The neighbor's parenting drives my wife crazy

My wife, who has lived in the USA for 12 years, comes from a culture where family and a woman’s role as wife and mother are deeply inculcated from earliest childhood. Her resulting values and character are the reasons I married her.

Consequently, my wife has had a real challenge in coming to the US: in her 40’s, her ways set and her mind mostly made up, she’s been discovering that not everyone shares her values and behavior. And it upsets her greatly, particularly when she perceives children are being short-changed in some ways.

Our next-door neighbors are nice people with 4 kids and one teenage nephew living with them. The youngest children are twins, a boy and a girl about 15 months old. The mother and father in this family work and my wife offered to babysit when we heard that they were having a hard time finding a good sitter for the twin toddlers.

My wife thrives on children and it is a constant sorrow to her that her own grandchildren remain in her native country and that she can only see them on Skype or in occasional visits. So this opportunity to be around toddlers and to care for them daily, has really cheered her up noticeably.

Of course it is hard work. They are very active children, getting into everything - all the toddler stuff. That is not what is wearing out my wife.

What is getting her goat (and mine, to some degree too) is that the parents just don’t seem to know or care how to look after these many children they are responsible for. The house is a mess, always cluttered and unswept. Dust bunnies and worse everywhere. But worse still, there is never anything to speak of in the refrigerator. My wife arranged for her pay to include something so we can shop for the babies, so we do provide them nutritious hot meals several times a day. But the parents have yet to begin teaching them how to use a spoon, so they end up happily eating soup with their little hands. You can imagine the mess.

My wife has soldiered on, cleaning up the house when she has a free minute while the toddlers sleep. When the parents come home, they find happily full toddlers dozing or playing quietly, the house clean and some food in the fridge to be warmed up for the toddler’s late night snack.

My wife even spent considerable time and effort trying to teach this mother (and the family’s grandmother, who visits a few times a week) how to cook meals for the toddlers, because it is plain that their idea of a meal is a bottle of cold milk and a candy bar. They like what they see and what they taste…but then both mother and grandmother say “that’s just too hard” or “I don’t have time for that.”

My wife is ultra careful to walk the children outside for at least an hour a day. Where we live it is hot and she takes care to protect them from the rays of the sun. She makes sure they are dressed well and warmly if needed. Then my wife goes ballistic when she looks over the fence later in the evening and finds the twins near-naked in the neighbor’s back yard, playing in the cold wet mud that the older children have created while playing with the garden hose. Nary a parent in sight, too; they were inside watching TV.

Today my wife almost had enough of it. She prepared our lunch (an nice stew with soft meat and vegetables) and took some over to the neighbor’s apartment for the toddlers. The grandmother, who was sitting them, asked my wife “Oh, for me? Thank you!” Unfortunately, she meant it, because the grandmother was clearly disappointed when my wife said, no, its for the toddlers to eat when they wake up. A bit later, when my wife returned for the dishes, she nearly hit the roof when she found that the grandmother had indeed eaten the stew herself, and the toddlers were sucking on lukewarm milk bottles.

It is hard for my wife to see this, given how she was raised. She loves America despite its flaws (every country has them) but cannot fathom how some people here choose to live. I can’t say that I blame her.

Yeah, I’m not sure that “America.” Those parents are just one degree removed from the type that let their children starve while they play WoW. Nothing against WoW.

Whatever country your wife is from, some people live just like this. I guarantee it. World’s full of pigs.

It’s unfortunate, but your wife needs to back the hell off. She’s getting upset over someone else’s problems that she simply cannot solve. She can’t live getting stressed out over things that aren’t within her power to control. The world has millions of bad parents.

If the way they live upsets her, she should stay away or else learn to deal with it. None of her business, really.

Yeah, this is not a USA thing at all. I think it’s unfortunate that she’s blaming the country and not the people themselves. I mean, there are abused* kids the world over and all through history and time. Pinning it on a particular culture is … misguided, to say the least.

  • I’m not necessarily saying these children are being abused in this case. I’m simply making a general point.

Sooo … it’s hot out during the day in the sunshine, but she’s upset that they’re outside in the evening? :dubious: Not to mention, plenty of people say that what’s wrong with “kids these days!” is their lack of opportunity to play in the mud, commune with nature, etc. Toddlers playing near-naked in the mud sounds pretty damn idyllic to me.

  • @purplehorseshoe: My wife may indeed be a bit overprotective, but it can get chilly in the evening here when the sun goes down. Her greater concern was that there was no adult supervision for the toddlers. For all anyone knows, they could have been eating that mud.

  • @ other commenters: My wife - and I - well understand there is little to be done beyond what she’s tried to attempt here. She’s going to continue to babysit until they move, sometime next year according to them. It is just the principle of the thing. She knows it goes on elsewhere, we all do. I’m glad I married her and not a woman as exemplified by the neighbor. I was also a “mandated reporter” when it comes to child and senior abuse, so I’m still very sensitive to the issues here. There is a fine line between being a good neighbor, and being and insufferable meddler. It is a tough line to hold to when you perceive small children are losing out. That is the toughest thing for us to deal with right now.

This would fucking infuriate me.

Unfortunately it’s not really any of your wife’s business. She may see them as if they were her kids or grandkids, but they’re not. She can get upset, she can try to “teach” the parents, whatever, it really doesn’t matter, nothing will change.

So? Eating dirt is good for the developing immune system.

I don’t know why but this makes me crazy. Someone (can’t remember who at the moment) said that saying you don’t have time to cook is like saying you don’t have time to bathe. It’s a fucking requirement. It’s not optional; it’s something that must be done.

Eating dirt may be fine where you live, but my wife hails from the land of Chernobyl… :smiley:

Unfortunately, in a world of delivery pizza, Chinese takeout, drive-through anything-that-can-be-fried, frozen dinners-in-a-box, etc. this is not true. I’m not saying it’s good for the kids or anything, but unfortunately, as far as the parents are concerned, that’s not a problem. I know people who use their ovens for storage, etc. It is perfectly possible to live in America and never once fix your own meal.

If both parents are working F/T then the failure to learn to use a spoon etc. really is more the fault of whoever is providing their daycare. Well, then again, I guess the siblings can teach basic stuff like that by modeling it themselves …

Then why aren’t all the toddlers from there eating dirt and mud? :dubious: How else do you expect these children to get superpowers?

Yes, I don’t cook – ever (unless you count preparing 2 1/2 minute Cream of Wheat), but I eat a healthy diet based on a combination of foods that don’t require preparation (fruit, yogurt, bagels) and food from restaurants. I don’t have children, and if I did I would make sure that they were properly fed, but I think it’s overstating to say that cooking is like bathing, and that it’s not optional.

… dusting, too.

Their sloth, poor nutrition, and lower standard of cleanliness may drive your wife crazy, but that doesn’t make them child abusers. Words have meanings, and when you use such a loaded word in such a broad fashion, you dilute its impact. Based on your description of their circumstances: if these kids are anywhere on the abuse spectrum, it’s very minor neglect at worst.

Not to get all soapboxy on you, but real child abuse goes on every day in this country (and indeed, worldwide). Abuse is *much *worse than kids who have busy, lazy, or uneducated parents. These kids might turn out to be fat, lazy, naked, mud-eating sugar addicts, but that isn’t in the same ballpark as a child that is legitimately being abused.

It sounds like your wife is well-intentioned, but needs to get a life. Some women get to a certain age when they begin to notice that around them is Doing It Wrong. “It” could be anything from vacuuming the stairs to raising children. What’s worse is that they don’t shut ever up about it. It sounds like she fills your ears with all her ranting and raving.

The house isn’t going to be immaculate if both parents work. There WILL be dust bunnies and beds will be unmade. Dishes will be in the sink. That’s just how it is and that’s just how it always will be. If your wife can’t accept this, then she needs to get another hobby besides babysitting.

I wonder how your wife interacts with the mother. Does she ever say or do things that might make her feel inadequate? Like there’s nothing she could do that would ever measure up, so why bother?

Realistically, your wife has three options:

  1. Report them to child protective services for possible neglect. (My opinion is that it probably doesn’t meet that standard, but they have case managers who decide stuff like that.)
  2. Mind her own business and try to put it out of her mind and cut off all contact with this family to save her own sanity.
  3. Continue to help the family to the limits of her generosity and patience, and then vent at you until you’re so overwhelmed that you come here and vent to us.

Remember, people (women by stereotype, but everyone sometimes) don’t always want solutions. Sometimes they just want to be heard.

I know abuse. I’ve seen it. I was a probation officer for 20+ years. You are correct. This is not abuse. It is simply a shame, that’s all.

Hmmm, cluttered dusty house, no time or energy to shop or cook? Twin toddlers, plus a couple more kids plus a spare teenager? Two parents working full time? Sounds pretty normal to me. People have different levels of tolerance for messes, and different levels of energy. Kids aren’t actively harmed by clutter, nor dust (unless there’s an underlying health condition like asthma, of course.) A steady diet of takeout or frozen meals might cause harm, but it’s not abusive.

And frankly, in a household with 5 kids, I’d think it a little odd if my neighbor brought food for only two.

For what it’s worth, I hear ya. It would drive me crazy if I were in your wife’s position, and I’d be frustrated and want to help her deal with it if I were in your position. Sometimes people just suck. Which, being a probation officer, I’m betting you know already. :wink: