Q. Other people’s children: My good friend “Elaine” can’t have children of her own. To compensate, she dotes on her friends’ children, especially my daughter “Alexandra.” Our other friends think Elaine is amazing—she’ll happily babysit, brings back gifts when she travels for work, invites us to go to children’s plays with her—but her actions have always seemed desperate to me. Recently, Elaine greeted us at a party and asked if she could hold Alexandra. I joked, “I don’t know. I’m worried you’ll run off with her.” Elaine was embarrassed, at least, and left the party with her husband shortly afterward.
Now I’m not sure what to do. Sometimes, it seems like I made a casual comment that Elaine took too seriously. Other times, I think the comment spoke to an underlying fear I have that Elaine’s interest in other people’s children is dangerous. The one thing I can’t force myself to do is feel that badly. I am worried, however, that Elaine will tell our friends what I said. None of them think she’s weird, and when I’ve tried to talk about it with them, they’ve hinted that I’m being unkind. What do I say the next time I see Elaine?