My sister-in-law has an eight year old daughter who is an absolute brat. She interrupts conversations, talks back to adults, and never says thank-you for anything. I avoid visiting my in-laws because I know that one day I am going to lose it on the kid if her behavior does not improve.
For me, the last straw with “Aimee” was Christmas Eve. We were gathered at my sister-in-law’s house and the kids were opening gifts from the adults. My wife spent a lot of time and money shopping for the nephews and nieces, picking out what she thought would be just the right gift for each of them. Her three other nieces and her two nephews loved their gifts, and expressed their gratitude; Aimee did not like her gift, and let everyone know. She threw aside the GAP Kids outfit my wife had bought her, calling it “stupid and for babies”. Aimee’s mother demanded that she apologize, but Aimee refused, saying she wasn’t sorry and that it is wrong to lie. (At least the kid showed some kind of moral compass).
My wife was distraught and I was just plain [angry], so we ended up leaving shortly after Aimee’s meltdown. I expected my sister-in-law to call to apologize, say she has punished Aimee for her rude behavior, or something like that, but she never did; she didn’t even call to wish us a Merry Christmas. I would like to call my sister-in-law and tell her exactly how I feel about her kid’s behavior, but my wife says to let it go, that Aimee is probably going through a phase and will outgrow it. Aimee’s birthday is in February, and I would like to skip the gift-giving altogether, as punishment since nobody else seems to be correcting her, but my wife says that is harsh and that Aimee will have forgotten her behavior by the time her birthday rolls around. I say that is all the more reason to remind her of it, not to reward her for it.
My wife is a devoted reader of your column (and yeah, I like it too) so I would like to know your opinion on what to do – let things go or make a point.
Dear Angry Uncle:
Eight years old can be a difficult age for a girl; she is no longer a baby or even a little girl, but she is not yet a teenager who can wear makeup and talk about boys. Our American culture pushes adolescence on children younger and younger with every generation – it is different from when you were a child. When my Mommie was a child she would emulate Sheena Easton and Donna Summer; now girls look to role models like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. What girly-girl would not be entranced by that much glitter? However, the fact remains that Aimee is still an eight year old girl, regardless of how old she may think she is. This could explain – although not excuse – Aimee’s rudeness.
|She worked hard for the money, so hard honey, honey!|
After re-reading your letter, I think that the situation was handled badly all the way around – from Aimee’s tantrum to your sister-in-law’s passive attitude, to you and your wife picking up and leaving early – while this may have resolved your own discomfort, it probably made things even worse for the other guests (who may have deserved that discomfort for sitting passively and watching the drama unfold; I cannot say for certain since I was not there).
Putting aside the fact that Aimee’s mother needs to take charge of her daughter’s behavior – that is another issue altogether – I would like to address your handling of the whole gift-giving situation. You say that your wife spent a lot of time and money picking out what she thought was the perfect gift. While I appreciate her efforts, did she seek input from her sister on what Aimee might like? This small effort could have saved her the larger effort of searching for the perfect gift, and is the reason that weddings have registries and why children write letters to Santa. This oversight, however, in no way excuses Aimee’s behavior.
Your wife is right in saying that Aimee will have forgotten her behavior from Christmas by the time her birthday arrives. Withholding her gift when you have given her birthday gifts in the past will be a lesson lost on one so young. I suggest that you give Aimee a birthday gift, as usual. Should her reaction to your gift mirror her reaction at Christmas, calmly take the gift, put it back in the box, and tell Aimee that you will be returning it since she did not like it. Do not exchange the gift for something she likes; do not give her a gift card or merchandise credit; simply let her poor behavior be its own reward. If she questions your actions, when she realizes a new gift is not forthcoming, explain to her in language that a newly-minted nine year old can understand: a gift is not something that is automatic; it is given out of love, and when love is not shown back no gift the giver feels very hurt. A gift once given belongs to the recipient, but if rejected can be taken back by the giver. If your sister-in-law has a problem with this, you can take the issue up with her – privately, not in front of her child.
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