A Guide to the Terrible, Delicate Art of Making Parent Friends

A Guide to the Terrible, Delicate Art of Making Parent Friends

You’d think it would be a cakewalk to make friends with other parents. After all, you’re both parents! With children! Presumably at the same daycare or preschool! But no, you would not believe how difficult it is to find other people who both feel the same way you do about Cry it Out and also like the Pixies.

Parenting friendships are a delicate, terrible art. Take the ordinary factors that complicate making friends as an adult—competing schedules or interests, your neighborhood proximity, differences socioeconomic status—only, now double it, and add a small wildebeest or three to the mix. (Any child who is not your own is a wildebeest, some of whom are quite lovable wildebeests, but wildebeests nonetheless).

Now consider that, in order for this budding friendship to last more than one playdate, all four of you must jibe somewhat as people AND as parents, which means that at least in some small way, your general interests, taste and socioeconomic standing must gel, but critically, so must your general approach to parenting. Nothing kills a play date quicker than finding out your potential new parent BFF doesn’t believe in vaccinating or has a child who’s an undisciplined biter. This is your life here! And your free time! To which you have approximately 58 minutes a week to devote. Getting all this shit to align automatically is about as likely as meeting your soul mate in high school. It happens, but rarely. Almost never.

In my experience, the confounding thing about making parent friends is that, while making friends as an adult often requires some new activity—joining a book club! Trying a new gym! Being willing to drive to the Eastside of Los Angeles on a weeknight!—parent friends tend to be right where you already are, doing exactly what you are doing. They are at dropoff and pickup every morning, and if you’re at the same school, they are attending the same bajillion events as you every season and probably at the same playground every weekend.

This familiarity and frequent interaction creates an illusion of ease and access and likemindedness. It ought to be a perfect recipe for easy friendship: You got kids, I got kids, let’s hang out and let those kids do kid things. And yet, the stumbling blocks are numerous when the only thing you for sure have in common is you both shell out too much money to this overpriced daycare.

If it all works out, it’s double the fun. If it doesn’t, it’s double the annoyance. And I’m not talking about tolerating differences for the sake of the occasional playdate. Like everyone, I’ve leaned into my share of two hours of banal small talk about vacation homes so my kid could tear through someone else’s toys for an afternoon. But that is no way to live a life, friend. What you’re aiming for, ideally, is actual friendship. You know, like you’d have with anyone.

So sure, you might both have 4-year-olds who love to watch Frozen, but what if the parents are:

• Anti-vaxxers

• Nudists

• Swingers

• Too Old

• Too Rich

• Too Dumb

• Promise Keepers

• Cry it Out-ers

• Boring

• Drunks

• Try Hards

• Too Retrograde

• One-Uppers

• Bad Taste

With so many dealbreakers, it’s a wonder we ever hit it off with anyone at all.

A recent New Yorker piece touched on a purported new way around these problems: mommy speed dating. In it, author Rachel Levin drops in such an event in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus, where approximately 60 women signed up to be introduced, real quick-like, to other moms they might strike up a friendship with if the stars align.

Levin spoke with Hillary Frank, who hosts a parenting podcast and co-founded the group with Natalie Chitwood. The two met and hit it off at a mommy and me yoga class, and hoped to help other women do the same by hosting the shindig. Levin writes:

At seven o’clock, the doors opened. Aretha Franklin’s “Baby I Love You” blasted, and new mothers from such places as East Harlem and Williamsburg wandered in and scribbled nametags. “I’d like to meet someone from the senior set,” Allison B. (Oliver, thirteen months), a personal stylist, said. “I’m forty-three, and there aren’t a lot of us.”
Standing solo by the bar was Jennifer M. (Henry, six months), a stay-at-home mom from Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. “If I see someone breast-feeding at the park, I think, Oh, good, she’s not a nanny,” she said. “Sometimes I meet someone who seems O.K., but then she starts badmouthing vaccines and I’m, like, Red flag!”

Red flag indeed. And so it goes.

Personally, I think this speed dating should go one step further and turn into a sophisticated parent friend match service for the whole family. But rather than simply promote couples’ positive attributes, it could be brutally honest about their drawbacks, the ones that really matter when time, sleep, and energy toward new friendship is at a premium.

She’s a stay-at-home mom who cooks a mean lasagna but practices diaper-free, loves amber teething necklaces and the phrase “Give it up to God”; he is fun-loving and always fixes you a drink but must be nagged to do the dishes. Little Reagan does not know how to apologize, but neither parent seems interested in making her learn.

This way, you know what you’re getting, and everyone can save the months of rescheduled play dates it would’ve taken to eventually find this out.

I know what you’re thinking: Wow, do I even want to make parent friends!? Aren’t my old regular friends good enough? The answer is: yes you do and no they are not. Try as your old friends might to adjust to you plus baby, they can and should only have to adjust so much. There is nothing better than commiserating over an annoying teacher or childhood development phase with someone staring it down on the same lack of sleep as you. If you discover that you both actually like even a few of the same new bands, restaurants or movies, lock that shit down.

Because when you find other parents who are as laid back as you are (or aren’t), as flexible as you are (or aren’t), and as approximately cool as you are (or aren’t), it’s easy and fun and it reminds you how friendships work anyway: You get together sometimes, you like their company, and it’s pretty fun.

My real advice is this: Stay open-minded, lower your expectations, and remember that it’s really about your kids. So do make the effort to expose yourself and your kid to as many types of people that are out there, while also understanding that if your kid doesn’t like the kids of your parent friends, the whole situation is hosed. Try also to compartmentalize the friendships the way you might “friends with benefits,” aka, “play date with good snacks” or “play date with Pinterest mom” or “playdate with free stock market discussion.” There are good parent friends, and there are good farmer’s market parent friends, beach parent friends, movie night parent friends, and rainy day parent friends. And there is no better way to see what other marriages, lives, and divisions of labor look like than agreeing to every single play date you have ever been invited on, and to open yourself up to the same scrutiny, even when you know good and well the likelihood of it all sticking longterm is zilch.

But who knows? Maybe those Nudist Promise Keepers who are super into Cry It Out really like the Pixies after all and want to go screen that new Polish art film this weekend while the kids perfect rainbow loom bracelets. Crazier things have happened.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby.

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