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Our kids grew apart - do we have to stay friends with the other couple?

The question

My husband and I have been friends with a couple for several years. Our families each have three kids, two of them the same age and in the same grade. The younger kids are not that much of an issue since they are opposite sexes. The older ones are boys, and as they've grown up have developed different interests and different friends. My son is athletic and has a passion for heavy metal. My friend's son, Andy, is more of a computer nerd. Andy's mom is pushing hard for them to remain friends and draw Andy into my son's group of friends. My husband really likes this couple and wants us to be lifelong friends. I'm not so keen (not crazy about their parenting style) and this has created hard feelings between both me and my husband and this couple. I'd rather break off the friendship than force Andy on my son. My husband says I'm a fair-weather friend.

The answer

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Well, there are a few things going on here, it seems to me.

You don't mention the ages of the children in question, but it sounds like they're "tweens," around 10 to 13, is that a fair guess?

I'm surprised you still feel you can influence, let alone dictate, your son's choice of friends. You won't be able to for much longer, that's certain.

And anyway, why would you want to? God, I have next to no control over whom my kids befriend. I have three gregarious, garrulous sons, and they bring home the craziest rag-tag, hodge-podge horde of pals you've ever seen: skinny, fat, short, tall, shaggy, scruffy, loud, quiet, girls, boys, jocks, nerds, obnoxious, polite, etc.

I like it. I like that my kids are exposed to all types.

It's true that if a particular kid is really obnoxious, and gets all up in my grill, I might get a little evasive when his/her mother/father suggests a future "play date."

But other than that, let a thousand flowers bloom! You don't want your jock/metalhead son only cavorting with other jock/metalheads, do you?

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Your son can learn all about terabytes and click-through rates from his nerdy friend; and he can teach Andy to wave his hands up and down with pinkie and index fingers extended whenever they hear a particularly heavy heavy-metal riff on the stereo.

In any case, why not let your son choose with whom he wants to hang? It's his life, right?

Second, your comment about "parenting styles" just makes me tired. Come on, unless it's some kind of egregious negligence or abuse, why judge? I don't understand people who sit around pooh-poohing other people's "parenting styles." Mostly, I look around and see people doing their best to raise their kids. Are you really going to edge away from a couple you like because you disapprove of their "parenting style?"

But if you really don't like them, well, there's no law that says you have to participate in get-togethers. Send your husband over with your kid, stay home and have a bubble bath. Explain to your husband it's not that you're being a "fair-weather friend," it's just that, in the fullness of time, it has been revealed to you that you're none too crazy about this couple.

He should understand. It's actually a rare set of couple friends where both members of both couples like both members of the other couples, if you follow. If he likes them and you're not too crazy about them, he can go over separately. What's wrong with that?

Finally, madam, I urge you to reboot and refresh your attitude toward nerds, especially those of the computer variety, and consider your son's future.

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I assume you've heard of Bill Gates. He could have your house dunked in gold and dipped in diamonds for less money than falls out of his pocket when he runs for the bus.

My point is you shouldn't discourage your son's attachment to his nerdy friend - you should encourage it. He may need to borrow money some day.

I mean, let's be realistic. A few heavy-metal bands - Motorhead, Metallica, Black Sabbath - make it to the point of playing at the stadium level. Only the most determined, gifted athletes ever reach the pro level.

In both those spheres, a few kernels pop; most don't. And if your son isn't among the very few that blow up, well, all of a sudden you've got a bunch of long-haired fubars rattling the windows of your house as they "shred" their electric guitars in your basement.

Meanwhile, as the world rushes moronically to digitize everything, computer nerds are more in demand than ever.

Nerds rule. I doubt Bill Gates could even curl a 30-pound weight. And he probably throws like a ballerina.

But who cares? He can hire people to do all that stuff. And if they fail to perform, he can have them bronzed and turned into lawn ornaments for his estate.

I would encourage your jock/metalhead son to be nice to his computer-nerd friend. We nerds nurse grudges, we have long memories, and if your son's too mean to his nerdy friend, some day the nerdy friend may have his bodyguards toss your son in the shark pond of his private island.

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. Damage Control, the book, will be published this spring.

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