I have a confession to make, and I'm sure I'm not the only one: I cannot stand my best friend's kids.
My friend Kate* and I have been friends since we were at uni together. We shared a flat, we lived off next to nothing and watched Dawson's Creek together. We've seen each other through failed romances, overseas travel, a thousand different jobs, marriage, and – in my case – divorce. We were bridesmaids at each other's weddings. I love Kate very much and I have no doubt we'll be friends until we die.
But Kate's kids are the devil in human form, and I can't stand to be around them.
Kate has two boys: Jack* and Will*. Jack and Will are five and six years old. They are loud and obnoxious, and they don't seem to have any level of empathy for others.
Kate and I have different parenting styles, which is fine. I don't think my way is right and her way is wrong. Kate's relaxed approach might work well with more chilled out, laid back children. But Jack and Will seem to be angry all the time and they don't take any notice of their mother.
When they play with my children, one of my kids is usually hit over the head with a hard, plastic toy within the first 10 minutes. There is a lot of shouting, a lot of name calling, a lot of physical violence – pinching, slapping, pushing and kicking – and just a massive headache.
To her credit, Kate tells her boys they "really shouldn't" hurt others, but she does it in a passive way that sounds much more like a suggestion than a parental rule.
On one occasion when I told Will not to shove my son, he just stared through me like I wasn't there, and then went and bashed his toy truck with his toy hammer.
On the way home from these visits, my children will inevitably regale me with stories of all the mean things Jack and Will did and said during our visit.
I tried to find a way to make it all work, but I'm at the end of my tether. Why should I put my children through such torture just because my friend won't discipline her kids?
And if I'm honest, I have to say I just don't like these kids and I don't want to spend my time with them either.
So I've made the decision to not visit any more. I am constantly suggesting Kate and I escape our offices for a weekday lunch, or that we leave the kids at home and we head out for dinner or drinks somewhere.
I tell her it's so lovely to get together with just her. It's like old times, I say, and we can remember who we were before we had kids.
So far, this plan is working well. Kate and I have had some lovely catch-ups. She tells me stories about how well her kids are doing – and sometimes about how unfair other parents at school are, who are advising their kids not to play with her children.
I smile and nod, and make all the right sounds. How do you tell someone their kids are awful? And why would you?
I'm sure Kate and her husband are doing the best they can, and their boys will probably grow up to be decent humans. I just don't want to be around while they're still learning how to function as part of society.
So I'll keep seeing Kate without her kids and keep pretending I have a super busy schedule on the weekends when we all used to get together for picnics and play dates.
I think it will take another 10 years or so, by which time, the children will hopefully be off and doing their own thing.
*Names have been changed to protect a lifelong friendship.