This month our friendship advice columnist advises a letter writer who wants to a friend to become a BFF. How should you handle a situation when you want to be best friends with someone who is not putting in equal time and effort?
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.
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.
Should My Friend and I Help Our Daughters?
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.)
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!
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