I am a long-time reader and fan. I would love to hear your take on some advice I read today. The current Dear Prudence sometimes misses the mark, but this seemed really weak. I am sex positive. I am a mom. I would never have loud disruptive sex in someone else’s home – repeatedly – and then ask to stay with them for the summer! I think the LW handled it fairly well, but I’m interested to hear your opinion. I admit it wouldn’t be my kindest moment if someone upset my child in a totally avoidable way.
For those who don’t want to click over, the letter this reader is referring to is posted here, and reads as follows:
The next night my husband was asleep downstairs when my daughter came into our room crying, saying the girlfriend was “screaming.” I was furious. I could hear the noise three feet away from their door. I slammed a fist on the door and told them to shut up or I would make them leave the house right then. They cut their visit short and never apologized. Our daughter had a few nightmares afterward, and I don’t want a repeat. My brother-in-law and his girlfriend need a place to stay over the summer. I told my husband that if they stay, they stay in separate rooms—the girlfriend can sleep on the sofa. Otherwise, I don’t want them in my house. My husband talked to his brother, and I got labelled as “controlling.” I don’t think any reasonable houseguest would act like this, especially the second time. What do we say here? — Bad Houseguests
Danny Lavery (Dear Prudence) responds here, and honestly, my advice wouldn’t be much different. After agreeing that the LW has every right to ask houseguests to keep noise down after kids have gone to bed, Danny suggests that the LW missed an opportunity to de-escalate the situation. Instead of angrily pounding on the guests’ door when her daughter complained about the noise, the LW could have explained to her daughter “that no one was in pain or hurting, offer an age-appropriate contextualization along the lines of ‘Sometimes adults who live together make noise,’ and tell her you’ll go ask them to keep it down. Then you could have knocked on the door, told them they’d woken your daughter up and that they needed to be quiet, and saved the chastising for the morning when your daughter wasn’t around.”
I think that’s good advice! I’m not sure what else I would have added, really. I mean, yes, obviously, the guests were incredibly rude. They probably got off – pun intended – on being loud and disruptive and having an audience. That the audience consisted of their hosts and a young family member makes this particularly disturbing, but none of it will be scarring. This didn’t need and doesn’t need to be the end of the world. When they asked if they could stay with the LW and her family for the summer, my advice would have been, “No, I’m sorry, that’s too long of a stay at our place. We love seeing you and you’re welcome to visit for a day, but no more overnight stays.” No explanation is needed, but if they pressed or if they questioned whether that’s a rule for everyone or just them, I’d tell them that this is a house rule for any guests who regularly wake them up with loud sex.
Also, to the reader who sent me the link – and thank you, by the way – you say that if you were the host, it wouldn’t be your kindest moment if someone upset your child in a totally avoidable way, and look, I understand being angry, but kids get upset ALL THE TIME. Often, in very avoidable ways, and sometimes by adults who know better. It’s one thing to have their back and show them that you have their back and that they’re safe and protected, but it’s another to escalate a situation that is merely inconvenient and rude into something truly scary for them. What kind of message does that send to lash out so aggressively because your peace has been disturbed or someone was rude? It teaches that the appropriate reaction to disruption is anger – immediate anger (in this case, slamming a fist on the door, screaming “shut up or leave the house right away!”).
Maybe I’ve been following too much news lately – spoiler: I have — and am feeling sensitive to the amount of rage – from white people, specifically (I’m thinking of armed protests against lockdowns because the people want haircuts, calling the cops on an African American bird-watcher in Central Park, endless police brutality and the murdering of black lives at the hands of white people drunk on the privilege their skin color affords) over feeling disrupted or inconvenienced, but I see a link between overlooking opportunities to de-escalate private disruptions and the kinds of escalations we’re seeing in the news where people feel entitled to aggressively and, often, violently demand submission from others to their will (which is different than protesting true injustice, by the way). Maybe that link seems farfetched, but it’s not. Entitlement is taught. Aggression is often taught. As parents – especially, any of us who are parents of white children (and I don’t know if any of the parents in the above scenarios are, but I’m specifically addressing white parents right now) – we have an obligation to teach less combative ways of confronting others over minor indiscretions (like being woken up by houseguests two nights in a row).
As parents, it is our top priority to keep our children safe. But it’s also a top priority to teach them to be good, kind, compassionate people, and those things aren’t mutually exclusive. Yes, we want them to stand up for themselves (and others!). But let’s model ways they can do that in steps, with step one being a non-aggressive, de-escalating way. And let’s have age-appropriate conversations with them about the importance of that step and about some of the consequences of skipping it.
Did I just turn a letter about someone else’s letter about houseguests having loud sex into a conversation about white entitlement and police brutality? Yeah…I guess I did. It’s been that kind of week (month/year/era).