We have met some of our closest friends through our children - lifelong bonds that started at the school gates, yet lead to many shared dinner parties and family holidays. People we'll spend so many hours with, because we all have this common factor, our children.
However, sometimes these friendships can go terribly wrong. And it's nothing to do with the adults, but all to do with the kids. Because friendships like this can only work if you all have similar parenting skills or, at the very least, have a healthy respect for each-other's parenting.
Most of our friends are in agreement: leave the skirmishes between the kids, they generally sort issues out in no time. If not, one of us will intervene and take control of the situation in a fair and balanced way. We're more than happy for our friends to tell our children off, and I know they replicate this sentiment.
But when another child's behaviour started to affect our children we had to re-evaluate the situation and make a decision as to whether this was fair. What happens when you have a friend that believes their child can do no wrong and their child knows this? And said child can scream so loudly for so long, that their parents believe your child must have upset them? (Because why else would they scream like this?)
We had such friends, a lovely couple, and great company. But they didn't control their kids. The kids ruled them. Now, I am not one of those parent bashers who judges parents. None of our kids are angels and ours are most certainly not, I am under no illusions. But over time it became harder to deal with. Their daughter knew she was being mean, and would look you in the eyes, almost challenging you as she did so. She would scream so loudly, it was always another child.
I started to notice Joe, our youngest, had no confidence around her, he'd protest at visiting and was miserable when we were there, which was totally out of character for him. Some days we'd visit and their child wouldn't be in the mood to talk to the other children, she'd insist on sitting with the adults and they indulged! And so it went on.
Until one day, after a particularly nasty incident where she slapped her mum around the face in front of three other families. This resulted in both parents apologising to her and suggesting others did too, as this would make her 'feel happier about the incident' (apparently us not allowing her to dominate the conversation has caused this). She was eight.
I made the decision, no more! How could I apologise to a child for her bad behaviour? What message was this sending our children? I know kids have to fit in with life and friendships, but when you're taking them into situations that make them unhappy and they're witnessing behaviour that you'd never expect them to display, you have to make a decision that's ultimately right for your family and not for your friendships.
I made that decision a couple of years ago, and didn't make a fuss. I just phased them out of our lives. On reflection, was it the right thing to do? Absolutely, we're now surrounded by friends whose company we enjoy, and getting together with friends no longer involves drama. And the kids are happy.
The hardest thing was making that decision and implementing it without a huge drama. But once made it felt like such a relief.
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