New Rule: Stop Treating Your Child Like She’s the Center of the Universe

A young mom recently told me a story I found … well … disturbing.

Kristen has a 5-year-old daughter, Caroline, and a son Aiden, who’s 3.  She’s a single mom following a difficult divorce about 2 years ago.

Kristen’s life is a bit complicated, as you can imagine. Each morning she gets her kids up, gets them dressed, and gives them a breakfast that’s as nourishing as she can manage. Then, she drops Caroline at kindergarten and Aiden at preschool a few minutes away, before arriving at her full-time-plus job as a human resources director by 8:30 AM.

At 12:30, her babysitter (who lives within walking distance of Kristen’s home and both schools) picks up Caroline and the two of them swing by the preschool to grab Aiden.  They arrive back home about 1 PM, eat lunch, and spend the afternoon playing and napping until Kristen gets home just after 6 PM.

This well-oiled machine shifts slightly on Thursdays, when the babysitter (who has no car of her own) takes a public bus to Kristen’s office to pick up her car before getting the kids, so she can take Caroline to her dance class at 3 PM, which isn’t within walking distance. On those days Kristen hitches a ride home with a co-worker.

This was all working surprisingly well until Caroline’s dance teacher announced an upcoming recital and chose Caroline for one of the starring roles. Caroline was thrilled, and came home excited to tell Kristen all about it. A small complication: an extra rehearsal was to be added to the schedule on Wednesdays at the usual class time.

This extra rehearsal meant that Caroline would have to get to the dance school two days a week now, and on Wednesdays Kristen’s job required that she travel across town to work at another office, so the car wasn’t available.

When Kristen called  to explain the problem, the dance teacher suggested she give a call to a few of the other moms in her area to see if she could arrange a carpool.  Great idea!

Kristen called Alicia, mother of Courtney, who, it turns out, lives just a couple of blocks away. Alicia begged off, citing her own scheduling complications. Over the next several days, Kristen made calls to all the moms on her list, doing her best to work out transportation so Caroline could be in the recital.

Finally, a full week after that first call to the dance teacher, Kristin had cobbled together a plan that would work.  Relieved, she called  to report her success.  There was an awkward pause on the other end of the line, and the dance teacher said “Oh … I’m surprised. I thought you’d decided it was too hard to get Caroline here for the extra rehearsal on Wednesdays, and when Alicia said you couldn’t do it we substituted Courtney for the part. Caroline will have a smaller role, and only needs to rehearse on Thursday, her usual class day.  I’m so sorry if there was a misunderstanding.”

Kristen was shocked! What just happened?  Had the dance teacher really taken the part away from Caroline without talking to her?  What had Alicia said to make her do that? How was she going to explain this to her little girl?

Well, to make a long story short(er), Alicia had indeed picked off the plum role for her daughter as soon as she smelled an opportunity. When Kristen phoned to call her on it, Alicia didn’t understand what the problem was. After all, she was just doing what any attentive mom would do … if Kristen and Caroline had a “scheduling conflict”, her little darling would be happy to fill the gap.

This story may not be quite as egregious as that of the mother who created a bogus My Space account to bully a young high schooler who later committed suicide, so that her daughter could be the star cheerleader (I’m sure you’ve heard about that one), but as far as I’m concerned it’s not all that far off.  Pushing your kid to the front of the line at the expense of another is — well, just plain wrong. Not only are you hurting someone’s child, you’re sending a really bad message to your own.

Note to child: it’s A-OK to cheat to get what you want. Do whatever it takes to get ahead.  The end justifies the means. And, oh-by-the-way, you are the only kid on the planet.

The good news is that this story had a happy ending. When the dance teacher figured out what had happened she put Caroline back in the original role.  The recital was a huge success and all the girls had a grand time.

But Kristen and Alicia never quite came to an understanding, and now they pretty much steer clear of each other.  I wonder what Courtney thinks.

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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One response to “New Rule: Stop Treating Your Child Like She’s the Center of the Universe”

  1. ERI

    That’s awful! It’s hard enough to try to balance a busy schedule and kids’ active lives without other parents behaving in such a terrible way. I’m glad to read that the dance teacher was thoughtful enough to set things right. As the mother of a three year old, I can imagine the unnecessary heartbreak that both of these little girls had to face. I hope that they both came out smiling and proud of their dance performances!

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