And the potential threat of smallpox aside, Kate makes a pretty valid point about choices, and the growing list of Big Parental Decisions. Our grandparents didn’t debate the virtues of all-organic diets; they didn’t argue Ferberizing versus coddling; they didn’t discuss which TV shows to block or take strong stances on blue food. Not only are parents more involved today; the choices they’re making for their kids are more involved—and there are way more of them. And all these options mean more room for conflict, a veritable booby trap of dividing lines.
Take Liz, a Mount Airy mom who was more than a little miffed when she discovered her BFF-turned-BFUB left her own three-year-old daughter unattended with Liz’s three-year-old son for an extended period of time. “I mean, it’s a safety issue,” she rants. Or Michelle, a South Jersey mom of three (all under the age of 10), who doesn’t allow cell phones or TVs in her children’s bedrooms and who says she’s tired of taking heat from her closest mom-friends for the rule. Or Meg, a Center City mom who cut a friendship short when she realized that her BFUB not only was allowing Meg’s seven-year-old to play with her friend’s daughter unsupervised (and shoeless) down the street, but also appeared to be raising a pint-sized Mean Girl.
“It’s a shame, because for a couple years we would do playdates all the time,” says Meg. “It was nice to have an extra set of hands, babysitting and picking up from school and everything, but I don’t want my daughter hanging out with her child.”
For now, Meg says, she’s content to drift apart—the sort of drifting that entails rowing in the other direction: dodging phone calls and crafting excuses to avoid playdates. She hasn’t seen her friend in months. “I’d definitely love to have drinks and catch up, but I feel that she’ll be like, ‘Let’s bring the girls,’ and what can I say? ‘No, I don’t want my daughter hanging out with yours’?”
Once you’ve been BFUB’d, it’s hard to go back.
WHEN IN 1996, Hillary Clinton wrote about it taking a village to raise a child, she landed herself on the New York Times best-seller list and launched a catchphrase that everyone from school administrators to politicians still parrots today. But the going trend among actual parents veers more toward telling the village to shove it and venturing off to find a new village when criticized. And why not? Hanging with like-minded parents is easier. There’s no guilt. No conflict. No “But Mom, Stephanie’s allowed to swear/run laps around the grocery store/drink coffee.” There’s no BFUB looking at you like you have three heads when you ask her child to please not bury his Tonka trucks in your begonias.
For lots of us, friendship means never having to chastise your pal’s children (an unspoken rule that is yet another modern phenomenon, says Conboy). But why, when we can exact judgment on the minutiae of our friends’ lives (I hate your hair; your job is sucking the life out you; your boyfriend is an idiot), is parenting so off-limits?
“Parenting choices are just so personal, and I don’t think anyone wants to hear that they’re getting it wrong, so it’s just easier to distance yourself from it,” says Michelle, the South Jersey mother of three.
Rachel says she’s tried to distance herself the right amount from Kelly; the two are still friends, just not the matching Bugaboo kind. They get together with the kids a lot less, and on the infrequent occasions when they do, Rachel is anxious: “I know Ava’s going to be less likely to listen,” she says. “I know she’s going to pick up on things that she wouldn’t necessarily pick up on with other kids.” The couples also don’t vacation together with the kids, which means that Rachel and Michael’s jaunts to Disney World are with new (BFAB) friends.
“It’s not a bad situation,” Rachel says. “We’re just not meeting up for lunch or at the park as much I do with other friends. I’m hoping, as Ava gets older, that will change,” she says. “Because I like Kelly so much, and I love her kids. I just don’t really like them that much right now.”