Can this friendship be saved?
June 16, 2020 9:57 AM   Subscribe

It's that classic parent-friend story: we met when our babies were brand new, and now they are old enough to have personalities, and kind of don't get along. She's mad about it. I'm not sure what to do.

Longer context: we met in a local mom meetup group when we were both on mat leave. She lives right up the street from me. Her son is about four months younger, and I gave her some baby clothes. We started hanging out together, a lot, and the babies just lay there and chilled while we became friends.

At one year old, I went back to work. She didn't. Our lives have sort of drifted a little since then. She is in a bad marriage with a crazy-making husband. I'm a single parent and don't deal with any marriage things. She is a stay-at-home parent and has help too. I'm a working parent with no help. There are aspects of my life that she doesn't relate to, but hey, our kids are the same age...

So now, we are hitting kindergarten next year. My child is a sweet-natured and fairly obedient, leaning toward timid. We are working on that part. Hers is big and physical, very rough and tumble leaning toward aggressive. She isn't really working on it and hopes that school will 'fix' him.

We have been doing outdoor meetups because Coronavirus, has not been going well. First time, we did scooters. I had told mine to 'give some space' while we were at the park, and he did his best to comply. But his scooter has some buttons on it and his little buddy could not help himself. It ended with her hauling him off in hysterics while she screamed at him for not listening. Second time, she said no toys or scooters, just our own two feet. We did this. Without benefit of a toy to focus on, Kid started pushing mine to entertain himself. Mine got clingy. Same ending. Final time, we happened to be there alway with my mom when she came with hers. We had a ball to play with. So did they. Kid liked our ball better and kept trying to take it. Mine got clingy. She stalked off. Then called me yesterday to complain that my kid 'is afraid of' hers and she's been upset about it.

I'm at a loss about how to handle this. I want to reassure her that of course, my child is not afraid of hers. But he...kinda is? I mean, I am not blaming the kid. I think he's just got a much more extrovert personality, and they are both out of childcare right now so he has no outlet for it. I do think he witnesses a good deal more shouting at home than mine does, and I suspect that factors in. But bottom line, he's three. He's not a bad kid, he just has to be taught how to behave a little. And to be fair, mine has to be taught too, and I am working on that.

I'm worried that now she doesn't want to be friends with me because it isn't fun to play with us when every time, they end this way. On the other hand, our lives are very different. We will be going to the local school. She will not be. We probably both will expand our friend groups in other directions, and maybe that's fine? But she does live right near us. We will see her in the neighbourhood. I'd like us to stay friends. How do we get around this issue with our kids?
posted by ficbot to Human Relations (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Then called me yesterday to complain that my kid 'is afraid of' hers and she's been upset about it.
I mean, complain to YOU that HER KID is scaring YOUR KID? WTF?
posted by uberchet at 10:02 AM on June 16, 2020 [78 favorites]

I feel like this is a problem that can't be fixed without support from the other parent, and lots of practice for both kids (one on setting boundaries and MUCH MORE practice for the other on following instructions and respecting boundaries). Um, none of that is going to happen in the world you are currently living in. So I would just use world events to your advantage by saying that playing together safely while social distancing is proving too difficult; let's stay in touch and when the world opens up maybe we can try again. And then, well....maybe never really get around to "trying again..."
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 10:15 AM on June 16, 2020 [26 favorites]

This is an unfortunate part of parenting that doesn’t go away. It can be hard to have adult friends when they don’t have kids, kids are too far apart in age, or kids just don’t get along. Kids are people too - you can’t make them like each other. This has affected a few relationships with our neighbors bc our kids aren’t close in age/haven’t hit it off as friends. I don’t have any great solutions, but know that what you are experiencing is common and you may need to accept that this friendship may drift a bit.
posted by gnutron at 10:15 AM on June 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

Your post didn't cover anything that you value about your friendship with her (excluding the kids), but you also say you want to remain friends with her. How about proposing some social interaction without the kids? That would take some extra effort given your situations, but it's possible to have friendships without involving the children.
posted by Karaage at 10:16 AM on June 16, 2020 [15 favorites]

As someone who was your kid in this kind of situation... it might get better; it might not. I can tell you my parent told me years later that they wish had pulled the plug on me hanging out with the other kid earlier than they did.

The fact that she's blaming your kid for being afraid of her kid's behavior is a red flag. It's not your kid's fault or your fault. It sounds like she's in a tough situation with her marriage and husband, which probably feeds into this, but that's not a reason to keep exposing your kid to this other kid if she's unwilling to work on things and try to help make the situation less fraught.

If you still want to keep the friendship, see if there are ways to hang out without the kids, or (post-covid) to hang out where there are more other children and they don't have to be one-on-one with one another.
posted by pie ninja at 10:20 AM on June 16, 2020 [19 favorites]

I agree with Karaage - if you like *her* and want to have a socially distanced coffee with *her* then go ahead. Hey, it'll probably be easy to schedule because she doesn't work and also has childcare help. But other than that, I'd just be strategically unavailable for further playdates. You could try again in six months if you want to; both kids will have grown/matured a bit and the vibe could be different.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:21 AM on June 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

My guess is she’s putting all her upset about her home life (which likely includes conflicts over parenting style and/or stress about having a more extroverted, rough and tumble kid) onto you because it’s a release valve outside her marriage. (Obviously, none of that is your fault.) You are a kind person to be dealing with this this way when most people would just want to cut her off.

I’d say something like “Please don’t worry, they’re growing and changing and their personalities might not mesh right now, but they’re both good kids. They just need some time and space to learn how to adjust to each other. Your friendship means a lot to me and I definitely don’t want this to come between us. How about we pause for a little bit on hanging out with the kids and you and I can go for a walk sometime? I’m sure they’ll be ready to play together again soon.”
posted by sallybrown at 10:26 AM on June 16, 2020 [54 favorites]

I'm a little confused about where the issues came up - as I read your post I read it as a) a social distancing problem (NEW), b) a no-toy, pushing-instead problem (BOG STANDARD at this age) and c) a sharing problem with screaming involved, also pretty standard. I think what I'm saying is at 3, it may be a base personality thing but it may also just be...three. So I'm with you.

My usual suggestion would be to meet in slightly bigger groups so the kids have other kids to focus on but I guess in the age of coronavirus that doesn't help. If you can't do that, I'd go with sallybrown's script, maybe adding in that with the social distancing it's been tough, let's give the kids a pause and we can go for a walk sometime...if you're able, and if not, maybe chat on the phone or something.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:30 AM on June 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

When kids are too different developmentally or personality-wise, it doesn't matter how much the parents want them to get along: sometimes it just doesn't work.

And I can't honestly believe she was beefing at you for your child being (correctly!) afraid of hers. Get a little perspective, Friend: your kid is the one crossing boundaries!

I would find a reason not to meet up for a while (like "the summer," if you can last). Next time her son might have mellowed a little, and yours might be more confident; on the other hand, the same dynamic might still apply, in which case I would just stay in touch electronically but give the kids a long break from each other.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:56 AM on June 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

I don't have kids of my own, but I was very similar to your child when I was young. Sensitive, inner-directed, and a bit timid. Through team sports, I became "friends" with two brothers from a unstable and, as I later learned, physically abusive household. They were wild, and the only reason why we were "friends" at first is that my more outgoing best friend wanted to be friends with them, so I went along. It honestly took years for me to really warm up and feel comfortable with them, but I think my experiences helped me learn a lot about how to deal with difficult situations and have empathy with people who are going through difficult situations that you may not personally understand. And with the benefit of hindsight I think that both my best friend and I (who both came from stable homes, and were classic "good kids") acted as positive influences on them. I guess it takes a village...

I think we learned a lot from each other, and 30 years later we're all still friends, and keep in contact despite living in different states. So that's my little point of anecdata.
posted by dudemanlives at 10:56 AM on June 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

I want to reassure her that of course, my child is not afraid of hers.

I literally do not understand why on earth you would want to do this? Are you just really into people-pleasing?

Your child IS afraid of hers. So what if that's a hard thing to hear? Next time she suggests a playdate, say "Phyllis, I've been thinking about what you said, and given how the last couple of playdates have gone, I think we should take a break from them. The kids are at really different stages and their dynamic isn't great right now." This is to give you the option of hanging out with her for coffee if you really want to, without the kids.

Your responsibility is to your child. Do NOT gaslight your child that they have nothing to fear from the bigger, more aggressive kid.

And by the way, not that this is your problem, but literally the best tool in HER toolkit for explaining to a three year old that they need to change their behavior, is to show them that it has sad consequences, like scaring a friend.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:03 AM on June 16, 2020 [96 favorites]

I don't have kids and I can't tell from your description how normal or concerning her child's behavior is, and you have to do what is best for your kid. Either way, I think, if you want this friendship to survive, I would suggest trying to see her without the kids. So I'm going to leave the question of his behavior here, and focus only on your friendship with her.

It can be hard to schedule adult-only time with kids that age, so you could also pull back for a while and try again when the kids are a little older.

As for your relationship with her, I want to point out the two following quotes, the second one from a response above:

She is in a bad marriage with a crazy-making husband. I'm a single parent and don't deal with any marriage things. She is a stay-at-home parent and has help too. I'm a working parent with no help. There are aspects of my life that she doesn't relate to

I think my experiences helped me learn a lot about how to deal with difficult situations and have empathy with people who are going through difficult situations that you may not personally understand.

Hanging out without the kids might just bring your friendship right back to where it was when they were babies, even though your lives have drifted apart a bit. Or it might not, and she might not be someone you want to put effort in to bring it back.

Or it might not, but you still value her friendship and want to try to revive it. In that case, I think you need to realize that you are both dealing with really hard - but very different - situations. She is in a bad marriage, with whatever that entails, and a difficult kid. You are a single parent, working, and trying to do it all on your own. Friendships can survive these differences, but if they are going to be more than casual, you're both going to have to have empathy for your respective situations and struggles, even if you don't fully understand them..

I'm not saying this to excuse her being mad at you for your kid being scared, which is not cool. But to try to get you to understand where she may be coming from and why she may be lashing out. If you take the concrete step to remove the kid-interaction for a while, and the emotional step of trying to understand her situation, have empathy, and give support, I think this friendship could have a chance. It obviously is a two was street so it will depend on her as well.

A lot of friendships wax and wane during kid-intense years and pick up years later too, so there's always that.
posted by sillysally at 11:28 AM on June 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'd like us to stay friends. How do we get around this issue with our kids?

i don't understand what this woman brings to the table that you would want to be a doormat for her personal issues and tantrums and publicly screaming at her hysterical toddler and lectures about how you should feel bad that her kid is bullying yours.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:32 AM on June 16, 2020 [26 favorites]

I agree with others who have suggested that your child's safety and well-being are paramount and it seems totally reasonable to take a break from the kid-socializing for a while.

My sister and her wife have two young kids. This pandemic has been super hard on them and their kids (who are actually responding really well and are well-behaved, all things considered). Still, there are days when my sister and SIL want to hand the kids off and go away for a week. I imagine your friend is feeling incredibly stressed being stuck in an unhappy home situation with a child who's got a lot of energy and is at times aggressive. It sounds like she doesn't feel confident or able to manage those behaviors. It also seems like she knows her kid is scaring your kid and feels guilty/bad about it and maybe wants to have a conversation with you - maybe even seeking your advice about managing her kid's behavior - but instead of saying or asking any of that she came at you in a defensive and accusatory way. Which is not great, and I think you're handling this with a lot of grace and generosity. This pandemic has made communication hard, and in general, it sounds like this is a friendship without a ton of direct communication to begin with.

My sister and her friends have had weekly phone/zoom calls after their kids go to bed where all they do is vent about their kids and share notes in a non-judgmental way about some of the challenges they are all dealing with. It seems like your friend really needs space to talk about her child's difficult behaviors and the stresses of her home situation, and that maybe you would also enjoy being able to talk to an adult friend who's also a parent and can relate to parenting struggles. If that is something that appeals to you (though it's by no means necessary if you feel like your plate is full), I second other people's suggestion of setting up a "parent vent session" with this friend and saving the in-person socializing with kids for a later date.
posted by sleepingwithcats at 11:32 AM on June 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

It sounds to me like you want to be "neighbors" with her, not "friends", which is a perfectly fine relationship to have.

Having someone you can call up on a sunny day to hangout at the playground for an hour is an invaluable resource when you have young kids, but there is no rule that says you have to bond on anything more than a superficial level.
If you can maintain your acquaintanceship at the level, great, if not, let it go.

Kids have a dozen "best friends" when they are young, some last for the length of a camp, some for a particular developmental period.
Some wax and wane, but are always up for a last-minute trip to the park, some you never see again.

The point is, unless you live somewhere that this other child and his parent are the only choice of playmate you have, it's probably not worth any more effort than it takes to keep a casual association.
posted by madajb at 11:58 AM on June 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

You can be friends - email, social media, phone, whatever. Her kid and yours are not friends and that doesn't seem to be an option at present. You could investigate Parents Anonymous or other parenting support groups, which can be good (usually) and share whatever benefits you gain. I would not put my kid with hers again for now; that would be kind of mean. She observed reality; it is her job to deal with that, but you can opt to be a friend to her about it.
posted by theora55 at 12:18 PM on June 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Please, for your child's sake, don't reinforce to them that they must "put up" with abuse or abusers, even at this age, and even at this stage of development. If your child is uncomfortable with interactions with another child, that is their perogative and really needs to be respected....

If you really want to maintain this "friendship" with the other parent, do so without the kids.
posted by griffey at 12:20 PM on June 16, 2020 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Eh, you don't want to upset her because you are likely to bump into each other in the neighbourhood.

But the thing is, whatever you do she IS going to be upset. She'll be upset if you tell her you want to take a break. She'll be upset if you want to meet her but shun her kid. She'll be upset if you claim to have no time but then she catches you having a playdate with a different kid. She'll be upset if you continue to meet up and your son refuses to be the playmate who magically turns her boy into a non-bothersome, fun-having child so that she can FINALLY take a break from wondering why everything in her life sucks so much. And if your son reacted to the pushing by turning round and knocking her kid flat on his butt - "Great news, he's no longer scared!" - well, she sure as hell wouldn't be happy about that either.

She's just an unhappy person.

So, where do you go from there?

The answer you are looking for does not exist. All solutions lead to you upsetting her. Just...go ahead and upset her in whatever way feels least uncomfortable to you AND your kid (don't make him meet the other guy if you're not willing to stand up for him, if you buy into the narrative that part of it is his fault, wtf.)

Knowing that upsetting her is not avoidable may give the whole thing less power over you.

Also, sarting NOW, put all that socialising energy into meeting with other parents/kids with whom you have a good time. Spread your limited time around so that you won't even miss her questionable company. It'll lessen the sting of her inevitable accusations.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:41 PM on June 16, 2020 [34 favorites]

I've been in her shoes as far as having to haul off a screaming three year old. Some kids that age just tend to melt down a lot in exciting situations. Especially with isolation and social distancing, seeing a friend for a playdate might be the MOST exciting thing that happens to this kid all week. That kind of excitement and pressure can lead to difficult behavior and meltdowns, doesn't mean they're bad people. Sometimes teaching them to behave is really hard and takes a long time, even when everything's great at home and everyone involved is a lovely person with the best of intentions (ask me how I know!).

She might be feeling a lot of guilt and shame over her kid's behavior and it might be coloring how she treats you.

All that said, it's totally OK to tell her you want to take a break from play dates for a bit if your kid isn't enjoying it. Make it about you and your kid, don't tell her it's because her kid is too much. Say it as kindly as you can, and if she gets mad, that's her issue. These are difficult times for everybody.
posted by beandip at 2:27 PM on June 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, but... this isn't a friendship that's healthy for either you or your kid to keep. Be polite and friendly when you encounter her, but seriously... let this drift.

You're trying to raise a good kid. So you have two choices... let this go, or it's going to have a negative impact on your child.
posted by stormyteal at 2:28 PM on June 16, 2020 [2 favorites]


I'm a parent of two kids, now 7 and 10, and I have been through this several times. Almost exact same thing happened to us - neighbor mom with kid the same age as our youngest, she was stay-at-home, husband watched golf through every birthday party for his son, kids got along great when babies and then the other kid was more aggressive and things went south. We are say-hi-wave holiday card friends now and no more.

The kids bring a strange flow of people into and out of our social. There are adult friends we have because our kids became friends with their kids, and now the kids hate each other, but we still like the grown ups. There are friends that our kids made where I feel like the parents are on separate planets. Sometimes the kids change and get along one month, hate each other the next, and become are great friends again two years ago.

It is strange and sad sometimes. My only suggestion is to get quicker at picking up friends, and quicker at letting them go, and don't burn a bridge as people with kids and families do change. They are supposed to change.

I would just let this person drift off, if they ask to get together, brush them off with a breezy "sorry too busy and don't want to get kids together only to yell at them to stay apart, maybe later" and wait. I would not take on the project of trying to give her advice or reasons.

I also have this to say about the little bully kid - you are doing him no favors by trying to keep this duo together. That kid knows somewhere that he is screwing up. He doesn't have the skills or temperament to do anything differently now, but he can tell that there's something wrong with this scene and he might suspect that it is him. He would be better served by having someone comfortable with physical play, or by being with parents and caregivers who have the authority and love to work on setting boundaries. You are not that person for him, nor is your kid.

Also - little kids cannot social distance. They will not understand masks. My 7 year old is actively refusing to get together with other kids because he does not want to get scolded for doing what is natural to kids. It sucks.
posted by sol at 2:56 PM on June 16, 2020 [14 favorites]

She is in a bad marriage with a crazy-making husband. I'm a single parent and don't deal with any marriage things. She is a stay-at-home parent and has help too. I'm a working parent with no help.

I don't know what you mean by help and maybe you mean a nanny or something, but if you mean the husband I wouldn't assume that a bad husband is any kind of "help" just because he happens to live in the same house with his wife & child. in fact never mind assuming it, I wouldn't believe it if I was told it unless I'd seen it with my own eyes.

anyway it sounds like you are trying to bear in mind that she has her own struggles yet still feel that she somehow has privileges you don't, and that may be, but her life sucks. her toddler is probably mimicking his aggro dad when he's not mimicking her. also, four months seems like nothing but it also seems like a biggish age difference between 3/4 yr olds, so maybe she's mad that her littler kid is "scary" even though it's only physically that he's bigger; he actually younger & a little less socially developed.

no matter what it is, at least she's taking her own kid's side, which is something, considering what a lousy household he seems to be stuck in. I wouldn't even try to address that. just accept and try to vocalize that the kids don't get along right now and maybe it'll be different when they're a year or two older. say it's nobody's fault even if you don't believe that. as long as the kids are kept apart I think that is a kind lie that will not make anything worse.

(this is speculation bordering on lurid fantasy but if her husband is or could be any worse than "crazy-making", thinking that someone sees his same traits in her own son at that young an age would be terrifying or worse. if she's genuinely irrational about it that's what I'd be thinking.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:17 PM on June 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

She knows her kid is bullying yours. She stalks off and not only won’t deal with it but straight up tells you that the problem is with your kid not liking being hurt! You’ve already acknowledged that you’re working on your child’s issues but she won’t do it with hers and is waiting for school to fix it. (Just as an aside, that’s not going to happen.) So basically the bully is learning that he can get away with this behaviour.

You have two choices, you can also be the mother who turns a blind eye and throw your kid to the wolves, teaching him that the person whose supposed to protect him cares more about saving face in front of other adults or you can stand up for him and remove him from the situation. When I came across this, I had a chat with the other mother and we both agreed that the dynamic wasn’t working and we would leave the play dates until the behaviour changed. Which eventually happened.

I’m still friendly with the mother but she’s definitely more hands off with her parenting (ie, won’t step in when she sees her child bullying another kid) and defensive of her child’s behaviour which has lead to major rifts with other parents since then. These are natural consequences for her and basically you reap what you sow.

The only way you can help her child is by teaching him and his mother the lesson that if you’re mean, no ones going to want to play with you. And then follow through. If the mother doesn’t like it, maybe she’ll step up and start enforcing better behaviour. Either way, there are nicer kids with nicer parents out there who won’t hurt your son. Go and find them.
posted by Jubey at 5:37 PM on June 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like this friendship is just sorta naturally growing apart. Just let it. Don't be quite so available, and make other friends so that when you do talk to her, you have other activities keeping you busy. If she presses you about it, tell her you feel that you just don't have as much in common anymore. Don't try so hard to rescue it.
posted by summerstorm at 8:01 PM on June 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

1) they're three, she can't make her 3yo not be 3. I thought you were talking about like 5yos. When you're parenting a 3yo you think you can control a lot about them but honestly, big aggro boys at this age just are kinda like that. They shouldn't be encouraged, but you can't "teach" it out of them at this age.

2) She might be reacting to what she feels is your criticism or judgment. You do seem judgy of her parenting here. That might be responsible for her emotional tone.

3) She might be complaining and unhappy about the situation but not like...mad at you? She could just be venting? I think it's worth being gently corrective, like, "yeah, I feel like you're kind of criticizing my kid and i wish you wouldn't"
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:35 PM on June 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Under similar circumstances in your place, I waved it off as both kids being in a non-compatible phase and suggested we take a break from playdates for a few months. We've seen them around town since, but it was right around the time they started going to different schools and it became a moot issue. When (as far as I can figure out) I was in your friend's place, the other family always said they were too busy until we stopped trying. I would have rather they'd just said "no" so I could have managed my kid's expectations better. What I'm saying is that eventually the tables will turn, and try to treat the other party the way you want to be treated when your kid's being a jerk.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:30 AM on June 17, 2020

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