It happens more frequently than we perhaps realize. Friends drift apart from our families; sometimes it's just distance of miles, but sometimes it's intentional — like a divorce or break up and can be equally devastating to the children. There are lots of articles for divorcing parents.
But divorcing friends are a whole other story.
For some of us, our friends ARE our families. We've chosen them long before we had children because they were reliable, dependable, and loving people that accepted us without question. Bonds of friendship are often stronger and more freely given than those of our families. We have children. We have friends. And most of us try to bridge the two, making aunts and uncles of long-time old friends for our kids. Our kids develop bonds with other adults in our lives on their own.
When your friends have been entwined with your kids for so long, what do you say when the break up happens?
Friend break ups often come down to some basics when there are kids involved. The other family might be taking issue with:
- differences in how your family raises children
- difference in religious beliefs or practices
- new spouses not too crazy about old friends
As parents and adults we can understand all three of these. We all have that family member whom we really dig but think are too lenient or too strict. Things get broken when they come to our houses. Or we totally love the couple but can't stand how they raise their kids. That can be a conflict waiting to happen. There's never an easy way to tell another parent that you have issues with how they raise their kids. The polite thing to do is just swallow the resentment and either see that family less often or just learn to cope.
Different religious faiths and beliefs is another potential rift-maker. Ideally, we should all get along. If your friends have chosen a new belief, hopefully that doesn't mean that you and your old beliefs are out of the picture. But not all religions proclaim tolerance. What do you tell the kids?
And sometimes your friends — especially in the mid-life crisis years — bring someone new into the mix that doesn't fit and doesn't understand the friendship dynamic. This seems to especially true for bachelor friends with new, younger wives. The new wife might be wondering, "Why does my husband hang around with this couple and their crazy kids?" She might give him an ultimatum.
In all three scenarios there's a situation that can't be solved or helped — friends are moving on without you or your kids. Depending on the closeness of the relationship your friend has with your kids, you've got a few options.
1. Be honest with your kids and talk about it. If they are used to Uncle So-and-so coming for dinner every Friday night, and all of a sudden he's not there to give piggy back rides after dinner, you need to let them know about it. But you don't need to get into the gory details. Telling them Uncle So-and-so is going through something right now and won't be over for a while might buy you some time. Point them in the direction of the friends who are there and want to be in their lives.
2. Just like in a divorce of parents, assure them it's not their fault. Parents should take on any assigning of blame to themselves and not let the kids carry that burden. Of course in real life that's complicated. How do you explain mid-life crises to a five-year-old? Put it in terms they can understand. That adult in your life just needs a big time out. Again, keep the focus positive. Remind them of all the great people in their lives and schedule time with them so the void becomes smaller.
3. Let children express their sorrow and grief. Even when we're trying to be as honest as possible without oversharing, and we are making sure that blame doesn't bounce back to the child, we have to give the kids space to grieve. Let them journal about it or draw it on paper. Let them talk to you about it even if it is painful for you.
4. Bring out the silver lining even if you can't see it. Cultivate new friends. Honor old memories. It is a death of sorts and deserves proper acknowledgement. The more you help them cope in a healthy way, the better you've set them up to be able to deal with the world.