Mom: Destroying Friendships Since 2014
October 25, 2014 6:59 AM   Subscribe

My son has social delays that make making friends hard. He was finally on his way to making a real friend, and I (his mother) ruined it by inadvertently alienating the other child's mother. I can't fix it. How do I live with it?

The 'above the fold' pretty much sums it up. There are details, but suffice to say that I said something in haste over email that apparently implied her son had been involved in a bullying incident with my son. I did not mean to imply that -- I meant to express that her son had *witnessed* (ie: 'been present for') a bullying incident and that I was hoping to get more details so it could be addressed.

Apparently she stewed on this all summer, very upset, without telling me that she thought that I called her son a bully, and decided to refuse to let the boys have any further contact outside of school. Now the school year has started again and after several rejected playdates and party invites it comes out that she thought this other thing. I have abjectly apologized (again, via email, I would not normally see her face-to-face and I don't have her phone number (although she has mine)), but she seems pretty firm that she will let the boys play at school but doesn't want them to have contact outside of school.

I have not told my son any of this (and I don't think her son knows either). My son is devastated that Friend keeps being unable to play after school. They continue to be friends in school, but see each other more rarely this year as they no longer have recess together (friend is in 4th grade, my son is in 3rd grade).

One other thing to add to the mix: There is another boy at school (call him T) whose father contacted the school this fall and asked them to keep his son and my son separated as much as they could, because the father says that my (spectrumy) kid was "stalking" his kid by constantly trying to play with him at recess (which the school thinks is not true, FYI). T's father and Friend's parents, I think, know each other fairly well. So I'm sure T's father's belief that my kid is a weird stalker is mixing in, despite the fact that my son has been to Friend's house and both his parents have spent time with my son on multiple occasions.

I feel sick about this. This child is the only kid in school EVER who has asked my son to come over for a playdate. My son basically has zero friends in school (although he has friends outside of school - mostly the children of our friends, who don't always live nearby), and feels extremely lonely and isolated. And now, I have, inadvertently, apparently destroyed the single chance at friendship he's had in FOUR YEARS. I honestly feel like someone died. I want to go knock on their door and apologize and beg for them to reconsider, but of course that would be crazy.

We've tried the typical "friend making" strategies, including giving out 20-ish invites to a Halloween party (which only netted two or three replies). I have tried making friends with other parents at my kids school, but unlike most of them son's father and I both work full time and we don't seem to otherwise have any real points of connection with these families. There are no other children my son's age in our immediate neighborhood. Assume that we're doing all we can on the "making other friends" front, but meanwhile I've utterly destroyed the opportunity to deepen this other, real, friendship that he has and values.

So, what do I do? How do I cope with this? The guilt is killing me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I honestly feel like someone died. I want to go knock on their door and apologize and beg for them to reconsider, but of course that would be crazy.

If only it were so easy to get someone back by knocking on a door and crying and begging, if someone actually died. No one's dead here. I think you have nothing to lose (and a LOT to gain) by actually going over to talk to the kid's mom face-to-face. Email can mess up situations that involve emotions, that's why she was so hurt over the summer thinking you called her son a bully, and that's probably also why your emailed appology fell on deaf ears. Build up some courage and go talk to her, mom to mom.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 7:09 AM on October 25, 2014 [21 favorites]

Is your son interested in any non-school activities? Scouts, chorus, sports, math/science club, robotics, whatever? That's where most of my non-neighborhood friends came from when I was school aged. I'm not on the spectrum but I had an impressive hearing/speech problem and I was decidedly weird.
posted by skyl1n3 at 7:11 AM on October 25, 2014 [20 favorites]

I am really sorry for your son, and that sounds really hard on everyone for him to be struggling socially so much, and it's great how you are working to support that.

If this woman killed the kids' friendship over an email without talking to you about it, she is not behaving like a member of your child rearing tribe, where people should give each other the benefit of the doubt, and not withhold kids' friendships for trivial remarks from parents. The way she handled it wasn't respectful in terms of not talking to you about it. But you can't control that, and she does get to decide where her child goes after school.

In terms of your guilt: It is not your job to be a perfect parent. It is not your job to fix everything. You are doing your best. What your child needs to hear from you is that this is not, actually, his only chance at having a friend. What happens when friendships don't work out, in life for everyone, is that you keep going and looking for opportunities to make new friends.

I would keep on trying at school, but it also might be a good idea to look for an activity group for him according to his interests - scouts, math groups, sports, whatever. Sometimes the dynamics at school are harsher (because the kids have to be there together every day, and group dynamics) and it's easier to make friends in an out-of-school environment.

Look at this as the long game. Your son struggles, and sometimes things will happen, and what you do is take a deep breath and go on. Hang in there!
posted by warriorqueen at 7:13 AM on October 25, 2014 [34 favorites]

I've utterly destroyed the opportunity to deepen this other, real, friendship that he has and values.
There's so much self-blame in this post. I would urge you to be kinder to yourself. That's a priority.

Here's the thing: one mis-speak doesn't destroy things. This is not really about the email. The email was the straw that broke the camel's back. Unfortunately, without more context it is not possible to know what the "camel" is. Perhaps talking to the mother face-to-face might help. Perhaps it will only make things worse. I don't know. How much did you talk with her about your son before this incident? Does she know he has trouble making friends? Did you have a relationship with her at all? It sounds strange that you do not have her phone number but she has yours. What was your relationship with the mother before this happened? That might let you know if a face to face visit (scheduled over email first - dont pop in) would be something she'd be amenable to.

I think the best thing you can do for yourself is to be forgiving and kind to yourself. Remind yourself that this is not just about you and your actions. It is about this other woman and her actions. Stewing all summer without saying anything is not a mature way to behave. I understand she is probably just being a "mama bear" but if you think someone is accusing your kid of being a bully I think that the way she handled it is really not the best way to handle it. At all. She takes a lot of the "blame" here.

But I am also of the belief that blame is not a very useful concept in situations like this. Pointing fingers and assigning fault is not helpful. So please: stop blaming yourself. Try to be kinder to yourself. You love your son. You are a good mom. You are doing your best. Celebrate that. Being a mother is tremendously difficult and you are doing your damn best to take care of your lovely kid. That's a victory in itself.

To that end - and this is a standard thing here on Ask, I know - have you considered therapy? It might be incredibly helpful to have a neutral third party to talk this stuff out with. It is weighing on you so heavily. You feel like someone has died. That is heavy stuff. A therapist might be really, really helpful for you.

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 7:22 AM on October 25, 2014 [19 favorites]

Given what seems like this mom's disproportionately extreme reaction to a tiny comment, plus her determined grudge-holding after the fact, I think you have to consider the possibility that her "reason" might be more of a pretext or even an excuse for keeping the kids apart-- could be she'd been having misgivings for other reasons (your kid's rep? something she noticed about the interaction?), and has seized on this as a convenient opportunity to break contact. You could try having a talk with her, as CrazyLemonade suggests, but I'd be prepared for a lot of uncomfortable hemming and hawing, and not much progress.

For what it's worth, the idea of a kid with social delays, who's desperate for interaction, hanging out a lot with someone neurotypical who's a full year older sounds kind of problematic to me anyway. I get that it's important for your son to have friends, but the power imbalance in that relationship is pretty huge, and I'd be concerned about the potential for various sorts of abuse.
posted by Bardolph at 7:27 AM on October 25, 2014 [12 favorites]

I'm sorry this happened. I've got three kids and over the years, I've had to deal with a certain amount of other parents who interfered in the kids' relationships. So I know how awful it feels when another person does that.

But it does happen and you need to be kinder to yourself and start thinking outside the box for your kid to meet other kids.

I would start investigating other activities: martial arts, chess, music, Scouts, art, theater, basketball, rock climbing, whatever.

If possible, you want to try to expand his social circle so he's meeting more kids and his social opportunities are expanding beyond his school. I know it's more work, but it could help.
posted by kinetic at 7:38 AM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nthing the "be kinder to yourself" messages above. You've really tried; these other parents went off the deep end in their reaction, IMO. The loss of that friendship is sad, but truly let yourself off the hook.

My son is second grade - neurotypical as far as we know, but definitely with some challenging social behaviors that have it made it hard for him to make and keep friends. One of things that has helped my son (and me) feel like we have some consistency and community is his martial arts class. Our brief experiences in team sports have not gone well, but karate has been a good fit for him. We have found a great school that spends a lot of time addressing social and ethical aspects of karate, like how to show respect, being a good friend, learning to control your emotions and so on. There are a few kids in his class who might possibly have some learning/social skills deficits and they seem to do well; the teachers are great about keeping them included while allowing them to sit out for a bit if they need to. The "karate friends" are a good group we see twice a week no matter what.

Maybe something like that might be a good fit for him.
posted by pantarei70 at 8:12 AM on October 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

One thing spectrum - y people need to know is that people have boundaries and they need to be respected, even if the boundaries don't make sense. You can model this behaviour for your child.

Consider making friends with other spectrum families - they are likely to have more respect for your child's needs and be good families for your son to make connections with.
posted by Mistress at 8:14 AM on October 25, 2014 [15 favorites]

I also endorse the suggestion to explore outside activities as an avenue for friendships--not necessarily a short-term class, but something that's long term and where there's the potential for a lot of parent involvement/interaction: think swim club rather than swim lessons, or something like scouting, for example. One of the pluses to this approach is that it gives you a somewhat more organic way to also strengthen your relationships with the parents of your son's acquaintances/friends. You mention, for example, that your son is friends with some of your friends' kids, and I don't think that's an accident: by becoming MORE involved in mediating his friendships, rather than less involved, you can help smooth out some of his own awkward tendencies.

For example, I hope it doesn't add to your sense of guilt (because I think Friend's mom did not respond well to her feeling that you were accusing Friend of bullying) to say that perhaps if you had been closer friends with Friend's mom, that the outcome of your email asking for details would have been different. I.e., it may be important for you to be able to have face-to-face/sharing phone numbers relationships with the parents of your son's potential friends. Shared involvement in [activity] and support of [team] is a good point of connection for other parents of potential friends.
posted by drlith at 8:23 AM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I want to add that after school group activities that involve a common interest could be a way for him to make more friends at school. Band, chior, a sport, whatever is going on.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:30 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mom of special-needs 8 year old here. I would like to share something with you privately; please memail me.
posted by Kangaroo at 8:32 AM on October 25, 2014

The larger problem for you is that you don't really know what your child's social behaviour is like outside of the classroom, and how that can cause social issues for your son that prevent him from forming friendships with his classmates.

My daughter has a classmate on the autism spectrum, with 1:1 helper and everything. The boy played chase with the girls running around trying to kiss them, which lowered his reputation with the girls in the class and certainly isolated him. His mother volunteered one day and I had the opportunity to talk with her, I gave her my daughter's report on the playground behaviour and she had no idea that her kid was doing this. I am sure that feedback was helpful to her. Unfortunately I could not tell my daughter to be friendlier to the boy until the behaviour was corrected. I preach tolerance but it is her body and her boundaries and other kids aren't allowed to cross the line into touching behaviours, even inadvertently.

People move and new kids usually join the class every year. Every school year is another opportunity to make a new friend. Once your son is practicing better social behaviours you might be pleasantly surprised at what changes.

If there is any way at all you can get yourself into the position of speaking with any of your son's classmates parents (eg volunteering for parent association, maybe taking modified work hours so you can be on the playground after school just one day a week), you might be able to find out the behaviour that is causing problems and see if it can be corrected. You need more information to help solve the problem. An email and a school report is hardly anything to go off of.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:06 AM on October 25, 2014 [12 favorites]

I think that you are desperate for your son to have a friend, which is understandable. But it blinded you to the fact that at best the other mom didn't regard this friendship as something worth the bother.
The bother of sorting out in her head this bullying situation that you were discussing with her. (Perhaps she thought you were implying her son should have acted rather than merely witnessed? Pure speculation.) Of figuring out (and choosing sides on) whether your son was or wasn't stalking her friend's son, T. Of worrying whether your lonely son was going to observe her son's boundaries if he was his only friend. All in all she may just have decided that it is too complicated for the boys to remain friends.
She would not have done that if her son derived significant enjoyment from the friendship.
Something is off about the balance of your friendship. You were discussing a very heavy, private and discomfiting topic with her (her son's involvement in the bullying situation as a witness), and yet you don't even have her number?
All said, she wasn't a worthwhile friend to keep and it wouldn't have ended well, even had this misunderstanding not happened. Put it behind you. You didn't do any wrong except perhaps overestimate the friendship.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:35 PM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I want to go knock on their door and apologize and beg for them to reconsider, but of course that would be crazy.

Not crazy at all. Go over there. Prepare a quick version of what you've said here ("I never meant to say that Friend was a bully, just that he witnessed the event.") and say it as soon as the door opens (or after you introduce yourself if necessary).
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:34 PM on October 25, 2014

So, first of all, I would put this in perspective. YOU did not "destroy" this friendship. If someone did, it was this mother's weird reaction and refusal to sort things out in an adult manner when there was a fairly minor misunderstanding. However, I also would not be shocked if she's using this as an excuse to gently let you down because of requests on her son's part to cool things down. In which case, it's awkward and sad, but not really anyone's "fault."

As it is, it sounds like the friendship is not really eliminated, in the sense that the kids still do see each other at school sometimes and are by all accounts still friendly in that atmosphere. I think that's a good think and probably helps your kid feel less lonely at school. If your child pushes about playdates, I would go with something vague and redirect "You know, he has some family stuff going on that means he's not a good playdate choice right now, but let's invite [outside of school friend]] over."

I would also take comfort here in the fact that your son will soon be leaving the age range where other parents can "veto" playdates/friends/etc. By middle school, I think most parents will take a less-involved role and kids will tend to be a little more independent about planning their social lives. While you may stay involved longer because of your son's special needs, OTHER parents are going to be less likely to get into weird snits over things and so at the least you probably won't end up in a similar situation.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:59 PM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Jeesh. I suppose it can't hurt to go talk to this woman in person, but I wouldn't have my hopes up if I were you. If she nixed her son's friendship because of something said in an email months ago, she sounds spiteful and petty. I'd prepare for a door slammed in my face.

It seems like so many kids are on the spectrum these days, can't you find some in your area for your son to play with? Perhaps it wouldn't be such a struggle. I know I've seen meetups and the like for parents of autistic kids.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 9:59 PM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have no advice to add here other than that this is pretty much the foundation for the plot of the satirical comedy-of-manners play/film Carnage. You may find it cathartic.
posted by dhartung at 11:52 PM on October 25, 2014

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