I learned my lesson the hard way years ago: I don’t seek out friendships with my kids’ friends’ parents.
When my son was 9 years old, he befriended two boys whose mothers were close friends. Inevitably we got sucked into their dynamic by accepting a dinner invitation here, a family cookout there, and of course reciprocating. Their families mirrored each other, sharing same gender and age kids, as well as an obsession with sports, partying, and “being cool.”
On more than one occasion I heard one of the moms say, “I’m easy-breezy, so just be cool.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, considering she was not exactly easy-going and loved to be invited over, but never invited me to her home because that entailed cooking and cleaning…
I had very little in common with these moms and my husband had even less in common with their husbands. My then 5-year-old daughter was the youngest and the only girl in the group, and I spent an inordinate amount of time keeping her from walking in on endless vulgarity on YouTube and overhearing profanity. Maybe I’m not cool, but I wasn’t into my young kids using “douchebag” in every sentence.
Extricating ourselves seemed impossible without impacting my son’s relationships, and as a young mom, I attributed disproportionate importance to these friendships, which I believed would last a lifetime. (Don’t laugh. I was young and naive.) To further complicate matters other families became part of this dynamic, which grew into a larger dysfunctional social circle filled with drama: One family lived across the street from another and those two women were true frenemies; one of the guys in the group was another guy’s boss; and the group was vehemently divided along political lines. It just felt like an overgrown sorority and I wanted to de-pledge.
My best friend at the time was part of the group and I couldn’t share my feelings with her. While she was intelligent, well read, and interesting, she actively pursued these shallow friendships, confiding that her son’s acceptance in that group was her primary motivating factor. I didn’t blame her, but I was wrought with anxiety, feeling like there was no escape. As luck would have it, my son started to drift out of the group, and while I could taste my freedom, I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
Declining my first lunch invitation was a challenge, but I was able to pull it off—after all, we were all busy during weekdays. Making an excuse for the next couples night out was a bit trickier and earned me some irate phone calls that started with, “Can’t you just change your plans?” and ended with, “You’re making excuses.” Yup. Take the hint.
The final blow came when I declined an invitation to one of the women’s birthday dinners, but still sent a gift. My so-called-best-friend conducted a full-blown intervention designed to rewire my priorities and bring me back into the fold. By then, my son had started middle school and moved on to new friendships, and I swore to myself that I would never again align my social life with my kids’ friendships.
Today, my social circle is so close-knit that we consider each other a true extended family. We celebrate the Jewish holidays and even Christmas Eve together. Our lives are intertwined in an endless stream of birthdays, potluck dinners, lunches, and happy hours, and a lot of the time we cry together too.
My friends act as surrogate aunts and uncles to my kids, and their kids (of all ages) are more like cousins than friends. None of us expect our children to be best friends with each other, but we do expect that they behave with respect, loyalty, and support towards everyone in our village. (And no, I don’t live on a commune.)
As much as I enjoy an active social life that is separate from my kids, I don’t live in a bubble. Every so often an irresistible new friend comes along, even if she is attached to one of my kid’s friends… And while rules are made to be broken, I still apply a litmus test: Would we be friends if our kids were out of the picture? So I’ve learned my lesson, but I’m also living my life open to new friendships.
So often we tell our kids to trust their gut and see if something feels right—the same should apply to us. I was badly burned all those years ago, but I realize that I could’ve and should’ve seen it coming. I thought I would suck it up for my son’s sake and in the meantime, he moved on. Sometimes our kids teach us our most important lessons.