A Response to Erma Bombeck’s Treat Friends, Kids the Same

If You’re Friends and Kids Acted the Same

I once read an interesting article by Erma Bombeck about how we should treat our children the same way we treat our friends—with love, respect, and kindness, rather than harshness. For some reason the disciplinarian has become the default mode for many parents, rather than the loving, understanding confidant. Here’s what Erma said:


On TV the other day, a leading child psychologist said parents should treat their children as they would treat their best friend…with courtesy, dignity and diplomacy.

“’I have never treated my children any other way,’ I told myself. But later that night, I thought about it. Did I really talk to my best friends like I talked to my children? Just suppose…..our good friends, Fred and Eleanor, came to dinner one night and……

“’Well, it’s about time you two got here! What have you been doing? Dawdling? Leave those shoes outside, Fred. They’ve got mud on them. And shut the door. Were you born in a barn?’

“’So Eleanor, how have you been? I’ve been meaning to have you over for such a long time. Fred! Take it easy on the chip dip or you’ll ruin your dinner. I didn’t work over a hot stove all day long to have you nibble like some bird.”

“’Heard from any of the gang lately? Got a card from the Martins. Yes, they’re in Lauderdale again. They go every year to the same spot. What’s the matter with you, Fred? You’re fidgeting. Of course you have to go. It’s down the hall, first door on the left. And I don’t want to see a towel in the middle of the floor when you’re finished.

“’Did you wash your face before you came, Eleanor? I see a dark spot around your mouth. I guess it’s a shadow. How are your children? If you ask me I think summer school is great for them. Is everybody hungry? Then, why don’t we go into dinner? You all wash up and I’ll take up the food. Don’t tell me your hands are clean, Eleanor. I saw you playing with the dog.

“’Fred, you sit over there and Eleanor you can sit with the half glass of milk. You know you’re all elbows with it comes to milk. There now, your host will say grace.

“’Fred, I don’t see any cauliflower on your plate. Have you ever tried it? Well, try a spoonful. If you don’t like it I won’t make you finish it, but if you don’t try it, you can just forget dessert. And sit up straight or your spine will grow that way. Now, what were we talking about? Oh yes, the Gerbers. They sold their house. I mean they took a beating but….Eleanor, don’t talk with food in your mouth. I can’t understand a word you’re saying. And use your napkin.’”

“At that moment in my fantasy, my son walked into the room. “How nice of you to come,” I said pleasantly.

“’Now what did I do?’ he sighed.”


Erma has a great point. We do need to treat our kids respectfully. But there’s something she’s missing. How many two year olds do you know that act like adults?

So let’s try reversing the fantasy. We’ll treat our friends like we normally would, but this time, think about what it would be like if our friends acted like kids.

Fred and Eleanor arrive at the door.

“Hello!” you say, “come inside, you’re just on time!”

Eleanor walks in, but Fred hasn’t noticed that you opened the door. He’s standing in your freshly watered flowerbed pulling the legs off a grasshopper. When he does come it, he leaves muddy Fred tracks from the door to the kitchen table.

“So Eleanor,” you say as you put the green beans on the table, “what did you think of the emergency preparedness fair last week?”

But Eleanor doesn’t hear you. She’s standing on a kitchen chair, leaning forward, banging her water glass on the table shouting, “Ducky! Ducky! Ducky! Ducky! Ducky!” heaven knows how many times.

With everyone around the table, you again thank the couple for coming. “Fred, would you do the honor of giving the blessing on the food?”

Fred wraps his hands around his face and begins chanting something utterly unintelligible that ends five seconds later with a victorious, arms raised shout of, “AMENNNNNNN!”

You start your meal, noticing that Eleanor is only taking potato chips. Grateful she’s enjoying herself, you say, “The chips were on sale today. I’m glad I picked them up. Could you pass them here?”

“NO!” Eleanor shouts, squeazing the bag to her side (you can hear the chips crushing beneath her elbow), “They’re MINE!”

“Uh… well, I just thought Fred might like some.”

You look at Fred, who is happily dropping bread pieces into his milk. At first you wonder where he got the bread, but then you see the bag of muffins from yesterday’s breakfast hanging wide open on the counter.

As you finish your meal, you pull out the cheesecake. “I hope you like cheesecake—I really shouldn’t indulge like this, but I couldn’t resist.”

You are about to scoop a slice straight onto their plates, but now you can see that Fred’s milky muffin concoction is now glopped onto his plate, and he’s pushing it off his plate with his hand.

“I want some!” he shouts.

“Certainly Fred, I hope you like cherry.”

He shoves the whole plate onto the floor, and before you have a chance to offer to clean it up, Eleanor is on the floor scooping the glop into her mouth.

Fred then screams like a girl and leaps off his chair and begins pounding his wife, saying, “It’s mine! No, Ellie! It’s MINE!”

You pull Eleanor away, and go with her into the other room to see if she wants to talk about the problem. Glop covers her hands, leaving brown and white streaks across her brow and eyes as she rubs tears and milk into her eyes.

When she finally calms enough to return to the kitchen, you discover Fred sprawled across the table, feet hanging off the edge.

He looks up and smiles at you with hands, clothes and face entirely saturated in Cherry cheesecake.

Unsure how to react, you just stare as Fred sweeps the last bit of dessert onto the floor. You look over at Eleanor, who simple says, “Uh, oh.”

But you realize she is not referring to Fred as you suddenly catch scent in Eleanor’s direction of a very unpleasant odor.