So here’s the thing about making friends with other parents: it’s kind of hard. Every time my kid makes a new friend I am so excited (!!!) for him, but it’s also a little trepidatious for me: does this mean I have to try to make a friend, too? It’s not that I don’t want to make friends, because I do… it’s just that meeting new people, and especially meeting new parents, is a little overwhelming for me. I was an incredibly awkward child and teen who grew into a moderately awkward adult, so I struggle.
It was easy to make parent friends when we lived in the town where I went to college: all my college friends had kids, too! We were already friends… and we had bonus little people who could be friends, too. Once we moved across the country I very suddenly realized I had very few parent friends. I love my non-parent friends, but sometimes you need to be able to bring your kid over to someone’s house and know it’s ok if they have a minor breakdown over a construction vehicle toy, because that person’s kid is also having a minor breakdown over the same thing. You know?
My kid started preschool pretty soon after we moved, and all of a sudden he had a whole new batch of kid friends, meaning I had a whole new batch of potential parent friends. Here are my tips for navigating the seemingly murky waters of new parent friendships:
Get over yourself
It’s easy to walk into a new situation and immediately be hit with a sense of otherness. Maybe you have bright pink hair! A bunch of tattoos! Like to dress like a rainbow every day! Whatever your brand of offbeat is, you might feel a sense of dun-dun-duunnn when it comes to meeting parents who don’t appear to “look” like you’d be compatible friends. Let me tell you this: you’re probably wrong.
When my son started preschool I saw it as a great chance for both of us to make friends our own ages. The first day I casually/nervously smiled at other parents as they dropped off their kids, but nothing really happened until week two of school when my son kept mentioning the same two names of kids that he really thought were the coolest ever. I asked him a bunch of questions about what he and the kids liked to do together, and IDed their parents at drop off/pick up.
It still took me an extra week before I worked up the nerve to approach one of them, but now (eight months later) she’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. She’s also around ten years older than me and has three kids to my one. I’ve learned more about being a parent by just watching her interact with her kids than any book has taught me, and she was one of the first people to offer to help out after my son had surgery in April.
Basically, there are two ways you can approach getting over yourself. You can be all “OMG, other parents are going to think my neon pants/green hair/goth make-up/lesbian status/full sleeve tattoos are SO CRAZY” or you can be like “Hey, my name is [your name], I’m [your kid’s name]’s mom. I heard our kids really like to play together — want to let them hang out this weekend? I’ll bring lemonade!”
I recommend the latter.
Set up the first play date yourself
So once you offer to bring lemonade (clearly my go-to playdate beverage of choice), you have to follow through. Even naturally outgoing people recognize when a situation is a little awkward, and inviting yourself and your kid over to someone else’s house can definitely be that. I have too often found that unless I put myself out there and inquire about weekend plans first, it’s likely nothing will ever come to fruition. It might give you all kinds of butterflies in your stomach at first, but it’s actually pretty easy to find out if another family wants to hang — you just have to ask.
Pick a neutral location
I highly suggest NOT hanging out with a new family at your home or theirs — at least, not at first. Sometimes other factors make this easier (a sick parent, multiple kids, weather) and that makes sense, but otherwise find out the general area the family lives in and meet in the middle! Our most successful new-family playdates have been when we just meet at a nearby playground and let the kids be… kids. Children have this great way of more or less knowing exactly what to do when they’re outside and running free together, so a playground gives you a great chance to feel out the other parent and see where this friendship might go. Also, playgrounds are totally low pressure: meeting at a cafe is great because you can get coffee, but you’ll have to police your kids the entire time. Playgrounds are glorious because children are expected to act like children, which means totally crazy.
Know when it’s not working
Sometimes your kid makes a SUPER EXCELLENT kid friend, and you meet their parents and you’re like “…OH.” Kid friendships and parent friendships don’t always jive, so it’s important to know the difference between faking a friendship for the sake of your kid, and actually really being friends with someone. My son totally has a few friends who I think are great, and who have parents who are also great — they’re just not people I can spend an extended period of time with.
Your kid making a new friend doesn’t mean you have to, and letting your kid do things without you is a massive part of parenting.
If it’s important to you that your kid still gets to hang with his friend even if you don’t want to hang with that kid’s parents, then decide whether or not you’re comfortable NOT being around while they play. I’m totally cool with a few of the parents taking the kiddos to the park while I get some work done or just lay around on the couch (what! bliss). Your kid making a new friend doesn’t mean you have to, and letting your kid do things without you is a massive part of parenting.
Consider your child’s feelings
There are really three ways friendships with other parents can go: 1) everyone (kids and adults) click instantly and really want to be friends, 2) your kids click but both adults feel kind of “eh” about one another and take turns watching the kiddos while they hang, or 3) your kids click but you and the other adult totally and completely don’t. Like, you don’t click to the point that while you trust this person to keep your kid happy and safe, for whatever reason you don’t feel strongly enough about the other parent to even be motivated to drop your kid off at their house.
The first is obviously the goldmine: friends for everyone! The second is totally workable and probably most likely, and the third is a big bummer. If you find yourself in the third category, all I urge is this: make sure you’re considering the feelings of your child before you stop hanging with the other family. I feel like when it comes to young children making friends, as long as everyone’s happy and getting along… then it’s worth it to suck up your own mixed feelings and make friend-making a positive experience for your kid.
And who knows? I do think it’s important that you make an honest, valid attempt at friendship before completely writing off another parent as a real friend. I’ve found that you can almost always find a topic to talk to someone else about, and you might end up in the middle of a great conversation with someone you never would have thought you’d even want to know… if you let yourself get there in the first place. If anything, by keeping a positive attitude about it all, you’ll be modeling healthy friend-making to your kid, which is invaluable.