By Leah Wyatt
Hi, I’m Leah. I’m the mom of two year old boy-girl twins and a four year old daughter, plus I work part-time from home. I like strong coffee, bad reality TV, and childless trips to Costco. Want to be friends?
Was that an awkward introduction? Aren’t they always?
As someone who spends a lot of time at home with toddlers, I crave adult interaction. Stay-at- home/work-from-home parenting life can be isolating. Raising young children can also feel extremely isolating. Grown-ups need friends. Even grown-ups who dole out awkward personal introductions.
Kids need buddies, too. Even kids with siblings as potential built-in friends – or enemies. I want my children to have ample opportunities to build up their social skills. With three kids aged four and under, the urge to hide at home is strong (the seemingly simple act of boarding our minivan sometimes completely exhausts me), but we’ve managed to find some approaches to socialization that work for everyone.
I give my kids space to make friend connections on their own. Micromanaging just does not work when you are wrangling multiple children, so I stay relatively hands off unless one of them is physically or emotionally hurting someone.
For myself, despite identifying as an introvert, I strive to embrace the discomfort of actively approaching other parents. Questions or comments about child related stuff often make for an easy opener. Many people might find socializing with strangers awkward and will appreciate the effort – or so I tell myself! Seattleites might already be familiar with the “Seattle Freeze”. I approach the idea of transcending this stereotype as a fun challenge. As someone who married her college boyfriend, I never really got to date. It’s possible that by collecting phone numbers on the playground, I’m actually living out my unrealized singledom fantasies. Whatever works!
If your kids are very young, you have the advantage of being able to actively lead the process of befriending other families. Toddlers and preschoolers are often willing to play, or parallel play, with most other kids their age. So, select parents you genuinely like and want to hang out with (while you still can!). That said, not every parent or kid is going to end up as a friend match for you. It’s perfectly OK to gracefully back away if a social situation isn’t going to work well for your family.
Conversely, it’s also fine to lower your standards a little. Given our family situation (read: three kids = everything is more difficult), I allow myself to go with what’s easiest in most scenarios, friendships included. Neighbors, families with stay-at-home parents, and classmates (since our kids have similar schedules already) have been my low hanging friendship fruit. Friendships of convenience are still friendships!
Found some new friends? Time to set up a playdate. But where to go? For our family, a location outside our home tends to yield happier results: there are new toys to play with, sharing seems easier, and we can make an early exit, if needed. Other kiddos might feel more comfortable and social in familiar territory. Feeling angsty about your filthy kitchen or troubled by your kids destructive tendencies when unleashed in other people’s homes? Convene in a neutral space like a park, playground, or library.
My two year old twins, Nora and Liam, are very different from each other despite having shared a womb. Nora will play with other kids and Liam is more of an independent/parallel play guy. He also will aggressively defend his toys via hitting and scratching, which presents a frustrating challenge. Then, there’s my older daughter, Avery, who is in a completely different place developmentally. It’s hard not to compare them to each other and to other kids, so I’ve tried my best to let that go and let them explore play and friendships in their own ways.
It’s inevitable that kids on playdates are going to argue with each other, make huge messes, and resist leaving with every fiber of their tiny beings (mine certainly do!). Ample discussion around potential pitfalls, pre-playdate, has helped my crew enjoy more “successful” playdates. We talk about the importance of sharing toys, using gentle hands and our kind words, finding an adult to help if there’s an issue, helping clean up, and what the departure process is going to be like. Preparing kids for what’s to come and setting expectations can help young ones with transitions and scenarios that may come up.
Sustaining Adult Friendships
Maintaining adult friendships can be tricky, and I found that once I had kids, it became even harder. I prioritize friendships as best I can because I know my emotional well-being requires friend connections. I am one of those people who schedule friend dates embarrassingly far in advance: once on my calendar, it feels official, and becomes something to look forward to. I’m also a fan of inviting childless adult friends to my house after my kids go to bed. While it may not seem like a true night out, it can still be enjoyable for everyone, and certainly less expensive than a restaurant bill plus babysitting. While it’s true that my social life has changed dramatically post-children, I have continued to connect socially with others, and I’m proud of this.
When All Else Fails: More Snacks
As with most areas of child rearing, flexibility and patience have been key to helping my kiddos make friends and play well with others. Accept the chaos that comes with kids interacting with other kids. Don’t be afraid to pivot if things aren’t working: switch rooms, go outside, or leave early. Bring lots of snacks – more snacks than you think you’ll need!
Asking for help when needed has also been crucial in order for us to enjoy playtime with other families. With three kids, I often need a literal hand to load them back into the car. Other parents want to help, and it’s OK to ask them.
We all need companionship from other people. As parents of young children, friendships provide support, enrich our lives, and just plain help us get through the day (or the minute, if you are like me and sometimes take parenting one minute at a time). Balancing your need for friends with the needs of your family can be incredibly challenging. But if you can allow yourself the space to build and nurture friendships, even if the process doesn’t look like what you once imagined it would, I’ve found that the results are well worth the effort.
About the Author
Leah Wyatt is a stay at home mom of two year old twins and a four year old who also dabbles in freelance writing. When not wrangling children, she enjoys reading, yoga, cooking, and watching horrible Bravo reality TV while horizontal on her couch.