When I had kids, I realized I needed to develop an entirely new friend group: mom friends. Mom friends are hard to come by, especially ones who are good for more than a quick chat at school pickup. Forming adult friendships is already challenging, but finding someone who you like and whose kid gets along with yours? Brutal. Meeting Amy (not her name) was like being handed the holiday gift I’d really hoped for but hadn’t dared to ask about because it seemed like too much to request. Amy was funny, down-to-earth, well-read and frank in her opinions and views (which were plentiful). She enjoyed a glass of wine, ate food other than salad and was a fan of the well-placed F-bomb. I was in mom-love.
The best part of all this was that her son, Robert (also not his name) and mine were friends and it was a regular mini-bro-fest. They loved LEGOs and Star Wars and LEGO Star Wars. They spent hours running around outside; when it snowed, Robert came over and they belly-flopped on their plastic sleds and went down the hill behind our house until it started to get dark. They were in the same class at school and played together at recess. They went to each other’s birthday parties. We went on joint family expeditions to gather pumpkins and exchanged holiday cards.
It seemed like kismet. We liked the same movies, the same books. Our husbands even got along. Suddenly, I had someone I could call and casually invite over to dinner, tell her she could bring a salad and we had an impromptu party. The adults could sit and talk, largely uninterrupted, as the kids played together downstairs or in the backyard. Mom friendship rocked.
I realized at some point, however, that my son had stopped asking if Robert could come to play; when I asked if he wanted to have him over, he shrugged. I wasn’t sure what that was about, but he didn’t say anything else about it, so I hoped it was a phase. Amy and I were still good, and kids sometimes favor one friend over another and then change again. It wasn’t until he started actively resisting time with Robert that I knew something was up.
After some prodding, my son eventually spilled the beans: Robert was bigger, Robert was older, and Robert was using those advantages to pressure him into doing what he wanted. What he wanted was ending up with my son bruised, physically or emotionally — sometimes both. There were the times Robert demanded that they play the game he wanted. There was the party when my son came home crying because Robert had pushed him out of the group and not let him play with the others. But it was the time that Amy said Robert had grabbed my son around the neck while they were “playing” and excused it as “boys being boys” that I realized how bad it had become, how often I was telling my son to get along, to be flexible. I felt like the world’s most selfish (and least observant) mom for not catching it sooner, but of course I stopped encouraging any interaction between the kids. The question still on the table, however, was… where did that leave things with Amy?
I enjoyed hanging out with her. I loved being able to talk to her. But I knew perfectly well that if I zeroed in on what was going on between the kids, if I put it all on the table with her, the friendship was kaput. I wanted to be able to stay friends. But loyalty to my son was more important, and I was sure that she would feel the same way about Robert. I don’t know which of us stopped reaching out first, but the calls and texts got less and less frequent. Gosh, we were both always so busy. The boys couldn’t play together, and apparently, neither could we. There’s no painless way to break up with a friend, but ultimately, I chose for it to be my pain rather than my son’s.
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