Elise McVeigh writes a monthly manners advice column for DFWChild. If you have any etiquette questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and she might answer them in her next column. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
Dear Mrs. McVeigh,
I was at my daughter’s soccer game last night with my mother-in-law and had an awkward situation. A young child [who was a spectator to the game] was dribbling his ball near us in the bleachers and got too close to us for comfort. My mother-in-law was concerned that it kept on going airborne and was going to hit her. I was trying to be nice to this child by saying words such as, “Be careful, sweetheart.” My mother-in-law was clearly getting irritated and had enough because she said something like, “Stop it, kid!”
In my opinion my mother-in-law sounded rude. Then the kid sat down on the lap of the lady sitting right next to me. It turned out it was her son.
I was horrified that my mother-in-law sounded so harsh in front of this child’s mother. I then debated with myself for a while about what to do. Should I apologize to the mother for my mother-in-law’s comment? Should I try to say something really nice to the child to make up for it? Ultimately, I was worried that my mother-in-law would have felt insulted if I apologized on her behalf.
I was also perplexed of why the mother did not say anything to her child about getting so close to people with the ball, but that clearly is an afterthought. My question to you is how should I have handled this situation? Should I have apologized to the mom and/or the child?
That is an uncomfortable situation on many levels. I think you were correct to use kind words to the child, because as you experienced, you never know who is sitting around you. The world is a small place, and you have to be so careful what you say and do anywhere. I always give the example that I was on a train in Europe, and I overheard some ladies who were from Dallas talking about someone I knew. And what they were saying was not very nice.
I am not sure why the child’s mother did not ask the child specifically to play away from the spectators. I am a big believer that it “takes a village,” but it is an awkward situation if you are parenting a child right in front of their own parent. I can only assume that the mother was so focused on the game that she did not notice her child getting too close to you with their ball and did not hear you to warn him to be careful.
I agree with you that your mother-in-law should have used nicer language when speaking to the child. How disappointing that she did not set a good example of how to speak to people in a polite way. Perhaps a way to stop a child’s behavior that you do not like is to start a conversation with the child.
Not apologizing to the mother or child (pretty much on behalf of your mother-in-law) was the right decision. It is your mother-in-law that you will have an ongoing relationship with and not this random mom. Apologizing to the mother may have been seen as an insult to your mother-in-law. If she thought she was wrong, she would have apologized to the mother herself. However, a suggestion for next time is to try to smooth things over by making small talk with the mother and her son, ask who they are watching on the team and then introduce yourself and your mother-in-law.
At this point I would not give the incident any more thought. In the future when your mother-in-law attends an event, I would make sure she is in a more isolated spot. Or even ask her if she is completely comfortable with her surroundings.
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