Several years ago, I invited three other families to my house for a summer barbecue. We’d all met when our kids were in elementary school and maintained our friendships over the years. Having everyone over seemed like a great way to spend a summer afternoon.
After our guests left that evening, my teenage daughter came into the kitchen and said, “That was so awkward! But the chicken was yummy!” From then on that particular dish has been known in my house as “awkward chicken” as a reminder of the first time I served it.
The gathering was awkward because even though the parents had stayed friendly, the kids had drifted apart. I hadn’t realized the extent of the distance among the kids until I had already extended the invitation. When my daughter brought it to my attention, I dismissed her concerns, assuming the kids could get along for one afternoon and even have a good time together. But while they didn’t argue, they clearly didn’t have fun.
So how do we staying friends with other parents when our kids drift apart?
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. It’s natural for kids to drift apart
Let’s face it, how many friends do any of us still have from elementary school? We all change as we grow up. Kids develop different interests and cultivate new friendships. It’s not fair to think that just because we parents are still friends that our kids will automatically stay friendly.
2. Don’t try to force the kids’ friendship
When kids are young, parents set up play dates. But once they reach a certain age, Mom and Dad can’t pick their children’s friends, much as we might want to. We need to respect our kids and allow them the freedom to choose who they want to hang out with.
3. Don’t place blame for the end of the friendship
The best case is that the end of a friendship is a mutual decision. But sometimes it’s one-sided–or it feels that way to one of the parties involved. Regardless of how the friendship ends, for the adult friendship to continue it’s important not to place blame on one of the kids. If my child is really hurt and I can’t help but be angry, it may be time to end the adult friendship.
4. It’s important to find things in common aside from the kids
The kids may have been the catalyst for the parents to become friends, but it can’t be what holds the adult friendship together. Finding other common interests. Cultivating a relationship beyond having kids who are the same age will help sustain the friendship. If you find you have nothing else to talk about except your kids, it may be time to re-think the friendship.
5. Let go of family events
Even if you have always celebrated New Year’s Eve or Super Bowl with the same group of families, if it doesn’t work for the kids, the tradition needs to end. It’s not fair to make your kids go someplace they feel uncomfortable. Find a new way to spend time with your adult friends.
While I continued to make “awkward chicken” for dinner, we never got together as families again. I worried that the break in the kids’ friendships might cause a rift between the adults, but it didn’t. We’ve remained friends and, maybe one day, the kids will reconnect as well—but only if they want to.