An article about motherhood in New York Magazine hit the nail on the head when the author wrote that new moms make terrible friends because they’re tapped out. Parents can be prone to overextending themselves and their resources to get it all done in a single day, from shuttling kids to preschool and soccer practice, to wrapping up a day at work.
But there is a backdoor way for moms to keep up with friendships: the playdate. A cup of coffee and kids playing on the floor can make for a fun afternoon where your kid is occupied while your mind is focused on adult conversation. Win-win.
But what if the friendship turns toxic? Maybe you realize your mom friend is an energy-sucking vampire who complains about everyone and demands all your time and attention. Or it could be the tiny tot friend who has decided biting is all the rage.
Either way, playdates turned toxic need to be cut out of your life and left by the roadside. Life is short and doesn’t need to be spent fending off disasters in friendship. Here’s how to cut free of friendships that just aren’t working.
Assess What’s Really Going On
Take a deep breath and figure out what’s really going on in the toxic friendship. Is the mom driving you crazy a lifelong passive-aggressive drama queen? Or has she recently gone off the deep end because of a new pregnancy or stressful situation at work, or is she going through an episode of postpartum depression and anxiety? You may need to move into the slow lane with your friendship, but not end it altogether.
The same type of thinking goes for any kids responsible for the toxic friendship. Your child’s buddy may be a hot mess in an adorable rainbow dream dress right now, but won’t be in a few months. Consider if they’re going through a tough time transitioning into their new school; or maybe there’s a new baby in the house. If it’s none of the above, grab a parenting book and see if their behavior is typical.
Discovering that there may be more at play than just a toxic person can help give context, but it doesn’t mean you have to keep scheduling playdates. Make yourself conveniently busy or only meet in safe areas where you can escape, like a playground, until the friendship crisis passes.
Start Leaving Not-So-Subtle Hints
There’s not always a need to come right out and say that you think this mom and her kid are highly toxic personalities who are infecting your household. Some not-so-subtle hints may do the trick and put the brakes on the friendship.
Jot down a list of convenient, rock-solid excuses so you’re always prepared. “Oh, Tommy is under the weather today,” “We’ve got a million things going on,” and “We’re committed this afternoon,” are solid excuses that are usually more true than not, regardless. But it’s also easy to get taken off guard and leave yourself vulnerable to getting sucked into a playdate without meaning to.
Questions like, “What are you guys up to this weekend?” can easily turn into a forced playdate if you admit you’re just hanging around. It’s harder to come up with an excuse on the fly if the friend already knows what you’re up to. Instead, try something like, “We always have lots to catch up on, and enjoy spending solo time together as a family without anyone around and no one stopping by.” They’ll get the idea.
Find a Compromise with the Kids
Start trying to plan group playdates with mutual friends who have a friendship with this person. You’ll end up with a buffer so you can focus on having fun without getting sucked into a one-on-one toxic conversation. More than likely, though, a scenario where you’re removed from the mom in question will work best. Mention that you have heaps of work to get through, and would she like to drop off her child so they can entertain each other while you wrap things up?
And then there’s always the chance you could schedule playdates when you have a sitter around. If the other mom is okay with it, you can get out and run errands and catch up on work while the kids play. Soon you’ll be coming up with new and inventive ways for your children to play while keeping a safe distance from Toxic Mom.
Be Honest if the Kids are the Culprit
Pounce on any opportunity to cut off playdates by seeing what the kids are doing. Maybe your child is in a pushing phase, or is prone to meltdowns after school and needs more space. Or maybe the kids just don’t like each other lately. Just explain you’re taking playdates off the table for a while until the phase passes, and you’ll get in touch at a later time. Hopefully the mom will have moved on by then and found new families to invade.
There’s also a chance you could politely let the mom know your child has a problem with hers. This isn’t always easy, but can be done. Let the mom know your child is a little oversensitive lately, and hasn’t been looking forward to playdates because her child is loud or demands to be in charge. Suggest a break, or resuming sometime down the road. This way you’re dividing the blame without alerting her to the fact that you secretly can’t stand her kid.
Deciding to cut off toxic friends is a perfect opportunity to get ridiculously busy. If your child has been whining about wanting to do gymnastics or soccer, take them up on their request to turn into professional athletes and get them enrolled. Spend more time visiting grandparents, look for free family-friendly events in your city, and take up a new hobby.
The idea isn’t to participate in things you don’t want to do, but to occupy yourself with things you’ve always wanted to do. It may also help you develop some warm and fuzzy feelings for the toxic friend who pushed you to finally join the Botanical Gardens so you have an excuse to be committed to an afternoon of fun several times a week.
Have an Emergency Card in Your Back Pocket
Your child may catch wind that the toxic friend’s child is having a birthday party that they just cannot wait to attend. This is when you pull out an unbelievable offer only reserved for moments like these. It needs to be enticing enough to give up the prospect of goodie bags and cake.
Tell your child you’re visiting his favorite cousin that day, going hiking to a waterfall, or seeing a kid-friendly movie. There’s no need to outright bribe, but sometimes you need a special go-to alternative for moments like these.
And the same goes for mom. If you find out a girl’s night is in full swing, get busy with an old friend or date night. Meanwhile, if it’s your own birthday outing, invite close friends and ask them to keep posts off social media. There’s nothing worse than a mom who leaves passive-aggressive comments on why they weren’t invited for the whole world to see.
Commit to a Breakup
At some point, you may have no choice but to cut the mom friend and her child off at the pass. If nothing else works, chances are high she doesn’t care about your less-than-subtle signals and requests for a break. There’s no option but to initiate a breakup without looking back.
A break-up letter or email might work best in these circumstances, instead of getting sucked into the opportunity for a verbal attack. Let her know you simply don’t feel the friendship is working, and feel free to blame a lack of common ground or different schedules.
It’s also okay to tell her if you were offended by something she said, or if her child did something egregious, but remember to think about the big picture. Will it resolve anything? Or will telling her that scrutinizing your old-school parenting techniques or career is obnoxious result in her proclaiming that you’re too sensitive and you’ll talk it out the next time you’re together?
At the end of the day, the only way to truly cut free of a toxic relationship is to commit. Stick to your guns. If you don’t want this mom and her child in your lives, then make it abundantly clear that you will never be meeting each other again on purpose. Then focus on being civil when you do run into each other to send the message that there are no hard feelings from your end. Unless there are. In which case, you’re free to give a half-hearted wave and leave the room at the first sign of advancement.
Have you had to cut off friendships and playdates that weren’t working? What worked for you, and what backfired? Let us know by leaving a comment below: