Why We Won't Be Friends

by Katherine Finchley
Originally Published: 
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It seems like we should be friends, doesn’t it? We live in the same neighborhood, our kids are the same age, and we even had on the same top last week. It was fun bumping into each other while we were walking our dogs. We share the same views on so many things, and I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

You seemed surprised when I bolted after you suggested meeting up for regular walks. I’m sorry if I seemed rude.

It really would be great to go on regular walks with you and for our sons to play together and have fun like you also suggested. You’re smart, compassionate and a great mom. But we won’t be friends, and here’s why: your kid is neurotypical and my kid is not.

I know you’d be angry if you heard that spoken out loud and I would never come right out and say it. You’d think I wasn’t giving you a chance to show that you’re a decent, non-judgmental person. But I already know you are. I see how you encourage your children to help other kids. I know where that anonymous donation to the youth center came from. You’re amazing and it makes me happy to know that people like you still exist.

But we won’t be friends. As great as you are and as much as you’re teaching your son about compassion, he’s still a kid. And as much as I’m trying to help my son navigate the world, he’s still That Kid. There are too many differences that separate our kids, and those same differences make our friendship a no-go.

It’s hard enough for me to understand all of my son’s challenges. It’s almost impossible for someone not living in the special needs world to get it. Intellectually, you’d understand. But the mama in you would not. The second my son would start melting down, every instinct in you would kick in to get your kids as far away as possible. I hear you. It’s scary. But whether you realized it or not, you’d look at me differently the next time you saw me, wondering where this chaos came from and why I can’t fix it. I’m used to these looks from strangers, but I don’t want to see them from a friend.

And on my side, I’d understand intellectually that your son isn’t being rude to my son. He’s just too young to know how to handle the concept of difference with anything but brutal honesty. But I’d still feel sad when your son hurt my son. In my mind I’d know it’s not your fault just as you’d know my son’s actions aren’t mine. But our hearts belong to our children. That hurt would be between us when I saw you next.

Please don’t think I don’t appreciate the gift of friendship. I do, and I count myself lucky to have incredible people in my life. I’ve got my childhood and college besties with decades of shared memories that kids could never unravel. I’ve got my group of special needs mamas, and I tell you with no exaggeration that I don’t know where I’d be without them. Being in the trenches together forges some unbreakable bonds.

In theory, our friendship could be a lovely lesson in differences and a teaching moment for our kids. In reality, it’s too much to expect young children to handle something even adults struggle with. It doesn’t seem right, I know. But I’ve been through this rodeo before and I already know how it plays out. Maybe when our lives aren’t so centered around children, when the kids are older and settled, it could work. But for now, I bid you farewell, my almost-friend.

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