When your “helpful” friends do more harm than good
When I was in the middle of my divorce, a friend from preschool offered to take on some of my babysitter’s hours for her eight-month-old. I had slightly older kids in preschool and camp, and I needed to save money, so this seemed like a win-win for both of us. A month later, my beloved, dependable babysitter was offered full-time work by said friend.
“It seemed better for all of us,” my friend informed me, “for you to start all new.”
In retrospect, that may have been true, but at the time, I did leave several screaming voice mails. Needless to say, I am no longer friends with this woman.
What is it about being a Solo Mom that one so often attracts not-so-helpful advice from people one considers close friends? And more to the point, why do our friends think it’s all right to share what they consider support, which somehow comes off so very, very wrong?
The vaccination theory
A little bit of your stress saves them from danger. They are listening, and they are available, and they are calling on the universe to help you: “Maybe getting through this will help you stabilize your life and give you a better perspective.”
This is a subtle variant on “Everything happens for a reason.” It’s the laziest way of informing you that they are tired of your problems, and they only stay friends with you because it makes them appreciate their lives more.
I’m not saying your friends enjoy watching you struggle, just that they perhaps feel that a bit of exposure to the travails of a Solo Mom inoculates them from traumas of their own. In an interesting reversal, when any of these friends has a problem, you are required to listen and then give hours of redundant support because, you know, they’re not as “strong as you.”
The preemptive strike—unsolicited dire warnings about the future
“Have you done anything to prepare for . . . ?” Fill in the rest of that sentence with anything from the best retirement plan to end-of-life plans to who will take the children. So helpful. So stressful.
I don’t know about you, but as a Solo Mom, I can’t really think too far past what’s for dinner and whether or not I made lunch. I’m fairly ecstatic if everything I need to get done in a given week happens and I am able to move past crises of my own making with only minor disruptions: “Where is the phone charger?” “How can I get two kids to two different athletic practices at the same time?” “The orthodontist thinks you need what?”
So it’s astonishing when a friend decides to “ask your thoughts” about a future that seems as far away as the merry old land of Oz. Why is it this friend usually has a strange twinkle in her eye when she does? Or is that just me, wincing at the glare from her perfectly planned life?
My favorite one of these sincerely and softly worded asides was a well-meaning swim team mom asking me if I was going to find a college for my daughter that had alcohol-free dormitories, just in case. My daughter was, at that time, a freshman in high school. My rather tart answer was that hiding all the spinning wheels had not helped Sleeping Beauty and that I hoped she would be accepted to a college that suited her. “Helpful” swim team mom was not amused.
The fixers and empathizers
“Don’t you feel that without a strong male presence in their lives, they will have problems?”
There are so many clever answers for that.
“Don’t you feel you’d have more fun if you looked like Heidi Klum?”
“If you didn’t get to choose what animal you would be when you are reincarnated, how would you feel about being a cockroach?”
“Is there an app for that?”
Should you run out tomorrow and fill in forms for a “male presence for my kids?” Should you be dating only for your kids? But then, on the other hand, if you are not dating for your kids, then the eyebrow-raising questioners have something to say.
Frankly? You should not do anything.
The fact is that the only answer to any of these charming insights from your buds is to never take them up on anything they say. They’re your friends, and for better or for worse, as a Solo Mom, you’re not looking for the perfect pal, just a few nice ones.
So here’s what you have to do: Pretend you’re at a rock concert, and the bass is so loud you have stuffed earplugs in your ears, and then smile, relax, and nod along as your friends give you helpful advice. It’s all good!
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Margot Kessler, a screen and television writer living in Los Angeles, is the sporadically witty Solo Mom of two lovely daughters.
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