Can These Friendships Be Saved?
I need some advice.
My husband and I moved to where we live now a few years ago and since then we’ve become fairly well-established in our new little area. He has a wonderful job that he loves, we have a lovely house, we’ve had a cute little baby since moving here, met some nice people who have become very good friends. In short, things are very, very nice here. Very.
With a couple exceptions, which, duh, that’s why I’m writing to you.
Two of the couples we’ve met aren’t exactly our speed and it’s becoming increasingly obvious as our child gets older. One couple has several children and they are very insistent that we do activities with them. On paper, that doesn’t sound bad. We’re parents! It’s good to get out of the house! Except…their children are terrors. The short version is that their child-rearing philosophy does not even come close to meshing with ours. They condone their children hitting each other in the name of “letting them take care of their own conflicts”, while we do not. We agree, siblings should eventually be able to figure out their own conflicts…with their words. We absolutely will not allow hitting, among other things that they do allow. I’m not looking down on their parenting, even though it sounds like I am. It’s just that I don’t want to expose my kid to an environment like that. I don’t want him getting hit and knowing he can’t hit back, even though I know, like most kids, he’d want to.
The other couple is suuuuuuuuper competitive with us. They had a baby about the same time we did and anytime they talk to us, it’s to compare milestones with our kids. My husband and I are super mellow people and refuse to get caught up in that but the implications hurt all the same. These people, too, are gunning for us to do things with them and honestly, the thought of doing that makes me want to poke my eye out with a stick.
How do we politely put our foot down and say we don’t ever want to do anything with you? Do we just keep saying we’re “busy” in the hopes that they catch the hint? Part of what makes this difficult is that the husbands to these wives are co-workers of my husband.
Yep. This is a sticky one. It’s hard to make fellow-parent friends. It’s hard enough to meet POTENTIAL fellow-parent friends sometimes, so the idea of deliberately breaking up with not one, but TWO sets of fellow-parents should be looked at super-close and carefully. You never know when your preferred couples could all get transferred to China and suddenly you find yourself reminiscing about ohhh, they weren’t thaaaaat bad.
That said, I am completely with you on Couple #1. My boys do NOT HIT. They do not hit each other, they do not hit their friends, they do. Not. Hit. And by this I mean hitting is 100% absolutely not tolerated, because face it, all kids WILL hit and push occasionally. Seeing that you allow your children to hit would very likely mean our first playdate is our last. We can all talk laid-back accepting talk about not judging other people’s parenting, but come on. I figure if your parenting would make white-hot rage-y steam come out of the average preschool teacher’s ears, I’m allowed a little judgment.
So. Like most social-based dilemmas, you have two basic options: The direct approach, or the passive-chicken one. The passive-chicken one is the one you mentioned. You brush off invites, you say you are busy, you perhaps accept or issue the occasional token invitation to adults-only functions and activities. The problem with this one is that in your attempt to avoid confrontation and hurt feelings, you can often end up dragging out the hurt because the other couple will sense something is up but be confused about what they did wrong. Eventually, yes, they probably will get the hint…or they’ll call you up and say, “What the HELL, you guys?” and force the direct approach anyway.
And the direct approach is to tell them, the next time they call and propose an activity that involves getting the children together, that you are sorry, but the hitting thing is a dealbreaker. You don’t mention how old your child is — if he’s old enough to be mimicking the behavior and/or you’ve actually seen him mimicking it, they *might* understand. If your son is still a baby, they’ll probably view YOU similar to the way you view Couple #2. High-strung, focused on perfection, sitting up on your parenting high-horse with your ONE little easy baby, blah blah blah.
And speaking of Couple #2…yeah. We’ve all met people like this. You will continue to meet people like this. They will be in almost every playgroup, on every playground, on every PTA board until the end of time. My advice is to learn to stomach these parents now, to learn the art of deflection and changing the subject every time the milestone chart crops up. Sometimes, the milestones come up simply because new parents think that’s what they are supposed to talk about with other new parents. Sometimes they do think we’re all being graded at the pediatricians’ office, but sometimes it’s just plain old social-situation weirdness. Have you tried to connect with this couple beyond the babies babies babies let’s all talk about our babies thing? Getting a sitter together and going to dinner and a movie? Figuring out what they used to talk about with their friends before they became parents? They might simply need time to CHILL OUT and a refresher course on being well-rounded adults.
Or not. They might just be obnoxious, competitive adults who simply found something new to be obnoxious and competitive about. But their child is close in age to yours…sometimes you will need to suck it up and let your child be friends with children whose parents you may not want to spend Friday nights and Saturday afternoons with.
So…I guess that’s my question for you, now. Figure out what you really want to get out of these relationships. It seems like you’re struggling extra-hard because these couples are parents, and parents are supposed to be friends with each other. Which: nah, not really. We are never going to get along with everyone we meet, fellow parents or not. You are never going to agree with 100% of the life choices your friends make, you are never going to get along with 100% of your husband’s coworkers’ wives. This doesn’t change after we have children.
So, if you’re looking for a social life of your own, then yeah. It doesn’t sound like you enjoy hanging out with these couples, particularly Couple #2. We’ve all been there and struggled with the question of whether to make a clean break or go with endless “we’re busy” responses until they get the hint. But if you’re looking for playdates and playmates for your son, you put on a different lens. Couple #2 has a child your son’s age and can give him much-needed peer interaction, a ready-made playmate for preschool, kindergarten, hell, just someone to invite to his birthday party. Keep your interactions with them super-child-focused (and it sounds like they won’t mind that, probably) and you’ll likely be too busy corralling the little ones to listen to their competitive sniping.
As for Couple #1…well, they might not work out that way, unless you can keep the kid-related functions out of their house and in places where the hitting won’t be tolerated. You can certainly lay down the law in your own house, for example. You don’t discipline and rebuke other peoples’ children without permission but you CAN cheerfully explain the “House Rules” to other children once they arrive. Long-term, these children may not be the playmates you want for your son, and that’s absolutely your decision to make when your child is young. But perhaps you like Couple #1 aside from their parenting philosophy. (Or not!) If you do, redirect the friendship onto a more grown-ups only path.
Whatever you do, make sure your husband is on-board and comfortable with it, since it could certainly effect his work environment. Which means I would try VERY HARD to come up with a compromise — playdates at your house only for Couple #1, unless the children continue to break your House Rules, then keep things non-child-focused; some other workable arrangement with Couple #2 that simply makes you want to poke at your arm with a spoon and not a fork to your eye — instead of a full-on friendship flounce.
Published December 2, 2009. Last updated June 26, 2018.