Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Arranging kids' friendships in a modern world

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Welcome to the August 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Friends

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and wisdom about friends.

There are so many times lately I find myself pining for the good old days. When it came to making childhood friends for me and arranging playdates, my mom had it so easy.

I grew up on Army posts and in public schools. I spent my afternoons and weekends outside at the nearest playground, biking the neighborhood, or taking turns visiting a friend's house or having her visit mine. Sometimes, with advance notice, I'd skip my bus ride home in favor of going to another kid's place after school.

We didn't have cellphones to let our parents know where we were at any moment, and my mother didn't sit outside to watch us play. When we played indoors, we were equally unsupervised.

And somehow we survived. Hm.

My kids and I live in a city, with surprisingly few children living immediately near us. We live within easy walking distance of two playgrounds and a beach, and yet I wouldn't dare let my children go to either alone yet, at seven and three. I know I was going out to playgrounds by myself and with my brother or buddies at five, but times, they are a-changin'.

We live in a different world, one of paranoia about dangers (they could fall off the slide at the playground and break an arm! they could be abducted by a stranger!) that are mostly exaggerated — possible, but not at all common. Even if I disagree with the consensus about what's too dangerous for my kids, I can't fly in the face of popular opinion without taking on a more likely risk of having my parenting called neglectful, with potentially devastating consequences.

And, so, I have to play with my kids, whatever's going on, and I have to shuttle them to the playspaces. We don't have a backyard, so I can't keep an eye on them through a window while I get stuff done in the house. If they want to connect with nature, out we all go as a group. And if they want to connect with other kids, it's up to me to facilitate it. They have a higher tolerance for crummy weather than I do, so we have to come up with some compromise for how long to be in nature that satisfies neither group.

It just seems sort of unfair, this necessity of the parent to arrange play when it used to happen so organically. I know partly it's where we live — in the suburbs or just a different city neighborhood, we might have more luck with neighbor kids being out and about in the afternoons. But definitely part of it is a change in environment and culture. Kids' lives are scheduled more now, anyway, including their socialization. To make it work, I have to conform to the expectations.

But it's hard. For one thing, I'm a shy, awkward introvert. It's a winning combination, let me tell you. I'd be fine with doing something social once, at most twice, per week. I get the feeling Mikko desires more. Maybe not even a lot more, but more than I'm currently giving him, so I struggle with how to make it happen. If we lived in that neighborhood where he could just head outside on his own and fill his own social cup, he could figure out how to meet his own needs rather than have me guess at them.

We currently are friends with a whopping two families. They're great families, and we all get along well (mamas who are amazeballs and kids who are compatible with my two), but I can't put all our socialization eggs in one basket. For one thing, they don't live near enough for our kids to hang out on a daily or even weekly basis, or to do anything casual and last-minute.

I've been trying other avenues. We've stalked encouraged families at the churches we used to go to to be our friends. We invited them to meals and activities and chatted them up every time we saw them … but there was no reciprocation, so at some point you have to let it go before you get a restraining order thrown your way. We haven't been going to church for some time now, so I started a Meetup group in hopes of finding some like-minded folks who could become close. I found a few with potential, but everyone comes so sporadically to the meet-ups that I've never gotten anything going on a personal level. I've been attending various homeschool and unschool group activities, but people in such groups can be a bit flaky (I am one of them, I admit), so, again, it can be hard to connect.

And so I keep on envying my mom. She didn't have to be good friends with my friends' moms. She just kind of had to know their names and have a passing acquaintance. When I hung out with my friends at their house, my mom wasn't there. If we were hanging out outside, no parent was. But when I arrange playdates, I'd better like the moms because we're all going to be hanging out together. As I mentioned (shy, awkward, introverted), I find this challenging, particularly when I don't know the people well. And since I'm having trouble connecting with people on a deeper level, I continually am attending get-togethers with virtual strangers (same old small talk each time), which is stressful for me.

Poor Mikko. He chats up everyone he meets and knows how to make instant friends of all ages. If only some of that will rub off on me!

We'll keep on keeping on. I have a few ideas for the fall and winter (in between having a baby): joining some classes at a homeschool cooperative, continuing some extracurricular classes we enjoyed in the spring (gymnastics, soccer, maybe try swimming), and prioritizing getting to know more people in the unschooler groups.

But sometimes I just wish it didn't take so much effort, that my kids could just run out the door and find their friends and not come home till dinner, tired and dirty and happy.

How do you make friends for yourself and your kids? Has it happened organically, or do you work hard at it?

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon August 12 with all the carnival links.)

  • Sibling Revelry — At Natural Parents Network, Amy W. shares her joy in witnessing the growth of the friendship between her two young children.
  • Making New Mama Friends — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama muses on how she was able to connect with like-minded mamas and form deep friendships both in 'real life' and online. Learn how these life-long friendships, both between Jennifer and other mothers but also between Jennifer's daughter and the other children, formed and flourished.
  • Family, Friends and Family Friends — Vidya Sury at Vidya Sury, Going A-Musing, Collecting Smiles is reflecting on family friendships, past and present.
  • Arranging friendships in a modern world — From a free-range childhood to current parenthood, how can an introvert like Lauren at Hobo Mama navigate the newly complicated scheduling of playdates and mom friends?
  • Mommy Blogs: Where Moms Make Friends — Mothers make friends with other mothers in new ways. The options from earlier decades remain, but new avenues have sprung up with mommy bloggers. Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. at Parental Intelligence shares her thoughts.
  • Friendship and Sacrifice: Guardians of the Galaxy — Shay at 4HisGlory learned that friendship lessons can be found in unlikely places, like blockbuster summer movies.
  • Friendship - Finding, Forming, Keeping, and WishingLife Breath Present's thoughts on finding, forming, keeping, and wishing for friendships as an introvert.
  • Consciously Creating My Community: Monthly Dinners — How have you intentionally created community? Dionna at Code Name: Mama's goal for the year is to cultivate community. One way she's done that is to help organize two different monthly dinners with friends.
  • Adults need imaginary friends, too — Tat at Mum in Search shares why it's a good idea for adults to have imaginary friends. You get to meet Tat's friend and download a playbook to create your own.
  • Friends Near, Friends Far — Kellie at Our Mindful Life helps her kids keep in touch with friends 600 miles apart.
  • Which comes first, social skills or social life? — Jorje of Momma Jorje frets about whether her daughter can learn social skills without experience, but how to get good experience without social skills.
  • Snail Mail Revival — Skype isn't the only way to stay in touch with long distance friends, That Mama Gretchen and her family are breaking out the envelopes and stamps these days!
  • Montessori-Inspired Friendship Activities — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares a roundup of Montessori-inspired friendship activities for home or classroom.
  • How I used the internet to make local friends — After years of striking out at the park, Crunchy Con Mom finally found some great local friends . . . online!
  • My How Friends Change — Erica at ChildOrganics knows entirely too much about how to comfort a friend after a loss.


Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I have a feeling Kieran is going to be more like me - slow to warm up, but once he does, he throws his whole heart into a friendship. He truly has one best friend, a small handful of "close" friends, and that's about it. Ailia hasn't given me any indication yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if she's my extrovert. I was just talking to my best friend from law school last night about how hard it is to make friends as an adult. I mean, it's never been easy, but now I feel like there are so many barriers! I do encourage you to try co-ops and classes where you are forced into interacting - it's an easy in for new people :)

Lindsay said...

My whole post for this carnival is about how I finally made some local friends thanks to a local group on fb. I have had the same thing happen as you so many times!! I wonder why that is? We are nice-why doesn't everyone want to be our friend?!? Lol.

Unknown said...

Yes! I was just having this conversation with a friend about how parents seem to be the playmates for their children whereas this was not the case in our own childhood. Children need children to play with, not adults. But there are soooo many barriers nowadays to just letting children go have that neighborhood experience a lot of us had. And it does seem like we all feel obligated to also be friends with the adult parents of these children. My mom wasn't friends with my friends' mothers. And yet, I had gobs of friends. Sigh.

Tat said...

I've never given arranging kids' friendships a lot of thought... it seems to be happening quite naturally for us. My kids go to school and they have choose their own friends(which reminds me, my daughter asked me to invite one of her friends to come over and I completely forgot. Must find her mum's phone number). Every day we stay and play at the school playground for a while, and occasionally organise things on the weekends.

Kendall said...

Such a tricky, tricky place to be in. Being that currently we also don't live in a neighborhood that's highly conducive to lasting parent/family-child friendships and Baby Boy and I are at home together all day, it's quite difficult. I look forward to attempting to engage in some sort of group or neighborhood type activities when we finally move somewhere. Being that Baby Boy is still relatively young, I truly admire how he will often just smile at another child (or stare) in that child langugage kind of way.

Certainly you're efforts aren't going unnoticed in your young childrens' minds! :)

Inder-ific said...

Ugh, so true!! I have to say, Joe being in preschool really helped. Before he started school, his "friends" were really our adult friends' children and his cousins. These kids are all awesome, but in terms of personality, temperament, interests, and dare I say it ... gender does become more important as they hit 5ish ... it was more a toss up.

At school, he developed a strong connection with a little boy there (his friendship came first) then we have developed a warm acquaintanceship with this little boy's parents. This feels right somehow - us following Joe's lead, rather than us shopping for fun adult friends who happen to have kids who may or may not be great matches for Joe. In the end, I think both approaches work and are important, since you need to learn to get along with all types in life. But kids also deserve to be able to pick out their own BFF sometimes too.

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