"Our Kids Are Coming Between Us"
In recognition of how important friendships are to us, Ladies' Home Journal's popular "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" now extends into the world of friendship with "Can This Friendship Be Saved?"
Debbie, 44, high school teacher, New York City: "Ronnie and I met when her daughter, Ashley, and my daughter, Jessica, were in the same kindergarten class. Now the girls are 14. Over the years our friendship developed into something separate from our daughters'. We talked easily about everything and shared a love of art and design, as well as a similar sensibility about the world.
"The trouble started when Ronnie told me Ashley had heard that Jessica had gone to a party where there was drinking, and the police were called. I told her that Jessica had told me she wasn't at the party and that I believed her. She was back by 10 p.m., and we watched Law & Order together. But Ronnie didn't seem to believe me. We dropped it, but the rest of the afternoon, my insides were in knots.
"Then, a few weeks later, I learned that Ronnie was throwing a party for Ashley -- and that Jessica wasn't invited, although all her friends were. Two other girls in the group had also been left out -- both of them had also been linked to the rowdy party. And even though Jessica and Ashley were not as close as they used to be, I was really hurt. But how could I say anything? I haven't called Ronnie for months. I'm afraid I'll sound petty, and I'm also afraid of a confrontation. But I wish I could fix this."
The counselor's response: "The friendships mothers make through their children can be especially meaningful because they've jointly witnessed the milestones in their children's lives. As the children grow up and go off to college, such friendships can also provide continuity, even if the children are no longer close. But the kids who bring you together can also pull you apart. When your 4-year-old starts to read and your friend's child doesn't, or your social 14-year-old gets invited to the 'cool' parties and the other teen's phone doesn't ring, competition, jealousy, and misunderstanding can result, straining a friendship. But it doesn't have to end it.
"In this case, Debbie has to remind herself that Ronnie has long been a good friend with whom she could speak honestly, and vice versa. Most likely, Ronnie's comments were well intentioned and she didn't mean to disparage Debbie's parenting skills. And Debbie shouldn't assume that Jessica's exclusion from Ashley's party was a snub related to the first incident. But Debbie needs to tell Ronnie -- preferably face-to-face -- how the comments hurt her. She should call and ask Ronnie out for coffee or lunch. The hope would be that they'll remember their former good feelings and speak compassionately to each other. Debbie should be patient -- it may take a while to regain each other's trust and their prior intimacy.
"This also might be a time to establish new ground rules about the kids, such as agreeing if they each want the other to repeat information they hear about the girls, or if it's better to adopt a strict 'off limits' policy. Whatever their decision, it's important that the women discuss what works, for them and their children."
The story told here is true, although the names and other details have been changed to conceal identities. The counselor, Jan Yager, PhD, is a sociologist and friendship expert in Stamford, Connecticut, and author of When Friendship Hurts.