What happens when your children find themselves in conflict with the children of friends of yours? How do you handle it? Do you get involved, or do you allow them to try to work through it?
In my experience, this is a tricky area to navigate, and can truly put adult friendships to the test. Let me explain.
For many years, we regularly got together with family friends who had children that were around the same age as my two children. Throughout elementary school, the older two were close friends. Then, they went to middle school and their friendship changed. That’s par for the course, life in middle school. The other mom and I remained friends acknowledging that our older two just grew apart. We honestly separated our friendship from our children. I think this is a very important part of adult relationships.
When the younger two entered high school, their relationship seemed to grow in so many ways, even having a class together.
Knowing this mom so well, I also knew a lot about her daughter. As moms and friends, we tended to share insight into our children. We often spoke about some of the challenges that our children experienced from our own perspective. I knew that they were struggling with how to best support their child, and I understood how painful and challenging this can be.
As the years in high school went on, my daughter did her very best to support her friend and be there for her when she needed help or guidance through different situations. As time went on, my daughter felt like she was always the one giving her time and energy, with nothing in the relationship being returned. She was frustrated and felt like she needed to stand up for herself in order to get out of the friendship what she was putting into it. She decided to share her feelings, so once the school year came to a close, she elected to write a letter. She did this because she felt that she might be too emotional for an in-person discussion, and she wanted to ensure that her message did not come across wrong.
Ironically, the letter that had been intended to clearly outline her thoughts and feelings caused the very misunderstanding she was trying to avoid by doing it this way. The friend was hurt by the letter, which caused more issues between the two.
The scenario came full circle when the mother read the letter and concluded that this was my fault. She felt that because I am a parenting coach, I should not have allowed my daughter to write this letter.
I explained that this was truly about the girls, not about the parents. I suggested that just as we have separated our friendship from that of our children before, we let them work through their issues themselves. She did not agree and insisted that if I had any knowledge of this letter, I should have immediately stopped it, knowing how it might make her child feel. All that I could think of at that moment was “What about my child? What about how my child has been feeling?”.
I tried as best as I could to empathize with this mom. After all, I am a parent too. While it was difficult to change my perspective (that I understand may have been influenced by the knowledge I have gained in my career), I did step back and really try hard to see things from hers. It was extremely challenging.
So, I asked myself the following:
- How is responding to the letter the parent’s responsibility, when the letter was written from one 17-year-old to another?
- Why were our kids not allowed to navigate their friendship themselves?
- Is it my role to stop my almost grown daughter from expressing herself in this manner?
I acknowledged that regardless of what was intended in my daughter’s letter, they interpreted it as hurtful, but I kept coming back to the fact that this was between my daughter and her friend, not my friend and I!
Sadly, this mom (and also dad) did not agree. This time, they were unable to separate our friendship from our children. They believed that I should have done something to stop this from happening and that my role as a parenting coach should have pushed me to stop the letter-writing in its tracks.
Unfortunately, the adult friendship did not continue, and neither did that between our kids.
I share this story with you because I think it is important that we look at our children as sovereign beings: able to navigate life, relationships, pain and hurt in their own way. We should be present as their guides to support them in whatever way we can, but I believe in my kids’ ability to sort these things out themselves. I give them space and room that they need to do so.
As parents, there is so much that we can take away from this story.
I think the first thing is to reflect on your role as a parent.
- Are you responsible for your children’s friendships during the teen years, or any years really?
- If your kids are old enough and responsible enough in relationships, can you allow them to navigate this area?
- How does it make our children feel if we do step in and try to manage this for them? Do you think it would make them feel like they are not capable?