Carolyn Hax: A friend’s young adult children always follow

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Caroline: How do you approach a friend who always, I mean always, has the kids in tow when socializing? And these are not small children or even pre-teens. I’m talking about young adults over the age of 18. It seems a bit strange and co-dependent. Sometimes you just want to be with your friend, with no kids around, of any age. What’s the diplomatic way to say, I just want to be with YOU without the extra family members every time?

Friend : 1. I agree with you 100.

2. And I’m a little mystified by the logic of the children present. They like it?

3. After your friend has spent, apparently, more than 18 years socializing in groups, I like your chances of changing your friend’s habits… not at all. I’m looking at roughly 0 probability.

I guess you can invite your friend over for coffee one of those times and say you have some things you’d like to talk about one-on-one, just to see what happens.

But until something really changes, you have a friendship that you’re only free to pursue in front of young adult audiences.

Re: Children in tow: My mother did this to us; it was non-negotiable. With us, it was a method of control and continued infantilization until we finally got married and moved out. His friends tried to help; “Did I tell you about… well, no, I’ll wait to tell you when we get some privacy,” but it never worked out. We also had to ask permission to open the fridge or pantry, watch TV, etc.

You may not be able to change the dynamic, but you have the opportunity to be a friend to young adults by modeling a more mature interaction with them.

Anonymous: Awful. I’m sorry you had to deal with that.

Dear Caroline: I have a longtime friend who recently proved unwilling to confront difficult but manageable issues when they arise – instead of covering them up and allowing them to snowball. I think that was probably the case throughout our friendship, but it was, like many other things, hidden until recent events.

Now that I know this, do I owe him to read more tea leaves in our communications than I would with others? Like knowing she wouldn’t come out and say harsh things, do I read between the lines of what she’s saying and then ask her if she really means”[insert direct wording here]”?

Tea leaf reader: You owe it to him to be true to yourself in everything you do. That’s it.

It can mean that you read between the lines and ask her if she really means [whatever] – don’t accuse, but explore, if it’s something you feel good about doing. Or it could mean you let things go because you think if she has something to say, it’s up to her to find a way to say it, and you’ll just take her at face value until she says the opposite.

The important thing is that you don’t twist uncomfortably just to make something work.

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