• Resolving Problems

My Neighbor Makes Me Feel Uncomfortable

Published: January 30, 2016 | Last Updated: October 16, 2023 By | 7 Replies Continue Reading
A woman feels uncomfortable about her neighbor’s physical contact with her children.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I am feeling very conflicted about a friendship I have with my neighbor. She moved to the US with her husband. They are childless but would love to have children. They have no family here, but they do have some friends. She doesn’t work. We met one day when I was playing outside with my children.

I immediately became friendly with her because I knew she was here from another country and looking for people with whom to connect. I had previously made friends with other people in the same situation.

At first, I would invite her to the park with my children and me or invite her over to my house. She also invited us to her house. Things were fine for a while, but I started to feel like she was getting too close with my children. She was hugging, kissing, and tickling them to the extent that I started to feel very uncomfortable.

We keep in touch via email, and she frequently closes the email with, “Love you and kids.” I started to back away, but with much guilt, because I didn’t think she meant any harm and I know she loves children.

It was just too much too soon for my comfort level.

Since setting boundaries with her, I feel extremely guilty about it and find myself frequently feeling obligated to keep in contact with her and invite her over. She still contacts me and wants to meet when I have free time.

Any suggestions? I don’t want to hurt her feelings or make her feel rejected, especially because she is from a foreign country and doesn’t have family or many friends here.

Thank you! Maggie

ANSWER

Hi Maggie,

Since your neighbor is from another country, it is possible that there are cultural differences between you in terms of what you both deem as appropriate physical contact between children and unrelated adults. Or she simply may be overzealous around children.

Whatever the reason, your first responsibility has to be to your own family, and you need to trust your intuition. If there was anything that made you feel uncomfortable about her contact with your children, you need to respond to those instincts. Depending on the age of your child, you may also want to initiate a generic discussion about inappropriate touching.

It sounds like you have already backed off to an email-only relationship. In retrospect, if you wanted to maintain a friendship, you might have told your neighbor you were uncomfortable with her physical contact with your children.

Since you have decided that this neighborly relationship is more of a burden than a true friendship—and you don’t want to hurt her feelings—you can let her know that your life is busy with your kids and other family responsibilities. If you want to be neighborly, you can ask her to meet occasionally for a cup of coffee at times when the kids are in school or being taken care of by your husband.

Hope this helps.

My best, Irene

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Category: Neighbors, RESOLVING PROBLEMS

Comments (7)

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  1. Arlene says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head cultural issue. Many years ago I developed a friendship with a woman from another country. Although I am Canadian, pretty laid back, the way we parent and she did were miles apart and I have an only child. The way she was with her own kids made me uncomfortable, way over the top. The older kids had free reign to come in when she was in the bathroom, dressing, go through her purse. Actually I was surprised she was not nursing the 8 year old. It was like nothing else existed on earth than being attached to these kids and a slave to them. Be assured it did not make for nice kids when your mother is making you the whole centre of her universe. She was acting like an over indulgent Grandmother than mother. It was never a nice visit with her and the non stop obsession with what are the kids doing, are they safe, hungry and the non stop mauling. She was not like that with mine thank God as she was plenty consumed with her own obsession with hers. You might do as I had to do. I would only do outings with her that did not involve the kids and that will be easy as they are your kids and you can leave them out of the mix. If she pushes you to bring the kids along or see the kids, tell her in this country Moms value their women to women recharding time to be better mothers. That should put a stop to that uncomfortable feeling inside. Being nice does mean saying No or ending friendships with bothersome women.

  2. Heidi says:

    You sound like a very nice person. You also sound like a woman who has intuition about something. Follow your instinct. I can’t think of a culture where new people come in close to someone else’s children in an extemely close and intimate matter. Our first and constant responsibility is to our children.

  3. Tansy says:

    As a childless woman, I can see a bit of myself in Maggie’s neighbour. I’ve been unable to have children for a number of reasons and am fine about it. But I very much enjoyed spending time with my friends’ children when they were young and maybe in being denied the chance to mother my own kids, I was more affectionate with them than women who are mothers would be.

    The other thing is that we childless women tend to feel that our mummy friends might not want to spend time with us, because we obviously don’t understand the ins and outs of motherhood and don’t have kids that can play with their kids. It’s perfectly natural for women with kids to gravitate towards other women with kids, so sometimes we childless women are trying to prove that we can be just as much fun. We don’t want to lose friendships as all our friends become mothers (one of the painful side effects of not having kids), so we go all out to show how much we love our friends’ kids, so that we won’t be excluded. Same with signing emails “love to you and the kids”….. I worried that if I didnt acknowledge the fact that they have families, they might think I didnt “get it”.

    However…and it’s a massive however…. you absolutely must put your family first and if this neighbour’s behaviour is in any way uncomfortable – and it sounds like it is – you have the right to withdraw from her, without feeling guilty. Also, the big difference between your neighbour and me is that I had known my mummy friends for years. I also never kissed their children….. although as others have said, your neighbour kissing them may be a cultural thing. In Italian culture, for example, children are often passed from stranger to stranger and kissed. But this doesn’t mean you have to allow it.

    In summary, having said that we childless women often want to show you that we adore your children, this is only really appropriate if you know them very well and if the parents and kids are comfortable with it. I think sending your neighbour an email saying you are very busy with family commitments is a good idea.

  4. Dionne says:

    You might tell her that in our culture, it’s frowned upon for outsiders to the family to pay too much attention to another women’s children. Or if the kids don’t like it, tell her your kids aren’t big huggers and don’t really like to be touched by those outside the family. If that’s the only problem, telling her to stop might do it. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it but if she doesn’t listen, then proceed to cut the ties.

    But I wonder if there’s more to it than just the touching and she seems too “intense” about your kids or something else that you sense. You mention that she signs off on all emails to you to include your children as well as you. Do you feel like she is competing with you to be their mother or anything along those lines? I’d pay attention to those warning bells. You sense that something is not right here.

    Personally, I don’t like a friend to assume they’re close with my kids or husband. The offer of friendship with me does not include them becoming part of my entire family, uninvited. To me, that’s a boundary violation and might be reason to stop pursuing the friendship. I guess you’d call it “overfamiliarity?” I feel like that their inclusion with the rest of my family would be for me to decide. Otherwise, that’s pushy behavior on their part. It also makes it harder to disentangle should I decide to after getting to know them better. No thanks!

    If you’ve already decided you want to quit with her, just do it. Prolonging it and continuing the invitations is not a kindness for either of you and there’s no point to it. I’m sure you know you are in no way responsible for her social life.

  5. Salstarat says:

    You don’t mention if your children feel uncomfortable being kissed and tickled? When I was a child, I absolutely HATED being tickled by anyone. A child should NEVER EVER be forced to kiss, cuddle or be tickled by anyone if it makes THEM feel uncomfortable … a child, of any age, has the right to set boundaries and if they don’t want to be kissed or tickled, that is their prerogative. I would have no hesitation in telling your neighbour that your children do not like being kissed and tickled. Alternatively, you could see or visit your neighbour when your children are not around. If this does not work, you may need to limit your contact with her. This incident is a good example of WHY it is an excellent idea to NEVER EVER get overly-friendly with neighbours and to keep relationships with neighbours civil and polite but distant. There is a wise old saying: “Good fences make good neighbours” – often, when neighbours become overly friendly it can often mean you lose your privacy with your neighbour over-stepping your boundaries, coming to your home at all times of day and night, gossiping with other neighbours about you etc. This situation always ends badly down the track which results in discourse, bitterness and people feeling uncomfortable about coming and going from their own property. It is important to BE friendly with neighbours but not to BECOME friends with neighbours.

  6. Susan M. says:

    The first thing I would have done would have been to research the cultural values of the country she was/is from. That is always a huge consideration for me. Then, I would have spoken to her, based upon the behaviors that concerned me. What I would have said, would depend upon what I found out. Every person and family have what is referred to as a “home culture”, which is important to respect.

  7. Amy F says:

    I was going to say the same thing as Irene about cultural differences with touch/tickle and expressions of love, even if English is her first language and a appropriate touching. Still, you have every right to your boundaries and kids should never be touched without their or your permission. If it were me, next time we got together I’d say, “I’ve been uncomfortable with you tickling and kissing the kids and I wasn’t sure how to tell you. Although I understand you meant no harm, the opposite, we ask that family and friends limit their touching to a quick hug.”

    You’re kind to be thoughtful and concerned about your neighbor. You might recommend ideas for her to meet others, if she doesn’t work outside the home and have other opportunities, you can couch this in a conversation about not having time to socialize more often.

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