Your children being friends with your friend’s children is a blessing, but there are some moments – namely, when flights flare up – that it can be more of a curse.
We asked clinical psychologist and author Dr Kirsten Hunter how to get through those messy situations with your friendship intact.
“The most common friendship issues children discuss in session regard feeling excluded from their friend group, struggles to find a group of friends that fit with them, and challenges in resolving conflicts with friends,” says Kirsten. “There can also be issues where the child or teen needs to work through the confusion of when a previous friend is no longer friend material. Maybe they have grown apart, or maybe their friend is experimenting with a direction that they are not comfortable with.”
Kirsten knows how complex friendship problems can become – not only for children or teenagers, but also in our adult years. When both adult and child friendships are in the mix, it is imperative to set boundaries, particularly for yourself.
“It is very important that a parent does not try to force a friendship on their child or teen for their convenience – your child’s friendship needs to be genuine by its own merit,” says Kirsten. “If a friendship is forced on a child due to convenience or logistics then the child can feel pressured and unheard as to what they actually want friendship-wise.”
Kirsten explains that children who are not compatible shouldn’t be forced to spend time together simply for their parents’ gain. While it can be difficult for adults to come to terms with the fact that their children do not get along as well as they do, they must respect their children’s wishes and find time to get together sans kids.
“The parent and the child relationships need to be kept seperate,” says Kirsten. “If the adults can’t get together without the children/teens then perhaps they could find an impersonal activity for them to do together, like watching a movie.”
But when your child is genuinely friends with your own friend’s children, but has a falling out, can you and your friend avoid getting involved? And should you?
“It is crucial to understand that your child will get things wrong as they learn about interpersonal relationships, but supporting your child does not mean believing that they are in the right,” says Kirsten. “It is crucial to remain as objective as possible and to just support your child or teen to reflect on their role and work to resolve their issues.”
One thing Kirsten strongly advises against is taking sides, especially if all the information isn’t readily available (and it often won’t be). Of course, clear abuse is always an exception where you should wholeheartedly support your child.
“In these cases, advocate for them within the school where appropriate and, if the situation is serious, broach the issue with your adult friend,” says Kirsten. “They as a parent will benefit from knowing that their child needs support to make more mindful and caring choices. Of course, whether your adult friend will be open to hearing that their child has stepped over the line is another matter.”
Ultimately, Kirsten says, a parent must advocate for their child over reserving the peace with their adult friend. If you ignore your child’s difficulties to allow a peaceful situation with your friend, then your child will quite rightly feel that you have prioritised your friendship over them.
“How and when you mention an issue to your friend will depend on how open your relationship is and how defensive they are of their child – if they think their children are blameless, this won’t go over well,” says Kirsten. “But if they understand that their child is fallible and learning, then perhaps a constructive conversation could happen.
“If there is abuse however, adult communication about the events is important and a priority to work to prevent it reoccurring.”
When this topic comes up in Kirsten’s sessions – as it frequently does – she encourages parents to be patient and accommodating when their child is ready to open up and talk.
“These kinds of situations are actually a test to see how connected and open the communication is between you and your child or teen,” says Kirsten. “It is crucial to remember that difficult times are ultimately opportunities for learning and growth.
“Take this attitude and there will be a lot of focus on movement, resolution and your child learning to take responsibility for their role. This is ultimately about communication, which is an incredible life skill.”