After you have a baby, you may be expecting to bond with all the other new parents you meet and parks, playgroups, and sing-alongs — but while those folks are certainly easy to meet, it’s surprisingly hard to keep those relationships going.
I’m not talking about when kids are school-aged, playing on sports teams, and you’ve got a ready-made community within which to network. I’m talking about when they’re babies or toddlers and their community is you. (And maybe Daniel Tiger).
Opportunities to interact with other fumbling new parents abound, what with mummy & me classes, library story times, and playground run-ins. But while you might have a nice momentary connection, many other factors must conspire before you can triumphantly add them to the short list of people you can SOS text for an emergency play date to avoid going postal before dinner.
It’s not like those carefree college days when a mutual love of alt-country, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Taco Bell could forge a lifelong bond. As new parents, we always have somewhere else to be, something else to do, and somebody wiggly and whiny to dress, change, bathe, feed, wipe. (Including, on occasion, ourselves.)
After much real-world testing, I’ve finally figured how to hang on to these potential parent friends (PPFs). Allow me to walk you through this simple, 8-pronged compatibility test to determine whether you will be able to cultivate lasting friendship with that cool-looking parent who was similarly disheveled and forgivably unbathed at Gymboree/swimming/yogarate or one of the 12 other activities in which your child is enrolled in so you can not go to the nut house enrich his/her development. Without further ado, may I present:
The 8-factor compatibility test for making (and keeping) a new parent friend
Number of kids: You see someone who looks just like your college roommate and they’re wearing the same ‘80s pop culture ripoff t-shirt from Target! (This is a very good sign.) You exchange tired smiles, your babies share egg shakers without screaming. Clearly, it’s meant to be. Until you find out she’s got two more kids at home and you’ve never seen her before because she is usually schlepping one kid to guitar lessons while checking the other’s Mandarin homework and she’s only here today because it’s a rare, unforeseen 1-child occasion while her mother-in-law visits. Dreams: dashed.
Ages of kids: There you both are, at the mall playground, watching your offspring from opposite benches, both just lightly scrolling TikTok in responsible 5-minute intervals. But you’ve got an about-to-nap toddler and they’ve got a kindergartner? Methinks your worlds are not destined to collide. On paper, you two could be soulmates. But a child who wants to reenact elaborate alternate endings to Frozen will have little patience for a kid who can barely say “Elsa” and becomes an unhinged Gremlin when she receives the wrong colour cheese.
Compatible schedules: Do you and your PPF spend the same amount of time with your respective kids? Are you both back at the office, stay-at-home, and/or selling plant-based energy supplements part-time? Because if one of you works more than the other, or has childcare more than the other, or has Timmy enrolled part-time in preschool on M,W,F and Spanish Singalong on alternating Tuesdays, things will start looking…complicated, and quickly.
Proximity to one another: Do you live within a 10-minute walk or drive from each other? Good. If you don’t, there will rarely be enough time to get your pint-sized lunatic ready, make the trip, and still have time to play before they need a siesta. Once my toddler wakes up, crib-lounges, picks an outfit, freaks that she can’t wear a skirt and a dress (next time, fuck it, we’ll layer), finds an hour’s worth of reasons she’s too busy to change out of her PJs, has breakfast, submits to evil teeth and hair brushing, dodges a poop diaper change, puts on shoes on the correct feet, gathers the necessary VIP stuffed animals for the journey, and takes at least one “time-in” for maniacal screaming due to a tissue being given to her from the wrong tissue box, it’s almost nap time. Under these harsh conditions, if your PPF doesn’t live close by you will see them approximately never.
Parenting style: If you are old-school/free range and they are one propeller away from being a Black Hawk helicopter, the stars are not aligned for your parent friend union. Same if you sometimes (OK, often) let your child eat his non-organic chicken nuggets without washing his hands first (because, dear god, the battle, the wasted gallons of water, the unnecessarily soaked towels, and 10 other insanely slow things he wants to do in the sink) and your intended follows their non-GMO, farm-to-table, probiotic child around with a tub of non-toxic hand sanitiser, it’s going to be hard to have fun over all that mutual judging.
Level of need: If they already have a set coterie of parental friends, play dates, and family BBQs in their calendar, and you are fresh off the minivan from Kansas, the magic 8 ball says, “Don’t count on it.” Even if you hit it off, your PPF simply may not have time or space in their already packed social schedules to start from scratch with a newbie. Best to seek out other eager beavers who need you as much as you need them.
Level of thirst: Do you see nothing wrong with a 4 p.m. tipple after a long day of screaming and tears (some of them yours) while your little ones smash cars together? You need a parent friend who is similarly parched. If your new friend would never enjoy a beverage responsibly while the kids are around, you may want to keep on moving. Over to my house.
The spouse factor: Once you have checked at least four of these boxes (this is a near-scientific formula, remember), you’re ready to take your newfound friendship to the next level: one that includes not just ad hoc mid-week meetups, but planned weekend functions involving people who did not desperately select each other out of a crowd and say, “There they are. The PPF I need.” You may adore each other, but that doesn’t mean your spouses will. If you envision Saturdays during which all three or four of you (and your littles) can amiably hang, let’s just hope one of them hasn’t followed Phish on tour while the other voted for Trump (twice).
Now, just bring this brief checklist to your next parental function and find out if your new PPF is a keeper. May the Pull-ups be with you.