DEAR MISS MANNERS: My third-grade child has a "best friend" who often tries to get my child in trouble, physically injure my child or break things out of jealousy. If it weren't for the fact that the "best friend's" parents are almost the only friends my husband and I have, I would end this friendship of my child's without blinking. They've come to be like family to me (we moved here just a little while ago, and my husband is an introvert and I'm a stay-at-home mother, so I don't get a lot of interaction with other adults).
The mother tries to reason with her child and threatens punishments that never occur. The father wants to correct/punish his child, but the mother stops him, and he gives in.
"They're just children" is the response I get when I protest or point out ugly behaviors.
My husband thinks their child is a sociopath. During play dates or get-togethers, I now make them stay within eyesight, and I've taken to correcting behavior and even separating them into different areas of the room.
Our child has been raised to be considerate, helpful and honest. People even stop us in public places to compliment us on how well-behaved our child is -- our friends included. The father has even expressed a wish his child was like ours.
We love the parents, but dislike their child and their method of raising him. Is there any way to fix these problems without losing the friendship of the parents, or should we just cut ties?
GENTLE READER: Ask your son.
Miss Manners assures you that this is not always her method of solving adult problems, but if your child is in third grade, he is old enough to make a decision about his own friendships -- and that could influence the way you make yours.
If your son genuinely wants to be best friends with the other boy, give him strategies and statements, such as, "I want to play with you, but not if you don't treat me and my things well."
However, if your son doesn't like the other boy, but feels that he must please him (or you), you can spare him the friendship without cutting off yours with the parents. Suggest that the parents all go out without the children -- share a (strict, no-nonsense) baby sitter -- or come up with other creative ways to keep it just adults (have just the women or men take turns going out alone).
It should be easy enough to convince those parents that you all could use a child-free night.