Was this compliment insulting?

My son has a friend who, when he went to our daycare, was always in trouble. Now, at his new daycare, he gets in trouble for being the class clown. His mom talks alot about it. Meanwhile, I do think people over react, but that’s just me. I don’t see him at daycare obviously. When I do see him, my son is usually worse behaved; it’s just my good luck that he’s very good at school.

Well, this weekend we had a party with one of those bouncy houses. This little boy came with his dad and, let me tell you, he was completely below the radar. He didn’t fight, he didn’t get hurt, he didn’t use his hands, he didn’t make a mess. He was better than most of the kids, not just better than usual. So, I told the mother this via e-mail. Her reply gave me the vibe that she was insulted: “You are so kind to report back to me about my son’s behavior” was the opening line. Then she did go on to talk about other things. I don’t know, what do you think? Should I have not said anything? It’s a given that I could be reading things into it that aren’t there. But, was it bad to give her an unsolicited good report because it makes the assumption that he’s usually bad?

Well, it depends, I think, on how you phrased it. If it was along the lines of “We so enjoyed having Bobby over and would love to have him again, because he is so sweet and well-behaved!” you’re in the clear. If it was more like, “Bobby behaved himself at Johnny’s party. He was completely below the radar, not using his hands, making a mess or fighting,” then I think I’d be insulted, too. She didn’t ask you for a report, and if that’s what it was, you goofed.

Well, what exactly did you say? How something is phrased makes all the difference (via email, anyway) between a compliment and an insult.

If you complimented her son’s behavior at the party by comparing it to past behavior, then yeah, I can see how that would be poorly received. However, if you said something along the lines of, “Your son was a delight to have at the party, and his good behavior really helped make the party terrific,” then she’s overreacting. If her son is regularly trouble, she’s probably higly tuned to comments on it, just like tall people get sick of being asked how the weather is up there, and so on. It might be best to gloss over any more comments on his behavior, good or otherwise.

Here’s what I said in its entirety:

I just wanted to tell you what a gentleman “Bobby” was at the party. That bouncy house was a hot bed of, um, stuff one would rather the kids didn’t do and “Bobby” was never, ever in the thick of it at all.

I really want to stress that she talks a lot about the problems he has at school.

OK… while that’s not really insulting, it does imply that you were specifically monitoring “Bobby’s” behavior. If the momma is getting grief from the school about his behavior, even though your comment is positive, it focuses on the fact that the behavior is an issue. In short, while well-intentioned, it is a little insulting.

You know, you’re right. I will say that it’s my nature to notice how all the kids and parents are, but she certainly may not know that.

She’s being extraordinarily oversensitive, though possibly that’s understandable if she’s getting grief from the school. It was a really nice gesture you made!

Thank you, Lola. And you know what? It’s possible that I am too. She may sincerely have been telling me that I’m kind to report to her. I am closer to her than to most of the moms I know.

She does get a lot of grief to hear her tell it.

Of course it was an error on your part.
You said sometimes your son is worse. What if she had sent that email to you? You would have been livid! Because you assume that she is not in a position to talk. Well, since sometimes your kid is the worst, neither are you in a position to talk.

It’s not worth appolgizing for though, because that would only bring up the subject again for no reason. In the future, worry about your own kid and let her worry about hers.

I fail to see how the mom’s opening sentence was an ‘overreaction’, as one poster put it. I took it for what it was, a sincere thank you.

I don’t really think I would be livid at all. But then I never get any grief. He doesn’t act up at school - everywhere else, but not school. Her son, it would seem, is the opposite. I did apologize btw.

Okay, so maybe I overreacted to her comment. I heard back from her and she told me she thinks I’m the kindest, most tactful person she knows and she appreciates that I told her he was so good. I don’t know about kindest, but I do try really hard to be tactful all the time.

Glad to hear there was a happy ending here for all involved.

I think it’s a sad state of affiars in modern society that somebody paying somebody else a sincere compliment results in a fear that you may have inadvertantly insulted her.

I aspire to have neighbours like you, Caricci. If more parents spoke to each other and had this kind of communication, we’d be in a much better place.

That’s the thing about e-mail: since the recipient can’t see facial gestures or hear nuance, it’s awfully hard to tell whether someone is being sarcastic or not. I’ve caught e-mails that I’ve written that seem unintentionally snippy. As much as I hate 'em, I find myself using emoticons :slight_smile:

For your own mental health, I’d recommend assuming that no insult was intended.

I’m with NoGoodNamesLeft on this one. People these days go out of their way to feel insulted. You sent a note to a lady complimenting her son’s behavior. For her to see it as a backhanded remark, especially in light of the fact that she chooses to discuss his discipline problems publicly, is uncalled for hypersensitivity.

Imagine that I tell my co-worker that she looks very nice today. Imagine that instead of thanking me for the compliment, she turns around and says “oh, so I don’t look nice most other days?” In both cases you have someone going out of their way to be insulted. The only thing you can do is say gently but firmly, “I meant that as a compliment. I’m sorry if you misunderstood.” And then drop the subject.

(desperately fighting the urge to compose a rant about how this new political correctness inspired hypersensativity is sending our country to hell in a dragster)

Urge conquered. I promised not to be offended if anyone feels the need to compliment this masterful display of self-restraint.