Friends don't stress friends out!
August 4, 2009 12:49 PM   Subscribe

How do you extricate yourself from a family-oriented friendship? Very long and pathetic story to follow.

About eighteen months ago, my child became friendly with a classmate. We hosted a play date that went swimmingly well. I liked the Mom quite a bit. This led to a reciprocated play date at their house, where we eventually ended up becoming family friends – Dads enjoyed each other’s company, kids played nice, Moms hung out. All was good. I thought it was great that we all were nice new friends. In fact, we spent the majority of the summer together, and even did holidays at each other’s houses.

Well, as my friendship with the new Mom evolved, she started to confide in me that she was involved in a long-established affair with another married male (who also had kids), and had long ago kind of checked out on her marriage. In fact, she actually hated her husband. Now mind you, our kids are now absolute buddies, and talk about each other endlessly and go to school together five days a week in the same class. I was kind of OK with just being aware of the situation, but as time went on, the volunteering of information became, well, a little TMI. The wheres, the whens, the hows. It was mentioned to me that there was a pregnancy scare and Plan B was involved. When I kind of brought up the What the FUCK?! Factor, as in, don’t you have enough going on? She said that they (she and her, uh, paramour?) discussed the thought of having a baby together and liked the idea, but then freaked when the possibility became a reality and bailed. TWICE. When I asked what would happen should the Plan B not work, how would she deal with the fact that she wasn’t sleeping with her spouse (except for the occasional mercy fuck) yet somehow get pregnant? She said that her husband wouldn't be smart enough to figure it out. (She is forever talking shit about him/his intelligence, etc.)

I tried to remain outside of the circle, especially since her husband happens to be a really nice guy. He apparently was aware that she had fooled around on him at one point, but was under the impression that it had ended a while back (to date, it’s now been about three years running). I also asked why they don’t just get a divorce; she sighted financial reasons, and also claimed that for all his faults, her husband is, in fact, a good father. They supposedly attempted counseling, though I never heard more about that after one or two tries.

Her child left the school to go on to a different district last year, so that kind of helped separate the situation. Still the kids missed each other, and I would regularly get calls and emails asking for play dates. I would kind of blow them off, or we would end up rescheduling. The few times we did get together, the conversation was kept very basic. My child regularly talked about how much she missed her friend, and would beg me to call the Mom and see when we could get together (this still happens pretty frequently). I try and change the topic, not really giving an answer, or say that everybody's busy the next few weekends, not really knowing how to explain the situation.

We went for about four or five months without communicating and I suddenly got a call about two weeks ago. It was a really bad time for me to talk and I never returned the call or sent an email.

And now to convolute the story further, her husband found me on FB this morning, wanting to know how I’ve been, and what’s been going on. Inevitably, he’s going to ask why I haven’t been around and what’s the story. It kills me to know what is going on, yet I feel I have no right (nor do I have any intention) to tell him.

How am I supposed to explain to my kid that I cut off our relationship with this family because of this person’s scruples?

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Hoo boy. Let the kids be friends — just avoid the mother like the plague. To the husband, just say things like "My kid has really missed your kid" and "we've been busy with blah blah blah (provide some details off stuff that's going on." It shouldn't be too hard to limit your contact to the mother, given that you no longer live so close to one another. If she should ask why, tell her plainly and firmly that you are not comfortable hearing about her affair and that it makes you feel terrible about your contact with her husband.
posted by orange swan at 12:57 PM on August 4, 2009 [7 favorites]

Why can't your kid be friends with this kid, and you just explain to the Mom that you Don't Want To Know?
posted by jacalata at 12:58 PM on August 4, 2009

I would personally make a play date. Keep the conversations with the mom basic. If she talks about her affair, give short, brief answers, like "Mmm hmmm" or "I see." Don't punish your kid because you don't like his friend's mom. The friendship between your kids will likely slowly fizzle out over time anyway because the kids are going to different schools.

As for the husband on FB I doubt he'll push for specific details as to what you've been up to - people tend to understand that it's natural for people to fall in and out of touch.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 12:59 PM on August 4, 2009

Is it possible to let the kids see each other, but keep it to just small-talk-civil-terms yourself?

I'd stay out of explaining why you feel freaked out because a) it isn't your place to come between them, and b) you really don't have to, because you haven't been expressly asked. They've just asked "where've you been, what have you been up to?" Those are different questions from "why have you been dodging us"?

But it makes perfect sense for you to want to keep the mother at arms' length, especially since it sounded like you told her you'd prefer not to know some of the stuff she was telling you but she still told you. However, your relationship with the mother is different from your kid's relationship with her kid, and it's not fair to your kid to let things get entangled like that.

Unless the parents are really clamoring for an explanation about why you're keeping your distance, I'd let the kids continue to play together, and just keep to civil small talk when it comes to you and the mother.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:00 PM on August 4, 2009

It's a tough situation, and I don't have any real answers, but as a parent myself, I would feel really, really, nervous about leaving my kid under the supervision of a woman with such obviously deficient judgment. So that might make it hard to let the kids play and still avoid the mother.
It would be a really hard thing to explain to your kid, though.
posted by bashos_frog at 1:02 PM on August 4, 2009

Ack, gross.


If you're kid is young enough for play dates, s/he is young enough to be gifted with the beauty of the vague answer. So is this woman's husband. 'God, sorry--so busy--we'll have to get together soon' repeat ad infinitum until you get roped into something you can't get out of, then avoid alone time with crazy mom so you don't have to hear any harrowing details.

If you're the confrontational sort, I think you could head off further details with 'Seriously, Crazy Lady, I'm happy not knowing."

In short, contact avoidance and white lies.

But that's how I roll.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:02 PM on August 4, 2009

Nthing to let the kids play without being Mom's BFF. Just be civil and don't participate in discussion about her torrid affair.
posted by desuetude at 1:03 PM on August 4, 2009

It seems to me that you have two choices here, without scotching the friendship among the two children (which would be really mean and unnecessary).

First, you make whatever excuses might be necessary to explain your recent absence and go back to the family get-togethers. But, in no uncertain terms, explain to the wife (privately, of course) that you really, really don't want to hear any more about her affair. Tell her you have moral issues with the whole thing, which you do, and that you're very uncomfortable being cast in the role of her confidante.

Second, you make excuses for why you can't see them anymore but you bend over backwards to facilitate playdates among the children so their relationship isn't impacted.

It is neither possible nor any of your business to intervene in their marriage. If the wife continues to fill you in on the juicy details, do not get hooked and instead repeat that you really don't want to discuss it at all with her.
posted by DrGail at 1:05 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

DTFMA. Just blow off further confessional overtures and let your kids be friends. She's probably gotten the hint by now anyway.
posted by felix betachat at 1:20 PM on August 4, 2009

Are the dads still friends? Why not have the dads meet with the kids so they can have a play date?
posted by cjets at 1:23 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't hear the part in your story where you said to the mom (repeatedly if necessary), "This kind of talk is making me really uncomfortable, and I really don't want to hear anything more about it."

You know WAY WAY too much about these people's lives. Past a certain point, that's not just her fault, it's yours. You need to learn how to shut someone's overshare down, kindly but firmly -- long before it reaches this point.

I don't see why you have to jettison the family friendship. What you do need to minimize your one-on-one conversation time with her. Instead, do family activities together, and keep the conversation focused on that.

If she starts up with the inappropriate confidences, set a clear boundary (see above). If that doesn't work, you need to start practicing such valuable social skills as the noncommittal murmur, followed by the chilly pause and the pointed subject change.
posted by ottereroticist at 1:27 PM on August 4, 2009

Please respect your daughter's love for her friend.

Children aren't interchangeable, especially to each other. Their friendship sounds genuine. I don't know whether they are five years old or fifteen, but caring friendship is valuable at any age.

It may be that the other family falls apart eventually, and your child might become a lifeline for her friend, as well as learning to appreciate her own family situation more. There are all kinds of people and situations in the world, and this could be a good way to learn about things like that.

My own mother forbade me to spend time with another girl in my neighborhood because her parents were divorced (it was the early '70s, in case that helps). I didn't come to appreciate it nor thank her later.
posted by amtho at 1:35 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lie. Tell him you got a part time consulting job or you're writing the Great American Novel or that you've found Jesus or Scientology.
posted by anniecat at 1:51 PM on August 4, 2009

I don't think the kids have to stop being friends. Why can't you just tell the mom that you don't want to hear about that kind of stuff anymore and that you have a lot going on in your own life. Tell them your favorite aunt is really sick and you just can't handle anything else (and tell them not to mention it around your kid) and that you just don't want to get involved.
posted by anniecat at 1:54 PM on August 4, 2009

nthing that you should let the kids play together without you necessarily spending time with the other mother. Can't you drop your daughter off there while you run some errands and then you can return the favor for her sometime?
posted by mmascolino at 2:08 PM on August 4, 2009

I would feel really, really, nervous about leaving my kid under the supervision of a woman with such obviously deficient judgment.

Pardon me, but that's silly. Lots of people screw around, unfortunately, but it isn't the same thing as setting fire to the living room.

Definitely, to the OP, I would limit contact with the mother but try to keep the kids in touch as time and energy permit. They're innocent parties and don't deserve to be victims of the adult bullshit.
posted by dhartung at 2:10 PM on August 4, 2009

Can you have just their kid over, or just drop off your kid for a visit? I don't remember my mom ever being friends with any of my friend's mom's growing up. You could even work it into your excuse..... You're so busy, and it's great that the kids can play at their house while you accomplish 'whatever.'
posted by Caravantea at 2:22 PM on August 4, 2009

[This is a followup from the asker.]
My hesitancy in doing drop-off play dates is that the Mom likes her wine a LOT. When I asked about her obsessive workout schedule (which actually I admire, because she’s the one that got me going to the gym), she told me that she estimates her caloric intake to be ~4000cal/day including the wine. Her parents (the child’s grandparent’s) live in the same house, but they also drink, and are not particularly healthy (one is in seriously declining health and the other is a chain smoker). Add to all of this, there is a backyard pool, and they feel it’s kind of OK to have their kid back there because he swims well. Mine is only just learning and would require constant and vigilant supervision. In fact, last summer, my younger child went under while the Mom was watching them. Obviously, it wasn’t intentional and it was a quick grab, but it still scared the shit out of me (I was in the house changing, when it happened).

I would host the play dates here, but her child is very allergic to my animals. We’ve tried it, and even with Benadryl, it’s been a bad mix. He is on medication for other reasons, and the suspicion was that they just don’t mix well.

Somebody asked about the Dads, and while they got along, they don’t have a tremendous amount in common. They never have contact other outside of the family get-togethers.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:39 PM on August 4, 2009

I think your values are strong enough to outweigh this Mom's values. I'd consider telling her that you're just really uncomfortable knowing about her affair, and that you feel that it puts you in a difficult situation, as you are also very fond of her husband. But, the kids are such good friends and you'd like to facilitate their friendship. This is her moral dilemma, and you've come to own part of it If/when her husband figures it out, he'll know you knew. It's clear that you hate knowing. You could share that with her.
posted by theora55 at 2:50 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Honey, they've got lots of stuff going on and so do we, and we just aren't able to get together any more. How about we invite XXX from school over tomorrow for a play day?"

Repeat. And ignore calls/emails/FB messages.
posted by liquado at 2:58 PM on August 4, 2009

Offer to pick up her child and take her to the movie/mall/amusement park/playground/dance class/etc. You take both kids for the day or afternoon. Problem solved. When picking up, come to the door, act real nice then say that you are on a schedule so you need to leave. On way back same thing.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:38 PM on August 4, 2009

After your update, chiming in to say: don't do drop-off playdates. Yikes.

Arrange a playdate at her house, and the next time she brings up her affair, tell her firmly that you think her husband seems like a nice guy, and you don't want to hear another word against him, or about her affair. She'll bring it up again anyway, because she's a trainwreck like that, but just eye her coldly and say, "I think we'd better talk about something else," and bring up the something else -- who cares what -- the dinner party you're having, the book you read last week. In fact, even better if you bring up the same damn thing every time. She'll probably take against you, but that's okay; it's a compliment to be disliked by people like this.
posted by palliser at 4:28 PM on August 4, 2009

I'm not a parent, so take this with a grain of salt here - but it seems to me you know the person your child is playing with is from a home with some serious problems. Most every family has some issues, but here you know what they are and that they have to do with ethics. Who's to know what other ethical rules the mom is teaching her little one (or teaching her to bend)? I hate to say it, especially because I was judged harshly based on my mom as a kid, but your child might be better off not being around this family - including her friend. I'd explain that you've gotten rather caught up with other obligations and not respond to any further inquiries. But then, pre actually being a parent, I might have some overprotective instincts going on :).
posted by lorrer at 6:16 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Without previewing , I'll go out on a limb and beg you, PLEASE let the kid continue to see her friend. From various issues that came up when my son was young, I KNOW this is just too painful for the kid, and you're misguided taking this radical measure. Please.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:37 PM on August 4, 2009

I'll be the voice of dissent, and say that I think that you're perfectly reasonable to want to discontinue this friendship.

Yes, it'll suck for your child, but sometimes that's what you have to do--it's clear that bringing the playmate to your house won't work, and it's equally clear that your child cannot be allowed to be at their friend's house without you. That isn't, in my opinion, negotiable, since the mother of the other child is clearly incapable of providing proper supervision. If you're really determined to make this work, you could ask if they want to meet you at fast food joint with a playground, but I think that you'll be better off cutting your losses in this one.

I have an almost seven-year-old daughter, and about a year ago, we broke up with one of her friends. I'm not going to lie: it totally sucked, and there were months of "When can I see [friend] again?" But we were determined--the friend's parents had done some stupid, awful, irresponsible things, and their daughter had taken to spouting hateful rhetoric and talking endlessly about the family drama between her parents and grandparents, stuff that would be inappropriate for a teenager to know about, let alone a five-year-old girl.

After trying to dodge the questions, I finally sat my daughter down and had a talk with her. I said that the friend's parents were having a hard time right now, and that while I knew that she really liked her friend, we couldn't rely on her parents to follow through on get-togethers or to provide a safe and healthy environment to play in. Obviously I couched it a bit--they have a lot going on in their life, they have a lot of things to worry about, we want you to be safe and happy, [friend]'s family life isn't very happy right now, and we need to give them the time and space to work it out.

She seemed to get it--I think that she made a card for them (she was big on sending cards) and I just stashed it, and it's been pretty peaceful since then. The friend will still come up once in a while, but it's no longer the unending litany of "When can I see her? Now? Now? How about now? Can we have her over now?"

I wonder if something similar might work for you--after all, regardless of if the husband's aware of his wife's infidelity, it seems clear that their family life is far from ideal and not something that you feel your child can be safely exposed to, so it's certainly not like you'd be telling your child a lie. A gentler version of the truth, maybe, but that's pretty much what parenting is, right?
posted by MeghanC at 11:00 PM on August 4, 2009

This was mentioned once above but seems like perhaps the dad's could take over some week-end activities that you could just opt out of. Lots of Dad friendly things to do like amusement parks, museums, aquariums, swimming.

Is your husband aware of the situation? I would suggest if not that you share with him why you do not want to associate with the Mom and let him decide if he needs to clue his friend in.

If this man is a nice man as you say and you and your husband are his friends perhaps that should be considered. In his place I would not really want friends that would stand by while I was being publicly humiliated (if she will tell you I'm sure there are others she is sharing this with). Secondly, down the line when this does come out (because it is going to, these things almost always do) your child and his will have a lesson in how adults handle friendships.
posted by Weaslegirl at 4:37 AM on August 5, 2009

It sounds too complicated and unhealthy. Your daughter will get over it eventually and you can take comfort that you have saved her from any other emerging drama. In the future you'll have to be better about shutting people down when they drag you into their personal hells.
posted by MiffyCLB at 5:20 AM on August 5, 2009

What about picking up the child and taking it to a 3rd place? Parks, zoos, playgrounds... Don't invite the mom along, and give that poor kid a break from what sounds like a crazy house. It seems a little cruel to end your child's friendship - good friends are hard to come by, even when you're a little kid.
posted by munichmaiden at 5:59 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

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