Book Worm

21 Jan

Letterbalm Pile of BooksDear LetterBalm: I’m a big fan of book clubs. My husband and I have been part of a monthly book group for the past three years. It’s made up of five couples, one of them very good friends of ours. We take turn hosting, and members bring food and wine. In the past few months, they’ve brought their seven-year-old daughter to the group. At first, it was because their regular babysitter wasn’t available, but then it settled into an automatic thing. The little girl disrupts the group, interrupts our conversation, and her parents don’t discipline her. Even if she were well behaved, we don’t feel she should be attending an adult event. All of us want to say something to the couple, and, since we’re their best friends, the group feels we need to speak up. How do we handle this?

–Constant Reader

For the moment, put yourself in the child’s shoes. She’s bored and indulged, a perfect recipe for a spoiled brat to upend a group of serious-minded adults. Miss Manners dealt with the same situation rather pointedly: Start reading spicy novels, like The Pearl and Lady Chatterley’s Lover and tell the parents to explain to their daughter what they’re about. Barring that, Ms. L.B. suggests you and your husband take the couple out for dinner apart from the book group. Don’t worry about hurting their feelings; this is a situation that can’t go on. Moreover, the lackadaisical parenting of such good friends must be apparent to you by now. Be non-judgmental but firm and be prepared for indignation:

Laura and Dom, there’s something we have to discuss, and, since you’re such good friends, we feel we can speak frankly. The book group members have asked us to speak for them. Please stop bringing Emma to the group. The poor child is bored out of her skull, and it’s unfair to ask her to be quiet and to play by herself for the duration of our gatherings. She gets disruptive and wants attention like a typical, bright seven-year-old, and you aren’t in a position to discipline her in front of everyone there. It can’t go on. Look, we’ve been friends for a long time, and we hope this won’t cause problems in our friendship, but the simple matter is, you have to make other care arrangements for Emma. All of us get along so well and learn so much – we’d hate for you to feel that you have to quit the group.

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