07/06/2010 10:51 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Friend or Foe: Don't mess with my kid


Dear Irene,

I'm having a difficult time moving on after ending a toxic friendship. I began distancing myself from this friend once I realized she was toxic. However, our sons are both 3-years-old and were in the same preschool class. My son eventually bit this friend's son because he was tired of being bitten. Hers is a biter; mine is a pusher/shover.

After I began distancing myself, this friend and another woman complained so bitterly and consistently about my son's pushing and shoving in class that the school eventually wanted to know if we were abusing our son. The teachers felt they needed to isolate my son to "protect him." Many other things were happening but in the interest of brevity, I'll just say that we eventually pulled my son out of this classroom. I understand every mother's desire to protect their child, and can see---knowing what I do about her character/personality---the situation from her side. However, it doesn't excuse the events that happened and doesn't eliminate the fact that the school asked about abuse.

My son was observed by professionals and found to be very bright/verbal and displaying NORMAL toddler behavior. Meanwhile, my son can't possibly understand what is happening. We later found out that my husband and I intimidated the teachers and the director because we are both psychologists. The boss of these two individuals sat down with us and told us everything that was happening---that the teachers were not telling us---and also let us know that she, too, agreed our son was intelligent and normal.

My son has since begun a Montessori program and is doing wonderfully and thriving. My difficulty lies in: 1) I want to contact my ex-friend to express my hurt and anger and address these actions/issues but I'm still so hurt I'm not sure how to approach this without putting her on the defensive, and 2) I'm not sure how to handle future meetings with this woman and her family in our neighborhood. Our sons are too young to understand why their friendship was so abruptly halted, so when they see each other at the neighborhood playground they will want to play with each other. What is your advice? Thanks so much...these last few months have been torture.



Dear Tara,

I understand how painful this situation must be for you and your husband. Preschoolers often get into scuffles with other kids and, as you mention, parents can be quite defensive and even ferocious when they feel their children are being attacked.

When my own son was in preschool, there was a "biter" in the classroom and a group of parents were adamant about trying to get a toddler removed from the school rather than figuring out a way with the teacher and family to change her behavior.

Nonetheless, it sounds like you need to move on from this friendship. Before the incident with your son, you realized that you needed to distance yourself from her. Now, given the allegations that were lodged against you, this relationship seems beyond repair. Had your friend come to you directly, instead of complaining to the school and other parents, things might have worked out differently.

It's great that you enrolled your son in the Montessori school where he has no history behind him and has probably matured by now. It also sounds like the last school didn't handle the situation very well.

As with any broken friendship, be cordial to the mom and say hello but I see no reason in trying to rehash the past. In terms of the kids, you can allow your son to play with hers as long as you carefully monitor the situation and make sure there are no problems. Limits need to be set so that the children respect one another and do not hurt one another while playing. Unfortunately, if the other mom feels differently, you may have to schedule your playground visits at times when she and her son aren't there.

I hope this helps!


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Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and her book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving A Breakup With Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also co-authored Schizophrenia for Dummies (Wiley, 2008). She blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and on Psychology Today.