The Myth of Finding Parent Friends
I’ve been a parent for 18 months and have yet to meet more than a few “parent friends.” I spent a few months swiping on Peanut, the dating app for moms. I messaged back and forth with fellow moms who were supportive and overwhelmed. The vast majority of them expressed some version of “it’s all worth it.” I even found myself typing and quickly deleting that phrase. I had fallen into the trap. I went on one date with a new mom friend and we never texted afterward, not even the mandatory post-hang acknowledgment (“so fun hanging out!”), because I don’t think we actually had fun. I don’t remember her name, nor a single thing we talked about. She had brought her baby. I had gladly left mine at home. I abandoned the Peanut app after that.
I deeply understand the need to have friends who are parents — those who have experienced the tyranny of the nap schedule, the difficulty finding childcare, the evenings that aren’t your own, the unpredictability of sleep, and the endless waves of illness crashing on the shores of your already-waning sanity. Yes, that I understand. It’s the easiest small talk, the fastest way to bond with an acquaintance or stranger on the basis of shared challenges and joy.
And yet, it seems ridiculous to bond solely over the fact that you, too, have small children. It’s the lowest common denominator. It’s like expecting to get along with everyone of the same gender. (Don’t get me started on women’s circles that bond purely over sisterhood, when that strikes me as the most one-dimensional way of relating to another human being.)
Here’s what I want to know when meeting potential parent friends:
- What are your values?
- How do you think about the role of a parent? A mother?
- What makes up the rest of your identity?
- What drives you as a person? As a parent?
- What makes you anxious as a person? As a parent?
- What choices have you made that go against societal norms?
- What has parenting given you? What has it taken away?
- What are you trying to create with your family? What experiences do you hold most dear?
If people cannot intentionally answer those questions and are purely on Earth to procreate and move to the suburbs in the Game of Life, by all means they should continue. But I do not need to seek them out as friends.
Here are some of my brief responses, in no particular order.
- I value joy, belonging, growth, and purpose. I find much of that as a parent but I find a lot through other parts of my life — working in culture and technology, writing, singing, my other relationships.
- I think my role is to truly see my child and guide her in forming her values as an individual with all the potential in the world.
- I think I’ll be able to do those things effectively if I prioritize my own growth, so that I don’t put undue pressure on her with my own anxiety and challenges. I think I will fail many days and have to be okay with that.
- I honestly feel relief when I am away from my child for a short period of time. I don’t wish she was always with me, and I need space to truly miss her. I get impatient with her when I haven’t had that space for myself. (I am also describing any healthy, long-term relationship.)
- Parenting has given me — and the world — this amazing little human who makes me laugh and makes me fume every day. I love her so much it hurts. And it has taken away many freedoms and delayed parts of my life I’m only now starting to value (see: alone time).
- I think a lot about the choices I make as a parent, and I have equal parts conviction and worry about how those choices may or may not benefit her long term.
- I don’t have extreme beliefs about most parenting choices, except that I believe there is no one way to do things. And I believe social media has made a performance out of parenting (along with every other facet of identity) that I can no longer abide by. Self-righteousness rings hollow through the broadcast lens of Instagram.
- I’m deep in the practice of creating my family with my loves. I’m also deeply grateful for the equal partnership I have with my husband Mike, and have no complaints about how I’m doing “more.” In fact, sometimes I feel I’m doing less!
- Oh, and we are one and done. Which should come as no surprise given the above.
I wish I had a good solution for finding real friends who happen to be parents. One colleague shared her shortcut: “Go to playgrounds in the neighborhoods you’re interested in, and look at the parents. Would you hang out with them? If not, don’t live there.” I’m lucky to have dear friends who also happen to be parents, and to them I feel closer than ever.
Because my ideal parent friend is really just a friend. Someone who will never tell me to “enjoy every moment,” who will listen and remind me to trust my intuition, who will drink wine with me as we talk intensely about everything we wish for our children and for ourselves, who is as determined to show her children that she is a whole, independent person.
The solution that resonates most is advice from Dr. Esther Perel: stop building relationships on small talk and feigned connection. Instead, meet people through shared interests and passions, and start there. I guess what I’m saying is: parenting is not my passion. It is a privilege and a joy and a 24/7 job. I love my daughter, and I need more. To those who feel the same, I’ll see you out there.