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Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Saga of "Rachel"

I am slowly being driven mad by one of my daughter's classmate's mothers. Really. Absolutely nuts. This woman has to be the most difficult, competitive person in the history of the world. And in a neighborhood like mine, that's saying a lot. Allow me to share a few heartwarming examples of what she's been doing to make me feel ready to do something like... pour sugar in her gas tank, or let the air out of her luxury SUV's tires - right before carpool.

1. Her daughter (let's call her "Rachel") came over to my house to play, along with another girl. I was in the next room, and pretty closely supervising the playdate. All three girls were very nicely playing a game, until Rachel, out of nowhere, decided she didn't want to play anymore. It was "boring". So she petulantly walked away from the game, leaving the girls unable to finish it. Needless to say they were annoyed, and told her so, in no uncertain terms - and definitely too harshly. Which was wrong, even if Rachel had acted in an unpleasant and unsportsmanlike manner herself. I gathered the girls together, and told them that if they couldn't all be nice to each other, I would have to take the guests home. Said Rachel: "I do want to go home. My mom was right when she told me that they weren't going to be nice to me!" Lovely. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

2. My daughter attends an extracurricular program on Sundays, with a few girls from her class. One of these girls happens to be (you guessed it), Rachel. Rachel told my daughter that her mother had to "think carefully" about letting her go to the program, because she was afraid the other girls would "leave her out". Again, talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

3. My daughter was given a solo in a class production. Rachel told my daughter (in front of a large group of girls) that her mother said that the teacher only gave the solo to my daughter because my daughter is a "kiss-up". Did my daughter get the part because she behaved nicely? Perhaps - but that doesn't make her a kiss-up. That makes her, in the teacher's eyes, deserving.

4. This woman calls me every time the girls get a test back, to sniff out what my grade my daughter received (I usually refuse to put her out of her misery, and just let her keep sniffing). Why does this lunatic do this? I guess so she can keep the competitive spirit kicked into high gear.

5. I went in to Parent Teacher conferences, to discuss my daughter's report card. Her grades were (B'H) very nice, and so were her marks for behavior. So I went into the meeting expecting a good report. Which I got. What I didn't expect (though I should have - I know, I'm really a slow study), was for the teacher to tell me: "I'm very surprised that things have been OK between the girls in the class and Rachel." My response: "Huh? Why wouldn't they be?" Of course, all of my readers probably saw this coming from a mile away. Yes. Rachel's mother went in to the teacher at the start of the school year to tell her that she was worried that the girls in the class, particularly my daughter and a few others she named, were going to give her daughter a "hard time". The teacher made it clear that she had seen no sign of it. Yet, Rachel's mom felt it necessary to start off the year right for my daughter and others by putting them in the teacher's brain as "trouble". I only thank God that this prophecy wasn't self-fulfilling like some of the others.

The question is, what makes a person so inclined to poison her child (and her child's educators) against everyone around her? Is it some narcissistic need she has for her daughter to view her as the only person out there who really fully loves and cares about her? Is it her own wild insecurities about her own social status that she's betraying by projecting them onto her daughter? Is she just a grown-up version of the child who "doesn't play well with others"?

All of the above would be fine, if she would only be affecting her daughter with her crazy machinations. But she doesn't. Rachel doesn't live, play or learn in a vacuum. And when a mother creates these kind of negative feelings in her child toward her peers, it can only find its way into the child's interactions with her peers. For example, my daughter came home crying after incident #3 above happened, saying that she wanted to "give her solo to Rachel". Obviously, it took a while to get to the bottom of why, and I had to explain to her that the teacher gave her the solo for her own reasons - but certainly not because my daughter is a "kiss-up". I suspect that the honor and joy of being given the part was very much tempered fror my daughter by the response she got from her friends, and that's just not fair. I also don't need my daughter's teacher starting the year off with expectations (ultimately not borne out) that my daughter will be a problem. I don't need my daughter getting the message that every grade she gets is a competition with the grade that Rachel receives.

The simplest solution would be to separate the girls, and not let my daughter associate with Rachel whenever it's in my control. But I feel queasy about doing that to rachel, about punishing a young girl for what are so clearly her mother's hang-ups. But if I continue to let Rachel badger my daughter, and poison my daughter's peers and teachers, regardless of whether it comes from Rachel or her mother, aren't I risking my own daughter's budding self-confidence in favor of protecting her classmate's? As much of a responsibilty as I feel I have to poor Rachel, with the messed-up parents, don't I have a bigger responsibility to my own?

C'mon, people, I expect to see this all sorted out by you guys in the comment thread.

43 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uch. That really is unfortunate. You need to do whats best for YOUR child though.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Mirty said...

As Rachel gets older, she's going to realize that her mother's negative views are not reality. In the meantime, the poor kids is setting out in life with a handicap of sorts.

Can you explain to your daughter that Rachel has some prejudices that cause her to say and do hurtful things?

It could be a good lesson for your daughter in how to deal with difficult people....

But if Rachel really hurts your daughter, then go into Protective Mother Lion mode and keep your cub away from that nasty kid. (Of course, only you know what is "really hurt.")

3:35 PM  
Blogger Jewish Blogmeister said...

You might want to suggest a good therapist for Rachel's mother...

3:38 PM  
Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

Unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there that match the description you've given. I had a similar situation with my daughter in the past and am happy to report that things are B'H much better now.

Similar to what Mirty suggested, I took it as a perfect example to teach my daughter how to deal with difficult people in the real world. Not everyone is nice out there.

Basically, the rules are that you can't control what someone else says. You don't have to believe what everyone else tells you. And you decide how you want to react to things.

That builds tremendous self-confidence esteem which is the most important for the girls today (in my opinion).

My daughter doesn't "avoid" the girls who had "bothered"' her before, but she no longer lets their words or actions define her own.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Robbie said...

I'd say kill 'em with kindness. It's important to teach your daughter to disregard the negative things, but try to treat her friends all equally.

Plus, when her mother calls you, you should gush on and on about how much fun you have together - or, if all else fails, make up a story about her kid turning on everyone - or telling secrets about her mother!

3:51 PM  
Blogger Ger Tzadik said...

While I don't doubt it's some kind of power issue to the mother, it's probably not for any real nasty reasons. There are probably good odds that she was in that position in life, and is convinced that the same will happen to her daughter, and she is only being a good mother by trying to prevent it. This doesn't make her any more appealing or less cracked, but it's not an uncommon phenomenon.

Check out this article by Aylet Waldman on Salon about her own over-the-top protection of her children from the Evils of Dodgeball.

She's pretty odd and cracked herself, but I've met more than a few parents like her, and this mom sounds like another. (You have to click on "Day Pass" and watch a short ad to read the article unfortunately.)

3:55 PM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

>>As Rachel gets older, she's going to realize that her mother's negative views are not reality.

Or the daughter will believe that she is a victim.

4:13 PM  
Blogger DebraG said...

Your first priority MUST be to your daughter. I'm guessing she somewhere around 8-10 years old. These are incredibly impressionable years. Since "Rachel" has negatively impacted her, you have no choice but to limit their outside of school encounters to their Sunday program. No at home playdates, and I'm guessing your daughter won't be asking for one anyway. But if your daughter does mention Rachel, you can use it as an opportunity to mold her compassion skills. Explain that some girls don't have it so easy with socializing. But never forget that your daughter is number 1. I just got caught in the realization that I had let my mother's neuroses make her number 1 over my sons, and I'll never do that again. Parenting is the priority over being a daughter.

4:24 PM  
Blogger almost_frei said...

disclosure- I'm no psychologist: Rachel's mom has very low self esteem and is nebach passing it along to her daughter. I agree with Robbie said. By being nice to her you will challange her expectations and she will back off.
However, always remember that your daughter's sanity and happiness is your first priority (as if...:) so don't let her invite rachel to your house again.

4:30 PM  
Blogger StepIma said...

Her mom sounds so insecure... that's really a shame.

I don't think you can stop inviting Rachel over, though - it will make it even more of a self-fulfilling prophecy that you and your daughter ostracize her - which she can use against her in other ways back at school functions. But you can limit her visits to those where other children are also invited.

Do you know her mother well enough to sit down and have a talk with her? Maybe you could try turning the tables a bit. Saying that you're concerned about Rachel, because she's always saying that the other girls don't like her, or that she's sure she won't have fun at your house. That you're worried she's having a hard time trusting people. Not criticizing her mother or acting as if you've ever heard that her mom told her any of those things... as if the kid somehow has a persecution complex, and as a fellow concerned parent, you think her mother should know.

Maybe if you "innocently" looked her mother right in the face about what's going on, you would force her to either say "your kid doesn't like my kid," so you can deny it and tell her she's being ridiculous, or "I don't know what you're talking about," and know that people are on to her, and don't think it's cool.

Just a thought.

I think it's wonderful that your daughter has such a big heart that she's putting herself into Rachel's place, even when she shouldn't. What a sweetheart.

4:37 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Mirty:
I CAN and do explain to my daughter that Rachel has certain prejudices, but I'm always afraid of saying something that my daughter might repeat back to Rachel. That worries me, because I don't want to create the reverse situation - that Rachel goes back to HER mother saying that my daughter said she has issues. So I tread very carefully with that one.

JB:
I would love to, trust me.

MUST:
We are trying, but it still worries me that my daughter will have trouble rising above reacting to what her classmates say.

Robbie:
I am always freindly to her. She is not a person to get into a tiff - shes thinks we are FRIENDS! Imagine if I wasn't nice to her!

Ger:
Truthfully, I think it's a combination of a power issue AND a dose of nastiness.

SL:
I agree. That is what I worry will happen.

Debra:
That is my feeling. This is a very pivotal time in my daughter's emotional development, and I don't want to do anything to risk that.

af:
Rachel's mom has SERIOUS issues. I agree.

SI:
It's weird. She doesn't come off as insecure. Just alternately friendly and unfriendly. But the way she deals with her children betrays her. She acts insecure by proxy. But this woman is NOT a woman anyone can sit down with. No way. She's scaaaary.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous mochassid said...

I think you should move. The community is full of lunatics like rachel's mom. If it isn't her it will be someone else down the line.

5:00 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

mo:

LOLOLOLOLOL. Being as you're a fellow 5T resident, I will asume you are speaking from experience, and not just surmising about the number of loons out here. And it IS high.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, but I feel bad that you had such great material for it. This sounds like torture.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous mochassid said...

mom

20 years' worth.

It could be worse. You could be a teacher at one of the local elementary schools.

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife teaches at one of the local elementary schools.She tells me that the parents are even more immature than the children.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

OM: I agree wholeheartedly with MO. Now's the time for aliya! (Hmm, probably my worst pitch ever on why to move...)

But seriousy...Rachel's mom is probably...a blogger. Shouldn't be too hard to figure out who it is ;-)

7:26 PM  
Blogger Yoel.Ben-Avraham said...

Its been mentioned, but it is worth repeating: Whenever R's mother calls, communicate to her how positive your experience with R is .... how happy she visited/played etc. No doubt in my mind there is an issue of transference and what is being projected is is extreme lack of self confidence.

If I felt comfortable, I would actually communicate to R's mother that you yourself do NOT get involved into the gritty details of your daughter's life but let her live ... but are always there when she turns to you (as opposed to being a meddling ....) B'hatzlacha

10:27 PM  
Anonymous jerusalemom said...

I have taught nursery through high school both in the States and here in Israel and I've encountered some wacky parents in my experiences but never close to this nutjob.

I don't know if others have suggested this, but I would bring this list of incidents to the teacher that Rachel's "mother" (I use that term very loosely. She doesn't sound very mother like at all) and possibly even the principal, so that they are aware of what this mother is up to and can react accordingly. There's no reason that she should be calling the shots where the teacher is concerned.

Depending on how old your daughter is, I would try to explain the situation as delicately as possible to her, if only to mitigate the hurt she might experience as a result of this mother's insanity. I think you're right for not barring her from your daughter's life, because she does need to learn how to live with nasty people. The best thing you can do is help her learn how to cope and even at times deflect this girl's negativity, in addition to cluing in your daughter's school.

1:34 AM  
Blogger queeniesmom said...

Having dealt with one mother like R's , you can never be right. Your 1st mistake is expecting rational behavior from an irrational person. Given that premise you MUST protect your daughter. Ask for them to be separated in school, if this is not possible you must mention to the teacher next year that the other parent has said some very unkind things about your child previously and you would appreciate it greatly if she would take anything Mrs. R says with a very large grain of salt.

you are only hearing a very small portion of what is happening in school. the R's of this world are bullies who live to toment and torture their peers. they are experts at pitting girls against eah other and then stepping back. it's very nice that you feel bad for R but what about your daughter, who is being damned with faint praise or even worse wants to give up something she rightly deserves to this child. What is your daughter learning in all of this?

Having gone through this, we limited contact and i limited my comments to we're very pleased with ...'s grades and how she is doing in school. I never discussed actual grades.

You are right about limiting what you say to your daughter about R. R is very savy and very manipulative, she knows exactly how to twist things her way and paint herself the innocent/wronged party. Your daughter's innocent remark can become fuel for this child. This type of parent involves ALL.

Good luck. Thankfully school is almost over. Hopefully they are not in camp together.

Shabbat shalom

1:37 AM  
Blogger gabe said...

As a father of four girls, (and three boys) there is one thing I have learned: don't waste your energy trying to 'protect' your child from exposure to peers with hang-ups, and don't worry about how those people will effect your childs standing. You can't control other people, so don't bother trying. Yes, this girls mother has problems, but obviously the teacher isn't a moron, and didn't accept Rachel's mom's accusations without an opened mind. As it played out, Orthokid's behavior was how the teacher judged her, and Rachel's mom is the one that looked like a fool. You don't have to stop rachel from spending time with your daughter, as long as you teach your daughter what's right, and that if she does what's right, she has no reason not to do so with confidence, she'll choose to spend her time with people that make her feel comfortable. If Rachel starts annoying her too much, she'll let you know that she doesn't want to spend time with her. Until such time you don't have to be the one to dictate how much time your daughter spends with Rachel. If your daughter is hurt by what Rachel says, explain to her that if she knows that she is doing what's right she shouldn't concern herself with Rachel's opinion, friends are allowed to disagree. Rachel is entitled to her opinion, but that doesn't detract from Orthokid's accomplishments. Ultimately,your daughter will decide based on the upbringing you provide her with, who she wants to spend time with. She is going to encounter plenty of Rachels in her lifetime, don't teach her to run from them, but on the contrary, take the opportunity to teach her how to live her life confidently in a society that contains Rachels.

1:57 AM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Wow - I agree with MoC, move out of NY! :)

But until then... you have to protect your daughter. However, you must ensure that while you do so, you don't turn her into a 'reverse snob' who treats girls like Rachel (whose mother is the problem, not her) like crap.

2:53 AM  
Anonymous Essie said...

I agree with the others. Your first obligation is to your daughter. R's mom sounds like a lunatic. While I am an advocate for out-of-town living, moving is not the answer to this specific situation. We can' run away from our problems. Mothers like R's mom are everywhere, not just in 5T.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Scraps said...

I had a "friend" like Rachel when I was young. It was pretty bad. But I got over it eventually (basically, at the point when I never had to have anything to do with her ever again...when we graduated elementary school and went on to different schools, thank G-d). I originally come from a very small town in the middle of nowhere, so I didn't have the option of switching schools, classrooms, or whatever. My parents tried to make it clear to me that this girl was Bad News, but it was hard because she was one of my only friends in the area. I learned what "fair-weather friend" means because of this girl.

Protect your child. Do whatever you can or must, but keep her safe.

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to take you all on a tangent, but queeniesmom said you should tell the teacher to take whatever she says with "very large grain of salt." What she meant really is a "very small grain of salt."
This is a good example of forgetting what an idiom really means. Sorry for being so pedantic.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should recognize your own feeling of competition do play some role here. Treat the little girl like your own and the problems may melt away.

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up with my own 'Rachel'. While I and my mother were happy to go our way, my 'Rachel' and her mom went out of their way to compete. This went on for years until they moved away. We were in the same class at school and girl scout troop. I believe that my mom shielded me as much as possible because 'R''s mom was a viper. Your daughter comes first.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous orthodoc said...

There are a lot of "Rachel's Mom"s out there, not only in the United Republic of the 5T. And just wait until the stakes get bigger--college applications, SAT's, shidduchim. Where I live, parents check to see who's eating where on Shabbos, whose kid has a playdate where, etc. Insecure people resort to competition. Let them run themselves ragged.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Q said...

Rachels mom sounds paranoid. The world is her enemy and by extension- her daughters. She sounds less competative and more frightened.

Keeping the girls apart wont do anything. Rachels mom wont get cured. Best thing to do is feel bad for her. Poor women. Scared of everything.

But I don't know sqwat about Rachel or her mom. So what I think could be waaaaay off.

2:08 PM  
Anonymous REReader said...

Write to Dr. Phil--maybe you can get this woman on the show (she sounds like the kind who is blindly willing to defend the indefensible)! (And she'd probably get some free therapy out of it, which it sounds like she could use.)

2:17 PM  
Blogger Mirty said...

How about Rachel's Mom vs. OrthoMom on Jerry Springer?

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know every group has its own mishugas but the Orthodox communities really dissapoint me. Here are people trying to live according to the Mitzvot but still you have more selfish, vain and nosy people than non Torah groups. That needs to be addressed, instead of new rules on wigs, water, etc.

6:46 PM  
Blogger kasamba said...

Orthomom; will you answer anonymous before I lay into him????

About Rachel and her Mom; I'm almost shocked to see my own story repeated.

Many come into contact with these kind of people whose issues force you to have issues!

I do agree with those who said to stay as far away form Rachel as possible; be as nice as you can but at a safe distance.

My grandfather A"H used to say, "Kabdehu VeChashedehu", be respectful and pleasant.... but BEWARE.

2:59 PM  
Blogger kishmech said...

hi orthomom, you're in the English jewish chronicle in the blogwatch column, have they informed you? scan and send? let me know.

3:55 PM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:47 PM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

continue to bitch and moan or you could just burn their house down

9:49 PM  
Anonymous r said...

As a high school teacher, I've seen this type of mothers before. My humble opinion: she is SICK, mentally SICK, and needs professional help, you can't help her or change her. I would suggest that you set up a meeting with the teacher regarding that comment that she made at the P/T conference and discuss with the teacher the interactions of 'Rachel' and your daughter outside the classroom. This is very valuable information that teachers usually don't have. If your daughter's teacher is smart, she will have a better image of 'Rachel' and her mom after the meeting and act accordingly in the future.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

I disagree with those who advise you to warn your daughter's future teachers about Rachel's mom. From the teachers' perspective, how are they to know she is sabotaging while you are giving her needed information?

What is Rachel's mom socioeconomic status within the community? Is she so much better off than average that she may feel her daughter to be the object of envy? Is she so much worse off that she may feel condescended to, or may simply find it hard to keep up with situations her peers take as a matter of course?

I'm presently living somewhat above my means in order to be part of the community I desire, and I find I need to do occasional cheshbon hanefesh to avoid unwarranted feelings of envy and anger. Rachel's mom my benefit from a similar treatment, though I have no idea how you could encourage her to do one.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Urijah said...

To Mr. Pedantic:

From what I found
http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=20010425
taking something with a large grain of salt is a perfectly appropriate usage. What were you thinking of?

10:59 PM  
Blogger still realizing said...

Rachel's Mom apparently has come down with a case of high-functioning paranoia. This is a mental disease that often shows up as exactly the sort of abrasive oddness you have described. You cannot help her. She needs professional help.

I'll bet Rachel has an idea that her mom has a problem also. A few direct, private and gentle questions might clear that up. Ask her something like "Does it annoy you that your mom worries about your popularity so much?". Sometimes friends and neighbors can help a girl like Rachel by arranging more time away from her sick-making mom.

Sometimes these problems are triggered by a physical problem. If Rachel or her mom had a harelip or other birth defect fixed (or hidden) then this sort of neurotic sensitivity might result.

Your first priority is your own kids. If your kids are handling it okay then you don't need to do much. Otherwise arrange a separation.


The other likely guess is that Rachels mom was excluded from her classmates due to some family problem or deformity or accent. Still, hard to know what to do.

7:02 AM  
Anonymous orthodoc said...

OM--Why don't you just avoid Rachel's Mom as much as you can? When you have to speak on the phone about carpool and she starts fishing for your daughter's test scores, just say "oh no! My mother-in-law just rang the doorbell!'' or something like that. Remember, she only ismanipulating you as much as you're allowing her to.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that every social test we are sent prepares us to deal with the customized nisayon that Hashem sends us in life. You are being sent one custom tailored to your neshama's growth.

People need to learn to work together. As Jews we follow the Torah ideal which is clearly spelled out in the halachot of Onaas Devorim and Lashon Hara. If I were you, I would come up with 5 positive things about Rachel and her mother and keep them in mind, and even mention the positive traits to them casually and to your daughter-it will change your attitude toward them and maybe cause more sholom among Am Yisroel. Or start a local Mishmeret Hashalom group in your home and invite Rachel.
I empathize with the aggravation you feel. As a teacher I have met many Rachels and their mothers. I contrast them with the kids whose parents aren't around, or are too busy or messed up to care about their children's welfare. Your daughter is lucky to have you as her mother!

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8:38 PM  

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