My Friend Won’t Shut Up About Her Kids. What Can I Do?

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
Nov. 15 2011 7:09 AM

My Friend Won’t Shut Up About Her Kids

She used to discuss other topics, but no longer. Can I stop listening?

Friend_Or_Foe_standingIllo

Illustration by Jason Raish.

Dear Friend or Foe,
One of my closest friends—“Tammy”—can only talk about her children. Pre-kids, she wasn’t this way. Then came a few tumultuous years, during which time she married, bought a home, lost it, had a child, then another one. When after two years she literally hadn't asked me how I was doing once, I was ready to walk away from the friendship. But then she demonstrated, out of the blue, that she really did care. I realized then that she was raised in a barn, more or less, and her social graces are not all that great (and I forgave her).

Lucinda Rosenfeld Lucinda Rosenfeld

Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of four novels, including I'm So Happy for You and The Pretty One, which will be published in early 2013.

But at a recent dinner party, she dominated the conversation so completely that, when others tried to change the conversation, she’d quickly steer it back to herself. It wasn’t even clear that she realized what she was doing. But it would have been much nicer not to have her there. I have other friends who are mothers and who were there that evening. On their nights out, they're happy to talk about anything else.

Do I sit Tammy down and explain that when you’re socializing, you should express at least a cursory interest in other people? Tammy is very smart and has proven that she can discuss other topics. (This is what we did pre-kids, and it still happens once in a while.) But she’s so desperate to ensure that her kids have a happy childhood (unlike herself) that her devotion to them is all-consuming. Part of me feels bad for her, as she’s gone through some rough things in her life, especially as a child, and I don't want to pile on. The other part can’t take it anymore.

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Sincerely,
You're a Great Mother and It's Really Boring

Dear YAGMAIRB,
You say that Tammy is trying to compensate for her own crummy childhood. But that’s no excuse for being a bore. Before I had kids myself, I remember being at a party where, standing on either side of me, two acquaintances were comparing notes on their breastfeeding schedules—and more notes and then even more notes—and me wanting to gag (or throttle) them both. That kind of myopia, especially around people who don’t have kids, is just plain rude.

But you said that Tammy recently proved in some other way that she still cared—and that she’s still capable of talking about other things. So I’d be inclined to cut her a little slack and, rather than confront her directly with her out-of-control narcissism, take an active role in getting her outside of her own head. Maybe you two could sign up for a sport or cause together, something that would provide Tammy with something to obsess about that doesn’t involve the cognitive development of preschoolers  Hopefully in a few years’ time, she’ll start to see that children are just one (albeit frequently dominating) aspect of adult existence.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,
My friend "Candace" has a good heart and is generally a good friend who can be counted on when you need her. Now in her late 40s, she hasn't been employed one day in the decade I've known her. Instead, her aging mother, now in her 80s, has been fully supporting her, not just by paying her rent and other bills but supplying her with spending money. (Her mother was a teacher who apparently invested well and spends almost nothing herself.) When we first met, Candace had been out of work for less than a year. Some friends attempted to hold an intervention regarding her spending habits, which she took exception to, taking refuge in those who hadn’t participated in the intervention and doing nothing to change her habits.

Now it’s years later, and Candace has been on depression medication ever since. The same friends want to stage another intervention. But I know from trying that broaching the topic of her apathy and lack of ambition, even in subtle, non-confrontational ways, makes her hackles rise. She says that this is her life and that her relationship with her mother is no one's business but theirs. She then lists a series of reasons why she wouldn't be able to get a decent job even if she tried (she's been out of the workforce too long, she doesn't have a marketable skill set, etc.). I’ve even suggested that she go to a vocational school, maybe for teaching. But she says she couldn’t bear to be on her feet all day and around noisy/sick children, etc. Meanwhile, her house has become a Hoarders-" style sty. Housekeeping was never Candace’s strong suit, but now she doesn't even let people in the door because of the state the place is in.

Her other friends and I are concerned that, once her mother passes, she’ll be forced into a situation for which she’s completely unprepared. Then again, her mother owns her home, so that could be sold. It might also be that her mother will leave her enough to subsist on indefinitely, if Candace lives modestly. Candace is also right that it's not my business if her mother wants to raise her forever. It’s also true that I haven’t suffered from long-term depression (and don’t know what it’s like). I also suspect that another intervention will only cause her to become defensive and resentful toward us. Still, I have to admit that I get annoyed with what I think are just constant excuses for Candace being lazy. What do you think?

Sincerely,
Intervention Wary