I have learnt to phrase my text requests to limit the possibilities for rejection. "Would Johnny like a play after school sometime?" is harder to say no to than the specific, "Would Johnny be free for a play on Tuesday?"
Even then, I am often met with the very vague and hard to believe, "We're really busy during term time, maybe in the hols – I'll let you know." Of course, a message like that has never actually been followed up by a request from said mum for a holiday play date.
Sometimes, my texts for a play date receive no reply at all. Kind of rude, right? Perhaps parents of difficult kids don't have feelings or the need to be respected? Yes, it's a rollercoaster of constant heartbreak being the mum of that kid the other mums love to hate.
One of my kids has always been "too rough", too impulsive. I've many a time felt the dread of seeing him hit another kid and the mortification at seeing the disgusted look from the mum (usually a "sort-of" friend).
It doesn't take long for a reputation to take hold and for mummy tongues to wag. Soon enough, the finger gets pointed at your child after every scuffle, whether the fault is his or not, accident or not. Sometimes he is provoked by exclusion or mean words from other kids and lashes out physically. Not good, that's true. But it's also very easy for such mean behaviour to fly under the radar from mums of perfect children. And if it is noticed, there may even be the implication that my kid "deserves it".
Reputations spread like wildfire, with increasing repercussions. The soccer team he was left out of, and the seemingly legitimate excuse, "Oh sorry, we didn't know he wanted to play." The parties he wasn't invited to (and there's really no way to address that directly with the mum in question without feeling like you're in primary school yourself). The mums' night I wasn't invited to. The Sunday barbecues the whole family isn't invited to.
It would break any mother's heart to be asked the question, "Why don't I ever get invited to a friend's house or to any parties?" How do you begin to answer this? Particularly when inside you're thinking, "Buddy, I know. Same here."
We've seen medical people about it, of course. Our son is completely "normal". He is just, sometimes, impulsive, quick to anger and too rough. Sadly, that's all the other mums see in him.
But he can also be extremely loving, affectionate, sensitive to others, sweet, loyal and helpful. At home he writes me messages saying how much he loves me, gives me random hugs, impulsively folds the washing for me, cheers up his brothers if they are upset and – most heartbreaking of all – confides to me how deeply he cares about his friends, the ones whose mothers go to great lengths to avoid letting their children play with him outside the school playground.
We all love our kids. So, as a mum, I can understand why you might choose to avoid a child who has, on occasion, hurt your child. But can we reassess our attitude towards kids whose behaviour isn't yet completely socially acceptable? These are kids. Let's not overreact. They all learn at a different pace – that's Parenting 101. And, the best bit, kids do change, often for the better, so a second chance for those who take a bit longer shouldn't be out of the question.
In 99 per cent of cases, parents like us are horrified by our child's behaviour and are trying everything to teach them not to behave that way. Over the years, I've driven home countless times in tears of humiliation after an incident at the park, playground or soccer game. To protect other kids from potential altercations I've hovered near my son, like a crazed helicopter parent, instead of talking to the other mums. I have apologised literally thousands of times for his behaviour and stood over him while he apologised too.
Mums like me need your support and understanding. We are disappointed, tired, confused, heartbroken and in need of a friend. We aren't stupid, blind or made of concrete. We know you are deliberately excluding our child – and sometimes our whole family.
I know of many gorgeous adults who, it turns out, were kids like mine, and that gives me hope. In the meantime, dear mums of perfect children, please try to exercise some understanding, tolerance, compassion and forgiveness. And please, while you're at it, teach these qualities to your kids as well.
* Name has been changed.
This story first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald