Dear Care and Feeding,
I recently had a falling-out with a friend who I’ve known since our daughters were babies. Our daughters are 8 now and very close (think hang out weekly). I am a kind of messy, free-spirit type; she is a high-anxiety, everything-in-its-place type. I’ve always thought this was a kind of “complementing halves” situation, but occasionally had insecurities that I wasn’t good enough for her perfection. In October, my family experienced a trio of difficulties—we had to replace the transmission on our car after being stranded five hours from home; we had COVID, which stretched on for almost three weeks from the first person getting it to the last being out of quarantine; and our family dog of 10 years passed away while we were sick, which was devastating.
In our first outing after all of this, when we were both pretty drained, my friend’s daughter made mention of a playdate with a mutual friend, and my daughter got extremely jealous. My kiddo has emotional difficulties; she’s in therapy (which my friend knows) and has had a couple of tough years at school navigating friendships (which she also knows). She’s being evaluated for neurodiversity. It can be exhausting, but I try to be her biggest supporter. When we were leaving, my daughter wanted to ask if she could go on the playdate, too. I explained to her why that wasn’t appropriate and tried all sorts of tactics to entice her to leave, but she had a full meltdown and ran back to her friend and begged to come. My friend, her mom, was very short with my daughter, who left crying. My friend said nothing to me as we all walked to our cars, though we were obviously struggling.
And here’s where I messed up: I snapped and said, “How did you think she was going to react? Maybe you should tell your daughter not to talk about playdates with other kids.” I reacted out of shame and defensiveness for my kid, and it was a mistake. I texted her later that night to take full responsibility, explaining that I knew her daughter did NOT do anything wrong, and what I was actually feeling (helplessness and defensiveness). She laid into me about how horrible I’d been and said she needed space. Later in the week, she said we needed to talk in person. We spent three hours talking over our differences and other times there’s been tension. I was vulnerable and apologetic and took full responsibility. She was cold and told me a number of hurtful things that I accepted but which have stuck in my brain now. We ended the discussion mutually accepting that maybe we just weren’t a good fit to be friends, but we agreed that we would work to be friendly acquaintances so that our daughters could continue their friendship.
Except she hasn’t done that. At all. She hasn’t spoken to me since. Our kids are in dance together and in the same class at school, and every time I see her I say “hello” and try for some friendly small talk, and she says nothing. This has been going on for almost three months.
To be honest, the situation has given me a lot of insecurity and I can’t seem to let it go; I want to fix it, but it’s beyond my reach. One of our mutual friends has offered to be a go-between for us, but what more can be discussed that wasn’t covered in our three-hour sit-down? The problem is our daughters still want to hang out, and I have no idea what to do about that. The girls still get along, but haven’t gotten together outside of school since. They’ve asked for play dates when I’ve volunteered at school, and after dance. All I can do is tell her daughter “tell your mom to text me and we can set something up!” And then nothing happens. My kid is starting to think her friend doesn’t like her. I don’t want to drag my daughter into my drama, but I don’t want her to feel responsible for this, either. My friend’s husband is still super friendly to me and my family—should I have my husband reach out to him to try to get the girls together? Or just explain the situation to my daughter and help her let the friendship go?
— Can’t They Just Be Friends?
Dear Just Be Friends,
Alas, I think there may not be much more you can do here. Your ex-friend is obviously not comfortable maintaining the friendship between your families. She’s not over what you said, and you can’t do anything about that. Your husband could make one last-ditch effort to set up a playdate, but this might well backfire and escalate the drama if it becomes a source of conflict between him and the other dad, or your former friend and her spouse.
If your daughter asks, I would keep it simple and truthful, and say that you’re sorry you can’t make a playdate with her friend happen right now, but you’re glad that they’re such good friends and are able to see each other every day at school. If both kids ambush you after school or dance class and beg for a playdate, don’t tell your daughter’s friend to have her mom text you or do anything else (I can’t imagine that helping at this point!). Just say, “We’d love to see you anytime,” and leave it at that.
I don’t think you need to explain the whole situation to your daughter—she doesn’t need to know everything that happened between you and your former friend. Nor do I think you have to help her end the friendship; that seems premature to me. Her friend does still like her, as evidenced by the fact that they still hang out in school and dance class. I know the kids miss having regular playdates—and yes, they might eventually drift apart—but it’s possible that their friendship can continue on in other settings. I think it would just confuse and upset your daughter if you told her she has to let the friendship go entirely.
As for how you proceed with yourself: I get that it’s hard not to keep obsessing over what happened. What you said was out of line. You know that, and you apologized. I know you feel awful, but I don’t think there’s much more you can do other than acknowledge and process your own feelings about the end of your friendship, and try to make sure you don’t snap or react similarly in the future. You’ve learned a painful lesson, and endlessly stewing or beating yourself up won’t do you or your daughter any good.
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