Carolyn Hax: Parents of their son’s friend are ducking invitations

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Dear Carolyn: Our 11-year-old son often asks to spend time with a friend and classmate who lives on our block. But that friend’s parents can be, at best, confusing and, at worst, frustrating. They often “miss” text messages and seem better at returning messages that directly benefit them. We’ve extended a lot of grace to them, a busy family that includes a front-line worker and elderly relatives living close by.

We’ve run out of ideas and reasons as to why it’s so hard. We’ve tried: texting to see their availability for a spontaneous gathering, texting to plan ahead, arranging small get-togethers via email, expressing how much we value their friendship, making it clear their son is welcome here any time, and sending our its down there to ask to hang out in person. We frequently get silence from them. They rarely initiate a playdate with us (but not never), though I hear about their son seeing other friends, so we know this is possible. They will sometimes attend the larger, multifamily kid group events, but sometimes not. They often don’t respond to these larger events either, so we’ve assumed it isn’t about us, they’re just busy, stressed, etc. They just replied yes to a group text about an outing, then promptly ignored my individual text that came right after, about getting our two kids together.

If this were just about the adults, we’d have divested ourselves long ago. But this is about our child. What do we say to our son to explain what he probably hasn’t picked up on, but we’re assuming is happening — that this family does not prioritize this friendship? And how do we let go of our hurt feelings for our son and for ourselves?

— Triggered From My Own Adolescence

Triggered From My Own Adolescence: The signature is the thing: You’re processing this as an adolescent who feels it all. Your son needs you to be an adult, able to detach from it and observe — and to wait calmly underneath as a soft place to land.

You do recognize your own vulnerability, which is a good start. But that only helps if you put your insight to work by removing yourself from the middle. Stop texting this family directly to set up one-on-one gatherings spontaneous, planned, or small.

It’s also time to think more objectively. They are busy and preoccupied, I think you’ve read that correctly. They opt in and out of the social whirl as they can. (And for that reason, keep them in your group texts and plans as always.)

But they are also not interested in getting your two kids together one-on-one, and they have tried to tell you this as plainly as appropriate — as plainly as adults looking out for two tender neighboring 11-year-old hearts likely feel they can afford to.

It’s tough for the kids, tough for you — and also tough for these other parents. It is. No one with a soul ever wants to turn a child away. But people of all ages get to choose their own companions, so sometimes turning a child away is exactly what adults must do. And refusing to accept your neighbors’ message — because you love your son and don’t want to have to accept it and, ugh, it feels like a never-ending middle school flashback — is only making things harder for him and for everyone else .

You’re saying it’s not “just” about the adults — but it’s not about them period. It’s entirely about the kids.

Therefore, it’s not that “this family does not prioritize this friendship.” Their son is not showing mutual interest.

It’s the oldest, plainest, least confusing reason there is, when you’re ready to see it.

It’s also not the end of the emotional world. With friendships just as with dating, schools, jobs, sports, roles and, really, everything, there isn’t always a match. Even the best lives have to absorb rejection.

To equip your children to manage these difficult but unavoidable blows, all the parents involved can model civility, compassion and perspective as you otherwise allow the kids’ relationship to run its course. It’s from you they’ll learn how life goes on.

From what you describe, I suspect the other parents will be careful and discreet partners in this without your having to say a word. Because that seems to be what they’ve done all along.

For you this means, in addition to not trying anymore to get the two boys together, responding to your son with sympathy and encouragement when his efforts go unreturned. For the small letdowns, maybe, “I’m sorry he said no. Want to make other plans?” And for the dawning of a larger truth, “It is so hard, I’m sorry.” And: “It just happens sometimes, to everyone, though that’s probably not helpful right now.” In other words: It’s the absolute worst, till it’s better — the comfort and perspective you would have wanted at that age, maybe?

No one wants their kid’s feelings to be hurt, or for a kid to reach adulthood without knowing how to manage hurt feelings. Your son’s guide through this paradox is you.

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