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We've been friends for several years with a couple that have a daughter in the same elementary school as our daughter. The girls are classmates and have been close. Recently, however, our daughter has had a falling-out with the classmate, finding her to be controlling. It came to a head when the friend, having a tantrum over an unrelated matter at school, shoved our little girl, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Now our daughter wants nothing to do with the other girl, who has also hit other children when she's angry. We've supported our daughter, and believe it's important to help her make good decisions about friends. But we still occasionally socialize with the parents, who continue to ask for play dates.
Should we level with them about the children, while stressing we still want to be friends? The parents have had a tough year — unrelated to their daughter — so we want to be supportive. We worry that too much honesty about their child might rupture our friendship.
I feel you. This is a really delicate situation. My wife and I have struggled as parents with similar dynamics — and we’ve been on both sides. You’re asking just the right question here: should we tell our friends about our daughter’s feelings?
My verdict would be a qualified yes. I do think it’s better to level with them about your daughter’s feelings than to withhold the truth. Why? Because withholding will probably result in them continuing to ask for play dates, and you guys continuing to bob and weave, and them feeling confused and eventually resentful.
I put probably in italics, though, because I don’t know these folks, or your relationship. If you think there’s a realistic possibility that they’ll eventually realize that your daughters aren’t close anymore and stop asking for play dates without taking umbrage, I could see an argument for discretion as the better part of valor.
But my take is that candor almost always beats avoidance, because when important truths are withheld, tensions almost always mount. The unspoken isn’t unfelt.
...my take is that candor almost always beats avoidance, because when important truths are withheld, tensions almost always mount. The unspoken isn’t unfelt.
That being said, it’s crucial to deliver the truth sensitively, especially because these folks are no doubt already feeling self-conscious about their daughter’s behaviors, and how they’ve affected her peer relationships.
So I’d take the long view on this. Rather than saying, “I’m sorry, but our daughter wants nothing to do with your daughter,” I’d say something more like, “Our daughter was upset by this incident and wants to take a break for a little while. And we want to respect her feelings on that.”
As a rule, kids do best when they have the time and space to work out their own relationships. This truth often gets lost in the midst of our current parenting culture, which I would characterize, broadly, as overly involved. These two may find a way back to one another. Or they may form other friendships. They both need support, and the space necessary to make their own decisions.
What’s important to emphasize to these parents is that you value their friendship, and want to be able to offer them support — especially given the rough year they’re having — regardless of your children. After all, parents also need to be able to develop friendships that aren’t contingent on their children’s.
One other quick thought. My wife and I have come to realize that our best play as parents is almost always to listen as much as possible, and instruct as little as possible. That’s probably the approach to take with your friends, as well — to offer them a sympathetic ear, so the focus is on their feelings (and your own) rather than your daughters’.
Based on your letter, it’s clear you and your spouse are compassionate souls.
Trust your gut and go forth with courage,
Author's note: As I said, we’ve been on both sides of this dilemma as parents. It’s hard not to get involved. But kids tend to work out their own stuff, and it’s us parents who should follow that example. What do you fellow parents think? Please use the comments section to send along your counsel. And when you’re done with that, send along letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can 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.
Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.
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