We’ve all had to do it. We’ve all had the friend with That Kid.
I don’t mean the difficult kid, the one with ADHD who throws pinecones and has trouble understanding boundaries. I don’t mean the child on the autism spectrum, who has trouble with blurting things out that make people uncomfortable. Or the kid with sensory processing disorder who melts down when confronted with everyday experiences. Those kids have their own struggles, and need grace and space from all of us.
I mean the kid who’s just a plain asshole. That kid.
I’ve lost two of my good friends because their kids turned out to be, well, assholes. They were both That Kid. They revealed themselves slowly, those kids, with behavior you could excuse until you suddenly couldn’t. In one case, a kid threw a rock at my son’s head. As a joke. His forehead ran blood and he screamed and my friend talked us out of what should have been a trip to the hospital for stitches, something I feel guilty about to this day. It’s left a scar. We saw him again when his mother unexpectedly brought him to the park. He told my son he was wearing “girl jeans” and laughed, which made him burst into tears. He hit my kids with sticks and blamed it on the other kid. We were so done.
And yet how do you tell your friend you can’t hang out any more? That their baby, whom they adore, is someone my kid now calls his worst enemy? I didn’t want to lose this friend. I valued her companionship; I cared about her. But in the end, I just ghosted. It was hard. It sucked. But it turned out to be the best thing anyway — she was hiding some serious issues of her own that popped into the open not long after, in a criminal fashion. But still.
What do you do?
I’m facing this again and I’m at more of a loss this time. Because it’s not so clear. It’s not so easy as rock-throwing. A kid throws massive tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Like throw-down, screaming-fit, world-ending tantrums. They come seemingly out of nowhere and are always directed at one of my sons in particular. He yells in his face. He screams at him and tells him he’s a monster. He stomps his feet at him. My son, luckily, remains mostly baffled in the face of this behavior and walks away. But you can tell it bothers him. You can tell it annoys him and he’s said that he doesn’t want to see this friend anymore. He’s not nice, but he’s not so clearly That Kid.
But I love his mother to pieces. She’s one of the very few moms I can talk to, one of the few moms I really like and connect with. I don’t want to ghost her. I don’t feel like, out of kindness and respect for our friendship, I should do that. Do I owe her an explanation this time?
If so, what do I say?
There’s no script for this, no “Hey, sorry, my kid can’t play with yours anymore because your kid’s behavior is having a detrimental effect on his well-being.” There’s no way to say, “I don’t like the way your kid acts and I don’t want him around my children.” You can’t look a friend in the face and say, “I don’t want your kid around mine.”
Because they hear, your kid is a bad kid. You are a bad parent. He is That Kid.
And maybe that’s not the case. Let’s give some grace here. Maybe this tantrum-throwing kid and my son just do not mesh with each other and he doesn’t throw tantrums like this for others. Maybe he does, and it’s a systemic problem his mom is aware of and mortified about, but doesn’t know how to cope with. I don’t know how to ghost her. But I cannot find the words to tell her we can’t hang out without saying, “Your kid is an asshole.” Because maybe her kid is not. And no one wants to say those words to a friend. No one.
Even if they happen to be true.
So I’m in line to lose another friend, probably by ghosting. Because in this situation that’s really all you can do. Drop them and move on. Your kids will be happy about it. You won’t, but you have to suck it up. Your kids’ well-being comes first, after all. Even if it does cost you a friend. Even if it does sting when you see her later, at a big playdate, and there’s hurt in her eyes and you know she’s wondering why you haven’t called. Even then. It’s worth it, you’ll remind yourself. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
And it doesn’t mean you don’t hurt too.