Will Different Schools Create Tension Among Neighbors?

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Dear Miriam,

My family is close with a family in our neighborhood, especially because we have kids who are the same age. Our kids often play together, the parents like to sit and chat, and we even share babysitters sometimes so that the adults can spend time socializing while the kids stay home together. The oldest children in both families are set to go to kindergarten next year, and based on our prior conversations, I assumed we’d be sending our kids to the same school. I envisioned shared drop-offs, being each other’s emergency contacts, and going to PTA meetings together. I just found out they’re planning to send their child to a different school, and I’m crushed. What can I say to the parents that will express my feelings but won’t ruin our friendship?


Sad about Schools


Dear Sad,

Families make many different choices about their children’s education for many more reasons than I can name and probably some reasons I haven’t even thought of. Whether it’s convenience or ideology or specialized services, every parent has their children’s best interests in mind. Even when faced with similar circumstances, different sets of parents may come to different conclusions about what’s best for their children, and there’s no ultimate right answer that you’ve chosen and they’ve failed to choose. 

All this is to say, you were caught off-guard by your friends’ decision, and you feel hurt and confused. But this isn’t about your friendship or your children’s friendship; their decision is about their child’s education, and no one, including you, ought to second guess their choices. 

If you can approach a conversation about this with genuine curiosity, rather than judgment or your own disappointment, I think that could do a lot for your continued friendship. Something like, “What made you decide on Happy Elementary for next year?” or, “Is Sarah excited for kindergarten?” would both show interest on your part. There’s no need to add, “But I thought we were in this together,” or, “I know Rachel was hoping Sarah would be in her class.” 

You might learn that Sarah has a learning disability that will be better served by their school of choice, or that they have a family connection to the principal, or that their values are not as aligned with your own as you had previously thought. You might learn that they felt overwhelmed with kindergarten and went with a decision at random and that they envy your confidence in your own choice. 

Of course kids become friends with their classmates who they see at school, but neighborhood friends are also special, and there’s no reason to think that what happens in kindergarten will spell the end of this family friendship for either the children or the parents. You may need to set aside some time on weekends to be sure to see each other, or you might find that you naturally drift apart a bit, but there’s no reason to hold onto your disappointment or resentment in the meantime. Talk to your friend, be a good friend, and accept that this is just one of many transitions for all of you in the coming years.

Be well,