One of the perks of being the parent of young kids is making new friends. It all comes at such a good time too. Once you start having kids, in a natural and gradual way the friends you had in your single, childless years start fading away. I’m not bitter about it, although there are some friends from years gone by that I would love to reconnect with. But I don’t blame them. A new parent’s world is so child-centric that anything else is very secondary, and friends can sense the changes. Six years ago, when I was caring for my 8-month old son when my second son was born, I was lucky to find my phone let alone use it. When I wasn’t cleaning bottoms I was cleaning bottles or floors or laundry. And when I wasn’t doing that I was napping. There was little time for anything else, especially something like chatting on the phone for hours on end with a friend.
Unfortunately, like a garden that gets no water, friends that didn’t hear from me just wilted away. Those relationships suffered. They didn’t understand that I what I really could’ve used was some help – something as simple as their company – at that stressful and challenging time. But again, I don’t blame anybody. They were as clueless as I was before I was a parent myself. I didn’t know that new parents were so sleep-deprived, or so hungry for even a few minutes of time alone.
Friendships and their importance to me have changed as I have gone through life. In elementary, grade school, and even college, I placed so much pressure on myself to have everyone like me that it was quite obsessive. Deep, meaningful relationships suffered as I spread myself way too thin. Class president here, this club there. A sport’s team here, a volunteer group there. Hang out with the jocks, and then turn around and mix it up with the brainiacs. Way too much! Even my romantic relationships suffered, as evidenced by the fact that my college sweetheart nearly married me, a closeted gay guy! I never let anyone get to know the real me, which is sad because the real me was/is a really cool guy.
As I was bicycling across the country by myself between college and the rest of my life, I decided that some things were really going to have to change. I needed to come out, of course, but also I needed to shrink my circle of friends down from hundreds to a manageable handful. Moving across the country helped with that, and so did announcing that “Yep, I’m gay!” at my high school reunion. That caused more shrinking than a cold swimming pool! Sixty days alone while cycling an average of 91 miles per day really gets your wheels turning. I made the decision to try to make a handful or fewer friends. I think I succeeded. Granted, quite an abundance of those “friends” turned into a romantic interlude of various durations (varying from one night to three years), but over the years I did have a few who became just friends, and really good ones at that.
But like I said, having three boys in tow is like an incredibly effective bug repellent – it keeps everyone away. No one has any idea what to do with you. For example, when is the last time that friends without kids met at a park? So quite naturally, fellow parents become your new friends, since you’re all in the same boat. And the timing couldn’t be better. Your old friends are gone, and you are just clawing your way out of the isolation period (i.e. the newborn months). Slowly, you start connecting. A fellow parent at a pre-toddler music class here, someone else at your neighborhood park there. This is all well and good, but you hit pay dirt once your kids enter elementary school.
Play dates, birthday parties, picnics, and more!
Field trips, after school activities, and sports teams galore!
That’s where I am now – weeding through the literally hundreds of parents available to find those few who are going to make it through the long haul. I already have a few who have made it a couple of years since preschool, but because we have dispersed to different elementary schools, I’m sure that, like me, they can feel the pressure to let go and focus exclusively on our own schools for companionship and friendship. We’re fighting hard to make it work. Newer friendships are blossoming too, and I’m meeting some really nice parents that I’m trying to do fun things with. I just hope our kids can get along as well as we do.