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How to Handle Awkward Mom Moments

Awkward Moment Moment No. 3

After hosting a sleepover, you get a ticked-off phone call from the other mom.

Maybe she's mad that you let the kids watch the latest Harry Potter or that they stayed up till the witching hour. Either way, it's time for an apology—and an assurance that you would not have allowed it if you'd realized she didn't approve. One mom I know got a call from a parent who was upset that the family had invoked the name of Christ in prayer at a meal while her child was visiting. This mom thanked the other for telling her and apologized. She said, "You know, this is an opportunity for us to learn more about each other and our different religions." The other mom replied, "I'm so glad you took this in a positive way"—and the kids remained friends.

To avoid such situations in the first place, be sensitive and ask plenty of questions before a child visits your home--even when you suspect the other parent won't mind the activity you've been planning, says Faith Boninger, Ph.D., a life coach and mom of two in Scottsdale, AZ.

The flip side: You want to inform a neighbor that it's not okay for your 7-year-old to spend afternoons gobbling pork rinds and playing Mortal Kombat: Armageddon on Xbox.

If you're royally angry, cool off for 24 hours or so. Then phone the other mom, thank her for having your kid over, and calmly complain: "I did want to mention that Jack has been a little freaked out about that video game last night." Once the problem's on the table, suggest some ground rules, like only video games rated "E" for everyone.

Awkward Moment Moment No. 4

You go way overboard cheering at your kid's sports event.

Michaun McComsey, a mom of two in Blacksburg, VA, recalls the shame of being shushed at a Tae Kwan Do tournament after she and her husband had been shouting "Get him! Get him!" to their son. "Everyone looked at us," she says. Later, watching themselves on video, the couple was horrified: "We were encouraging him to pummel this other kid!" In such a situation, experts say, the only thing to do is apologize profusely. "Just say to the other parent involved, 'I really lost it. I shouldn't have yelled that. I'm sorry,'" suggests Carleton Kendrick, a family therapist in Boston. Depending on what you yelled during the event, he says, you also may want to say you're sorry to the kids involved—theirs and yours. 

After McComsey apologized, she vowed to stick to cheers such as "You can do it!" and "Keep it up!" And from now on, she'll be rooting for all the kids, not just her own. Well played.

The flip side: A parent from Little League shouts that the pitcher (your kid) has a lousy arm.

If the other parent seems out of control or potentially violent, you're better off griping to a coach or a referee—or enlisting the support of other aggrieved parents. (Peer pressure: gotta love it.) If, on the other hand, you're dealing with an annoying-but-harmless repeat offender, a low-key remark should shame her into better behavior. Try something like "Hi, I'm Mark's mom—he's the pitcher. I know you probably don't mean it, but your saying that really hurts his feelings." In general, it's best to use "I" sentences and describe how someone's behavior affects you or your kid, rather than tell them they're wrong, emphasizes Boninger.

Awkward Moment Moment No. 5

Another parent disciplines your kid right in front of you.

Try not to be too thin-skinned—your kid needs to understand he's in a world full of people who are watching what he does and passing judgment, as well as trying to protect him, Kendrick notes. But if you're truly bothered by a parent who often oversteps boundaries, experts suggest quietly taking her aside. After she tells your kid to, say, stop with the arm farts, assure her that it's annoying you, too—but you think he'll respond best if you correct him yourself, at home. Kendrick recalls how he tired of hearing his son, then 6, getting yelled at by a neighbor for running during games in her backyard. "I said, 'I understand you're worried he's going to fall, but, really, he's pretty nimble, and as long as he's not bumping into people, that's just who he is.'"

If your child seems hurt by another parent's reprimands, you might murmur something to him, too—ideally, before you speak to the parent. ("It's okay, honey; you and I can talk about this later.") Chances are, though, your child will feel just fine. During his own boyhood, Kendrick says, "I got feedback about my life and who I was from other adults, and that extended the embrace of care and love that I felt as a kid."

The flip side: You tell a kid to quit chewing like a baboon—while his mom is right next to you.

Apologize and make light of it. "Sorry, that slipped out of my mouth! I'm so used to saying it to my own kids. I don't know why I bother, though—they still eat like they just escaped from the zoo." Seeing the humor almost always smooths things over beautifully until the next awkward moment.