Mean Mom’s Question Time: How Much Do You Meddle in Your Kids’ Friendships?

Daniel (left) and his pal, Jack (and yeah, we're friends with his parents, too).

Daniel (left) and his pal, Jack (and yeah, we're friends with his parents, too).

Just this weekend, I was talking to my sister, who had recently attended a mini-reunion of her high school class. She told me she talked to a girl who used to live around the corner from us, whose older brother, Charlie, was The Tormenter of the Bus Stop. (I recall that I actually mentioned our old bus stop in this old post about kids and bus stops, but I’d forgotten Charlie’s name.) Anyway, my sister said to Charlie’s sister, Annie: “you know, your brother was really mean to us, and I still have psychic scars!” Annie apologized for her big brother, whom she says is now a really nice guy.

Why am I retelling this story in a post about kids and friendship? Because as I mentioned in that other post, I never told my parents about Charlie, or if I did, it wasn’t to get them to mediate. As kids, no one I knew would even consider talking to our parents about either the bad kids who bugged us; or the good kids we were friends with. Friends, like the bus stop, school, the backyard, and the playground, were our territory. My parents knew who my friends were, but they didn’t introduce them to me, find them for me, sort through them to find the right ones for me, make friends with their parents to make my friendships smoother for me, or any of the things that are commonplace these days.

My first real friend was Patti-Ann, my next-door neighbor. Oh, I guess we had some neighborhood pals at our old house, my grandparents’ house, in Queens, but mostly these were my sister’s friends and I was the tagalong little sister. When I was a few months shy of five, we moved to our house. The first weekday morning there, my dad went to work, my sister started her new school, and I was alone with my mom, who clearly wanted to unpack boxes, not entertain me. She peered outside, and saw (in the adjoining backyard still undivided by a fence) a little girl, alone, playing in a sandbox.

“Look, there’s a little girl next door. Go play,” she said. Obedient, I ambled over, said hi, and the little girl–Patti-Ann, a tiny, skinny blond tot who was about two-and-a-half at the time–handed me a shovel. And a friendship was born.

That scene would play out in a totally different way today. First of all, no mom now would send her not-quite-five-year-old to a “strange” backyard, in an unfamiliar neighborhood, on her own. Instead, she would first make an effort to meet the mom (which could take months of “chance” meetings at the park or Gymboree), after which the playdate dance would begin. Your house or mine? Allergies to any snacks I need to know about? Then the two moms would try to work out (a) if their kids “got along” well enough, if their pint-sized personalities melded adequately; and (b) if they themselves got along well enough to stomach frequent playdates (because the parents have to play, too; in the present-day scenario, the moms would be hovering over that sandbox, or at the very least they’d be peering out the sliding glass doors, keeping an eye while sipping their coffee).

My mom and Patti-Ann’s did get along, as next door neighbors, but they never hung out, even though they both stayed at home. They lent each other eggs, talked over the fence that one of the families eventually put in, drank together at block parties, and let their daughters have very, very frequent sleepovers. But our friendship? Our quirky games? How we treated Debbie, the girl down the street we sometimes liked to play with and sometimes (to my everlasting shame) excluded? That was our business.

These days, our kids’ friendships are our business. So I ask you, readers: What do you to to facilitate your kids’ friendship, and why? If you think it’s a good idea, a necessity, why? And just how long do you plan to do it?

Let’s get talking!

Oh, and Patti-Ann? She and I remained inseparable until, when I reached junior high or so, our 2-plus-year age difference finally caused a quiet, amiable rift. I still think of her fondly. Last I heard, she’s a lawyer, with kids of her own. Hey, Patti, if you’re out there, wanna play Life on your porch?