Sometimes I need a filter between my brain and my mouth.
This is not the way to get one.

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Friend Filter...

I always remember my Mum giving me advice on friendships. She was never outright critical of a situation, she would listen and then give her thoughts and let me deal with it as I wanted, but I knew full well she would be there to support me.

But how do you teach your 4 year old about good and bad friendships? How do you make them understand that there is a difference?

Miss 4 has developed a relationship with 4 of the 7 children that live next door. In the beginning, I didn't have a problem with it. She was thrilled to have some friends, close to the same age, that lived right over the fence. I was more than happy to have them over to play.

But in the last month or so I have noticed a shift in their attentions. At first I thought their constant requests to come over were cute and I was glad they had so much fun. But when I can't even go down my front steps to do a load of washing without them hanging off the fence, begging to be allowed to come over, it's a bit much.

I've noticed that Miss 4 has been coming inside, in tears, asking me why her friends can't come over. They just won't let up and they bug her to bug me about it. She becomes distressed and frustrated with me because no answer is good enough for them and, therefore, not good enough for her.

I couldn't work out where her special treats were going - I always have a little stash of chupa chups in the cupboard for a treat when we go to the park or just because I know she loves them. I couldn't work out how she was going through an 8 pack of fruit boxes in an afternoon, when we had just bought them.

When entire boxes of Barbecue shapes were gone, I decided to watch a bit more carefully. I was worried I had done something to make her think she couldn't be honest with me, so I was quietly observant.

Turns out the neighbour kids are using her as a food and beverage delivery service. She was sneaking food out of the house. She has never had to 'sneak' food EVER. Miss 4 knows that she can go to the cupboard or the fridge any time she likes if she's hungry or thirsty. There is always fruit and water on the go.

I'll admit, I know that Miss 4 and The JellyBean appear to have everything, and the kids were astonished at her toy collection. But she is only 1 of 2 children and our family is lucky enough to have the earning ability we do. The neighbours have 7 children and are both parents are on pensions. They also appear to have some serious 'substance and anger issues', but I won't go into that.

Fair enough, the kids think Miss 4 has it all and they want to have some too. If you are a guest in our home, then yes, I won't hesitate to make sure you have a snack and drinks as needed, but it makes me angry when they use Miss 4 as a portal to food and drink.

After I found out what was happening, I sat down with Miss 4 and tried to explain to her that good friends don't make us do the wrong thing for their own benefit. I tried to put it in perspective by asking her 'do K, C or A ask you to sneak food and drinks from the house?' When she said no, I went on to say that if her 'friends' were over to play, then yes they are welcome to a snack and drinks, but if they are at home then they should ask their Mummy or Daddy for a drink or something to eat. Miss 4 seemed satisfied with this, and promised not to sneak anything from the house anymore, and if her 'friends' asked her to do that, she would come and tell me right away.

In no time at all I was putting the kybosh on their relentless requests to Miss 4 to get them food and drinks. I told them no, that asking Miss 4 to sneak food was wrong and they had to go ask their parents because they were at home.

Their response was to completely shut out Miss 4, despite her standing at the fence calling to them. It broke my heart and I brought her inside to play games together and we did some painting. She cried and asked me why they didn't like her anymore.

The following day they started to talk to Miss 4 again, but the endless requests for food and drinks came back and when she said no, they ignored her again.

You're probably wondering why I don't just have them over to play. Fair question. My response is to say that the last time they came over turned into a nightmare when they started world war 3 over every single toy, broke toys when they didn't want to share (I'm thinking it's a 'if I can't have it, then no-one will' type response). When they got bored of that, they convinced Miss 4 to bring them the iPad and they played games on it and completely ignored her. 

When I walked them home after 5 hours, their front gate was locked and I had to wait until their Mum decided she was ready to have them back.

When she finally did come to pick them up, she gave me a glazed smile and slurred something about having been over 3 or 4 times to collect them but it sounded like they were having so much fun she didn't want to disturb them.

I might not have minded so much if it was the first time that happened, but it wasn't. And I was just outright pissed off with being used as a free babysitting service.

Issues with the parents aside, I didn't think I would have to be teaching my 4 year old to protect her little heart, so soon. To be honest, this isn't an issue I had even considered and now I'm not sure what to do. How do I give my little girl a 'friend filter'?

We have been thinking for a while about selling and moving. Part of that involves repairing the fence and it means the kids won't be able to communicate through it anymore. I feel horrible for saying this, but I'll be grateful when that happens - every time her little face falls because she refuses to do the wrong thing and they shun her, every time they send her up and down the stairs, repeatedly, to ask me if they can come over and I say no because they don't have any respect for Miss 4 or her belongings and she gets upset - all of it makes me want to scoop her up, lock the door behind us, hang a 'for sale' sign on the fence and drive away.

I do everything I can to make her realise that real friends don't treat you differently, depending on what you're prepared to do for them. We go on lots of playdates, we spend lots of time with family and friends and we spend lots of time together. I hate feeling like I can't let her play on her trampoline or just play with her dolls in the yard without the neighbour kids harassing her. I hate feeling like our own property isn't comfortable because they are ALWAYS THERE. Always wanting something from her.

There's probably no immediate solution to this, other than to continue doing what we're doing, and I hope that repairing the fence and eliminating the lack of privacy issue will go a long way to solving some of the problems.

I love my little girl so much and I want her to be as open, free spirited and heartfelt as she is for as long as she can, but I won't stand for that to be taken advantage of. I may be soft and fuzzy but, I'm still a mama bear and, you'll be feeling more than just regret if you mess with my little one.

But what about you Mama and Papa bears out there? Have you ever had to deal with something like this, so soon? Am I completely out of touch or are kids growing up a lot faster these days? I feel like this is something I should be talking to Miss 4 about in another decade.

For now, it all feels too soon and too much for such a little bear.

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