She wants to dump this playdate mom

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 14, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara,

Three years ago my daughter went to a preschool where we would have weekly play dates with a mom and girl from her class. I have to admit that I was bored to tears on these outings. I am a working mom, and have several other interests, and this mom would use these play dates as a free 3 hour long therapy venting session about how terrible her life was. I endured these outings because I did not want my daughter to miss out on friendships. Turns out that my daughter confessed to me that she never really liked the girl all that much since she was bossy.

    Fast forward and the girls go to different elementary schools (thank goodness) and for over two years I have dodged all phone calls from this mom. We have moved on  and this mom has not gotten the hint after 10 unanswered calls, passive-aggressive of me I realize. Well today she caught me off guard and I answered and bucked up and told her that there is no way we can have any play dates, my daughter is busy with school, after school activities, she has other friends that occupy her free time, I am busy with work and the weekends are strictly family time. It took me 45 minutes to keep repeating this and she is adamant about still getting together. Help! I thought I was being direct but apparently she is not hearing me, in fact she wants to spend time and lunch with me when the girls are in school. What can I say that is not too brutal but will get her to get it through her brain that we have moved on YEARS ago?

From: Elizabeth, Los Angeles

Hi Elizabeth,

This sounds like a mom who, uh, can't read social cues.

Frankly, I don't think you need to do anything. In fact, doing nothing is exactly my advice. If you spent 45 mins with her explaining why this won't work, and she still wants to get together, you must have been trying too hard to be kind and weren't clear/blunt enough. If she doesn't get the picture now, it is clearly her issue. If she approaches you again, I would simply say, "I'm sorry. I can't." If she calls, I would answer or call her back and tell her, again, "I'm sorry, I'm not interested/I'm not available. Please don't call again."

I can't wait to see what suggestions Mailbag readers have for you, Elizabeth!

Meanwhile, this raises a tangential issue: You have an opportunity to talk to your daughter about friendship and acquaintances and kindness. You may or may  not want to use this woman as an example. If your daughter was with you during the conversation, is aware of it, or has a similar situation in her own life of a child who wants to play with her more than she wants to, I would. In general, though, girls tend to be very interested and savvy about how friendships work. Mostly, we are our children's role models and we teach by our behaviors. What are you teaching about differences in people, for instance? And I'm thinking of differences as simple as ideas of how to have fun. It's also helpful to talk to them about friendship.

Here are some conversation starters:

What's the difference between acquaintances and friends? A friend is someone with whom you'd share a secret or call for help if you have a problem; an acquaintance is someone with whom you just chat or you enjoy a particular activity together.)

What qualities do you look for in a friend? Loyalty? Trustworthiness? A sense of humor? What about in an acquaintance? Help her to analyze the difference in the relationship she has with her best friends and with girls who she does not put in that category. Use your own relationships as illustrations.

Kids constantly have friendship issues; it's part of growing up. Don't wait for a friendship crisis to have these conversations! It's much easier to have them in the abstract, and then to be able to refer back to them...."Remember when you said you value loyalty in a friendship....?"

I'd love to see readers' thoughts on this, too!

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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6 comments so far...
  1. I disagree with Barbara - when she calls again (because she will!), be direct and firmly but nicely tell her that you don't want to be friends. If you keep just saying 'I can't, we can't', she's going to keep trying. Try this on - "Suzy, I'm flattered that you want to spend time together, but I just don't feel like we have much in common and do not want to pursue a friendship. I wish you and Sally well. Good-bye." And don't answer when she calls back.

    I really hate the mind games that so many people play, where they can't just (nicely) tell someone what they are thinking or feeling, and get all bent out of shape when the other person mis-reads the signals they send out. Newsflash - humans are not mind-readers, and you cannot assume that the other person will know why you don't take their calls.

    Posted by akmom May 14, 10 06:56 AM
  1. akmom - it sounds like the reader already tried that approach when she talked to her for 45 mins.

    this mom sounds crazy.
    good luck!

    Posted by baby May 14, 10 10:33 AM
  1. akmom, i think that Barbara's tangental advice re: modeling behavior for the daughter, is more what you are suggesting, and I agree. By discussing issues of friendship v. acquaintance and how to manage these relationships, Elizabeth and her daughter can learn together to be less cagey and mind-gamey. If you frame the discussion in the way Barbara suggests, it leads you to how to tell someone directly that you are not interested, without being rude or hurtful. I feel like many of us were raised to believe we were supposed to be nice to everyone and get along with everyone. This is a good goal, but it boxes us in to situations where we force ourselves to spend time with people who drive us bananas, which in turn causes more self-loathing ("I'm so mean, I'm so judgmental") and bitterness. By being honest - admitting, hey, we have little in common and I'm not interested in this friendship, I wish you all the best - we let both ourselves and the other person down easy.

    Posted by Q May 14, 10 10:53 AM
  1. Suggest another playgroup like a stay at home mom's group in your area. Just tell her that you're too busy, but here's a number to call......

    Posted by lw May 14, 10 01:37 PM
  1. I know how it is to be passive-aggressive or even not assertive enough. But it seems as though Elizabeth tried being nice and give her what probably should be clear hints. However, the other mom is just blind to it. Or chooses not to acknowledge it. Either way, it seems as though the other mom has issues of her own...loneliness probably being one of them. I don't think you are being "mind-gamey" persay, I just think you are probably way too nice of a person. So with that being said, if she should call again, maybe you will be able to muster up your truth and tell her you are not interested in making friends due to your hectic schedule ( or insert your own reasons here) and wish them the best (like Q said). If she isn't taking the hint, then maybe change your phone number. I know that is a pain to do but it may be worth it.

    Posted by jd May 14, 10 02:50 PM
  1. If you feel really obligated, use something like Sly Dial to get right to her voicemail and leave a message like "I've been thinking about how it's always tough to drift apart, but we're just in a different place than we used to be and have an incredibly hectic schedule and different interests, and I don't want to disappoint you or your daughter by making you wait around for us to try to renew a social connection. I just don't think we can make plans, and I am so sorry. We'll always remember the time we (went on a hayride, played at the mall, whatever). Best of luck to you and Suzy!"

    You may cross paths with her at some point in the future, heaven forfend, like they end up in the same highschool or some activity, so remain cordial and deferential, but do keep repeating the same message. "It's so unfortunate, but we've had to move on. Life moves so fast now."

    Now go block her name on Facebook if she hasn't already friended you.

    Posted by oohboy May 19, 10 05:45 PM
 
6 comments so far...
  1. I disagree with Barbara - when she calls again (because she will!), be direct and firmly but nicely tell her that you don't want to be friends. If you keep just saying 'I can't, we can't', she's going to keep trying. Try this on - "Suzy, I'm flattered that you want to spend time together, but I just don't feel like we have much in common and do not want to pursue a friendship. I wish you and Sally well. Good-bye." And don't answer when she calls back.

    I really hate the mind games that so many people play, where they can't just (nicely) tell someone what they are thinking or feeling, and get all bent out of shape when the other person mis-reads the signals they send out. Newsflash - humans are not mind-readers, and you cannot assume that the other person will know why you don't take their calls.

    Posted by akmom May 14, 10 06:56 AM
  1. akmom - it sounds like the reader already tried that approach when she talked to her for 45 mins.

    this mom sounds crazy.
    good luck!

    Posted by baby May 14, 10 10:33 AM
  1. akmom, i think that Barbara's tangental advice re: modeling behavior for the daughter, is more what you are suggesting, and I agree. By discussing issues of friendship v. acquaintance and how to manage these relationships, Elizabeth and her daughter can learn together to be less cagey and mind-gamey. If you frame the discussion in the way Barbara suggests, it leads you to how to tell someone directly that you are not interested, without being rude or hurtful. I feel like many of us were raised to believe we were supposed to be nice to everyone and get along with everyone. This is a good goal, but it boxes us in to situations where we force ourselves to spend time with people who drive us bananas, which in turn causes more self-loathing ("I'm so mean, I'm so judgmental") and bitterness. By being honest - admitting, hey, we have little in common and I'm not interested in this friendship, I wish you all the best - we let both ourselves and the other person down easy.

    Posted by Q May 14, 10 10:53 AM
  1. Suggest another playgroup like a stay at home mom's group in your area. Just tell her that you're too busy, but here's a number to call......

    Posted by lw May 14, 10 01:37 PM
  1. I know how it is to be passive-aggressive or even not assertive enough. But it seems as though Elizabeth tried being nice and give her what probably should be clear hints. However, the other mom is just blind to it. Or chooses not to acknowledge it. Either way, it seems as though the other mom has issues of her own...loneliness probably being one of them. I don't think you are being "mind-gamey" persay, I just think you are probably way too nice of a person. So with that being said, if she should call again, maybe you will be able to muster up your truth and tell her you are not interested in making friends due to your hectic schedule ( or insert your own reasons here) and wish them the best (like Q said). If she isn't taking the hint, then maybe change your phone number. I know that is a pain to do but it may be worth it.

    Posted by jd May 14, 10 02:50 PM
  1. If you feel really obligated, use something like Sly Dial to get right to her voicemail and leave a message like "I've been thinking about how it's always tough to drift apart, but we're just in a different place than we used to be and have an incredibly hectic schedule and different interests, and I don't want to disappoint you or your daughter by making you wait around for us to try to renew a social connection. I just don't think we can make plans, and I am so sorry. We'll always remember the time we (went on a hayride, played at the mall, whatever). Best of luck to you and Suzy!"

    You may cross paths with her at some point in the future, heaven forfend, like they end up in the same highschool or some activity, so remain cordial and deferential, but do keep repeating the same message. "It's so unfortunate, but we've had to move on. Life moves so fast now."

    Now go block her name on Facebook if she hasn't already friended you.

    Posted by oohboy May 19, 10 05:45 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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