How to Keep a Friendship Going After Your Kids Break Up

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Making couple friends was hard—making friends with a whole family, nearly impossible. But we thought we had achieved that nirvana a few years back. My oldest daughter, Katie, started kindergarten, and became pals with a boisterous little girl who shared her passion for theatrics (both on and off stage). We soon started bonding with her parents over acting classes and ballet recitals—a cool, creative couple who shared our taste in music and microbrews. They even had a younger daughter right around the same age as our youngest. It felt like a match made in heaven.

Except it wasn’t. After a few years of blissful backyard barbecues and twosome talent show acts, the friendship between my daughter and theirs started unraveling. Katie would come home from school, harrumphing about the latest drama, often brought to tears over her friend’s critique of her taste in clothes, her attempts to push her to play what she wanted, her outbursts that alienated their classmates, and the drama that ensued after Katie’s friend told the whole class about Katie’s (unrequited) crush on a classmate. I thought it was a teaching moment, encouraging my daughter to walk a mile in her friend’s sparkly shoes, stressing kindness and empathy.

That was the wrong decision, I came to find out later. “If your kids and your friends’ kids don’t get along you should not force a friendship,” says Fran Walfish, Ph.D, a Beverly Hills child, parenting, and relationship psychotherapist, and author of The Self-Aware Parent. “Children come into my child psychology practice complaining about the resentment and anger toward their own mothers for making them be ‘friends’ with kids they don’t like. Most often, the other kid turns out to be a difficult personality, and a forced relationship breeds anger and resentment toward the mom who is pressing the issue. It turns out to be too high a price for a parent to pay just to please a girlfriend.”

I was a little slow on the uptake, unfortunately. After a few years of intervention from both sets of parents, it was clear that our daughters’ relationship was over. The final straw? A wrestling match (seriously) in the middle of my daughter’s birthday party. Our daughters no longer speak. Which, of course, makes those barbecues a distant memory—but didn’t kill our friendship with our friends, thankfully.

If you’re in this situation, here’s a few words of wisdom that I wish I’d had way back when.

1. Your kids don’t have to be friends—they just have to be kind to each other. “Despite the fact that your kids don’t like one another—or maybe even can’t stand one another—I would insist that they are respectful and polite to each other,” says Lori A. Woodring, PhD, a licensed child psychologist in New York and Connecticut. Right now, the best we can hope for is silence between the girls. And that seems to be working.

2. You should probably talk about it with your friend. If you’re getting an endless litany of griping from your child, your friend’s probably hearing similar complaints on his or her end. There is always hope that if you both intervene, you can help your kids work through their issues. (Though that didn’t really work for us.) And if it doesn’t work for you, either, it helps to simply “acknowledge to your friend that although you both have great kids, they just don’t have much in common at this time,” Woodring suggests.

3. You can be friends without bringing your kids into the mix. “We all have different types of friends and we can make time to maintain and enjoy those friendships in different ways,” Woodring says. “Just because you both have kids doesn’t mean you need to do kid-related activities together.” And that’s exactly how we’ve preserved our friendship. There may not be a backyard barbecue in the offing, but we have adults-only dinners, concerts, and parties to attend. I’m glad that we’re still on each other’s must-invite list—even if our daughters no longer are.

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