Carolyn Hax: Friend’s young adult kids are always tagging along

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: How does one approach a friend who always, I mean always, has the kids in tow when socializing? And these aren’t little children or even tweens. I am talking young adults older than 18. It seems a bit odd and co-dependent. Sometimes one just wants to be with their friend, without any kids around, of any age. What’s the diplomatic way to say, I just want to be with YOU without the extra family members each and every time?

Friend: 1. I agree with you 100.

2. And am a bit mystified at the logic of the attending children. They enjoy this?

3. After your friend has put in, apparently, 18-plus years of group socializing, I like your chances of changing your friend’s habits … not at all. I’m envisioning roughly 0 probability.

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

But until something actually changes, what you have is a friendship that you’re at liberty to conduct only in front of a young-adult audience.

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

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

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

Dear Carolyn: I have a long-term friend who has recently revealed herself as unwilling to confront tough-but-manageable issues when they arise — instead papering over them and allowing them to snowball. I think this was probably the case throughout our friendship, but it was, like many other things, hidden until recent events.

Now knowing this, do I owe it to her to do more tea-leaf reading in our communications than I would with others? For example, knowing she wouldn’t come out and say tough things, do I read between the lines of what she does say, then ask her if she really means “[insert direct wording here]”?

Tea-Leaf Reader: You owe it to her to be true to yourself in how much of this you take on. That’s it.

That can mean you read between the lines and ask her if she really means [whatever] — not accusing, but exploring, if that’s something you feel good about doing. Or it can mean you let things go because you believe that if she has something to say, then it’s on her to find a way to say it, and you’ll simply take her at face value till she says otherwise.

The important thing is that you’re not contorting yourself uncomfortably just to make something work.

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