth grade – it just sort of slipped out – but I am opposed to doing so on principle. Still, sometimes the temptation is so very, very great.

And while I would face down any number of bullies, teachers, principals, generals, presidents and kings to defend my friends, I cannot face down their parents.

I have another friend, Shard, whose mother is . . . She drives me crazy. Every time I go to Shard’s house (and I’ve been there often), her mother compliments me on my grades and berates Shard for not getting better ones herself. She says things like “Maybe it’ll rub off.” She scolds Shard for not offering us something to eat, for not knowing how to cook, for not studying enough, for spending too much time on the computer, for everything. I can’t stand it! Everything within me screams against just standing there with a sour little smile on my face as I just let someone abuse my friend like this. I want to answer her back word for word, I want to rail at her for not only not supporting her daughter in front of her friends, but actively putting her down in front of people who are important to her! How dare she!

I’m not saying parents shouldn’t rebuke their children for egregious behavior, or for not making sensible choices in life. But I was raised with the notion that a family ought to present a united front, and that my parents were and always would be my staunch defenders against the slings and arrows of the world. It’s a large part of who I am today, and I am more than adamant that parents should support their children and encourage their self-esteem, not tear it down.

I try to avoid Shard’s mother when I can. Shard has noticed, and I’ve told her it’s because her mother scares me a little. It’s true that she’s very overbearing, so Shard believes it. I don’t know if she’s guessed the truth – that I find it unpleasant to be around her mother, because I have to be polite to her no matter what she says about Shard. I refuse to agree with any of her such statements, and I end up frequently belittling myself to counterbalance her denigration of her own daughter. Conversation with her is tiring.

Because I can’t say anything, and I know it. I want to go on being Shard’s friend and seeing her regularly and such, and that won’t be possible if her mother dislikes me or thinks I’m a bad influence. So I have to just grin and bear it.

Midnight says that it’s not possible to live in her house without lying. She says it’s hell now that her father is back. What am I supposed to do with that?! What am I supposed to do to fix that?! Why can’t I fix it??! It’s not right. I should be able to make life easier for my friends. I shouldn’t just be sitting here, hating that she lives like this and wishing I were the kind of person who hits things when they’re mad, so at least I could release some tension that way. Aaargh. Why is it that no matter how ready I am to stand up for my friends, it’s never that easy? Why is it I can only offer comfort and support, when what I want to offer is a tongue-lashing of the run-away-crying-for-mommy-and-doubting-your-own-fundamental-philosophies-of-living kind? Why don’t my friends just have bullies I can eviscerate, instead of complicated family problems I can’t meddle in? Why does it have to be so hard?

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