Care and Feeding

My Neighbor Turned Into a Complete Monster Over a Parking Spot

I feel very afraid of continuing to live here.

Woman looking out from the window of her car.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by aarestt/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We live in a new community with lots of different neighbors with kids. I am a mom of two, my eldest is six and I am caring for (and breastfeeding) my youngest, who is six months, while working part-time as well. I have a neighbor who has become somewhat of a friend; our kids sometimes have playdates together. We have similar careers and have shared conversations over coffee several times. She is a chosen single mom of one.

Recently she lost her temper with me at a neighborhood gathering while my kids were there, calling me “untrustworthy” and “chaotic.”

I was supposed to let another neighbor know about an upcoming opportunity to rent our extra parking spot, which are hard to get around here. My partner and I felt uncomfortable by the constant prodding over the spot and in the end, it went to someone else. The neighbor felt terribly aggrieved by me.

I was discussing this with my “friend” when she started piling on with insults about why I was in the wrong, saying that she has known me for a year but doesn’t trust me at all, and that she wouldn’t trust me to be there to care for her child if needed. I felt very hurt by her words, and explained myself. I have ADHD and significant trauma, and I have long COVID, which severely increased my neurological problems. Also, this neighbor’s request for the parking spot came during a horrific month of a series of mishaps: stomach flu, sick co-workers, and no family at all to support us, all while my husband works a terribly demanding job. Also, our day care isn’t going as it should. My mental health was significantly declining, and keeping my neighbor informed about this parking spot simply wasn’t my priority.

The “friend” later wrote in an email that all my circumstances were just excuses; I am the problem and I’m not taking responsibility for things the way I should. She accused me of flaking on playdates—but as far as I know, I’ve never shown up for any formal playdates with her child. Her kid often wanders around the neighborhood alone, and she would come by here to play. Also, the “friend” referred to a volunteer task that I would do before I fell ill with COVID. When the volunteer task came up again, nobody approached me for it because they knew I had a 3-month-old newborn by that time. I’m working as part of reintegration now because of my health issues.

I feel very attacked, obviously, and I feel very afraid of continuing to live here. I worry she might be gossiping behind my back now. She has also written that she wants to end our connection, which is totally fine by me. I wrote back with a gentle reply, acknowledging some of the faults she’d addressed and wishing her well. I am not a perfect person by any means, but am I right in finding her personal attacks very intense? I am very hurt by them because I am in such a vulnerable position right now. I trusted her as a friend before. How should I deal with meeting with her in the street and remaining part of the community in which she’s quite an active organizer of events and stuff like that? How should I negotiate my child’s position in the neighborhood since her child is one of their playmates?

— What Did I Do

Dear W.D.I.D.,

This woman sounds like a real piece of work. However, it also sounds like you have far more pressing things on your plate to handle right now, and you would be better served by focusing on yourself and your family than to give much more time over to this person and her drama.

While I understand being concerned that she may be gossiping about you, I think it is unlikely that she could lash out on you the way that she did while keeping that side of herself a total secret from the rest of the neighbors—in other words, I’m pretty sure you aren’t the only one who knows she’s an asshole. Please do your best not to internalize the harsh things that she said; sure, we all have our faults, but you know the difference between being called out and being needlessly shamed for things that didn’t actually happen. You didn’t deserve to be treated this way, you have been very transparent about your challenges, and that she chose to include them in her attack on you says volumes about what kind of person she is: someone whose approval should mean very little to you.

As far as navigating your interactions with her, be a polite neighbor and kill her with kindness while keeping your interactions as limited as possible. It’s fine for your children to play with one another—you want to be able to attend neighborhood events without drama—but there is no need for the two of you to go to coffee or sit together while the kids run around. If she attempts to schedule something (which sounds unlikely, but she is clearly a wild card), always be too busy to be alone with her. Hopefully, she’ll have a mind to apologize for going off on you. If she does, you can graciously accept without allowing her back into your life in any significant way. Be polite, be distant.

If you aren’t doing so already, I strongly urge you to speak to a therapist about how you’re feeling and what you’re dealing with. There’s a lot going on for you, and we can all use some support during these difficult times. All the best to you, I hope things improve soon.

— Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

My 9-year-old daughter has had a tumultuous relationship with a friend for the last four or so years. The intensity has always confused me, but this year their fights have become more extreme. My advice has been to try to cool off the friendship gently. However, my daughter feels very drawn to this friend, and apparently her friend feels the same because they can’t seem to stay apart. They are not in the same class but both attend after-school care so it’s about 10 hours a week together. Should I suggest that my daughter be “busy” or want to do something else when approached? Be direct that their friendship isn’t working? Go back to being friends and work harder on problem-solving? I feel that both girls have been unkind to each other, and I want the drama to end.