Can The Adults’ Friendship Survive After The Children’s Friendship Ends?

Can The Adults’ Friendship Survive After The Children’s Friendship Ends?

Two questions came in recently dealing with children’s friendship dilemmas when the parents are good friends. Should the parents get involved? Can the adults’ friendship remain intact even if the kids’ friendship does not? Since the questions are short, Nina included both.

children's friendship

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Dear Nina,

My “tweenaged” daughter has a friend who has repeatedly been less than kind. My daughter has told the girl how she feels on at least two occasions. I have encouraged my daughter to try to help her friend understand how she feels if she wants the friendship to last.

Here’s the complicated part. I consider the girl’s mom a friend. Do I talk to my friend with the hope that she can help her daughter think more about my daughter’s feelings? Do I advise my daughter to put space between her and someone who continues to treat her poorly? Do I just treat my friendship with the mom separately? I tend to not avoid things, but this feels tricky because it is not just my relationship, it is also my daughter’s.

Signed,

Should My Friend and I Help Our Daughters?

Dear Nina,

How do you maintain a friendship with someone when the children’s friendship has ended? I have dealt with this a lot over the years, but have a particularly tough one right now as the mom is one of my closest friends and her daughter is being awful to my daughter now. (They are in high school and were best friends until recently.)

Signed,

I Don’t Want to Lose My Friend

 

Dear fellow moms,

My initial instinct in response to the general question of whether a friendship can survive the children’s friendship issues is YES. My more nuanced answer is that it depends on the strength of that adult relationship and the maturity of the two women involved.

If the feelings towards an adult friend are going to imitate the ups and downs of the adolescents involved, then that does not bode well for the adult friendship. We survived the volatile social norms of the tween and teenage years once already so why would we want to go through it all again? If we can’t be friends with someone when the kids aren’t getting long, perhaps that suggests boundary issues between us and our own children, as in we are too wrapped up in our kids’ experiences rather than allowing them to have their own, yes, bad feelings. I believe in helping kids learn to handle their social situations with guidance, but not with a full takeover where parents mirror the kids’ reactions.

Try Hard Not To Be a “Wave Rider”

I know it’s tempting to ride the waves with our kids because we hate to see them feeling left out or mistreated. But if we are also riding the waves, then who is standing steady on the shore ready to give sound advice?

As for what kind of advice to give your daughter when her friend’s mom is your good friend, I say it shouldn’t differ at all from the advice you’d give her if the other parents were strangers. Listen carefully, don’t assign blame, and help your daughter learn how to stand up for herself while treating the next person with dignity. This can take an entire lifetime!

I’m 40, and I still ask my mom’s advice on relationships from time to time. Why do I still go to my mom? Because she was not a wave-rider when I was a teenager. I knew her take on a situation would be balanced and helpful and not simply an echo of what I might get from my own friends.

I love how the first letter worded the advice she was considering for her daughter: “Do I advise my daughter to put space between her and someone who continues to treat her poorly?” That expression “put space” is so perfect because it is so much less dramatic and traumatic than ending a friendship and it allows time for issues to work themselves out.

We certainly don’t want our kids getting treated badly just because we like the other kid’s parents. At the same time, I think it’s safe to assume that the other mom is getting a different story from her own daughter and it’s a good idea to acknowledge (especially to ourselves) that there are two sides to most stories. I prefer the idea of the adult friends not getting involved directly with the children’s friendship drama because it’s not the parents’ right or business to divulge each other’s daughter’s stories.

However, not getting involved in the drama does not mean ignoring the fact that it’s happening. I think the two moms can even acknowledge that their girls are going through a rough time and that the kids’ friendship may not survive. If the adults can name the possibility of such an outcome and detach themselves before it happens, then I don’t see why the adult friendship needs to change. It may take one or two active conversations between the adults where a decision is made that they will remain friends no matter what happens with the kids.

My kids have had friendship issues here and there, including with the kids of my friends, but none have ever escalated to the point of the children’s friendships completely ending. I consulted some friends of mine who have been closer to the situations described in the two letters.

The Most Important Friendships Will Endure

I knew that my friend Julie Burton, author of The Self-Care Solution: A Modern Mother’s Must-Have Guide to Health and Well-Being, had dealt with a situation like this before.

She said, “It can be really difficult, and sometimes impossible to maintain the friendship at least while kids are struggling. It’s one thing if the kids just drift apart but remain cordial (this has happened with a handful of my close friends and our children), but if your friend’s child is being hurtful to your child (or maybe your child is the culprit), your alliance almost always will be with your child, and therefore things can get tricky between moms. The most important thing I have learned over the past 22 years of managing these types of situations and relationships is that the friendships that mean the most to you—the ones that are supportive, respectful, and fulfilling—will stand the test of time and some bumps along the road, including kid-related conflicts.”

Kathleen, another woman I know and respect with older kids also had good advice. “I have had friendships survive and flourish even if our children are no longer friends, but we acknowledged that our children were going in different directions. We each were able to feel awful, to try not to judge, to still love each other’s kids, and to reframe the friendship. You have to really want it, but it can be worth it. And one of the unanticipated outcomes is that sometimes, the kids become young adults and become friends again. But that is not the goal. The goal is to keep someone you enjoy and connect with in your life, as a person with the same values and who makes you laugh and the friendship is defined by you, not your kids.”

The last person I consulted is my own childhood best friend, Taryn, who always has the best advice. Taryn and I share the lucky experience of having moms who gave us good advice as kids. I remember her mom giving me advice, too! We both still quote our mothers often. Taryn read the two questions above and had this to say:

What Does Friendship Look Like?

“Kids are learning constantly how to treat people and be a friend. You could argue by the success of this column that we are all still learning these lessons into adulthood. If I was in this situation as a parent, then I’d see it’s my job to teach my daughter what friendship looks like. I’d teach her to gravitate towards people who fill her up, but also to have compassion from afar. Clearly something is going on with the other girl. To me the most important message is for the daughter to not feel any pressure either way to stay friends because of the relationship between the mothers. If the other mom reaches out and asks about the shift in the friendship between the kids, then you can just say they weren’t getting along and when they are ready they will figure it out. A moment like this is an opportunity for us to teach that friendships can have shifts, but that burning a bridge doesn’t have to be the solution. In a month it may totally change. That’s how girls are.”

Readers, I know you have opinions and we’d love to hear them. Please comment below!

Thank you,

Nina

You can follow our friendship advice columnist Nina Badzin on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

13 comments

  1. Caryn says:

    It’s interesting to hear the different perspectives. I think I am still a few years away from these types of situations, so I don’t have any personal experience or advice to share, but it’s hopeful to hear that these relationships can survive shifts in the children’s friendships.
    Caryn recently posted…Wearing RedMy Profile

  2. Nice job on this, Nina. I love your advice to the adults to name the issue. As in, don’t make a deal about it, but acknowledge it. I also love your advice to teach the daughter to gravitate towards people who fill her up, but also to have compassion from afar. That’s a profound thing to teach and model for our children.

  3. I’ve been down this road with several different friends, because the bulk of my adult friendships developed between our kids first. Children will most likely grow and change more than we do as adults; so it makes sense that kids who shared a lot at one point might drift apart when they end up with less in common.

    I had three different examples, with varying levels of conflict between the kid-generation: one pair stayed friendly but no longer seek social interaction; one is fairly awkward but still polite; the other actually involved bullying against my daughter. In all three cases, I’m happy to report I was able to separate the adult relationships and maintain them. It wasn’t always easy but we all decided to not discuss our kids. And, as you mentioned, we were very close to begin with.

    For others out there struggling, it does get easier when the kids get older and independent. As always, Nina, I love your advice and the fact that you seek feedback from others. Well done!
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  4. Allie says:

    Great advice Nina. This has happened to me a few times over the years, but fortunately never anything dramatic. My friendships survived, and that actually helped Hunter stay connected to many friends who drifted away (football, baseball, etc). They weren’t close anymore, but because of parental relationships, the remained cordial ( the kiddos). Really important in middle and high school.

  5. Nina you really do have a way with this. I’m not a mother, but I still found this one interesting to read. I can certainly see how this situation would get tricky for the parents. And I love that you seek other people’s thoughts in your column sometimes. I just think it shows such openness to learn and share– what good advice should be all about.
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  6. Carla says:

    I’m nearing that stage with a few friends. Our kids became friends when they were very young and had little say over who playdates were with. As the kids have gotten older, personalities stronger, my girls have made it clear there are certain people they just don’t want to see anymore. Which kinda stinks for me because we’re always together, my girls and I. So it’ll be interesting to navigate how I’ll maintain the friendship with limited time and inquiries from the other party about getting the kids together. Some wonderful words of wisdom here.

  7. Tamara says:

    Wow, this one is a doozy. And like you said, the important ones WILL endure. My daughter has friends from preschool she doesn’t see anymore. Nothing personal – they just went to different elementary schools. In some instances, I’m still friends with the parents. In others, not.
    This isn’t drama, though. We’re not quite at drama level yet with my kids because they’re young, but I really need to read this again and again later.
    Tamara recently posted…Common Photography Questions & ObstaclesMy Profile

  8. Tucking this one away for the future…I see some foreshadowing of this with one of M’s friends in particular, not that I’m exactly super close to the parent, but it could get awkward if our girls drift further as the years go on. I’ve actually had the opposite kind of thing happen where the kids are good friends and I’m not so keen on becoming friendly with their parent. : /
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  9. Pam says:

    I totally agree… And I love that you consulted other friends on this one. I had a situation growing up with a friend where we’d grown up together b/c our parents were good friends, but when we got to middle school I didn’t feel we had much in common and I asked my mom to stop scheduling our play dates. Or hangouts. Or whatever you call them in middle school. My mom obliged with no fuss, maintained her friendship with her longtime friend, my friend’s mother, and after a few years, I came to appreciate the friendship again, and make an effort to see my friend more. With every passing year, I am more grateful to have a friend whom I’ve known since we were babies. I am so glad my mom didn’t push our friendship when it turned out, all I needed was to step back for a year or two.
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