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When Your Child’s...

When Your Child’s Friendships Don’t Work

It’s the worst feeling in the world. Your child has developed a friendship that’s not in his best interests. Sometimes your child becomes fascinated by the class “bad boy” (I’m using the male gender, as I have two sons). Other times, it’s not that your kid is good and the other is bad; it’s just that sometimes children don’t mix well. It’s like a bad cocktail. The ingredients work well in other drinks, just not together. This situation is especially awkward if you happen to be friends with the parents.

Here’s the opposite scenario: you like your child’s friend just fine, but not the parents. I’ve faced situations where the parents are rude, exhibit questionable behavior, and/or are too permissive. In some cases, I’ve even felt my kids were in harm’s way.

So what’s the best way to deal with these situations? You don’t want to offend another parent, and you don’t want to end on a note that leaves an awkward feeling, as you’re sure to run into them again. But you must step out of your comfort zone and do what’s best for your child. I have handled this situation three distinct ways, each with different results.

Direct Confrontation/Clean Break
My son developed a friendship in fourth grade with another neighborhood boy who happened to also be a classmate. This kid, as everyone knew, was the “bad boy” i.e. he was frequently disruptive and sent to principal’s office. The parents seemed nice enough, but both had big, full-time jobs and one got the impression that the kids were often left to their own devices.

That spring, the friendship moved to a new level when the boy happened to be on my son’s little league team. After every weekend practice, my son would want to go to this child’s house or have him come to our house. I was wary of this child and wasn’t crazy about having him over, but they begged and I caved.

On the child’s first visit to our home, he and my son went into his older brother’s room and emptied out all his drawers and placed all the clothes and other things in between his bedding, under the bed and in the closet. It was a terrible mess that took a long time to clean up. On the child’s second visit here, I found him in the backyard showing my son how to remove a beer cap with butter knife.

I called the mother and told her that this would be the last play date between our boys. I told her it just wasn’t a productive combination. Since my son had never done anything like this before, I could only conclude that this child was not a good influence on him and perhaps vice versa! The mother acted surprise that her son would misbehave and began making excuses but I held my ground.

In all honestly, it was a really uncomfortable conversation and we’ve had numerous awkward moments in the ensuing years. But it was the right decision. The boy’s behavioral issues from what I hear have apparently continued

Avoid Confrontation/Phase Out Gradually
I’ve always had a soft spot for single mothers. I was raised by one and I know how tough is to raise a family alone while working full-time. So, when my son befriended a child with a single mother, even though she was s little “rough around the edges” and had a reputation of being downright nasty at school, I was happy to help out. “Johnny needs a ride home? No worries. Johnny forgot to bring cupcakes to the class party? I’ll dash out and get some. Johnny needs to be picked up for play date at his apartment in Pacoima? I’ll do it.” The friendship went on for a couple of years like that.  

It wasn’t easy. The woman seemed to have a different boyfriend every time I saw her and she always had a cigarette in her hand. Those were some of the reasons I insisted all the play dates be at our home. She was offended and told me so several times.

Things coasted for a while, but I was constantly was forced to over look the mother’s below the board behavior. She would speed through the school carpool line and when someone casually gestured for her to slow down, she would famously flip them the bird and shout obscenities. You get the picture—right?

However, the play dates kept getting worse. At first, she’d be an hour late for pick-up. Then, two hours late and then three. Finally one weekend the boy came home with us for a Friday night sleepover and she was supposed to pick him up Saturday afternoon. She finally showed up Sunday at 5 p.m. with not so much as a phone call, saying she’d decided to spend the weekend with a boyfriend. The following week I received an apology note but I was done. I never spoke to that mother again and I made a concerted effort to gradually phase out the friendship.  

Would it have better to have a final conversation with the mother? Perhaps—but I knew that she would behave in an ugly manner. However, I was upfront with my son. I told him that I would no longer deal with the mother—only the grandmother. So if my son wanted to have the boy over when he was with the grandmother every other weekend – that was fine but otherwise there would be no play dates. This decision, in many ways, left me feeling sad. I hated to punish or hurt the boy for his mother’s bad behavior. But it was the way it had to be.

Subtle Conversation/Clean Break
In another situation, one of my sons befriended another boy in his class and, again, both parents worked. After school the boy was in the care of his nanny. I liked the mother and, since we were both in entertainment-related businesses, we enjoyed dishing on the industry. But while we were seemingly simpatico on our industry views, we differed when it came to parenting.

After one play date, when my son was about eight, he came home and said he’d watched an R-rated movie. I called the mom and she confirmed it was true. She and her husband let their kids watch R-rated movies. I asked that she instruct the nanny not to let that happen when my son was visiting. She agreed.

About a year later, when my son was nine-years-old he came home from a play date telling he he’d walked to the nearby Blockbuster with his friend and the friend’s ten-year-old brother to rent a movie alone, without the nanny. I couldn’t believe it! The Blockbuster was more than mile from the house on a busy six-lane road. I asked the nanny about it the next day at school. She confirmed it was true. I called the mom and told her that I was upset about what had happened. She said she didn’t know they had walked to Blockbuster alone. In this conversation, without directly saying it, I basically gave her the message that the play dates at her home did not work for us. My husband and I agreed that their style of parenting was simply too permissive for us. If they let their kids watch R-rated movies at eight, what will they let them do at thirteen?

My son never visited that child at his home again and, once again, I vowed to gradually phase out the friendship. For the next three or four invitations my son received, I simply said that my son was busy. She finally got the message and stopped calling. It was a bummer as I considered myself friends with this woman and we were in the same social circle. I would have preferred to be more direct but there was just no way to communicate my feelings without offending her.

Just to clarify, I’m not saying I’m always right about my conclusions regarding my kids’ friendships. Some of the friendships they’ve had with kids I’ve not been crazy about have lasted, and the friends have turned out fine. I realize there’s such a thing as a “rough patch” with children and that kids need to be forgiven for poor behavior.  But there are certain situations that feel completely wrong and merit action. And in those situations, I’ve learned it’s best to be direct, without offending if possible. If you can’t be direct and must resort to some subtle maneuvering, so be it. In any case, listen to your mother’s intuition, stick to your gut and ultimately do what’s best for your child. When it comes to parenting, instinct and conviction are paramount.

Originally published on SheSez

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