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It happens to all of us at least once: you no longer want to be around a child or her parent that you used to spend time with. How can you gracefully make the break?

Maybe the other child is out of control and behavior that used to be tolerable when your children were small is unpleasant and even dangerous now that the kids are bigger. Maybe the other mom or dad has revealed some personal perspectives you simply cannot tolerate. Maybe the other family just bores you. Whatever. Short of packing your bags and moving out of town, what can you do to free yourself from this family?

The first thing to remember is that you won’t be moving out of town so you cannot be rude or even truthful in explaining your reasons for not wanting to see this person any more. Your former-friend can’t change or won’t change what drives you crazy and you really don’t want her to try just to stay your friend. And you don’t want her to argue with you about how difficult her child is or whatever the issue between you might be. So offering a reason you want to break up is not very helpful and might even be viewed as nasty. And then word will get around. Even though you think everyone you know will support your decision to cut ties with this family, at least an equal number of people will think you’re being unpleasant. So explanations are out and especially explanations that put blame on the other person. Better to give no reason at all.

But it’s also not a good strategy to just continually be unavailable. Sooner or later being “busy that day” will backfire on you and reveal that you’ve not been truthful. Once again your reputation will be on the line. So it’s better to be up-front. At the last meeting you intend to have with this parent and his child say, “John, it’s been great getting to know you and little Alphonse. I’m finding that Kyle and I need to spend more quality time together, though, just dad-and-boy. So we won’t be available for our get-togethers anymore.” Best wishes. See you around. Hasta la vista.

Notice that in this scenario, the impulse to quit meeting is because of your limits, not because of the other parent’s. Notice that the reasoning is both vague (a need to “spend more quality time together, just dad-and-boy”) and total (it’s not just next Saturday and the Saturday after that but forever). There is really not much the other parent can say to this except, “Gee, that’s too bad.” And that’s what you want: no argument, no counter-offers, no date sometime in the future.

By the way, this is what you’ll need to tell your own child too, if he’s old enough to expect to see his friend someday soon. Remember that he may not share your difficulties with the other family. So don’t make explanations or excuses to your child. Don’t tell him anything you don’t want him to repeat. Keep things vague.

But what if you’re part of a playgroup of several mothers-and-children and there’s only one that you all want to ditch. What then? How can you uninvite a member of a bigger playgroup?

You really can’t. You and the other playgroup members cannot gracefully gang up on one member and oust her. And it doesn’t work to switch your meeting day without telling her and expect she will never find out. If being in a playgroup with this person and her child is really so intolerable that you don’t want to see them anymore, then your only path is to drop out of the group. The other members might decide to stick it out or the whole group might dissolve. You have no control over what happens. But if you want to quit the group, then quit. Just don’t try to make the member you don’t like quit instead.

After a few months, you can form another playgroup if you like. Or maybe you’ll decide to keep things more fluid. If there is no expectation that you and your child are regularly available, you’ll find it easier to manage your relationships with other families in the future.


© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.