It’s only natural to want to be chummy with the parents of your kids’ friends, especially if your child spends a lot of time with her little pal. But just because the wee ones enjoy each other’s company doesn’t mean the moms and dads have to. (Of course, until your kid starts having playdates at friends’ homes without you needing to tag along, you’ll have to at least be cordial.)
“It’s your job to make sure your kid is safe in another parent’s presence and home,” says family therapist Joanna Seidel. “But parents don’t have to have an active relationship with their kids’ friends’ parents.”
The good news is that there are gracious ways to get around being BFFs with your kid’s BFF’s parents. Here’s how.
It’s about the kids
Maybe you can’t stand Noah’s dad because he’s arrogant and opinionated, or Ava’s mom gets under your skin because her politics are anathema to you and she’s forever flirting with your husband. If the reasons you don’t like the other parents are like these — pretty benign in the grand scheme of things — let the kids be buddies and just steer clear of the parents as much as possible. “It’s important to put your feelings of dislike on the back burner so your child can develop an independent, healthy relationship with their friend without your interference and judgment,” Seidel says.
Kathy Eugster, a child and family counsellor, agrees that it’s sometimes best for parents to let their kids form a bond with other kids, regardless of whether or not the adults in the family rub you the wrong way. If you’re consistently dodging dinner invitations, or you screen calls to avoid awkward conversations, Eugster says parents can tactfully set boundaries around interaction with the other adult, such as limiting phone calls. “If the mom calls you and wants to chat, tell her: ‘I’m really busy for the next few weeks so I won’t be able to talk. I’ll call you when I’m not as busy.’” Hopefully she’ll eventually get the hint.
(Of course, if you dislike another parent because of real safety issues, such as drug or alcohol abuse in the home, it’s best to remove both yourself and your child from the relationship, and think about contacting authorities on behalf of your kid’s friend if you’re really concerned).
Practise what you preach
We’re always nagging our kids to remember their manners, to be friendly and not to judge their peers. Parents should lead by example. “I would advise parents to try to maintain a functional, courteous and civil relationship with the other parent,” says Seidel. Adults should also refrain from saying anything negative or rude about the other family in front of the kids. “If the other parent has done something obviously inappropriate that you visibly disagree with, you could explain to your kids that their behaviour is ill-mannered,” says Eugster. “For example, if the other parent was swearing at a referee at your child’s soccer game, you could tell your kids: ‘It’s not OK for Mr. Brown to swear at the referee.’ “Parents should come to the game to cheer the team on.” Eugster says you could consider confronting the other parent with your issues, but there’s the definite possibility that they’ll have hurt feelings and you might ruin the relationship between the kids.
If you don’t want to risk ending your kid’s friendship, set some rules you’re comfortable with and explain (without badmouthing) the situation to your child. Kim Moore* doesn’t like her 10-year-old son Eric’s friend’s parents because she can’t trust them. “They are never on time for playdates, they don’t follow through with plans and they’ve let people who I don’t know drive my kid. I started feeling uncomfortable having Eric at their house,” she says. So she made a few changes. “Eric now knows that I will always be the one to drive them, and Jacob* is always welcome at our house. I’ve done my best to explain it and tiptoe around the real issue. We have his friend over all the time; so far the kids’ friendship hasn’t suffered due to my feelings about his parents.”
*Names have been changed to protect young friendships.
An original version of this article was published in our August 2012 issue with the title “Friendly Foes,” pp. 72-3.