Just Plain Mean
Belinda Carter*, a mother of two in Santa Cruz, CA, still hasn't forgotten the kindergarten classmate who was visibly amused by her daughter's mild speech impediment.
"The girl would mimic Clare and laugh," Carter says. "I spoke to the friend several times, really kindly. First, I tried the 'la-la-la, everyone is different' approach. The next time, I trotted out the old 'lots of people say things in their own way.' Finally, I resorted to snapping, 'Teasing doesn't make friends feel good!'?"
Ultimately, the snapping worked, even though it horrified Carter to hear her voice soaring into a register best heard by dogs. The girl never teased Clare again, at least not in Carter's earshot.
It's not always this easy, though. Andrea Thomas*, a Seattle mom, is watching the collapse of a bond between her 8-year-old daughter, Molly, and a neighborhood kid, who have been friends since they both were 3.
Molly's playmate, Sabrina, can make life hard: She wants to call all the shots when the girls are together. Sometimes, seeming to know it'll upset Molly -- who's an only child -- Sabrina will say she just wants to be alone with her sisters. Other times, she'll flat-out refuse to play. And once while Thomas was walking Molly, Sabrina, and another child home from school, Sabrina whispered into the other friend's ear the entire time without saying a word to Molly. All this added up to make Molly feel like dirt.
"It's really hard when you see your kid go out of the house skipping down the street, only to be rejected for the 400th time," she says. "Her face is like a thundercloud. Sometimes, she'll be almost quivering, and tears will be leaking out."
To make matters more complicated, the girl's parents are good friends with Thomas and her husband -- good friends with wildly different parenting philosophies. "They're Darwinian," Thomas says. "They just want the kids to work it out themselves."
Thomas has little hope of that happening, and she's had a series of tough talks with Molly. She's asked her to think about other kids who might be more fun to play with, and she's had to tell Molly that Sabrina just isn't someone who can be counted on as a friend. The death of a friendship is a tough lesson for anyone, let alone an 8-year-old, but parents sometimes have to help their kids come to terms with this sort of loss.
When we have to witness hard times like these, it's no wonder some of us want to intervene a little more directly. If your child's been repeatedly hurt by a "friend," you may decide to call the other parents. You have to be prepared for them to have the attitude Thomas's friends do, but your best hope for getting them on board is to ask for help, not accuse them of raising a monster. You could say that since the last couple of playdates were so rough (this might be news to them), you were thinking of talking to your child about what it means to be a good friend. Would they do the same?
Because that may or may not get you anywhere, the most important thing to focus on is maintaining control in your own home. Heather Whitfield, the San Francisco mom of the everlasting road trip, had a birthday party for 11-year-old Olivia. One of the kids arrived late with a problem to discuss, so she dragged all the girls into Olivia's bedroom. Whitfield enticed them back out after a while with a snack, but only half the kids emerged. This is when she learned that the girls in the bedroom were gossiping in such a way that some other kids felt uncomfortable.
So she had to put her hands on her hips and assert mom authority to end the toxic rap session. The gossip girl decided she wanted to go home early. "After she left, all the girls had fun," Whitfield says.
The hardest part of not liking your kids' friends, though, may be when it really is just your problem. If your child's happy, and you're the only one negatively affected, you might just need to back off and let the children be friends.
As moms, it's our job to keep perspective on the situation and accept these tricky friendships (and annoying kids!) as part of parenting. As Judy Hsiao says, "I don't like all adults -- so why would I like all children?"
Martha Brockenbrough wrote "Mad at Dad" for Parenting's February issue.