I Like You: It's Your Kid I Can't Stand
When you become a parent, you enter not only into the world of children, but also the parents of your children's friends, their teachers, sports coaches and the tangled web these networks weave.
But there's another side too: knowing the parents first, before meeting their children. Getting on really well with a co-worker, neighbor or parent you talk to in the pick-up line outside school often leads to that (way overused) word: playdate.
"Hey! We get along so well, we have so much in common and our kids the same age! Let's all get together!"
What an excellent idea - until you partake in said playdate and realize that your good friends kid is, well, not so good.
You want to compliment the child. But when your friend talks about much he loves school and hanging out with all the new friends in his class, you shake your head and wonder how she didn't just see him grab your child's toy as soon as he looked away. She natters on about the great discipline and respect he has learned taking Karate lessons and you're irritated that he never says please or thank you when you give him something. This fabulous little kid spent the playdate being a smart-mouth, pushing your kids and threw his snack on the floor you just washed. Then walked on it. (And you know he did that on purpose. You could see it in his eyes.) He had a great time. Your kids couldn't wait to see the back of him.
Then comes the big, awkward moment. Oblivious to her precious angel's terror campaign against your own kids - your friend had a great time and is suggesting next Thursday at her place. "Let's do this again!"
If Junior is like this in your house, what's he going to be like when he's on his own turf? You wonder if a secret camera tucked inside your kids collar will be needed to make sure he's not in a headlock as Precious Angel shouts out from upstairs that they're having a great time.
Your husband says no to any further playdates but you know you're a bit stuck. You really value the friendship with P.A.'s mom but you can't stand him. How do you maintain the friendship while removing the kids from the whole scenario?
You can do something really close to the truth – tell her that you don’t think your kids are a good match. They like different stuff and are busy with other activities and maybe the playdates aren’t such a good idea. But you definitely want to keep up your friendship with her – carpooling to exercise class, talking on the phone and heading off on for a night out on the town. If your friend is smart (and you get on well, so she probably is) she’ll correctly translate that as “I like you – it’s your kid I can’t stand.” And if she does, the friendship might come to a polite standstill. No mom wants to know that someone else thinks Precious Angel is a pain in the tuckus. He’s a part of her and insulting him is insulting her. But you’re a mom too, and you’re taking a stand and not allowing P.A. to throttle your kids anymore, all in the name of fun. You’re even a bit angry at your friend. What, is she blind? She really thought that he didn’t mean to take all the toys away and then break one when told to give it back? She didn’t hear her kid smart- mouth you when you ask him not to jump on the sofas?
The truth is that a white lie might be the best option. Don’t initiate playdates and if she does, your kids are busy or they’re tired. If you all happen to meet at the rec center or park, watch the interactions with an eagle eye and consider it a playdate, albeit it a short and accidental one. Ideally, you want to put your internal dialogue out there. You're rehearsed it in your head. “Friend, your kid is a bit mean. And my kids just don’t like him and I’m sorry but he is not welcome anymore.” Although you wish she could open her eyes a little more and discipline her kid, you don’t see through her eyes and you don’t get it. If push comes to shove, tell her you don’t think your mutual kids are such a great match. No harm, no foul – just not a pairing that works. No examples needed, it’s just not a match. Don't give in to playdates.
One important note: if her child is physically touching or ver bally taunting your kid - tell your friend. It doesn't matter how awkward it feels - don't be a pushover, all in the name of diplomacy. Her kid might end up really hurting someone one day if she really doesn't see what's going on. Being a parent to your child is far more important than being a friend to someone else. If this causes the friendship to end - so be it.
So seriously – don’t make your kid play with your friend’s kid, just because someday they might get along or because it’s otherwise too awkward. How would you like if your husband insisted you hang out with his buddy’s wife – the one who wears skintight leopard pants with Lucite heels and talks about Spencer and Heidi all evening? I didn’t think so either. So don’t do the same thing to your kids. Separate by the kindest means possible and do your best to cultivate the friendship you hold dear. It might be tricky, but it can be done.