My daughter is going to a new school this fall, with a brand new set of classmates and parents. I’m approaching the experience with an eye open for which kids she hits it off with and which parents I might connect with.
It is notoriously hard to make new friends as an adult, and even harder once parenting squeezes all the social energy and free time out of your schedule. But it is totally worth the effort to find your “people” because they will best understand what you go through in parenting small children. Look for kindred parents in the people you encounter often—in the family that hits your neighbourhood park on the same schedule, in the other pairs of dark-circled eyes at LEGO hour, and in the 6:52am group texts saying, “Oh crap, today is pajama day???”
At the risk of sounding like a social opportunist, I’m always looking for a good friend-fit. These are the types of friends I’ve found useful since becoming a parent.
The Border Collie
There is usually one person in a group who plans all the playdates. Astoundingly, they feel joy instead of dread when hosting a holiday cookie party or summer pool party. They are friendly, enthusiastic, and herd groups of people together - like a border collie. (I can’t take credit for this term - I heard it from someone who heard it from someone who was probably a border collie’s PR person.) I’m always grateful for the social legwork these extroverts do, because otherwise I’d be isolated. To be a good friend in return, be sure to tell them how much you appreciate it, they love praise as much as they love bringing people together.
The Chill Parent
If you tend to be an anxious parent (like I am), the Chill Parent can be a welcome antidote to your worry. It’s not that they don’t face the same problems you do, they just don’t get ruffled by every virus or epic mess. Their laid-back nature can be a reminder that the little things don’t have to ruin your day. But for some people, outer calm can conceal a deep current of inner chaos. Even if they seem unbothered, be sensitive and offer the occasional support they might not know how to ask for.
Do you know a parent of older children who has already been through all the fevers and exorcist moments you are currently panicked about? My oldest friend started her family seven years before I did, and I have taken advantage of her experience with all of my “Is this normal?” questions since the minute I got pregnant. She is also a great reminder that we will grow out of every tough phase (even if it’s just to enter a tougher one). Just remember to keep the friendship flowing both ways so they don’t feel like it’s all about you. Even the most patient friend can get tired of hearing about your toddler’s tantrums every day.
A variation on The Mentor is The Teacher. It doesn’t have to be your child’s teacher - any teacher makes a good parent friend. A teacher probably knows more about child development, education, public health, and Pokémon than you ever will. They have studied packs of children in the wild for years while you’ve only had one or two for less than a decade.
Develop a friendship with a parent who has a totally different lifestyle: different religion, very different family size, different career path. Everyone benefits from the change to see things from a different perspective. Friendship expert Shasta Nelson says curiosity is the first in five stages of friendship. Who provokes more curiosity than a person very different from yourself?
Playdates with an artsy parent will help you and the kids try projects you don’t quite have the confidence for; an adventurous friend will open your mind to how much you can actually do outdoors with kids in tow. Maybe your “someone different” is not even a parent yet. Maintaining a friendship with a non-parent will remind you how it felt to be idealistic and draw you to the surface when you are drowning under deluge of a busy family life.
Emergencies happen. Non-emergency freak outs and inconveniences happen even more. When you have a flat tire and an appointment, a trusted neighbour can make your day about 1000 times easier. And being friendly with neighbours gives your kids a built-in play group close to home. Maybe you aren’t the type to knock on doors and say “hello” after living in the same neighbourhood for five years (I’m not). Starting neighbourhood friendships is really as easy as spending time in the front yard every day. Just let the connections happen.
Not your kid’s friend’s mum. Your friend. Yeah, your kids probably get along, and that’s your primary excuse for getting together, but find a friend who you want to hang out with as a grown-up! Imagine that day you both have a sitter and you can go out for coffee alone. You need a friend you can talk to about things you love, things that make you an individual aside from parenthood. Get that person in your contacts now.
When the new school year starts, look around and think about how you can engage and plant a friendship seed. Lifehacker’s Nicole Dieker wrote about “low-stakes” friendships: “Forming casual, low-stakes friendships with the people you interact with regularly is a good way to feel more integrated with the world around you. Plus, some of those low-stakes friendships could eventually turn into true, close friends.”
And for the sake of balance, think about what type of friend you can be in return. The most important thing to remember about making good parent-friends is to build community by being a good parent-friend, too.