Lisa Barr: We have a GUEST WRITER in the house. LOVE IT! She is the first among our series of Moms voicing their opinions. YES, you can go “Anonymous” on my blog — how else would you feel free to discuss the hot topcs? This one is from a Mom of two kids, living in Highland Park, Illinois. You, Go, Girl … PS. Send ‘em over, GIRLillas … WE WANT YOUR STORIES! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
When it is good…it is Utopia…when it’s bad…it sucks. Being friends with your kids’ friends parents can be the most rewarding and happy family experience or the biggest gut-wrenching nausea-inducing situation there is.
Having two kids that are 2-3 years apart means that you will find many of the “same” families in your neighborhoods and schools. When you find those families, epecially those who have the boy the same age and the girl the same age (fill in your family here), you feel like you have hit the jackpot. In your future, you see family BBQs, carpools, dinners before and ice cream after school events. The moms have playdates and the kids are so happy to be there. The kids have playdates and the moms are thrilled to be there. Even the dads look forward to wine, beer, or bonding over the grill, where everyone is happy and playing in slow motion in the backyard like a Hallmark commercial. You even go as far as to envision the graduation party you will be throwing together, and then picture the montage chronicling the lives of your joint families.
For a while, this Utopia exists. You marvel at how lucky you are to have moved onto this street, this school, or to have met at Starbucks with the kids still in strollers. You relish the fact that not only do you, as moms, love each other…but also the kids do too. You have shared nanny stories, helped each other through every kid phase, discussed the trials of marriage, and raising kids in a privileged area. You smile as you say your kids have everything in common…or they are so different that they don’t compete and will remain BFFs forever.
“Your child is like my second daughter (son) I love him/her like my own,” you say. “It is truly beautiful.”
It is a Disney movie.
And then they go to Junior High School. Some call it Middle School. I call it the end of Utopia as we know it.
Something happens to children between the ages of 12-14. They become aliens. I have analyzed this from many angles. I know they have changing bodies and raging hormones. They feel insecure, unsure, and want nothing more than to fit in, to be liked, and in general not to be noticed too much for being different. Your sweet, compliant, respectful children become possessed and taken over by other-worldly influences. That subject can be an entire article to itself…but I am talking about what happens to your Utopia when everything changes.
I will simply say that it is not easy on either side of the friend-changing process. It can happen slowly or quickly, the BFFs are no longer. Sometimes it is a big falling out…sometimes one of the kids realizes he or she has more in common with others…sometimes their “new” friends don’t like their old friends. As a parent looking in, it is often subtle. Your child doesn’t get invited over as much anymore.
You see their friends posting pictures on Facebook and your child was NOT there. Or on the flip-side, you are hearing different names when your kid rattles off who he or she is with. When you suggest to call the BFF, you get resistance. What the hell is going on?!?! You are messing with MY life now!
There are so many ways as parents that this situation can play out. Much of it is riding on how you each handle it. I have experienced several parental reactions…each has positive and negative consequences. Almost all result in a shift in the family relationship dynamic. Here are two of the most common (gross generalizations to follow):
There is the Parent-in-Denial. This type of parent avoids confrontation and lets the chips fall as they may. Their attitude is “kids will be kids, they need to find their own way, and I won’t get involved. I’m sorry if you and your child are hurting…this is what happens.” (Often, they are the parent of “The Dropper”).
As the parent on the other side, you wonder how your close friend cannot see your pain (which is at least FIVE TIMES as great as your child’s).
How could they have left you out of the year-long carpool? Who is in charge in that house…the parent or child? You spend the majority of the time mourning the loss of Utopia. You want it to be different, but it is not in your control.
And then, there is the Over-Involved Parent, who monitors texts and emails and recounts to you every injustice that their child has suffered (sometimes at the hand of yours). Every day, it is a new incident or dig. You cannot believe your child is doing/saying those things. But you also know that it is natural for them to spread their wings and explore new friends and situations. You believe that there is no way a 13 year old can live up to the expectations of doing right by everyone all of the time. But you try to teach them to be kind and follow the rule of “make new friends but keep the old.” You spend the time mourning the loss of Utopia. You want it to be different but it is not in your control.
Your family friendships suffer initially. Some parents work hard to keep it separate (we love each other, we will get through this). Some parents see their friends in a “new” light. They can’t believe their so-called friends could turn their backs during the darkest time. The family BBQs don’t happen or are strained. The Dads can no longer relate. You want Rodney King to shout out: “Can’t we all just get along!?”
I wish I had the magic answer. It does not exist. You try to teach your kids to be kind, and to do the right thing as often as possible. You push them to include or forgive as necessary. You keep talking to your friends and ask what they need of you. You hope as the kids get through the awful Middle School Phase and mature slightly, that they will come back together and appreciate the Utopia they once had. You hope it will be different…and sometimes it is. Sometimes you even get the joint graduation party and can laugh/cry at the tough times you endured.
And often you look at your own childhood and remember that your parents barely knew the parents of your friends. They certainly did not socialize with them. And you realize that your parents were perhaps right…yet again. That way IS easier…though in some ways less rewarding.
Because when it is good…it is Utopia, BUT when it goes bad….it really sucks.< back