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My Kids Taught Me to Cut Toxic Friendships Out of My Life

Photograph by Twenty20

We talk a lot about how important our friendships are once we have children. Our other mama friends understand what we’re going through and keep us sane with advice and help when we need it. Our child-free friends remind us of who we were before we had kids, with girls' nights out and time away from our kids. Our friends are who we turn to when life is just too much and we need a break or a shoulder to cry on. We're there for each other, or we should be.

But what happens when it’s the friend that's too much and you find yourself constantly making excuses for bad behavior and a one-sided friendship?

We all have those friends: the ones who are high drama, always taking without giving much in return, terribly unreliable unless they want something, maybe with an addiction (whether it’s to alcohol or prescription meds or men).

The so-called friends who call us at 2 a.m. to vent about the same problem they’ve been venting about for the past five years without ever doing anything to fix their situation. The ones who expect us to drop everything in the middle of our day to help them with their issues but are never able to carve out time to do even a small favor for us.

I had a couple of friends like this before I had kids and I tried to find some way to maintain the friendships while my kids were still young. But it was my children that convinced me that these people weren’t friends, not really. They were grown adults acting like spoiled children whom I had been mothering and nurturing for so long I didn't realize the toll it was taking on my own happiness.

Cutting toxic friends out of my life wasn’t my goal. I simply didn’t want them around my kids, especially as my kids got old enough to know and remember them. In one case, I found myself making excuse after excuse to put off meeting up with a friend who kept trying to turn our meetings into playdates with her own children.

This was the truth that had been sitting right in front of me for years and it took my child pointing it out for me to see it.

I had nothing against her kids playing with my kids, it was the mom who was the issue—always a moment away from tears over some superficial self-created drama, unable to moderate her voice or her emotions even when kids were within earshot. That was when she even bothered to show up for dates she requested. She was always running late, needing to postpone or shift our get-togethers from a point halfway between our homes to someplace close to her. It was always about her convenience, her problems, her feelings.

My kids picked up on her erratic and inconsistent behavior, her inability to follow through or lack of concern when she put me in an inconvenient situation. My 3-year-old son commented one day, “She’s not very nice to anyone, Mama—even you.” This was the truth that had been sitting right in front of me for years and it took my child pointing it out for me to see it.

I distanced myself from her after that. I tried bringing up my concerns and suggesting some ways it might work out better for all of us in the interest of preserving our friendship, but the concept seemed to be beyond her. When I stopped centering her feelings and needs and asked her to consider mine, the friendship ended.

After that, I started looking at some other friendships a little more closely, noticing just how often I was the one hosting, I was the one driving, I was the one listening and doing the work of maintaining the friendship.

I’d let some so-called friendships drag me down, dreading it every time I saw a certain name pop up on my phone or saw yet another block of text messages about someone else's problems without one single question about mine. If I didn’t want friends like this around my children, why I was willing to tolerate them around me? Having kids made me much more aware of what I had been allowing in my life and how consistently unbalanced, and unfair, some of my friendships were.

I don’t tolerate toxic, selfish people in my life anymore. We all go through bad times in our lives and times when we need a little more than we can give, and that's OK. Friendship, real friendship, is about being there for each other. But I no longer make excuses or time for people who are so wrapped up in themselves that they can't be a good friend to me.

It turns out that by focusing on what was best for my kids, I also managed to do what was best for myself.

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