Ask LIE

Dear Love Isn’t Enough,

I’ve been puzzled by a particular behavior I’ve encountered consistently since my two preschoolers started attending “school” part-time. There’s been an impenetrable degree of ostracism directed at my sons and myself that’s a bit perplexing. My sons have a lot of friends at school, they get invited to birthday parties … but when it comes to playing with the other kids outside of those two very specific contexts, the other mothers aren’t interested. They do, however, set up play dates/sleepovers with other mothers.

It would be one thing if I’d interacted with a mom or two and had a disagreeable interaction and was thus shunned. Instead, it’s that most of the other moms won’t make eye contact or even speak to me. Literally. Even when I say hello. Of the few who have, one wouldn’t let me into her home (I am the only black parent in the entire school and the dads had arranged a play date for our sons at her house, so there was no mistaking who was knocking on her door in the subzero temps outside), another refused to show up for our play date (which took months to arrange) and made her husband cancel all his court appearances and client meetings and drive an hour and a half from work so he could do the play date (she = SAHM). The last mother said she and her daughter (who’s best friends w/my littlest one) would be at a particular place. After 3.5 hours of waiting for them, I coaxed my kids back into the car and my littlest one wept. Heartbreaking. Again, it’s not as if I’ve had a disagreement with any of the parents; most haven’t even acknowledged that I or my sons exist. I have never encountered this before moving here.

I want my little ones to spend the remainder of their childhood where they -and I- will encounter less overt hostility from adults. I can only observe from the outside. What would cause white moms to literally and completely ignore one’s existence, regardless of how long your children have been friends and attended class together? I understand being reserved, but after a year or two of seeing me and my children in the class/hallway several times a week, couldn’t they at least look at/greet us (maybe allowing our children to play together is too presumptuous)? I’m not from here so there are still cultural nuances I don’t get.

Anonymous

Julia’s response:

Dear Anonymous,

I’ve been thinking about your stories and they break my heart. I wish I could offer you a rational explanation for the (completely despicable) behavior of these mothers, but there isn’t one. This is racism, pure and simple, and boy, is it ugly.

I don’t think you’ve made any cultural missteps. You are absolutely right that there is no reason for these mothers to completely ignore your existence, fail to look at you, fail to greet you, fail to open the door to you, etc. This not about them being reserved or about you missing a cultural message. You’ve seen evidence of this yourself, in the fact that mothers are setting up playdates with each other and not with you…
 
They invite your children to birthday parties because they don’t want to teach their children to exclude others. *Cue bitter laughter.* They fail to see how inconsistent this is with their behavior toward you, probably partly because (and I’m just guessing) they’ve found a way of projecting something onto you that they can dislike.
 
You mentioned that your children are the only black children at this school. My guess is that these parents are not used to having to “share” their school with anyone who doesn’t look like them. My guess is that they think that they’ve already made allowances for “letting” your kids go to “their” school, and that they’re annoyed that you “demand” more of them by asking them to be involved in a semi-personal relationship. All of this is, of course, unmitigated hooey. I also suspect that these parents would deny–both to themselves and to anyone else–that they think this way, which adds a layer of crazy-making mind game to the whole kit and kaboodle.

I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this.

Julia

Readers, what do you think? Has this happened to you? How do you account for this behavior? How do you negotiate relationships with parents of your children’s friends? How do you find places that are supportive and welcoming of you and your family?

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