Dear Carolyn: My close friend of over 20 years lives next door. She is single, and I am divorced with a child. She has always been a good friend to me personally; however, she seems totally uninterested in my 6-year-old. She isn’t rude to her, but also isn’t very engaging. She never asks how my daughter is doing or what is going on in her life.
I have attempted to tell funny stories about my daughter, while being careful not to dominate the conversation, but that doesn’t seem to work. I have also invited her to things I am doing with my daughter, such as museums, shopping, etc. My friend always has other plans. Occasionally, she will invite us both over or stop by when my daughter is with me, but her attempts to talk with my daughter are strained.
I am hesitant to broach the subject. My friend always makes time for me. I originally thought she just isn’t a kid person, but she has nieces and nephews she babysit, takes on day outings, etc. I am beginning to think it is personal and she doesn’t care for my daughter. Most other adults go out of their way to tell me what a wonderful personality my daughter has.
Do I just resign myself to the fact that she is a good friend for when I am alone and without my child? – Anonymous
When you make it that easy for me, I’m happy to return the favor.
There’s a funny thing we do when we’re talking about people as offspring versus as people in general. In the latter case, we are OK with discussing whether we click with them or not; it’s a neutral discussion. Bring in a parent-child tie, though, and neutrality flees the scene.
This is easier to explain by example: Let’s say your daughter, “Jane,” isn’t your daughter, but instead your 32-year-old friend. If your neighbor-friend tended not to stop by when Jane’s car was in your driveway, then you’d presumably 2-plus-2 that without much distress.
If Jane were your mom or sister, then you probably still wouldn’t blink.
If Jane were your spouse, then maybe you’d feel somewhat injured, but you’d still get it and accept that your neighbor-friend wasn’t a huge Jane fan.
Meaning, in any of these cases, you wouldn’t take it too personally that Jane and your neighbor-friend’s views or temperaments or personalities didn’t mesh.
Yet these hypothetical family members and your Jane are all – pardon my “duh” – just people, all someone’s child. So isn’t it at least theoretically consistent that it doesn’t suddenly become an insult (to you or Jane) that Jane and your friend don’t mesh, just because Jane happens to be your child?
Hurt feelings, of course, are a different story. And if you can’t just set those aside, then do approach your friend kindly, giving her an out: “I get the sense you and Jane don’t click” – and say you’re accepting of that, if a bit sad – “but if there’s a different reason you keep your distance when Jane’s around, maybe I can help?” Because maybe that something else can be accommodated or fixed – or at least absorbed with a little less pain.
Again – if you feel stuck. It is OK sometimes to take your facts without explanations.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com.
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