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Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife and I have a 2-year-old son. We live a great distance from both of our families, so we’ve developed a small group of friends who’ve been a big help to us, especially since this is our first child. An older couple is part of this support circle, Dan and Gina, who live nearby. They’re not exactly old enough to be our parents, but their kids are all out of the house at this point. My wife became friends with Gina years ago and she and Dan have been a huge help.
The problem is this: Dan and Gina recently watched our son for the afternoon, and when we picked him up, he was playing with their dog. It was cute and Gina started taking photos of them with her phone. All good and fine—except at one point, our son got knocked over and started crying. My wife went to pick up our son, but Gina told her not to because she wanted to get a photo of him crying. Gina thought it was hysterical. When I told Gina I really didn’t want photos of my son crying, she and Dan acted like I was being overly sensitive. “Trust us, he’ll love the photo when he’s older.” We eventually left, but both my wife and I were unsettled.
Dan and Gina have a teasing relationship in general, especially with their kids. It’s often seemed a bit sadistic, but I fully acknowledge different families have different ideas on what’s funny. And yet, this really has made us reevaluate our relationship with them. It’s not just that my wife and I think it’s weird to enjoy taking a photo of a child in distress, but that they completely dismissed us when we asked them not to. Are we just being too sensitive? When we talked about it to friends who are closer in our age, they were uniformly taken aback.
No, you’re not being too sensitive, because this is straight up despicable behavior on your friends’ part. There’s nothing funny about what happened, and I always cringe whenever I see videos, photos, GIFs, or memes that exploit young kids getting hurt for the enjoyment of others. The only thing that’s worse is the fact that they ignored your wife’s parental instincts to protect him. Imagine what could’ve happened to your son when you’re not around.
Sure, I understand that older generations have different viewpoints on how kids should be raised, but they don’t have a say when it comes to your son. You can’t go back into the past, but you certainly can discuss how things will be going forward. First off, you can tell them that you don’t feel comfortable having your son stay with them if they think it’s OK to take awkward photos of him in distress. Ask them how they would feel if you broke something valuable of theirs and told them to stop being such drama queens about it. Chances are they wouldn’t like that very much, and in your case, the “something valuable” is your precious son.
Next, you should tell them that under no circumstances should they undermine your wishes for your son. If you want to hug him, you hug him—and he’s not there for the twisted amusement for your “friends.”
At this point, your friendship rides on their response. If they roll their eyes at you or think you’re being too sensitive, then the friendship should be over—or at least on hiatus until they sincerely apologize. If they value you and your feelings, they should show some contrition and make a concerted effort to make things right.
Hopefully it will be the latter, but either way, you’ll be better off afterward.
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