Making friends as an adult isn’t exactly easy. When you add kids to the equation, you might meet more potential acquaintances — but at the same time, the situation becomes more complicated. What if your kid can’t get enough of their classmates from pre-school, but you absolutely can’t stand the classmates’ parents? What if you liked them at first but now find them draining?
In some cases, your child’s relationship is worth sticking around. For example, maybe you and the kid’s parents don’t see eye to eye on a certain issue, but the benefit of the kids’ blossoming friendship outweighs the potential risks. You can suck it up for their sake.
But when the relationship with another parent is taxing on your mental health, or you’re worried about their influence on your family, it might be time to draw a clear boundary — not only for your own well-being, but for the example it sets for your kids.
“Have faith that by setting your own healthy boundaries, you will be doing what’s best for your child in the long run by ‘walking the walk’ of prioritizing healthy relationships,” says John Matthews, a Virginia-based psychotherapist. Plus, he adds, children are astute social learners — if you put up with a toxic relationship, your kid may pick up the same habit.
That conversation might not be easy, but for the well-being of your family, it’s sometimes necessary. Here are eight tell-tale signs it’s time to break up with another parent — and how to do it — according to therapists.
1. You’ve Outgrown Them
Friendships often revolve around a particular shared experience or shared state of life — like having kids on the same sports team or attending the same daycare. “As our lives evolve and change, we may find ourselves having less in common with some friends, and more in common with others, and that’s okay,” says therapist Sharon Kaye O’Connor. Remember: Like the rest of life, friendship can be fluid and ever-changing. “Over time, some friendships grow closer, and others grow more distanced or fade entirely.”
2. They’re Draining
Even if you’re not the most social, outgoing person, it’s not healthy to feel exhausted every single time you hang out with someone. Take that constant energy drain as a sign it’s time to re-evaluate whether a friendship serves you. Maybe the other person’s personality irritates you, or maybe they’re always worried about something, and the anxiety rubs off on you. In other cases, O’Connor says, your own life circumstances — marriage issues, a busy schedule, a kid that won’t nap — might warrant taking stock of friendships.
“At times, parents may feel the need to withdraw from socializing a bit as a form of self-care,” says O’Connor. “If you’re feeling exhausted by a friendship, it could be time for a bit of space.”
3. You Don’t Agree With Their Parenting Style
Most people want the best for their kids, and they parent accordingly. But that doesn’t mean you have to agree with, or expose yourself, to those methods. According to Grace Dowd, a Texas-based therapist, it’s perfectly reasonable to dip out of a relationship if you just can’t get behind another parent’s approach.
It’s probably not such a big deal when your kids are infants, and you differ about whether they should cry it out in their crib — those issues don’t come up when you’re together, and your kid is too young to be affected by another parent’s views. “But if another parent has a fundamentally different approach to discipline, and they talk to their kids in a way that makes you or your children uncomfortable, you might want to phase out the relationship,” says Dowd.
4. Your Schedules Don’t Jive
The same premise is true if your differing parenting approaches affect your ability to hang out. Say you’re more low-key about schedules, but your kid’s friend wants them to adhere to a strict meal, snack, and bedtime routine. “It’s not realistic to spend time together if your schedules, which reflect your ethos as a parent, don’t align,” says Dowd.
5. You Have Totally Different Values
Chicago-based psychologist Harmeen Ahuja says you may want to withdraw from a relationship if you just feel the other parent is not your “type.” Yes, diversity is a good thing, for both you and your kids. But keep in mind that a person’s values affect how they behave – including how they interact with your kids. The pandemic is a great example. If the other parents hold differing views on issues you hold dear, and you’re worried about their influence on your kids as they get old, it might be time to end it. (And it may go without saying, but of course, you should think about ending a friendship with a parent who doesn’t take your kid’s health seriously.)
6. The relationship is unbalanced
Relationships are a two-way street. Sure, they’re not always totally equal — but in order for relationships to work, both parties have to contribute. According to Kendall Phillips, a licensed professional counselor in Texas, a total imbalance in a relationship with another parent is a surefire sign it’s time to say goodbye.
For example, say the other parent asks you to do a lot for their kid — like drive them to soccer every week or host play dates — but never offers to do the same for you. If you’re continually feeling like you’re being taken advantage of, you may want to bow out of the relationship.
7. You’re Concerned About Safety
The most important, obvious time to think about “breaking up” with another parent, according to Phillips: When you’re concerned about your kid’s safety. For example, maybe the parent has adults you don’t know over at the house when you drop your kid off, or they seem like they’re not as responsible as you’d be with your child. If you don’t feel comfortable sending your child to a parent’s home, absolutely take steps to end the relationship.
How to End the Friendship
If you’ve decided it’s time to end a relationship, you have two choices: Let it fizzle or be direct.
In situations where you just aren’t feeling it, Phillips suggests simply spending less time with the other person. “Being less available to someone who’s being hurtful or mean is a nice, easy way to begin building boundaries,” she says. As bonus: Maybe your friendship will strengthen because you’re spending less time together, so all those negative factors are less apparent and frustrating.
You can also have small conversations with the other parent when a situation requiring boundaries arises. Say you invite the other child to an event and tell the other parent they need to send a certain amount of money. “If they don’t, then let the parent know the child either won’t be able to get a snack or next time you’ll plan a play date that doesn’t have costs associated with it,” Phillips says. If the parent doesn’t listen or agree, then you can confidently choose not to include them in the next get-together.
And if you simply don’t feel safe or comfortable with the friend, don’t feel any obligation to explain yourself. As Philips says, “Keep your child in mind, and do what you as a parent need to do to keep yourself and your child happy, healthy, and safe.”