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Our next-door neighbor is an overly protective stepparent. He has made us very uncomfortable about communicating at all — even in just a casual, friendly manner — with his 12-year-old stepdaughter. He acts as if we are suspicious characters. My daughter has tried to be friendly with them since they moved in a few months ago, but it’s been impossible. Should we speak to the mother? What would you do?
I have talked to many parents who have been justifiably concerned about tensions springing from a “problematic neighbor.”
I usually recommend that parents make an effort to reach out to new neighbors as soon as they move in. It is good to be welcoming, as new friendships can be formed and successful connections between adults can help make relationships with — or between — children much easier to establish.
If you already have had even casual interactions with these parents, continuing relaxed contact could help gradually resolve the problem, even if you can’t bring up particular concerns right away. If you have not done so yet, it might be wise to see if you can begin opening up lines of general communication.
When and if it is possible to talk about upsetting circumstances such as yours, it is often wise to stay calm and open to listening. If a discussion is relatively tension free, it is usually easier for people to hear concerns and share useful information.
It is not uncommon for one person in a couple to be easier to talk to. If this is true of the mother in your question I would begin by addressing your concern to her. Most people I know who have worked through situations like yours say that it is important to avoid criticism of partners or other family members. Almost everyone will defend his family to a neighbor.
Focusing on goals rather than complaints can be also be helpful — i.e. mentioning how nice it would be if everyone, including the children, could get to know each other, or inviting some or all of the neighbors over for dinner or coffee to move things in a better direction.
It is human nature to want difficult or frustrating situations to be resolved quickly and easily. Unfortunately, that is often unrealistic. Patience, persistence, and understanding often produce results.
I have often found that trying one small step at a time and remembering that even a little progress can bring people closer to their goals can help put upsetting problems in perspective.
Nevertheless, sometimes even excellent efforts don’t work out. If your initial or subsequent talks don’t go well, it may mean that you have to accept that your neighbors are just not neighborly, explain the situation to your daughter, and make sure that she has plenty of friends to have fun with.
Good luck as you tackle what might be a difficult challenge.
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