What happens when you love a friend, but you can’t stand how your children interact with each other? When, once, when you asked your child if he wanted to go over and play, you saw his eyes well up with tears for just a second before looking away and saying, “sure”? When you spend half of your time breaking up the kids’ fights instead of gossiping and talking about books like you want? What happens to that friendship?
You choose your kid — that’s maybe what happens. Things get weird — that’s maybe what happens. Feelings get hurt. Ghosting happens. Life goes on. Maybe nothing you wanted to say ever gets said because you’re a chicken shit. It’s painful and not what you’d hoped for. But when you have to choose, you probably choose your kid.
Can you tell I’ve been there?
My child is a sensitive, empathy-driven marshmallow of a person. He doesn’t mesh with everyone, and that’s okay. I can’t and won’t force him to be someone he is not or be thrown together with people who make him uncomfortable. He has his whole life to deal with people who make him uncomfortable. I don’t need to make his childhood that way too.
The kids are the exact same age, and when they were babies and toddlers, our friendship was perfect. Babies and toddlers are wild beasts without manners, and they hardly noticed each other anyway. It didn’t matter if they liked each other or not. My friend and I liked each other and couldn’t believe our luck. We worked. We meshed well. We could talk about anything. We could cook together while drinking wine and talk about the craziness of husbands and the torture of being a writer and just…everything.
It was awesome.
But then, the kids started getting bigger, older. It became obvious to me that they were different from each other. I saw how one child’s dominant personality could bulldoze over the other kid who just wanted everyone to like him. I saw my kid give up over and over again. I saw his head hang and his shoulders droop as he followed directions. Afterwards, we would talk and role-play scenarios, and he would practice standing up for himself, and then I would watch him give up again and again — looking defeated, sad, insecure.
So when I see my former friend in town — because that’s what she is now — I look away quickly when she catches my eye. I know why. She might not know why, but how do you say: “Your kid and my kid? They just didn’t work. My child cried almost every single time they hung out together. He has never once asked to play with him. He would get this look in his eye when I asked if he wanted to go over and play. A look that made my stomach drop because he is a marshmallow, and he’s pliable, and he’d just go because I asked him because he never wants to disappoint me. But that look gave him away. It was a look that said, ‘Please don’t make me, but I won’t tell you that out loud.’ And because I never ever want to see that look on his face, I stopped.” That’s one of those messages that no mother wants to receive, and while there are two sides to every story, I had already decided at that point to draw boundaries on behalf of my child.
I stopped calling. I stopped returning messages. I stopped the weekend barbecues with our families and the playdates and the hikes and the girls’ nights. I stopped recommending books and popping by to say hi. I stopped being a friend.
I just stopped. I ghosted.
Our friendship was easy and too brief, and I’m sorry. But I couldn’t see that look on my child’s face anymore. I couldn’t see that look and know that I could do something about it and just keep pushing him because I needed my friend time.
I still question myself, but when kids don’t mesh because sometimes they don’t, do you force them to be together, night after night, day after day because you want to still be friends with their parents? I don’t know. I think sometimes siblings don’t mesh and they still have to live together. I think maybe this will teach him how to get along with people who aren’t like him. I think maybe they will grow and change, and things will be different. I think I’m being too dramatic. But then I remember how he clenched his jaw and chewed his nails and peeled back the edges of shirts, and I think, I don’t care about anything but him.
I care that he feels confident enough to tell me when he feels uncomfortable and let me know his boundaries, and I refuse to betray his trust. So I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s not me, but we can’t be pals.