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Heavy Meddle: A Rift Between The Kids Has Parents Feuding

A mother writes in to complain about her friends, who have reacted angrily to a fight between their young daughters. (freemagebank)
A mother writes in to complain about her friends, who have reacted angrily to a fight between their young daughters. (freemagebank)
This article is more than 4 years old.

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions via email. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

Dear Steve,

We have neighbors who have been friends with us over 25 years. Our middle-school daughters have been childhood friends but recently had a falling out. My neighbor’s daughter, Ann, accused my daughter, Sophie, of not including her and making her feel left out.

My daughter felt that she always was forced to hang out with Ann, who always looked to Sophie to make her new friends. Ann is painfully shy and makes no effort to make friends but expected my daughter to call her up every time she had a play date at our house. When the girls started to drift, her parents demanded that my daughter, Sophie, apologize to their daughter for making her feel left out.

Should we still try to call the parents or just call it a day on this long friendship?

They also demanded that Sophie apologize to both of them, the parents, as well. I told the mom that Sophie would not be apologizing to Ann's parents, as that was inappropriate. My daughter did text Ann that she was sorry she felt left out and that they should still be friends. Ann just responded by text that she didn't know who my daughter had become.

After that, the parents and Ann have given us the cold shoulder. The parents won't answer our phone calls and have advised their daughter to ignore Sophie when she says hello or tries to talk to her. Should we still try to call the parents or just call it a day on this long friendship?

I'm actually shocked at their behavior and never thought they would treat us like this. I talked to Ann's mom who accused me of condoning "mean girl" behavior. She said that they always had our back and that our friendship must not mean much to them. I told her to please let the girls work this out and not to take this so personally. It's been two weeks and still no return phone call from the parents.

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Let me know your thoughts. And thank you for your help!

Fighting to Avoid a Family Feud

Dear Fighting,

Oy. This is an extremely complicated and sensitive situation, with a whole set of delicate friendships hanging in the balance and a lot of bruised feelings. I agree with your statement that, in general, kids should be allowed to work things out on their own, without intervention from parents. Why? Because kids need to learn how to work things out on their own and because most of the time they do so more effectively without the complicating dynamics of parental concern. In my own experience as a parent, over-involvement can be damaging as negligence.

Having said that, I feel duty-bound to point out that if I’d received this letter from Ann’s mother, it would read very differently. I say this because even within your letter there seems to be a discrepancy in how the two families view this rift. You suggest that Ann and Sophie “started to drift.” But Ann’s family clearly view this as more of a unilateral withdrawal, and one in which your daughter behaved in a needlessly cruel manner (“mean girl” behavior).

there seems to be a discrepancy in how the two families view this rift.

As you portray the situation, your daughter was tired of trying to sustain a friendship with a painfully shy peer. That’s fair enough, frankly. She shouldn’t have to be friends with another girl out of family obligation. If you are completely convinced that your daughter has withdrawn from this friendship in a sensitive manner, her apology by text may be sufficient, although frankly, even accounting for generational mores, apologizing by text doesn’t feel especially heartfelt.

I’m a bit confused as to why your estranged friends wanted an apology from Sophie as well. This suggests that they are overly involved in the life of their daughter, ready not just to take up for her but to take umbrage. And that — along with their instructions to their daughter to ignore your daughter and their response to your overtures — suggest that they are too angry at the moment for reconciliation. So it may be that waiting a little while for things to cool down makes sense.

The real question is whether Ann’s parents feel it’s possible to have a friendship regardless of how your daughters get along. I certainly hope they feel that way.

before you cut ties with your friends entirely, I’d try to imagine what they must be feeling, as parents to a 'painfully shy' child.

But as a parent, I know how painful it can be to see a child struggle socially. So before you cut ties with your friends entirely, I’d try to imagine what they must be feeling, as parents to a “painfully shy” child. Imagine that your Sophie felt cast aside by another girl who she admired. It would be hard not to feel angry and confused, no?

I’m not offering a justification for their behavior. I’m simply trying to get you to consider why Ann’s parents are taking this all so personally.

Ultimately, you’ll have to make a decision about how much their friendship means to you, and how hard you’re willing to work to keep it alive. Strong friendships — and this one has been going for 25 years! — should be able to survive some rocky times. But only if all parties are willing to lower their defenses and speak more honestly about the disappointment and sadness that always lives behind grievance and rage.

I wish you clarity and courage.

Steve

Author's note: Okay guys, you’re up! Any specific ideas for Fighting? Or perhaps some broader advice? Go for it in the comments section below. And by all means send a letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A.

Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast, Dear Sugar.

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