“It takes a whole village to raise a child,“ the African proverb goes. When we become parents, our friends and family become more than just our friends and family — they become part of the village in which we raise our children. However, our relationships and connections aren’t static. They change over time, and sometimes in direct relation to our parenting stage. That friend that was so much fun in the bars in college might not seem so fun or appropriate now!
Parenthood doesn’t just bring with it a new baby in the house, it often brings new friends. The friends you surround yourself with in your parenting years have an impact on your child and your parenting. Hopefully your choice of friends is a conscious reflection of the village you are building around your child! Maybe the best way to make sure this circle of friends is right for their role in your life — and yours in theirs — is to make friends through your kids.
The playgroup years
When our kids were young, they met first friends through us. Oh, we like to say we me friends through our kids at a playgroups, parks and on playgrounds, but how often did we end up sitting next to another mom then encouraging our kids to play together? Who led whom to whom?
Well, it really doesn’t matter. The point is that friends were met, bonds developed and your village expanded. Hopefully those friendships have endured, but if they haven’t, whether through disagreements, drifting or moving, they were important first parenting friendships and likely taught you much about the roles those kinds of relationships play in your parenting approach.
The elementary years
During the elementary years, having friends dealing with similar ages and stages can be such a benefit for your peace-of-mind. Even though there are still vast differences in children, becoming friendly with the parents of kids your child knows from school can reap huge rewards, from information about upcoming teachers in the schools to just plain having more great people for your kids to turn to if they need it. Volunteering in the school is a great way to find these parents, as is inviting them in for coffee when they drop their child off for a play date.
The tween and teen years
Developing friendships through the tween and teen years can be a big challenge. At a time when your children would prefer you plain didn’t exist, relationships — and hopefully friendships — with the parents of your children’s friends can be more important than ever! Adolescence is an exciting and sometimes scary time for kids and adults, and you need support and input as you face the inevitable challenges of the age. And when kids know the parents all know each other? They know that the village their family has created will be there to guide and support.
Try reaching out to the parents of your kids’ friends, if you don’t already know them. Call and introduce yourself. Use the excuse of making sure the parent has appropriate contact phone numbers for a gathering if you must, but be sure to reach out. You never know when you’ll find more that just another parent, but a kindred spirit in your child-rearing efforts.
It may sound a little conniving to make friends through your kids, but it’s not. Not really. It’s a conscious decision to create a supportive and informative community in which to raise your child, from birth through high school.