Dealing with a ‘Debbie Upper’
Adapted from a recent online discussion.
I have a dear friend who won’t allow anyone to say anything bad about ANYONE. My youngest son was trying to make a point about one of his teachers, who treated him like dirt — we as parents got involved as well because it was concerning son’s health — and this friend said, “Oh no, we don’t say anything bad about this teacher” — completely cutting him off repeatedly when he was trying to explain. I felt she was totally dismissing my son’s legitimate anger about the teacher. I wasn’t sure how to respond. Thoughts?
— Annoyed by Debbie Upper
The topic was beside the point — you had plenty to work with in the dismissal itself:
“Please stop interrupting Billy.” Kindly, firmly.
If an actual give-and-take broke out from there, and if, “Oh no, we don’t say anything bad about this teacher” is something you wanted to counter, then you could have stated your values in response. Such as: “We encourage Billy to speak freely to us. If he crosses a line, then we address that accordingly.”
Then you change the subject, because that’s another valuable lesson for your “Billy.” Sometimes you just need to know your audience and cut some scenes altogether.
Re: Debby Upper:
You’ve pretty much un-taught your kid everything you’d taught him about standing up for himself by sitting there and letting someone walk all over you (your parenting) and him. Call yourself out with Billy.
Re: Debbie Upper:
The friend: “Oh no, we don’t say anything bad about this teacher.”
You: “Uh. Who’s ‘we’?”
— Not Me
Re: Debby Upper:
My mother-in-law will forever chime in with, “But he/she always spoke well of you.” Even if we’re talking smack about, say, a politician or a celebrity. It used to drive me up the wall, now it’s hilarious.
What about those of us who just are not good on our feet — don’t know what to say in the moment, and have to go back to fix it later?
You mean, all of us, pretty much?
You say to Billy, “I’m sorry I didn’t step in when Debbie kept cutting you off. I was flummoxed and couldn’t find my words.”
The best part of that is, it normalizes for him the experience of being in a moment that gets away from you — and of going back to try to fix it, and of moving on from there.
As for Debbie, try to fix it with her only if it was egregious, by preparing what you will say to her beforehand and making a time to address it with her. “When you [blank], I felt [blank].”
Otherwise, just anticipate: You recognize her tactics, admit the vulnerability of yours that she exploits, and prepare yourself accordingly with a quickie phrase or three for when you’re around her again. “I’m not comfortable with this,” or, “Please let me finish my sentence,” or, “You can have your turn in a moment.”
And rethink the friendship where applicable.
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