You don’t have to be friends with your kids’ friends’ parents. There, I said it. It’s okay not to be friends. It doesn’t make you mean or antisocial. You can breathe a sigh of relief now.
I didn’t realize how big of an issue this was until recently. I found myself in a situation with my son’s friend’s parents last year, and recently a friend looked to me for advice as to how I navigated this social landmine.
To help others who are feeling confused about their relationship with their children’s friends’ parents, I’d like to share my story.
We moved to a small town in Vermont almost two years ago. I knew it might be hard to make new friends, so I took some advice from a friend and made a point to say “yes” to every invitation as often as possible. In this town, the class size in each grade level is pretty small. My son’s grade only has 11 students total, and only 4 are boys. By Halloween of our first school year, my PreK son had a very clear best friend. At trunk-or-treat at their school, I introduced myself to this child’s mother. She was pretty rude and blew me off entirely. I decided to chalk it up to Halloween excitement, nerves, or general overwhelm.
My older son’s birthday was about a month later. We invited the kids in class to our house to celebrate. His best friend’s family ended up staying after the larger party and we had time to connect. We hit it off. The mom was very talkative and kept conversation flowing. I started to get hopeful, thinking, “This is great, we get along with our son’s best friend’s parents!” But, that honeymoon was short-lived.
Whereas I saw our friendship being based around the kids and families, she quickly began pursuing a one-on-one friendship with me. She insisted that we get drinks. My husband works a lot, so I prefer to spend nights and weekends with him and our boys, but I had told myself I would say “yes” to as many invitations as I could, and my husband encouraged me to go out and have some “mommy time.” I began to hang out with her one-on-one.
It quickly became clear that this woman was a completely different person when not around her family. Her core values and my own were oppositional. When I was with her, I witnessed and/or she told me about racism, infidelity, child endangerment, and fraud. I knew I did not want to be her friend.
I would like to take a moment, right now, to reiterate that these were not rumors or judgments- no one gossiped to me about this woman who wanted to be my friend. These were things I actually witnessed or she told me herself. I did not simply decide that I didn’t like her based on her looks or how she spoke; it was based on her own, very serious actions.
In less than a month, she began asking me to watch her children. She made me feel like I owed her. She would say things like, “You don’t work, you can watch my kids” (side note, I work from home). On more than one occasion, she called me repeatedly until I answered, assuming there was an emergency. There was no emergency, she wanted me to watch her kids.
My husband quickly became concerned because of what I shared with him and the fact that whenever I spent time with her, she seemed to steamroll me, my feelings, and our plans.
If the plan was to get dinner together, she’d keep me out for hours and invite tons of people I didn’t know or feel comfortable with to join us. On another occasion, she spent more money than she had brought with her. She told the waitress I would cover for her without even asking.
I decided to stop saying “yes.”
I’d given “yes” a try and it had backfired. I tried making myself available to new friends. I would no longer go out with her alone, I would no longer rearrange my schedule to watch her children. When I started saying “no” she blamed my husband and tried to drive a wedge between my husband and myself. This is a big-time “NO” for me. My family is and always will be my number one priority.
It was time for me to set boundaries and remove myself from this toxic friendship.
Now, I know I didn’t handle things exactly as I should have. It is sometimes hard to see the big picture while you are in the middle of it. I have social anxiety and I tend to avoid uncomfortable or possibly combative situations. I have trouble saying “no” and voicing my feelings because I hate to disappoint or hurt someone. I’m hoping that by letting you know some of my missteps, it may help you in a similar situation. It will also stand as a reminder for myself of how I could have handled this situation better.
From my experience, I learned a few things that many of you may need to learn, too:
- You are an adult, you should never feel forced into any situation you aren’t comfortable with. If you are uncomfortable, take that as a hint that this is not for you. Trust your instinct and your gut. I wish I had sooner.
- You have a right to choose who you spend time with. We all have varying level of friendships: casual acquaintances, friends-of-friends, close friends, best friends. Not every person you come across will be a best friend. You decide who you let into that circle.
- You are not a bad person for intentionally choosing not to cultivate a friendship. It does not make you a bad person if you do not want to associate with someone whose moral compass is fundamentally different from your own. You are not mean. I repeat YOU ARE NOT MEAN. Politely declining an invitation is not rude.
- It is okay to set rules and boundaries. In my situation, based on my experience, my husband and I have decided that this mother is not welcome in our home, our kids do not go to her home, and we arrange all playdates through the fathers. Those are our boundaries and reflect my comfort level. You and your partner should discuss your own comfort level and set boundaries together, like my husband and I did.
Though I do think it’s okay to choose not to be friends with your kids’ friends’ parents, I also think it is important to maintain a level of civility. I would never want my own feelings about my son’s best friend’s mother to in any way affect their own relationship. Like I said, it is a very small class and these boys will likely be together in school for the next twelve years.
Because my son and his friend are my primary concern in this situation, I do follow these rules of civility when dealing with my kids’ friends’ parents, and I think that you should consider these rules, too:
Be polite: Just because you’ve decided not to pursue a friendship with someone does not mean that you should completely ignore them. It is always appropriate to say hello and smile when you inevitably see each other at a classroom or school event.
Don’t speak poorly about the person: Depending on your situation, it might be difficult to bite your tongue, but remember, little ears are always listening. You can decide not to pursue a friendship with anyone you choose but the intent should not ever be to insult or embarrass someone. I’m sure you would never want your feelings about another parent to be repeated by your child or felt by their child.
Don’t “warn” other moms: This is not your place. Even though you’ve made a conscious decision based on your own moral compass, others might make a different decision and that is okay. Someone might not be your cup of tea, but they will be someone else’s. You are not the friend police. Everyone deserves the chance to make friends. However, if someone comes to you to confide a negative experience, it is okay to share your own. They may need reassurance that they are not overreacting or being mean. They also may need support in creating distance and advice on how you were able to do this.
If you’ve stumbled upon this post, I’m assuming you might be in a difficult friendship and are looking for some advice. I hope that my experience shows you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Remember, it is okay to choose not to be friends with your kids’ friends’ parents; but also, remember to always be kind.
Have you been faced with a toxic friendship? How did this impact your family? What advice would you give to someone in this situation?