Carolyn Hax: She loves her friend -- but not her friend's kids
I have a dear friend who's loving, thoughtful and generous. Unfortunately, she spoils her kids rotten and as such has created a couple of monsters. Her daughters, ages 5 and 6, are shrill, disrespectful, demanding tyrants who love to play with my daughter (age 6), who is sweet and easy-going, but even these girls are a bit much for her. My friend calls me a lot to get together, and while I love to see her, I do not love having my daughter subjected to these awful girls, and she doesn't particularly like going because they don't always play nicely with her.
By the way, her younger daughter is physically challenged, and while this affects their actual play very little, my friend has admitted that her feelings of guilt surrounding her daughter's limitations is the reason she indulges her children so much. How do I deflect her requests for play dates without affecting our friendship?
Love my friend, hate her kids
I can see why your impulse is to maneuver around these play dates.
But I also see "dear friend," "loving, thoughtful and generous," "feelings of guilt," and even just "ages 5 and 6," and I want to linger a bit in the Hall of Last-Ditch Efforts. It seems worth it to keep the friendship flowing and, in as non-presumptuous and nonjudgmental a way as possible, even help out your friend.
There's a lot of wiggle room in the definition of "play nicely," so, disclaimer time: If you feel your daughter isn't safe around these girls, then you have to decline the play dates. Even then, though, you can buy time by suggesting group outings to kiddie movies, plays, concerts; each offers togetherness without interaction.
However, if we're just talking about regular kids who get a little bratty, then your easygoing daughter could be good for these kids -- and they for her. Your daughter is likely to quit their games if they don't learn some self-control, and they're likely to steamroll her if she doesn't learn to assert herself.
The right environment can be a silent ally. Figure out shared interests among the three kids, and choose a location accordingly; if you can find neutral turf that doesn't involve sensory overload, even better. Parks are the obvious choice, but the girls' interests can point you to more creative ideas.
You also need to strike a balance with your supervision, since you don't want a free-for-all, nor do you want to hover and micromanage their every playful exchange. Let them try to solve their own problems; step in only when things are going off the rails, and only to nudge them back on.
Sounds like a grand afternoon with your friend, doesn't it?
But this carefully orchestrated play date is only half of the last-ditch effort I'm proposing -- the good-faith half. The other half is where you get to suggest the occasional kid-free outings, because you said yes to a credible number of play dates.
You may never warm to her kids, which will probably cool your friendship -- but all these kids are but a year or three away from spending more time with their friends than with yours. Choosing to put the friendship at risk seems shortsighted when time is leaning your way.
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