Care and Feeding

My Kid Is on a Mission to Ruin My Relationship With My Best Friend

Why is she suddenly acting like this?

A 4-year-old kid making a rude face.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Slate Plus members get more Care and Feeding every week.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My friend and I had kids at the same time. The girls are now 4.5 years old. They played together all the way through the first part of the pandemic. This past year, they went to different preschools, but my friend and I still got together with our kids every couple of weekends. A few months ago, my daughter was having a rough day while we were all on a walk, and she rejected her friend. She was quite mean about it, too! I reacted strongly in the moment and my friend was upset too.

Since then, it’s been hit or miss with the kids: My daughter will be fine initially, but at some point during the playdate, she will say she wants to play by herself, which upsets her friend. Her mom, who is one my closest friends, stays chill and tells then to figure it out themselves. But I get really stressed! I TRY to play it cool, but both girls seem to sense my emotions and come to me to referee. I try not to, but it’s hard. My daughter isn’t being super rude, but she will say, “I want alone time” or “I don’t want to play right now.” Honestly, I feel like she is testing me. But I still don’t know how to react! Today, for example: I told her we were going to get together with my friend and her daughter, and my daughter said she wants to go but doesn’t want to play with the daughter! Do we still go? Do I interfere if my daughter won’t play? Do I let them figure it out? I really love my friend and don’t want to lose her over this!

— Second-Generation BFFs?

Dear Second-Gen BFFs,

I hate to break it to you, but your kid seems to have reached the stage of wanting to choose her own friends. You can continue to force her to spend time with your close friend’s kid and either insist that she play with her, let them “figure it out” (which is not going to be fun for your friend’s child, and is a lot to ask of your own), or accept that the kids are going to engage in parallel play—which is going to be a problem if only one of them enjoys that “alone time.” Alternatively, you can separate your relationship with your friend from the relationship of convenience between the two children—which worked perfectly well when they were younger but has now ceased to work—and make plans to meet her while the kids are otherwise occupied. I’d go with Option 2 for sure.

If you’re afraid your friend will be deeply insulted by this, there are two possible courses of action there, too: One is to be completely honest with her, noting that—alas—the kids are growing up and have their own ideas about how to play and who to play with, that this day was bound to come; the other is to be only half-honest. You can tell her it’s more fun for you to see her without the kids present. And of course, right now, this is absolutely true, isn’t it? If the whole situation between the children is stressing you out?

Michelle

More Advice From Slate

My 13-year-old son will not stop sneaking up behind me and scaring me. He thinks it is hilarious. But I have PTSD and do not find this entertaining. I’ve told him sternly to stop, I’ve tried having more heartfelt conversations with him about how much and why this bothers me, but nothing works—he just doesn’t care. My husband backs me up and has also talked with him about this (also unsuccessfully). It worries me that my son has such blatant disregard for how I feel…