Hi there Captain!
I’m a 36 year-old mom of two adorable boys (6 and 2). I also have no friends. I’m not entirely OK with not having friends, but I’ve gotten used to it over the past 30 years or so of not-having-friends-ness. What I’m less OK with is that my Big Guy seems to be following in my footsteps, and it’s making me worry.
A bit of background:
I grew up being *that kid*, the one who is always picked on, outcast, and very lonely (but not bullied, really). Elementary school was *really* tough. By the time I got to high school, I had a regular table I could sit at for lunch, Science Team and Quiz Bowl competitions I could attend and do well in (with said lunch-mates), and excessively high grades and test scores. Still couldn’t really call them “friends”. *They* all hung out and did the usual social stuff that high school nerds do outside of high school. I was just never included.
Those high grades? Came about because of my parents, who prioritized high grades above EVERYTHING ELSE. Including a social life. I mean, I’m sure they were concerned about my social life, but it was always “Studies first, (dance second), and anything that can distract from your studies can come afterwards”. So I complied, because my father’s commitment to making sure I succeeded academically was *really* intense.
As an adult, (as in, many, many years after the fact), I figured out that I had/have ADHD-inattentive type, which led to me not being able to finish my homework/keep track of all my crap. And also makes it hard for me to follow a conversation without spacing out in the middle of someone else’s sentence. And then have a hard time knowing what to say next. So: schoolwork not getting done, leads to me “not having time” for a social life. And in school, my fellow nerds were nice and friendly and let me sit at the lunch table, but I still felt like an outsider, because I was always ten steps behind them conversationally.
College was worse than high school, because my family uprooted their entire lives and moved three whole states so I could live at home in a three bedroom apartment and commute to school. They would make sure I didn’t flunk out (see above re: intense commitment to my academic achievement). And since I was at the most competitive, intense university in the world, you can fill in the blanks about how much of a social life I was able to manage.
So I never had a chance to navigate friendships and relationships as a kid and teenager (and young adult). I got married because Arranged Marriage is a common thing in my culture and I was completely OK with it. My husband is a bit of an introvert who doesn’t feel the need to have many friends, and likes his peace and quiet and political blogs and weird YouTubes of politicians from our country screaming at each other.
So how does this affect my kid? I don’t know how to make mom-friends. I was supposed to “join a playgroup” and “set up playdates” and then socialize with each other while our babies did their baby-stuff. But I didn’t know how to get from “Hi, nice to see you at our monthly breastfeeding support group” to “Hey there friend! Wanna get together for (whatever it is that friends *do* together. Seriously, WHAT?!)”. And now that he’s in Kindergarten, I STILL don’t know. All the other moms somehow know each other already. Their kids go on playdates with each other. They all stand around in their little circles on the blacktop before afternoon pickup and talk about whatever it is they talk about (Seriously, WHAT?!?!?). Big Guy gets the occasional birthday party invitation, but even there, the other moms know each other better than they know me, so I’m the odd one out again. (WHAT DO THEY TALK ABOUT IN THEIR LITTLE CIRCLES? I edged into a circle once, and one of the moms was asking the other where she got her hair done. I get my hair done at Supercuts.)
Also, I’m fairly sure Big Guy has some sort of ADHD/Social anxiety type thing that is holding him back (he’s so much like me as a kid it’s eerie). I’m being flaky about seeing my own therapist to get a handle on my ADHD issues, so having to think about my precious boy seeing a shrink TERRIFIES me. I can SEE that he’s lonely. I can see that he struggles SO MUCH with talking to his little friends. It breaks my heart. He’s not one of those boys who can be described as “All Boy”. He’s terrible at sports — slow, weak, uncoordinated — so there’s one MAJOR avenue for having a normal boyhood that’s not available to him. I think the kid he describes as his “best friend” bullies him a little bit, but nothing I can place my finger on (he just raises my Mama Bear hackles).
I’m not completely incompetent. My ADHD makes it hard for me to follow conversations easily, but if I manage to somehow find myself in a one-on-one conversation with someone nice, friendly, and better at the conversation thing that I am, then I’m pretty good at keeping up.”Best friend’s” mom is really nice, and we might be able to be friends if I can figure out what “being friends” means, but I’m not sure I want to continue cultivating that particular friendship for Big Guy. There’s this mom from my kid’s Tae- Kwon Do class. We meet once a week and talk pretty easily, but she lives far away and seems pretty busy. I don’t know how to go from “chitchat for half an hour a week in an enforced setting” to anything more. I glommed onto a mom who had just immigrated from our country and had a girl in my son’s class (No circle for her to stand in! I can help her navigate America! Our kids like each other!) But she, being better at socializing than me, found her own circle pretty quickly. We still say Hi when we see each other, but still… not quite what I was hoping.
I’ve got lots of relatives. They all live in the same state (and sometimes the same town) as I do. They are also very busy professionals and have their own friends and relationships and overscheduled kids. We moved here about a year ago from the other coast for many reasons. But one of then was secretly “Hey, family! Who have watched me grow up! INSTANT SOCIAL LIFE!!!” Hasn’t happened. They care about me and wish me well and like my kids, but all that goodwill and memories has resulted in a few family birthday parties and them babysitting Little Guy in an emergency (back when he was still crawling and easier for a couple of infirm senior citizens to handle). Oh, and one AWKWARD conversation when I stormed over to my cousin’s house after a huge fight with my husband and tearfully confided a bunch of stuff about our marriage that I shouldn’t have. Now my husband is naturally wary of socializing with them because he’s afraid they think poorly of him.
Also, I may have insulted my uncle somehow, although he will be too polite to EVER say so. I think they all think I *like* sticking to myself and not hanging out with family. But I WANT to be part of the boundary-less, drop-by-at-inconvenient-times, here-have-a-third-helping-of-veggies-even-though-you’re-a-grown-ass-adult thing that they’re all a part of. Why do they think I moved to their town? And inviting them over formally for dinner seems weird because they’re such a “drop by sometime!” sort of crowd. My parents (who live three states away), are better about “just dropping by” their place than I am. Also, it’s been over a year, the effort seems a bit “too little too late”.
But I also don’t really want to just drop by for no reason, or force my weird self on them, or my weird kid on their kids (who are perfectly sweet, but slightly older than my own). I don’t know how to get myself into those little mom-circles. I don’t know if I’d actually enjoy the mom-circle if I ever get into one. I don’t know how to invite a kid (and the kid’s mom) over for a playdate when my son refuses to tell me who his friends are (or maybe he doesn’t have any friends, which makes me cry).
I feel like I’m missing the manual on “Friendships” that other people are given at birth (Or at least by early elementary school). In some ways I feel like it’s too late for me (I’ve got 30 years of catch-up work to do) , but it doesn’t have to be too late for my kids. But I can’t teach them how to be fully functional people with good social skills if I don’t know what to teach them.
– Awkward Mom
Dear Awkward Mom,
I’ve been mulling your question for a while, and recently hearing a bunch of discussion from my friends who are moms who also feel a bit isolated gave me at least some ideas for unlocking some of the issues here. At very least, the moms gave me a crash course in “Playdate Etiquette” that I will try to pass on as best I can.
First principle: You are not your children, and they are not you.
You are not are not responsible and also don’t have power to make sure they make friends in life, and you are not magically transmitting some family curse down through the generations. You can teach them some social skills, you can make opportunities for them to hang out with others, you can dust them off when their feelings get hurt, you can protect them from known jerks, but they are going to have to learn how to swim in the sea of other people on their own. My mom is pretty unsocial. I had many awkward, unsocial years myself (and the same situation as you did with academics-before-all parents who did not necessarily facilitate a fun social life). But I figured out how to make friends, how to be a friend, how to be okay with being lonely sometimes. My mom didn’t teach me, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn. It can be the same for your kids.
Your kids are going to meet kids they like, kids who like them, kids who don’t like them, kids they don’t like, and kids for whom no strong opinions form, just, meh, they’re ok.
You are going to meet parents who fall into all of the above categories. You can’t force someone to like you, and you can’t force someone to like your kids or your children to like someone. But the small, unscientific data sample I polled says:
- If your kids really like each other, parents who are “meh” on you will suck it up and hang out occasionally.
- If you really like the other parents, kids who are “meh” on each other will suck it up and hang out occasionally.
- To have a successful playdate, you don’t need to get to friends!, you just need to get to “meh.”
That takes effort, but it doesn’t take perfection.
The thing about a playdate is that it’s just like any other kind of date: you find out if you want more dates through the process of going on the dates. One of my sources said:
Sometimes a kid just isn’t a good match for yours, and the only way you truly find that out is through a playdate, and it isn’t an indictment of you or the other parent. You just move on.
That is something you could teach your kid about being with others: having just an “okay” time with someone and then being gracious afterwards.
Second Principle: You are most likely not the only one who feels alone and inadequate.
Here is a disturbing and creepy short film about the desire to fit in and the pain of cruel rejection, or, your worst fears re-enacted through doll-on-doll violence. It’s easy to see the other parents, or the people in your family, as a monolithic group, like the Barbies, who will close ranks against an outsider and to see your efforts as an audition for their approval, something you can pass or fail.
From an anonymous source in my unscientific survey:
“I always hated meeting other parents because most of them suck so bad. However, my advice is to aim to meet ONE parent/kid that won’t make them want to scream. Not several, just one.“
I don’t know how many kids are in your son’s school, but I predict that there is somebody who feels pretty much as you do. Their child is a bit introverted and struggling with friendships, they don’t understand the mom circles, they dread the whole process of asking someone for a playdate and stilted, forced socializing with someone they have nothing in common with. Maybe they are a little better than you at faking it, but they feel just as at sea as you do. There are probably more than one of these somebodies. Wanting your children to have a fun social life is a common sort of parenting problem to have, and you are not the only one concerned with this. Your mission is to find these folks and one-by-one invite them to do something with you and your kids.
Who does your older child like hanging out with? Who are some kids in the class that also hang back a little bit from the social whirl? At 6, he’s old enough to have opinions on who he’d like to invite on a trip to the zoo or over to play Legos. Also, don’t think it has to be only other boys.
Third Principle: Perception is a mirror.
You say of your family: “I think they all think I *like* sticking to myself and not hanging out.”
I say: Yup.
The easiest explanation for why someone doesn’t come around so much, why someone hangs back from the circles at parties, why someone isn’t part of the social whirl of birthday parties and playdates, is that they don’t want to be. It’s easy because it requires people to make no particular effort to include you or exclude you, and it absolves them of feeling guilty about it if they don’t, in fact, like you much or haven’t made the effort. People are complacent and mostly way too tied up in their own problems to be thinking about you that much for good or ill. So your “I’m being excluded!” can look like “She’s standoffish and/or likes being by herself” to others and both of these things can be equally true.
This is the self-fulfilling feedback loop of loneliness and rejection. “I could go talk to them, but they’ll probably just reject me, so I won’t.” ==> The desired social group keeps on doing what they are doing without breaking stride. ==> The lonely person keeps not approaching them ==> The lonely person gets more anxious and angry ==> The lonely person finally approaches the others, but with a giant chip on their shoulder, in a way that makes the other person have to do a lot of emotional work right out of the gate, i.e., “You’ll probably never be friends with a loser like me” ==> The others react predictably, with “Whoa, I just met you, do I really have to comfort you about that? You’re right, maybe I DON’T want to hang out with you if you’re going to turn it into a dare.“==> Rejection confirmed! ==> More lonelies.
Which leads me to Fourth Principle: You want it? Then you have to make the effort.
People really balk at this idea, for some reason. Maybe it’s an as-yet-identified Geek Social Fallacy, “Social Energy & Planning Should Be Distributed Fairly.” People who are already good at social interactions should spread that around to others who are not! With great social power comes great social responsibility! You have a duty to your fellow geeks, who have been excluded, to make sure they are not excluded anymore!
So when someone complains that they are never invited to anything, and I or Commander Logic say, “Cool, have you tried planning something of your own then?” we get a lot of angry pushback. Why should they have to put in the effort? Why should they have to risk rejection, after facing so much already in their lives? They tried once and it didn’t go well. Probably nobody will come anyway, and everything will just be worse, and now it will be All Our Fault for suggesting they do it in the first place. What do we know, anyway? What we know, the good Commander and I, is moving to a city where we don’t know anybody and making friends from scratch over the course of the several years of sustained effort that it took.
Having a social life takes work. Some people make it look easy, or find that it comes more naturally, but there is emotional and mental work involved in planning events, researching them, being the one who takes the lead on inviting people places, remembering their birthdays and what foods they can’t eat, keeping the cabinet stocked with snacks in case people drop by, asking how their day was, showing up to things when you have limited time and energy, etc. Doing the work does not guarantee you’ll have a busy social calendar and close friendships, but avoiding the work because it’s too hard or because you are scared means that it is unlikely these things will spontaneously grow on their own.
You cannot control: Whether other people will like you.
You can control: Whether you make an effort to meet and spend time with other people.
You can learn to control: Making that effort in a way that doesn’t instantly make people have to do a lot of emotional work to have to be around you. This involves:
1) Removing assumptions about what will happen and what the other person wants
2) Making direct, reasonable invitations.
3) That allow space for the other person to reciprocate or refuse.
4) If a particular invitation is refused, learning to process your disappointment gracefully and in private.
5) Trying again another time, another way, with another person.
6) Repeat all of the above.
7) Until somewhere in there there is the flash of mutual “You!” recognition you get when you make friends with someone else.
Let’s go through some of these in detail.
1. Remove assumptions. You don’t know whether someone will want to hang out until you ask. This person standing in front of you is not every threatening popular kid who ever rejected you growing up. This person is not part of the Barbie Borg ready to shred your unfit doll-body into pieces. This person is just a human that you think you might want to spend time with, maybe for their own sake, maybe for the sake of both of your kids. They will not take kindly to being cast in a role in a drama they don’t know they are participating in.
Every now and then I get a question that starts with “You probably won’t answer this, but…” or an invitation to an event that starts with “You probably won’t come to this, but…” and those people are correct: I won’t. Because while I know that the little shame-dance is coming from a place of low self-esteem, I also know that it is manipulative as fuck. “Sure, I’ll come to that thing you guilted me into, should be fun! Should I bring a bottle of wine, or will my guilt be enough? Do you have a favorite flavor of shame-cake?” By assuming what I will and won’t do the person has written my part for me. Why would I want to get closer? When you are shy and anxious about social interactions, it’s okay to feel those things, but not okay to put someone you just met in a position of having to manage those things.
2. Make the invitation specific and 3. Easy to say yes or no to.
As we’ve said before many times on the blog, “would you like to get together sometime?” does not equal making plans, because “sometime” is not real. Specific Thing at Specific Time on Specific Day is real.
My suggested Play Date for Introverts was for you to invite one of the parents of the kids your son likes over after school one day. “Kids can play videogames or color, feel free to bring your laptop or a book or knitting, I’ve got coffee and wi-fi, we can be very low-key.”
Polling my introvert mom friends I learned that a “everyone quietly reads while the kids play” date might be great for when you know someone a little better, but the pressure of hosting or going to someone’s house was too awkward for a first time excursion. Their suggestions:
“If it involves meeting new kids/moms, I think it’s easier on neutral territory, like a playground or park. The downside is that the target kids won’t necessarily play with one another… but they won’t always play with one another in someone’s home, either.”
Parks are free and hopefully the weather where you are is not heinous right now.
“I would also take advantage of things that the other parent/child might be doing anyway out and about in the neighborhood (crafts at the library sort of thing) and adding an element of “meeting up”, which sometimes avoids the awkwardness of potentially being trapped in someone else’s house.”
Or, as another friend put it,
“Neutral place, set time, something to talk about, something to watch/pretend to watch if conversation gets awkward. It’s like a first date at a sporting event.”
Maybe you can become the mom who scours the local paper and library, etc. for kid-friendly events and suggests meeting up. The script for doing this is easy, btw. “We’re heading to the library after school tomorrow for a fingerpainting/storytime event. It’s free from 3:30-5, maybe you and Kid can meet us there?” Then, go to the thing without any expectations that the other family will meet you there. If they do, great, if not, you had a fun time out of your house and there were probably some other moms at the thing that you could talk to and some other kids your children could interact with. It might not be a deep “we’ll be best friends” interaction, but you can check off the “created opportunity for my child to socialize” of the giant parenting checklist of “keep child alive for another year” duties you can celebrate on his birthday. I’ve had the pleasure of taking a friend’s 10-year-old to the Children’s Museum here in Chicago and watching her make instant, temporary friends with kids of all ages without ceremony or worry.
Other friends sing the praises of mom’s groups, which you can probably find through something MeetUp.com. Moms! Who want to hang out! In a somewhat structured way, without anyone needing to penetrate the inscrutable playground gossip circles!
“…when I was a SAHM, my moms group did a huge range of play dates around town, at a variety of price points. Many were free, many included lunch (either picnic or in a restaurant), others were at local attractions (story time, free trolley ride, splash pad, zoo, museums). We tried to mix it up so that there was something that appealed to everyone in our group of 25-30. That would be my other advice: check MeetUp to see if there’s a moms group that appeals, and go into it knowing that you may need to sample a few different groups before you find a good fit.”
Memberships to organizations also help, as one friend described:
“I read something in an advice column years ago that always stuck with me, which was along the lines of “you can’t buy friendships for children … but spending a little money can sometimes help” and the point was that (recognizing that people have different financial realities) it’s nice if you can get a zoo membership (aquarium, art space, nature center, pool, etc) that lets you bring a guest so that when you invite someone on a play date you can frame it right up front with ‘would you like to be OUR GUESTS at the zoo next Saturday? We have a membership, and they’re having a DinoRock concert.'”
This friend also added a helpful tidbit about accepting invitations:
“…you really must try to accept every invitation even if it sounds hideous to you, like if you believe Chuck E. Cheese sucks the IQ points right out of kids’ heads, and someone invites you there … if you don’t go, you have burned that bridge. I’m being a little dramatic but the point is you really can’t be very choosy or the invites quickly dry up.”
This last one pinged my hrmmm…..interesting meter. You want to know why? Because other parents also feel constantly judged, and awkward, and geeky about inviting other people to stuff. So if you turn down their invitation, they also might be skittish about issuing another one to you because nobody likes being rejected or risking rejection. So if you do have to decline an invitation for scheduling purposes, or whatever, make sure you follow it up as soon as possible with one of your own. “We have another commitment that day, but I do want to get together. How does x event on y day sound to you?” Give some of the same reassurance that you would like in their shoes.
4) If an invitation is refused, be graceful.
Showing disappointment that you weren’t invited somewhere or that someone isn’t coming to your event can be okay, rarely, in an extremely limited way among close friends and family members. If you are close to someone there is room to say “We were sorry to miss you Saturday, any chance you can come next time?” but I’d leave it there and not engage in stronger social coercion. Your feelings might be hurt when you find out someone had a party and didn’t invite you, but please trust me, the way to get invited to the next party is not to complain about how you weren’t invited to the last one or fish for invitations.
For a not-close relationship, like, say, a fellow mom you vaguely know from your kid’s school? Smile, say “Another time, maybe! Have a great week.” And then go to whatever event it is with your kids yourself and have a good time.
5) Try again another time.
My rule for all things social is invite twice, and if both invitations are refused, stop inviting until the other person makes a move in my direction. That limits the mental energy I put out there and limits the worry that I’m being a pest.
One person turned you down? Ask someone else.
Moms from school don’t seem open to hanging out? Find a mom’s group, or another mom from where your kid takes art classes or does sports, and try again.
Asking people for playdates isn’t working? Keep going to kid-friendly events at the library, at local playgrounds and attractions. You can create opportunities for your kids to socialize without it having to be a one-on-one, best friends kind of thing.
This time of making playdates isn’t going to last forever. Your kids are going to get older, make their own friends, and hang out with them without you needing to be there making small talk with their parents. So try lots of different ways, forgive yourself, take breaks. There are lots of people like you and around you who are trying to figure out the same stuff.
So, I want to move away from discussing social interactions for the sake of your children and talk more about social interactions for you.
If your family has a “drop by sometime” culture, then start dropping by sometime. “Relative, are you around tomorrow afternoon? It’s been so long since I’ve seen you, I’d love to drop by for some tea and bring the kids to see you for a bit.” Bring plenty of stuff to amuse the kids, stop by for max an hour or two, and catch up with your relative of choice. Make it a goal to drop in on every single household in your family over a two-month period, and as you get more comfortable, extend the invitations in return. Remember when I said perception is a mirror? Your perception is that they don’t ever drop by, but their perception is probably that they’ve told you to drop by and then you didn’t, so you must not want to. Drop by and see what happens. Ask them to babysit again and see what happens. Offer to babysit the cousins and see what happens. Offer to help older relatives with errands or other tasks they don’t manage so well anymore and see what happens. Do the work of being an adult member of the family and getting to know these people again.
And if they are your family, it is never “too late” to invite them over for dinner or whatever. And it doesn’t have to be formal. What if once a month you put out an invitation like this? “Sunday we thought we’d put out a bunch of art supplies for the kids and order pizza. Would you like to drop by between (time) and (time)? We’d love to see you.” Make Art + Pizza at your house a monthly event and see if it doesn’t grow over time. Do not panic if it takes a few invitations for a thing to really come together. It doesn’t mean everyone hates you, it means they are figuring out how to include you in their routines.
Finally, I think it would be good for you to do social stuff for you. More like the thing where you hang out with your nice Tae Kwon Do friend. More where it’s about doing an activity you like with people you like, less about setting an example for the next generation.
Your kids are going to be fine. You are going to be fine. You need to have some courage, and do some work, and be really nice to yourself. The rest will work itself out.
Captain Awkward (+ the cadre of awesome mom friends who feel like giant dorks when socializing with other parents)
145 thoughts on “#563: I have a hard enough time making friends for myself. How do I navigate the special hell that is arranging playdates for my children?”
I just want to drop in some Jedi hugs, LW, because your question gives me lots of feels, primarily empathy because OMG, WHAT ARE ALL THESE PARENTS TALKING ABOUT?!? CA’s advice is awesome. You can build your social circle; you can build your kids’ social circles. They may not be the same social circles, and that’s okay. You can do this!
Most of the conversations I overhear are about babies or exercising *shudder*
On the one hand, I empathize with the feeling of, “Oh no, this conversation will make my eyes glaze over.” For me, that’s things like sports or the financial market. There’s also, “This conversation will be super triggering,” like diet talk or victim-blaming.
On the other hand, I think a lot of geeks act like neutral, mundane topics and small talk (especially feminine ones) are going to be The Worst Thing Evar, OMG, Like, “They were talking about interior decorating, can you imagine?” with the implication that such a conversation will be worse than trying to fix a backed-up sewer. Partly because it’s assumed to be boring, and I think partly because geeks expect harsh judgment for failure to know the right things. It can turn into a bad feedback loop: “I don’t know about this topic and they’ll think badly of me, so I’ve decided this topic is stupid and I don’t want to talk about it.”
Totally mundane, 100% feminine women can be welcoming, interesting, and frickin’ hilarious. Things like babies and exercise are good meeting grounds because basically everyone present has raised a baby so it’s easy to connect over shared experience. The point is not to be good at the topic as much as to pay attention to the conversation. You show you’re willing to listen and contribute, and they get to know your approach to life and your interpersonal style. From those very general topics, you can move on to more specialized interests.
Yes, I agree strongly with this. I think there are a lot of misconceptions among self-identified geeks (of which I am one) about what small talk actually is. Are these women talking about hair and babies and exercise because that’s all they want to talk to? Perhaps that’s the case for some of them, but for the majority, they’re choosing those topics because they’re perceived as neutral,* and are used as a means of conveying and gauging friendly feeling. Post high school, “where do you get your hair cut?” isn’t a test that will result in a passing or failing Coolness Grade; it is a way of saying “I am interested in making conversation with you; will you reciprocate?” In this context, “haha, I get my hair cut at Supercuts!” is a totally acceptable answer, particularly if it’s followed up by a reciprocal conversational approach, e.g. “I like going there because there’s a really nice cafe nearby – have you ever been there?” You’re not really talking about hair; you’re saying “I am positively disposed towards you, and am interested in finding out if we might be compatible as friends”.
*Unfortunately, among a lot of women, diet and exercise are considered neutral – which is a shame, as they are triggering or at least unpleasant for a lot of people.
A lot of “small talk” and “gossip” subjects are important. Small talk and gossip are typically about health, relationships, how to function. As the two posters above said though, you’re not required to be an expert. you’re expected mostly to show interest.
I love this. What a clear explanation of what and how social chit-chat is really all about. As an introvert that works with the public, I’ve developed a kind of list of go-to socializations that I use to initiate and maintain conversations that allow me to perform socially without it feeling too intense. So I can talk about hair or TV or pop culture to feel comfortable and learn about people until i know if I want it to develop any deeper.
Post high school, “where do you get your hair cut?” isn’t a test that will result in a passing or failing Coolness Grade; it is a way of saying “I am interested in making conversation with you; will you reciprocate?”
Very much this.
So hi OP! I’m a nanny to small children. This means I spend a lot of time in small-child spaces, because even above and beyond the normal “I want my kid to have socialization”, it’s my job to make sure the kids I look after have all of that. I am also the world’s biggest introvert, aspie, have bouts of strong social anxiety and I am a ginormous nerd. (Seriously the consuming focus of my entire being the last week has been Marvel Cinematic Universe fanfic and writing a particular one and thank god my friends liked the same movie I did or they would be SO BORED of me right now. They might be bored anyway, but at least they’re pretending they aren’t).
Which is my way of saying hi, I am totally not one of those naturally social post-cool-kids-looking women. So not. What follows is a bunch of me chatting about how I relate to this stuff and what I’ve figured out/noticed about it and all that kind of thing. If some of it is helpful, yay! If not, ignore me. That’s the general rule.
So things like “the parents of the kids my kid goes to school with” or “the parents that show up at the local community center for their open gym” or whatever are accidental groupings. They’re people who actually haven’t CHOSEN to be there as a social milieu, they’re there because they kind of have to be. Their presence is coincidental.
Very first thing that should totally be acknowledged: some accidental groupings of parents are full of jerks and snobs. This does happen. What’s important to know is that a) this is not a reflection of all accidental groupings of parents (which can be massively varied and often surprising), and b) it just means these people happen to be jerks, not that you’re doing something wrong. If this happens to you, I’m sorry. (Don’t ASK me about the majority of the parents at current-kidlet’s preschool).
So second thing, minor socialization explanation: the purpose of small talk is to connect with other humans. This was really liberating when I figured it out! It’s not actually about talking about stuff you care about! It’s not even necessarily about sharing information about you or anything else! It turns out it is literally like, like, I dunno, other primates and social grooming. What it actually means is “hi! I see you are a human! I am also a human! I would like to make a social connection with you and have chosen a subject to talk about that I am pretty sure is so lowest-common-denominator that I am talking about something with which you also have experience! Let us relate to one another!” In parent-groups, that very lowest common denominator is absolutely going to be “our kids”. Clearly you have a kid, you’re here! That means we all share experiences with kids and we can all form a first basic connection about kidness.
Among groups with majority women, other introductory/”hi, you are a human and I am also a human, let us socialize!” topics include: hair, makeup, other people’s kids, family and in-laws, and how much sleep/exercise/leisure time nobody is getting. (Also apparently in some places dieting? It’s not actually in vogue in the areas I’m in; the most weight-loss talk you’ll get is exercise with hastily added assurance that of course this is all about HEALTH, eating HEALTHY, diets are bad and don’t work, we all know that. But I’m on the West Coast of Canada and that has an effect.) Add in some men and you open the door to things like “wow you must feel totally outnumbered here!” and curiousity about why he’s here instead of his wife. (This may be offered completely without judgement, but people are still going to be curious. Is this a Deliberate Choice where you are the primary childcare parent? are you out of work? is your wife sick?) I’ve never actually been in a childcare group with majority men, so I have no idea what that would look like.
There’s a few important things about those topics!
1. There’s actually very little judgement involved unless you are actively dealing with jerks. Most people are not jerks. Most people are just trying really hard to connect with other people. It follows here: don’t worry about being defensive or whatever about your choices. If you’re worried, think about how these things can be positively framed: getting your hair done at Supercuts means you’re definitely saving money, and that’s something to be happy about. In a similar conversation at a community-centre playgroup I went to a lot before the kidlet started preschool we had everything from “actually I cut it myself in the mirror, I’m super-cheap and my hair’s so straight it’s easy, haha” to (and actually this is me, salons are one of my splurge-indulgences because, um, I like them) “I go to [that one super froufy one over on the super-froufy-street over there]”. Nobody actually thought anything of anyone else’s choices: we were just sharing our humanness.
2. The conversation doesn’t necessarily stay there. I have had in-depth and serious and meaningful conversations with parents at playgroups or parties or whatever about a lot of things, from “my Autistic stepson isn’t getting good nutrition and I’m so worried” (me: “does he like gummy worms? There are gummy vitamins for grownups now, you know. It’s not perfect, but it sounds better than where he’s at right now.” her: “OMG SERIOUSLY? WHERE DO I BUY THEM?”) to “you’re a former lit major? I’M A LIT MAJOR! What are your thoughts on Milton?” to “my spouse and I have vastly different religious backgrounds and I’m trying to wrangle it for our kids and it’s hard”. I’m not promising a scintillating conversation every single time, mind; I’m just saying, those lowest-common-denominator topics are entry-level and meant to be. They’re designed to invite/include the largest possible number of people in order to start the social dialogue. (A good way to move beyond, I’ve found, when one is absolutely dead bored of the introductory topics is to outright ask, “So what do you do for fun?” And then you find yourself neck deep in a discussion about horseback riding which, while possibly not YOUR favourite thing ever, is at least more interesting than haircuts.)
3. How these topics go then lets you also get a feel for who you like and who you want to talk with more/orient towards. There were a couple of ladies at the playgroup where after a while we ended up sort of gravitating because in a lot of ways we were the slightly odd ones.
In terms of forming new social connections, both for oneself and one’s kid, I agree with other people who’ve said not to be afraid to take the initiative. It can totally be difficult to just walk up to someone and say “hey can our kids hang out together at the park?”, so there are some things that I’ve found help or help to keep in mind:
– is there an activity or a playground or something that a lot of the families in your area use? If so, I’ve found this is a good way to run into parents and kids from the area alone or in smaller, less intimidating groups, because it’s not a Scheduled Thing where everyone shows up at the same time. We hang out there and when applicable the conversation can be started with “oh hey, doesn’t your kid also do [blah]/haven’t I seen you at [thing]?” This also becomes your first small-talk topic: discussing the thing by which the two of you are connected.
– plan something slightly special and invite people to it. You don’t have to jump all the way to “birthday party” but you could say “I’m going to take the kids for a nature walk at [local park], is that something so and so would be interested in?” or a casual BBQ. The slightly counterintuitive thing here is that you shouldn’t worry too much if some people initially decline (or all of them do): the point is you’re creating a reason to recognize you as someone who invites social contact.
– look for the other grownup who looks a bit uncomfortable or like they’re on the periphery. They’re probably there, there’s probably something different about their clothes or some other visible cue, as compared to the other parents, and they’re often a great place to start making connections.
– ask questions. “Where did you get that Iron Man shirt for your son?” “So I see your daughter in Princess Sofia clothes a lot, is she a fan?” etc. Sometimes the answers are more interesting than you’d expect! (“No, she just likes purple. It’s so damn relieving that there’s a princess who does purple, or I swear I’d have to either sew everything by hand or get in a screaming fight every morning.” “Oh, you sew?” etc); even things like “So you have [this kind of car], how are you liking it?”
– look out for opportunities to lend a quick hand. Does someone have a baby that needs changing and a kid who’s demanding her attention? Did someone drop something? Does someone look lost? Offering a quick or small bit of help can be a very effective way of making that first connection.
– that extends to looking for ways to maybe do things with the school, like be a playground supervisor or help with the lunch program or whatever (what kinds of things schools have varies wildly by school and location). It’s amazing how positively inclined people become to someone saying “so could you use an extra hand setting up the gym for the school winter concert?” “YOU ARE MY BEST FRIEND EVER PLEASE COME AT 5PM SO WHAT’S YOUR NAME AND HOW CAN I CONVINCE YOU TO HELP ME AGAIN?” and suddenly you have a new friendly acquaintance.
– most people are actually nice. I may genuinely be totally baffled as to how scrapbooking is that interesting to them, but that’s okay because I am pretty sure they’d be totally confused as to why I’m writing thousands of words about the Winter Soldier, and us mutually not comprehending each other doesn’t mean either of us is bad, or that we can’t take a moment to have a quick vent-fest about how babies refuse to sleep even when they’re exhausted.
– you’re not trying to make bosom companions, at least not necessarily. You’re trying to make social connections that’ll help your kid play with other kids and let you not feel like the odd one out. These conversations may in fact never be scintillating or the most interesting part of your day, and that’s okay. That’s not what they’re for. What they’re for is finding people whose kids play with your kids, who might be able to pick up a quick afternoon of your kid playing at their house (or vice versa) so you can run out and do groceries, and a lessened feeling of isolation.
Family! Seriously, invite them over and don’t make it formal. Say “I’m making [food] tonight and I’ve made enough for [however many], come over!” Don’t worry if it’s out of the blue. It’s family. They already have a drop-by ethos. At the very worst, it will in fact come off as “hi I am now trying to drop into the drop-by ethos come eat at my house please?” and that will be fine. My experience with this kind of stuff is that they will actually be suddenly DELIGHTED that you are starting to do the thing! “Wait, Cousin doesn’t WANT to be isolated? Let’s go!”
Say “we’re going to [local casual thing like the beach] tomorrow, want to come?” (and if they say “oh tomorrow we have basketball but how about Friday afternoon?” go Friday afternoon instead, or as well).
At least to start with, for me, the way I feel comfortable about it is keeping it focused on my space. I won’t feel comfortable “dropping by” other people’s spaces because I might be imposing! But I’ll feel comfortable dropping them a text or an email or a call saying “so I’m at home with kidlet what are you up to you want to have coffee?” and over time and a lot of repetition of reassurance that I can just show up whenever on their part, I’ll feel more comfortable in that direction.
(Important part of drop-by culture: sometimes you are going to “drop by” and they’re not going to be home, or they’re going to go “well crap we’re just on our way out to go snowshoeing” or whatever, and you go “aw, too bad” and give everyone a hug and go home instead. This is not rejection, this is just the nature of an unplanned life. It actually gives me HIVES sometimes, but I have learned to accept it as the way other people operate.)
Finally, you really don’t have to do all of this at ONCE. Pick a thing. Maybe this week you will decide to have one night where you make enough dinner that someone could potentially come over (and if they don’t, hey, leftovers). Maybe next month you resolve to actively try to find a place in a conversation with other parents (even if it’s about hair and your contribution is “seriously salons are a ripoff, Trudi at the Supercuts on Main is as good as anyone else and she only charges 15$”). Etc.
Anyway. Hopefully some of my incredibly long ramble is helpful. Good luck?
It’s like English people talking about the weather. Do we deeply care about the weather? No*. But it’s a means of striking up a conversation in a low-stakes way. You can keep it on the weather level, or if the opportunity arises and you feel so inclined, deepen it. But you have to start by talking about the weather or you never get to the stage of segue-ing to something that you feel more connected to. If you dismiss the weather conversation as not worthy of your time, you’ll never make that move via the shit/great weather forecast for next week to the discovery of your mutual passion for mountain biking.
*Actually, we care passionately about the weather. But not necessarily during every conversation about it.
I think this is very insightful, and is part of the other problem geeks & geek spaces can create for socializing, because often geeky people ARE defensive and competitive re: how much do you know about/how deeply are you into my particular fandom, and they have hangups about the pointlessness of “small talk” about haircuts or sports or the new brunch place or whatever. So if you aren’t already into whatever it is, it can be just as awkward to cross into the circles of people who already seem to know each other and already know what to talk about.
True story: I once went to a bar in New York with a friend to meet some of her other friends. One of them asked me “Do you game?” and at the time I did not, so I said so. He *rolled his eyes,* turned his back on me, and walked away without another word. I’m sure he was picked on in his life at some point and had presumed that it was because of his geeky hobbies but really it was because he was a rude, condescending shitbeard.
OK – so since as you know I think you’re awesome (and anyone else feel free to jump in because I need this answered), as a fat mama who struggled with disordered eating and is recovered in a personal way but easily triggered into Rageasaurus by diet-talk, how do I navigate that specific thing around people that I need to be around for the sake of kids? (My mother is the worst offender, but it occasionally comes up with parents-of-kids’-friends, and was a contributing factor to quitting one particular social group entirely.)
I navigated by saying that in college I was anorexic (yes, I’ve said this to strangers and distant acquaintances) so that I keep away from scales and diets and can’t offer my experiences here, but I LOVE hearing how other people function. This goes over pretty well, perhaps because my comments are low key and shift into allowing the other people to talk. Or maybe it’s because I open a taboo door and the others now feel that their imperfections are ok. Or maybe it’s because it relaxes ME to have it in the open.
I don’t know if this will help you. I hope it does. Even if it doesn’t, I applaud your bravery.
I don’t know the *answer*. Wish I did, as similar issue here. But I have had limited success with redirecting the conversation and sending the small talk in a different direction, which works with all but the most determined dieters. I like talking about food, which helps, because I can redirect from people emoting guilt about the thing we are eating into a discussion of recipes, and is that a hint of cinnamon? and oh there’s this one recipe with cinnamon which is like this and I just love it, which reminds me of a story about the last time I made it.
Determined dieters though 😦 In groups like that I ask a closer friend to be a person to help me change the subject. With my mother I tell her straight out. I generally have to repeat it more than once like a broken record and then sometimes do a forced change of topic, but she’s doing it less around me.
Not a parent, but I usually just redirect to something neutral and obvious. “You always look so put together, though. Those earrings are fantastic/I love your shoes/where did you get that belt?” etc. I really hate that bonding thing we do where we insult something about ourselves so that others will compliment us. I do it and I still hate it. But you can often redirect body talk into talking about clothes and shoes and maintenance routines like skin and hair care.
Depending on the situation, I sometimes go with a light “I don’t like diet talk. Oh, but is your cat doing better on her medication?” If I know the person a little better, I might say, “I have a very strict rule: I only eat what I want, when I want.” That one has gone over well for me and usually directs the conversation toward delicious food (which I am totally okay with), but it sometimes leads to “oh, I ate X, I’m so bad” stuff, so deploy it with caution.
I’d go with redirect + compliment. Something like: [big smile] “You know, I’ve made a resolution to stop talking about diets, because it just makes so many people feel bad about themselves! Anyway, I think you look great. I love your [specific compliment]. Where did you [buy your earrings / get your hair done / whatever]?”
If the redirect doesn’t work, walk away. Unless they are SUPER clueless, the fact that you tried to redirect (and made it clear that you were redirecting) will make it obvious why you are disengaging.
Good luck! While I wouldn’t say I am triggered by diet talk, I really, powerfully hate it, so I understand how you feel.
For my part my answer is kind of partial, because I’m not very fat and wouldn’t call my eating disordered so I don’t have that experience, and some of my approach is undoubtedly informed by that experience. However, diet talk grates on my last nerve for a number of emotional and practical reasons, and I have other topics like my phobias that I just cannot talk about, so my social speciality is squashing conversations flat in its tracks so I don’t have to listen to it.
Personally, I like to stay really upbeat and act like I’m happily bringing an equal contribution to the table, and come out with something really anti-diet. It makes other people uncomfortable and derails the conversation, so they voluntarily talk about diets someplace else. Part of the point of being so chipper and ready to talk is that people quickly realize that if they let me, I will keep on talking while seemingly oblivious to how inappropriate my remarks are.
This means blithely wading into Atkins vs. South Beach conversations with things like, “Oh, healthy recipes? My favourite is chocolate cake, since starving to death is the unhealthiest choice of all!” or, “Oh, you’re on a diet? I don’t diet. I figure we’re all gonna die somehow and anyway, I don’t do extreme sports.” or, “I thought about dieting, and I weighed the costs of being fat against the costs of never eating delicious food again and came out on the side of eating.” or, “I could diet, but when I think that hard about food I get so obsessed with it and so hard on myself that it’s just awful, and I figure, mental health is health too!”
One step up from this, if provoked, is sunnily trotting out HAES-related facts with a cheerful, bouncy enunciation. like, omigod, I went out and read this study? And it turns out, diets don’t work! Going on restricting diets works for a year or two, but guess what: after five, you gain back more weight than you lost! You might as well not have bothered!
As long as they keep talking about diets, they will get me cheerfully putting out totally outrageous (to them) perspectives, and refusing to listen to a thing they say. As soon as the conversation shifts away, I go back to emotionally attuning to them and responding appropriately.
It’s kind of like emotional judo, the idea of going with someone’s momentum and then carrying it forward, instead of just trying to stop them. People often get really upset if you stop them in mid-flow or try to shut a conversation down–I suspect it’s a threatened-attachment thing? Because with close friends saying, “I don’t want to talk about X” will be respected, but in less-close social relationships it backfires on me quite often. So instead of trying to back off or defend against, I press for more closeness than they want, while shutting down my boundaries to anything they have to say.
Okay, so, when it comes to my mental health stuff one thing that I sometimes do in some contexts that works is casual, slangey disclosure. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not for every setting, and I have made some pretty debateable choices about what language will project comfort instead of seeming like a conversation-stopping big deal, but I have had success saying things like, “oh, god, sorry, I’m just one of these people who can’t even talk about diets anymore because when I try to diet I basically go crazy and the next thing you know I’m weighing grapes one by one and it’s terrible to be around me. But for the record that sweater looks AMAZING on you! I love that color.” and then try to change the topic to where the person got that sweater.
Like I said: not for everyone. And some people won’t understand how dieting could ever be bad for anyone, ever, and those people suck on this topic, and if you sense that oncoming, a more straightforward redirect (“I gave up talking about dieting for Lent, but I love that sweater” even when it’s not Lent and you’re not Catholic, for ex.) might be better. But it’s been surprisingly successful a few times in shutting it down without making me feel like I have to Subtly Steer the Conversation To Hide My Discomfort, which can be nice.
It doesn’t always work, but the most successful lowest stakes option I’ve found is a redirect away from dieting/body-hate talk on to something else at a similar small-talk level. E.g.
Person: “I was so bad earlier – I ate a whole pain au chocolat!”
Me: “Oh, that reminds me, did anyone see the episode of Great British Bake-Off where they made pain au chocolat and other pastries? They looked amazing!”
Then you hope someone else picks it up and runs with it (e.g. “Yes, I saw that one – but didn’t you think the wedding cakes in the finale were a bit disappointing?”) rather than getting sucked back in to the diet talk.
Alternatively you can be upfront and say brightly “You know, we’re always talking about diets and how much we hate our bodies. We’re a group of talented, gorgeous women – how come we’re so hard on ourselves? Why don’t we have a diet-talk moratorium for a while?”
However, at that point you’ve gone from bonding small talk into Big Talk – so you have to think about whether you/they/the conversation is ready for that leap. It’s really, really hard sometimes as you have to choose between giving it a pass or risk upsetting the social apple cart by refusing to play along with treating (damaging, depressing) diet talk as though it’s a neutral subject.
I hate that so much female bonding is done around weight-loss and putting yourself down, but sadly it just seems to be getting more common – and now men are doing it too.
My standard reply to that with new people is something like “We’re going to need all the calories we can get when the (close, historically invasion-prone neighbour-country (this is in a country that hasn’t had armed conflict for the past 300 years)) comes invading” followed by happy eating.
Tends to remove the edge of serious while at the same time making it feel slightly silly to return to the diet talk or the “Oh, but I really shouldn’t have (nice food-thing)”
This probably really wouldn’t work if your country is involved in armed conflict though.
I think my issue is that a great many of the icebreaker “safe” topics really aren’t that safe for me. It’s one of those shitty situations where because I’m working through issues with my therapist, those issues are exposed on the surface and everything is a bit raw and touchy and my usual coping mechanisms don’t work like they used to. But of course, if I don’t work through the issues then … I’m sure you get it.
Babies and exercise. Ack. So many issues.
I play pinochle a couple of times a month with a bunch of people, most of whom are older than I and most of whom are farmers without a lot of education (and, similarly, I don’t know a lot about farming). So we don’t have a lot in common other than pinochle.
I was paying attention tonight to the conversational topics people had. One person asked me if my new house had a place for a garden (meaning, fruit and vegetables), so we talked about that. I asked everyone I played pinochle with how they had spent their weekend, and what they were going to be doing for Easter. They asked me how my daughter was doing. People talked about the great cinnamon rolls that one of the ladies had brought. So hope that helps as an example.
I think I get so twisted around the idea of, “Crap, I have to make conversation with people I really don’t know; I’m going to make an ass of myself!” that I freeze up sometimes. What has worked well for me, at least to get through birthday parties and short stints, is to do a lot of listening — I let them lead the conversations, and I toss in small comments here or there.
I walk away from a lot of encounters thinking, “I wish I had said/done X/Y/Z.” Especially if I’m hosting. I am like the world’s worst host sometimes — I get so focused on making sure the food and the games and the STUFF is going right that I forget about the PEOPLE. We had three of our son’s classmates at his birthday party, and I couldn’t tell you any of their names or what they do or anything. I don’t even know if I introduced myself. That’s a basic social nicety that I just dropped. Mom fail.
Oh, LW I have soooo been there. Not the family part (my family doesn’t live here and my husband’s family that does live here is not compatible). There is hope for you to find friends amongst the “mommy” culture. I live in a deeply conservative area when I am an atheist/lefty/liberal so I already don’t fit in. I am socially awkward, far better educated (and in a technical field) than most of the women here. My son is now 21, and socially awkward as well, but has managed to find a nice circle of friends. I spent the first 2 years of his life trying to fit into the general play group culture and pretty much failed. I found my friend at a library story hour. She was the one who had the daughter who came every week in a Baby Bop costume and asked geeky questions. I started casually talking to the mom and eventually we started a play group with two other moms she knew. Whose kids ended up being bullies and after a year or so, I refused to see them anymore. We found another mom who we got along with and had weekly meetups. I am still friends with these two women. Neither is “normal” for our area, and we talk about everything – politics, social issues and our lives. The “normal” women in this area spend a lot of time talking about their hair, clothes, houses, decorations, etc. – BORING!! I don’t get invited to the women’s events and honestly don’t want to be. My son didn’t have an easy time – he was bullied a lot as he was also not interested in sports or “boy” things. But he is coming into his own in college. So hang in there, listen to the advice to look for others on the fringe – there is a lot of camaraderie to be had amongst us misfits! And you probably won’t be interested in the mainstream conversations anyway. I suffered through it until my son graduated from HS, and now am wonderfully free of having to pretend I care about the boring stuff! I went through several playgroups before finding true and enduring friends. If I can do it, you can too! Good luck!
Just want to back up that not having many friends as a kid doesn’t necessarily mean a lifetime of solitude. My brother was like that as well – now that he’s grown up and moved out he apparently has a pretty full on social life which is sort of mystifying to the rest of us who remember him as a very awkward geeky kid with a lazy eye, asthma inhaler and glasses. He was even the treasurer for a modern dance group for a while, not sure if he still is.
This is all excellent advice! And, oh, I hear you on this, because I have inattentive-ADHD, too, although I had a bit more sociability thanks to not being forced to have good grades. Let me say first off that I wasn’t diagnosed until my kids were in their teen years, still, what a difference treatment made for me, including meds and therapy. Therapy can really help if you can swing it because it helps you work through some of the issues that hold you back and try things out safely.
I found I didn’t always like the parents of my kids’ friends, and I suffered through that, because, well, for the kids. And I think maybe you will have to do that too, some, so I agree absolutely you have to start finding your own friends separately. I did find a couple of personal friends through going to large groups of moms, when topics ventured away from kid-stuff. But usually there’s some kind of kid-related thing (activities, interests) that you can start conversations with. I’m not good at mingling, but I try to remember not to fixate on one person.
The way I’ve found most of my personal friends is going to groups and events for stuff I like. It gives you an excuse to talk to people and see who you click with. I’ve gone to meetings I hated, and that’s how it goes, never went back. Even at good or fun events, very rarely is it instantaneous. You mentioned dance, well, social relationships are like dance–somebody moves, somebody else moves, you move together.
Good luck and I know you can work through this!
Hey LW, you sound like my twin! Except mine were the super paranoid super busy parents who didn’t let me chill with my homies. Well, if I’d had homies to chill with.
My DD is now 12. She didn’t have a single friend until she was in sixth grade. Why? She didn’t want them. Not ‘couldn’t make friends’, but ‘didn’t like the kids in her grade and honestly preferred her own company’. She now (in high school) has a bigger peer group, has found fellow goth-geeks like herself and knows people worthy of her awesomeness. Sometimes lonely looking isn’t lonely being.
My DS is 3.5 and the most popular kid in his day care class. Sure as hell didn’t get that off me!
Until last year, I had one mum friend. I met her in the weirdest way ever. We were at a. One off play group thing and she was crazy friendly and after ( I think i was ill or having a mental break or something)… I followed her out said ‘hey, I think you’re cool, here’s my number call me if you wanna have a play date one day? And she did and now my baby #3 is due at the same time as her baby #2 and I have a real life mum friend!!
Finally, I found making friends with the mums at day care (I pretty much gave up with DD but am making a bigger effort this time) is much more effective if you can separate from the heard. Try slightly different drop off or pick up times, and single out someone on their own. No need to be friends!, just say hi. I also cheated by getting DS some Dr Who shirts (you’ll know a fellow geek friend by who loses their shit over a tiny Dalek shirt and you will know you have at least one thing to talk about now!)
Oh, and the hairdresser convo? I’ve done that. My private theory is that is what women talk about when a) they really ARE those kinds of women who talk about shoes, clothes and hair or b) it’s a socially equivalent topic to the weather, when no one really knows what to talk about and no one wants to be the first person to come out and say ‘OMG I can’t wait to get home and put on a LOTR marathon. Legolas is so hawt’
“Oh, and the hairdresser convo? I’ve done that. My private theory is that is what women talk about when a) they really ARE those kinds of women who talk about shoes, clothes and hair or b) it’s a socially equivalent topic to the weather”
YES! It’s like, glance around the group and everybody has hair? Great, we have a common topic! Is everyone wearing clothing? Awesome, we have a common topic! Around here the most common topic of conversation is “are you from here? where are you from?” followed by “who are you related to?” and I think it’s largely because everyone is from somewhere, and if you’re from here you’re probably related to someone local. It’s a safe, mindless topic that everyone can participate in even if all they say is “no, not from here.”
Yeah, I think the hair thing is a decent conversational icebreaker. “Oh, I love your hair!” makes the other person feel good, at the very least, and they’re pleased that you’ve noticed something about them enough to initiate a conversation.
I have fine,frizzy, super-curly hair, so the majority of hair conversation is frankly alien to me. I don’t really DO anything to mine other than let it air-dry. Curling irons, hot rollers, straighteners … that’s all stuff I know nothing about. But my point is, it’s not my abiding interest in the minutiae of hair-doing-things. It’s the way to open a mostly-neutral conversation* that THEN can move on to more interesting topics.
*I say mostly-neutral because I know hair can be a fraught topic for some. I’m white; so it might not always be the best idea to open with hair if the woman I’m talking to is black. Also this is clearly not going to work as a topic if I’m addressing someone in a hijab.
I go with ‘does anyone know what the weather is meant to do this week? Havent checked yet and I need to know whether to water the garden!’ It is an inoffensive open question that can lead to talking about how it hasnt rained for days, or oh, you garden? What are you growing? or whatever. Often ppl volunteer that they know, or need to, because they are on holiday this week, or want to play golf if it stays dry, or… You get the idea, lots of ways to take it forward and usually spins off something else to ask them about.
LW, I have been there and done that and it sucks. Jedi hugs, first of all, if you want them.
As for meeting and connecting with other moms…is it possible for you to volunteer at your child’s school? Most schools have various committees that are responsible for everything from organizing school events to reading to kids in the younger grades. If it’s possible for you, it would give you a ready-made “group” of parents to talk to on the regular, with a built-in topic to discuss. You obviously won’t be besties with all of them, but you’ll get a foot in the door, so to speak.
Good luck from another shy mom!
Oh! And, in case you were wondering:
The skinny banker in heels with immaculate hair? She’s a total dag and squealed the loudest when I got my first home loan.
The rich one? Kinda lonely and really sweet.
The super mum who organises all the play dates, started a kindy facebook group and knows every child and mum? TOTAL who-geek
The one who barely maxed eye contact with me at drop off? A bit shy but really lovely after you say hi a few times.
*real, actual examples of the people I was too scared to talk to for over a year. I think I actually said something one day to one of the day care staff who said ‘start which person A, and don’t be scared or person B and person C would love someone to talk to her’.
Just popping in here with sympathy and good vibes. I can’t speak to the kid thing, but the ADHD thing is very familiar. I know getting treatment can be difficult and uncomfortable…. but if you know this problem is holding you back, you owe it to yourself to do something! And if you think your kid has the same problem, you owe it to him to do what you can to help him.
A lot of the problems you & I have come from never having learned the normal way of doing things growing up. And you’re absolutely right that it can affect friendships – people can tell when you’re not listening to them, and don’t like it. For ages I avoided conversations because they were so hard to sit through. Not the best plan for making new friends. It’s really hard to change habits you spent decades building, especially when a lot of them were absolutely necessary coping mechanisms. So don’t beat yourself up for having trouble with it! You may have tried these already, but here’s some of the things that worked for me:
-Arrange to do things that keep you occupied while hanging out. Knitting, watching a show, going for a walk, stuff like that. When you have more to do you won’t zone out as much.
-Keep stuff short. Talking with someone for five minutes is much more manageable than an hour long lunch date.
-Have a socially acceptable excuse for being distracted. Your kid is a great excuse!
-Do something to manage your symptoms. Working with a Dr. is great, but you can try other things too. Exercise helps me a lot. Other people have found other solutions, so figure out what works best for you.
These are SUCH great ideas. I’ll also point out what I always tell my 2nd grader – none of my best friends happened in 2nd grade. They all happened a lot later when I started being able to chose who I was hanging out with and wasn’t just thrown into a class with them for 75% of the year.
However one thing that’s helped me a lot this year is having a monthly coffee hour with a few other parents. This might work best if you have at least one other person who can be counted on to show up, but here’s how we did it: name a time/coffee shop, ask 5ish other people, tell them to feel free to invite others, and just see who shows up there. Then we spend an hour or so chatting about school stuff, like how our kids never tell us what’s going on and the newsletter got milk spilled on it so how it’s even harder than usual to be up on this this week! Without the older kids there’s not the added pressure of navigating their relationships, but you’re making relationships where you can then count on being able to at least stand in a circle talking about the weather. Baby steps! 🙂
So, recovering super shy, always feeling excluded, doesn’t have many/any friends person here. For the ‘What the Hell Do People Talk About?!?’ bit, some guidelines that have helped me:
-Ask more than you answer
-Ask follow up questions
-Try to find out what other people are themselves interested in, then ask about that. People often have something that they love to talk about, but don’t know a lot of people who are also interested in it. That doesn’t mean you have to fake an interest in it, but a “Cool, so what does X involve/how did you get started in Y etc. etc.” is often appreciated.
-Related to the above, ask questions you wouldn’t mind answering. Have vacation plans, read a cool book or tried something new lately? Ask others about those things. People will often return the question. Don’t do it in a fishing for return question way though. Just do a quick mental overview on the things you have to talk about (not should talk about, not whatever you anxiously suspect people DO talk about, but just general not-too-personal things that you could talk about if left to your own devices)
-Most people consume media, ask them about it. “What have you been reading/watching/listening to lately?” People sometimes seem surprised by these questions, but not offended. And they usually have an answer for them.
-Though you should try to ask more than you answer, don’t get all interrogate-y. Offer things about yourself as well. Have some conversation exits planned for when things stall. Use them slightly before you think you need them.
-Until you get more practised have a shortlist of things to ask about, things to talk about, and quick sentences to end conversations before you go to a gathering. And maybe one upcoming thing that you could, if you want to, invite someone there to.
-While obsessively taking mental notes is not good (and will come out weird), pay attention to people’s answers. When appropriate, ask more follow up questions next time you see them.
-This has been mentioned before on this site, but set yourself small goals for socializing that up to you – not other people – to fill. Don’t try to meet a new bestie. Do try to start up one brief interaction with a new person, and give yourself bonus points for inviting them along to something in public that you’d be doing anyways.
I would love to hear any tips fellow commentators may have as well, cause I’m still trying to figure this stuff out.
This is all good advice. I’d add to try to focus on open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no. So instead of “Did you have fun?” maybe, “What was that like?” It gets people talking a little more.
my favourite question of this type, that works brilliantly… ‘So, what’s keeping you busy these days?..’
I think these are wonderful ideas for being less awkward in any social situation 🙂
Personally, one thing that I’ve really struggled with is realizing that friendship is not something that is done to or for you. There does have to be reciprocity of course, but people don’t magically bestow their friendship upon you and then you get all the invitations and are no longer excluded! I had so, so many problems with this for so long. I was terribly shy and awkward and assumed no one would like me. And see, I had proof: no one ever invited me to things! It took me a painfully long time to realize that I was also (entirely unintentionally) excluding them. They didn’t have magic abilities that I lacked (though it sure seemed that way). I was going on my intentions of goodwill and friendship-wanting, and assuming that was obvious and enough for them. But then I was always waiting on their actions. Turns out, both sides need goodwill and action – not just the socially awkward person needs the friendship-wanting intentions and the socially-adept person picks up on these signals and replies with acceptance in the form of an offer to come that thing they’re throwing this weekend. Ever so surprisingly, these things weren’t magically somehow important for them to do for me, but not for me to do for them if I wanted to get to know them better. And of course my mind would supply about a thousand bajillion reasons why it’s easier, better, more natural for others to issue invitations and make plans and I couldn’t because REASONS!!! But, really? REALLY? They could find those reasons why they couldn’t do things too.
Here’s a quick test I use for myself if there is something I want to do, but my mind supplies a reason why I definitely can’t (‘not like those other people who can do it, oh no, nope that just wouldn’t work for me’): what if that reason wasn’t there? So say you have: I can’t have people over because we don’t have enough chairs!/ Can’t invite them to that play because I don’t know if they like plays and I don’t want them to think I’m weird/Can’t suggest a time becauase it might be inconvenient for their schedule and I’m flexible so I should leave that up to them. Well, what if you knew they actually prefer sitting on a couch to eat, or they have their hated cousin’s obligatory social event that they are dying to have ANY excuse not to go to, or what if you knew the world wouldn’t end if they said they couldn’t make it and you gave them space to suggest an alternative (or not)? So, does your mind immediately come up with another excuse (or hey, two – my excuse mind is a hydra!) ? Then odds are it’s either a fake excuse and you’d find one no matter what the actual circumstances are, or you don’t really want to do that thing after all. Or at least in my experience – I don’t know you (though you sound cool! And I would jump at the chance to make small talk with you and see where that goes!)
In addition to the Captain’s ‘You have to accept things too!’ bit, if you can be comfortable being alone in a group and making small talk occasionally with those around you that helps too. So go to that concert/reading/sports event/cool thing even if you don’t know anyone there. Try to talk for a minute or two with someone there. Now: this can be absolutely exhausting if you’re just doing it to meet people/practice socialization skills, so don’t do it with the expectation of a quick payoff and do make sure it’s something you’d actually enjoy. While I don’t want to make any assumptions on how much free time you have, being interested in things generally makes you more interesting and gives you something to talk about. So maybe look into developing a new hobby or going to more of a certain type of events.
The ‘skill’ in ‘social skills’ is indeed the operative word here. So, maybe you haven’t had much practice at this talking to people and being social bit. That’s ok. But it is a skill and can be improved in time. In fact I’d guess that many people haven’t given much thought to being a good conversationalist or a good friend. Or even a good acquaintance for that matter. I’ve tried to do a lot of deliberate practise at these sorts of things, and trust me, you can make up for lost time. One usually cannot manage to compress forming friendships timewise however. So patience is key.
Here’s the thing: it feels weird and awkward to reply to “Yeah, we should get together sometime” with “Well, I’m free Friday after supper. There’s a new coffee shop I wanted to check out. Would that work for you?”, but that’s how things progress. And if that wouldn’t work for them? “Ok, well let me know if and when you get a spare moment!”
And if you haven’t yet got to that opening even? Then dare to reply to ‘So what have you been up to lately?’ with a real answer. Not a feelings dump, not the entirety of your personal problems and unfiltered hopes and dreams for the future. But, ‘Eh, I’ve been pretty tired lately chasing around KID#1 and KID#2, but we’re hoping to get the little one in a play group to tire him/her out hahaha. Oh! And I went to a really cool restaurant last week. I’ve never eaten there before but now I’m thinking of taking a cooking class for X type of food this summer. Have you ever been there?”
Everyone thinks their life is boring, but volunteering a few things actually makes it easier on the other person! Offering more than a one word answer helps everyboady and lets the other person know that you’re likely cool with them mentioning they’ve started pottery lessons because they just feel like creativity was missing from their life, you know?
Also realize there’s no secret code and sometimes other people will be awkward or weird or just be not that into you. Be sensitive to other people subtly expressing their boundaries and what they’re comfortable/uncomfortable with, and just keep trying. Good luck!
My mom has a great saying — to have a friend, you have to be a friend. I think of it when I’m screwing my courage to the sticking-place to invite someone over or out, or being laid back rather than wounded if they can’t do it or have to cancel, and also at times when I feel like oh god do I really want to make the effort right now to call to check in on how x’s mom is doing with her latest illness, or listen to an enthusiastic story about y’s new boyfriend about whom I feel sort of yikes, or just let one or another little incident of toe-stepping go (remembering I surely sometimes step on toes too, but like still having friends…).
Totally dig the second last paragraph. Very good advice that is both specific and general!
Here is a thing I wrote up for the CA forum about How To Friend, in case it’s useful to anyone:
People do do this [say ‘I like you, let’s be friends] sometimes, and when it works it is awesome, but on the whole people are reluctant to be so overt, and are therefore more indirect.
One of the big ways indirect friending works is by reciprocity signals.
Sorry, I’m now going to nerd out and write something down in geeky detail in case it helps. For the sake of turning into numbers, let’s assume everyone starts at friendship level zero, and really really bestest friends is level 10.
So person A wants to test out person B to see if they are open to friendship, they say something mildly friendly, at level 1 (‘Hey, how are you? Nice to see you again!’). If person B replies similarly at level 1 (‘Okay thanks – I’m glad it’s the weekend! How are you doing?’), then they both know that they are open to being level 1 friends (in this case, people who are friendly-ish to each other but not close).
At that point, if neither of them wants anything more, they can carry on happily at level 1 for years. Or, one of them – B in this case – will test the water at level 2 by adding a bit more personal detail (‘Actually I’m a bit sad today because….’) If A reciprocates at level 1 (‘Poor you! But at least it’s the weekend’), then they both go back to level 1. The signal was ‘do you want to be better friends?’, and the answer was no. Or if A does want to be better friends, they reciprocate at level 2, or even at 3.
The idea here is not to be too far ahead or behind the other person, and test each level first to see if they are open to more intimacy. Going from 1 to 7 (“I had a great orgasm last night, and this is how…”) in a single bound is viewed as high pressure and weird.
[The caveat here is that there are very occasional circumstances where extreme intimacy happens quickly – hen/batchelorette nights, CA meetups, natural disasters, etc. – but for normal circumstances don’t leap ahead, and if you’re nervous let the other person make the leap first even if you are in one of those situations.]
A friendship where one person is at 2 and one person is at 5 is unbalanced and won’t really work long term. It is okay short term (if you are going through something horrible and need to talk about it), but it needs to get back in balance after the crisis.
So to navigate this, the keys are a) responding to any change in level – if they lead with a 2, responding with a 1 looks like a brush off even if you didn’t mean it that way, and b) respecting their levels. If you’ve tried someone with a level 2 or 3 and they didn’t reciprocate, don’t push it, and respect their choice. Be open to more from them, but don’t start it yourself more than twice on the same person.
Incidentally, some ways to signal a change in levels are by actions as well: invitations to something, introductions to partner/family, home visits.
In these cases, saying no is a no; saying yes is a yes, saying ‘I can’t do Tuesday, but how about Wednesday?’ is a yes, but importantly: saying ‘I can’t do Tuesday, but let’s do it some other time’ IS A NO. It’s a polite deflection and shouldn’t be taken as a yes.
So if you like someone, try testing them out for moving up the scale – if you’re at 1 try a 2, if at 2 try a 3, ask ‘it’s fun to talk, would you like to get a coffee this weekend?’
If the same person says no or deflects twice in a row, back off and let them decide if they want to invite you to something. Move on and try someone else.
If you’re really geeky about it you can track all of this in a spreadsheet or something!
Oooh. I like this. I think I often unintentionally respond to such signals in non-reciprocal way just out being used to stock phrases. I need to remember to respond to small bids for more interaction with more interaction not more generalities.
I’m so glad you wrote this because I was thinking the same thing and now I don’t need to write it. 🙂 It’s kind of like a dance and you have to do the same dance.
Another thing is, if you live in an area that follows a sports team, follow it as well, at least enough to make conversation so you can say “How ’bout them Niners” or whatever the local equivalent is. At least enough so you can say, bummer about the quarterback’s knee or boy that was a close one last night.
Second the Meetup idea, and also check out Facebook. And, of course, school events — not just your own kid’s school but all the schools in your neighborhood. Plays, band performances, sports, choir. And yes! Volunteer! I’ve met a lot of people in my town now because I’m working on a school levy campaign.
I know a lot of people hate small talk, but have a little fistful of topics you can feel comfortable talking about. The weather. A sports team. Your garden. Of course your kids. Things you can talk about with just about anyone.
“Another thing is, if you live in an area that follows a sports team, follow it as well, at least enough to make conversation so you can say “How ’bout them Niners” or whatever the local equivalent is. At least enough so you can say, bummer about the quarterback’s knee or boy that was a close one last night.”
For people who are Not Into Sports, this doesn’t mean you have to watch the Sports People Do The Thing. This is why humans have invented local news websites and ESPN.com and whatnot. Even fairly serious sports fans (like me) use sites like ESPN and Deadspin and so on to keep up with a lot of general issues — what is the current kerfuffle in football, for example? (Answer: Gronkowski is racist, and Richie Incognito is a giant bully.) A lot of sports kerfuffles have other angles on them that non-sports fans may find interesting, and general-interest sports sites often will feed you that info in an easily-digested form.
It’s not a lot of fun to “have” to know about things you don’t have an interest in, but on the other hand I am an adult and I have to know about things like taxes and bills and school attendance rates; if you aren’t into sports, just stick “know a bit about sports” into the Adult Things To Know category. Like knowing about taxes, it’ll make your life a bit easier in the long run.
Yes this is awesome! But one part of it is, I think, sometimes but not always true:
“importantly: saying ‘I can’t do Tuesday, but let’s do it some other time’ IS A NO. It’s a polite deflection and shouldn’t be taken as a yes.”
If someone invites me to something on Tuesday and I’m busy on Tuesday, it’s usually too much instant work for me to be able to immediately respond with an alternate proposal, even if I do want to see them. So I quite sincerely reply that I can’t Tuesday but I’d love to some other time. But since I’ve learned that this can be used as a polite no, I’ve started doing my best to reiterate my enthusiasm as clearly as possible when I do this. Like, “oh, that sounds awesome! Sadly I’m busy this time, but do let me know if you plan something like this again!” My friends have used this response too, and then turned up to similar events later, so this seems like a fairly effective way to communicate in this situation.
Yeah I think there are some very subtle different ways to phrase it depending on whether it’s a brush off or being busy. Like if someone just said “Oh, I’m busy on Tuesday.” that’s a no. But if they add “how about another time?” then it starts verging towards a yes based on their enthusiasm.
It wouldn’t occur to me that “not Tuesday, but some other time” could be a yes. If you said “not Tuesday, but any Wednesday” however, I’d know you meant yes.
In other words, you have to be almost as specific as the invitation for many of us to understand you.
The “let me know if you plan that again, I’d love to do it then” should work to make it yes-flavored; if that’s not an option (like, it’s not a recurring sort of activity), issuing your own invitation later can be a patch.
That way, instead of
A: “Friend escalation to level 2?”
A: “Friend escalation to level 2?
B: “Friend escalation to level 2?”
Hi LW! I’m someone who (I think!) passes quite well as “outgoing” and “social.” But, in reality, I find it extremely hard to make friends. (I moved across the country five years ago and haven’t made any real new friends in this city). I would be THRILLED if someone like you made an effort to say hi/invite me to something/otherwise reach out. Sure, we might not become friends in the long run, but that’s okay! In the moment, I’d be excited/relieved/grateful you approached me. So good luck! And remember that there are people out there who will be thrilled if you put in the work and reach out to them 🙂
This is such great advice, Captain.
LW, I was a nerdy introverted kid with parents who massively prioritised academic success and didn’t really think “friends” or a “social life” mattered (they only ever hung out with family themselves). I also went through two big country moves at formative times in my life which were really disruptive — not only in the ordinary way where moving to a new school means you lose all your ties at the old school etc., but because there were big cultural differences between the places I moved between, there was a huge amount of cultural disruption as well as I had to adapt to new expectations, new social mores, etc. etc. etc. And I think that really slowed down my social development.
There were years when I was terrified to speak to people — like, I’d put off buying shampoo or whatever because I was scared of engaging in the minimal interaction I’d need to have with the cashier. I literally had, like, one friend when I was a teenager. I was just always hanging on the edge of things feeling like an alien, not getting any of the jokes or understanding any of the gossip.
So, now I am one of the most socially comfortable people I know. I am equally happy giving a presentation to a large group at work and going for the networking event after; I fairly regularly attend social events where I’m not sure I’ll know anyone and manage to have a good time; and all my friends laugh at me when I say I am shy or socially awkward. (And actually, I am a huge extrovert. Who knew!)
But to get from there to here was really tough, and I consciously took certain steps to learn how to operate in the culture in which I now live. (Things I started doing literally just so I could talk to white people: drink alcohol. Watch local reality TV programmes, paying particular attention to the advertisements. At one point I was even sort of following the World Cup, and I REALLY don’t care about sports.)
I mention this because maybe that is a factor in how tough you are finding making friends — it can take a long long time, a lifetime’s amount of time, to figure out the secret rules of a culture that’s different from the one you grew up in, so that you can operate comfortably within them. And this may all be totally irrelevant to you, but I feel like it would have helped me to have someone tell me that adapting is really hard and takes work, instead of everyone just expecting me to assimilate in no time at all. So I am saying it, just in case it is relevant.
Ack. So much of this is familiar to me. My sister met her best friend at her kid’s school. I met my best friend online.
Being a mum without “mum friends” sucks. It just does. Being a mum who doesn’t make friends easily (for any reason) just sucks. Being a mum who doesn’t enjoy making small talk, or gossiping, or talking about exercise routines/diets/makeup tips just sucks. Being a mum who has a perpetual bitchy-resting-face just sucks.
My eldest didn’t attend kindy so when he started pre-primary all the other parents and kids already knew each other and we were new (West Australian schooling system: kindy is part-time for 4yos and pre-primary full-time for 5yos). He’d also just been diagnosed with Autism and my depression was in full swing and his little brother was only 1. I’m introverted and anti-social at the best of times. This was not the best of times.
My kids may be on the Autism spectrum but they love socialising and talking to random people and will enthusiastically invite anybody and everybody over for dinner (doctors, shop assistants, fellow dog walkers at the park…). Their enthusiasm has propelled me to organise playdates for them with classmates but I tend to get along with the kid better than the parent.
I’m sorry to say after 5 years of being a “school mum” I haven’t cracked the socialising-with-mums thing. And for the most part I don’t want to. Not really. I don’t want to talk to these people because I see them in the same light as the kids I went to school with: aside from being at school together, what do we really have in common?
I know it’s a really jerky way to look at other people, and I know it’s mostly just an excuse so I don’t have to try. I’m sorry I don’t have anything helpful or encouraging to share with you.
Oh my god, I hear you, Awkward Mom. My kids are 5 and 2 and I am *so baffled* by how/whether/how much/in what way I am supposed to be acting as their social proxy at this point in their lives. Luckily my husband is less introverted and less socially anxious and so at least I can send him to all the birthday parties. (Could this work for you guys? Even if he likes peace and quiet, could he shoulder half of the awkward-occasions burden and see if he has any better luck making some playdate-connections?)
Captain Awkward’s advice all seems very reasonable and yet reading it makes me want to curl into a little ball and cry. I mean, really, what else is there to do other than have courage and do hard work, but oh, the relentless misery of that. I was going to be SO GOOD when I had my first kid, I was going to join playgroups and set up playdates and I even printed up little “mom business cards” for myself with my name and contact info and a picture of me and my kid so that if I like met someone at a playground or something I wouldn’t be digging in my diaper bag for a pen and writing my number on the wrapper from a band-aide while my kid ran for the street, I could just be all smooth, here, take my card.
I think I maybe once gave one person one of them. Eventually we put First Kid in preschool and I gave myself permission to stop beating myself up for not making mom-friends or arranging playdates. My theory is, socializing at school is still socializing, my kid is totally getting exposure to being around other kids, that’s the most important thing at this age. I don’t know, maybe with starting kindergarten in the fall (and unfortunately no carryover from current preschool class, which is in the next town over), we’re going to need to up our playdate game to try to help find some friends among all those new faces? But maybe at least some other people will be in a similar boat? Possibly I need a Really Nerdy T-shirt, or something as a signalling device? Or there will be a Science Olympiad team that needs parent volunteers, and the other volunteers will also be parents for whom that was their major social interaction in school? I… don’t really have a conclusion here, except, Jedi Hugs, and if by some miracle our kids were at the same school YOU would totally be the other mom I wanted to be friends with. (EXCEPT HOW WOULD WE EVER MEET. [poor taste joke redacted by moderator]
Socializing at school is still socializing! You need YOU friends, and you need stuff to do with your kids sometimes that might be with other kids sometimes, but there will be plenty of time for your child or children to meet other kids and hang out with them. Most of us who grew up in the pre-playdate era still made friends at school without our parents being friends, too.
I think for me, the difference between ME friends and social-proxy stuff is that I feel a sense of pressure about things on behalf of my kids that I don’t for myself. Maybe I need to socialize myself, but there are all sorts of things I need, or “need” – I need to vacuum behind the couch, I need more aerobic exercise, I need to mend that hole in my shirt, I need to eat more fiber. But, as an adult, I can decide to blow off any or all of these things and go on with my hole in my shirt and the dust behind my couch because there are other things I would rather be doing (like reading Captain Awkward! ::grin::) and, you know, I get to make that choice, and maybe it would be better for me in some sense if I spent less time on the internet by myself and more time jogging in the park with other people while drinking eight glasses of water and exfoliating and all that, but, ugh. But if I make that choice on behalf of my kid I feel like a neglectful parent.
(Sorry about the poor taste joke, I find it comforting to think of myself that way but I can see how others might not.)
I’m not a parent, but I am an introverted, autistic geek who has to quickly connect to people as part of my job–so, you know,a nightmare. Having a clear signal like a geeky shirt is my favourite opening to talk to strangers. If you want to signal to your people, there are subtle (and less subtle) tshirts or jewelry for basically any fandom. A compliment is always a good opener.
I, too, am socially awkward. And a first time mum to a now 1 year old.
My coffee group I met through antenatal classes are wonderful. But they all seem to be better friends with each other (or with mums outside the group) than with me.
I have social anxiety – I dont like to invite people to things because I dont like being declined, but as an at-home mum, I have to do it sometimes.
And, as CA has said, I’m doing it by saying “Little and myself will be at X location at Y time if anyone wants to join us”. 99% of the time no-one comes. And I feel a little sorry for myself. But I’m making the effort, even if its not being noticed or reciprocated. I can keep dealing with that.
Admittedly, on my part, at least some of that coping is because I have a few friends from before I was pregnant. Sure, two now have babies as well, and we all almost never see each other, but I know they are there.
And you’ll probably find that one or two friends (when you’ve never had many), who you can actually call on, will be enough.
I don’t have anything to add to the Captain’s advice, which is truly excellent — frank, specific, actionable, and compassionate. I just wanted to chime in to say, I also do not know how to Mom. I bet there are more women than you think feeling just as awkward as you do on the playground.
Um. My parents never made playdates for me.
…Were they supposed to?
(hell there were times when my family actively made it difficult for me to meet with friends who didn’t live on the same street/block — not on purpose, just through carelessness)
I think we made our own? I remember going to my friend’s house a lot in primary school but it was never anything ‘organised’. And I know my and my siblings’ friends used to just come over after school. I don’t know how their parents knew where they were…
I’m not sure why it’s different now but I know there are a lot of theories.
As a non-parent, I’ve been wondering about this whole playdate phenomenon myself. I’m gen-X, and my parents didn’t make playdates for me. When did this start happening?
when children started to be driven to schools. Used to be, a kid just made friends living in the same neighborhood…
Yeah, it’s been probably 7 years since my kids had friends their age in their neighborhood. And even if they had, most of them aren’t playing outside anymore.
I’m considerably older than you, and my parents made play dates for me, and theirs did for them.
This may be a matter of where you were brought up.
I think it may also be a function of language. My mother didn’t *call* what she did “making playdates”, but it was the exact same thing: she and another parent would arrange between themselves that they were going to go to the park with their kids, or go to someone’s house, or whatever.
My older child only knows they’re called “playdates” because that word has now entered the vocabulary, but it’s the same thing my mom used to do with me. We just didn’t use that word for it.
It’s a thing that’s been done for generations in some cultures/classes, and not at all in others. Some peoples’ lives make it really easy for their children to socialize with very little adult interaction, and some people are okay if their child’s social life is limited; but in other cases, parents think it’s important to let their child meet and make friends with others. The people I know who do playdates the most live in rural areas or modern suburbs, where there may not be any other appropriate children to play with within walking distance.
Play dates have always been common in my city of birth. As I mentioned, even my parents had play dates.
I don’t understand where we’re disagreeing?
For me (note: I’m childless), conversations are always awkward at first and I don’t know what to talk about. But they get easier as you get to know someone. Those two women like gardening, I can ask gardening questions since I know nothing about gardening. That woman watches the same realiy show as me, we can discuss who our fav and least fav contestants are and OMG how harsh were the judges the other night? The more you know a person, the more you can engage them and be engaged, even if it is a topic that doesn’t quite interest you (I have no interest in dirt bike riding but my collegue does so we discuss it sometimes). It isn’t something that happens instantly and there’s nothing wrong with taking baby steps over a period of months.
Bring some cookies and share them around. Bring some cookies for your son to share around with the other kids. It is a lot easier approaching a group of people if you have treats to share.
I just want to say that this post was really moving for me even outside of the parenting-specific advice. I grew up in a similar way to the LW and have likewise often felt like making friends was a giant mystery. A lot of what the Captain says here was eye-opening for me in terms of recognizing patterns in my own reactions to these issues, especially the paragraph with all the arrows. How as a person who feels lonely, rejected, etc. it can be very easy to place blame on others and look at the situation through a lens of anger or sadness, even when the reality of the matter is that no one in particular is at fault or I am somewhat responsible for the situation. It can be a very hard pill to swallow because I end up looking back and developing regrets that I didn’t just do x or y thing different, but I guess that’s what they mean by “you live and you learn.”
I also have to say, I really wish there were more narratives that portrayed “friend-having” beyond a sort of binary state of A. loneliness, B. Have many and/or super-tight-nit friends. The work of friendship is just very absent from popular culture, unless we count “frenemies” tropes.
I’d like to ask the LW – has your husband has been let in on this at all? Have you told him about your troubles making friends, and does he have any ideas? Two heads are better than one! Maybe after you’ve compiled your fave Captain Awkward ideas you could ask him to help you practice your small-talk? You could do something like set aside 15 minutes on a Sunday night to practice your “arranging a play date” script, with husband playing the role of another mum. Or maybe he could take some of the burden off by arranging the occasional playdate with the family or family friends? There’s no reason I can see why husband couldn’t help out a bit on this…
Hey LW, re: the WHAT DO THEY TALK ABOUT (WHAT?!)
In some ways, it doesn’t matter *what* they talk about. It matters *that they talk.* Hopefully you have some of your ADHD stuff in a place where you can manage conversations a little better? There isn’t a whole lot of time at school pick up- practice conversationing, just a little, while waiting.
If you don’t know what to say to the things they talk about, then try asking questions. People love to talk about themselves! They love to be heard! And they *love* to give advice!
I’ve run out of episodes of [SHOW] to watch. What’s good on Netflix lately?
I’m hoping to get [KID] something fun and creative for his birthday. He’s got X, and Y, but I’m short on ideas because I am not crafty. What do *you* do for arty stuff with your kids?
I am *so* tired of listening to [Juvenile Music Thing]. My little one loves music, but I am going bats with the options at home. What are your kids listening to?
“Ooh, the dinner you’re talking about sounds great. Do you mind sharing the recipe?”
You don’t have to talk about whatever they are talking about, really. You can participate by listening actively, interestedly. Eventually, someone will ask you a question, and then you participate by answering.
Ooh! And one last thing, re: being a person who reaches out and makes an effort. It’s *so nice* to have A Job To Do, and hosting is such a job. Does everyone have a drink? Are there enough supplies? Do the cookies need more sprinkles!
It can be real low key- sprinkles and frosting, or more markers or coats on the hooks in the entry way isn’t massive party planning. Your Job doesn’t have to be a big deal. But oh boy does it help.
If/when you are invited to something, another way to participate without having TO KNOW HOW TO TALK is to bring something. Tasty brownies, home made pretzel bark. Again, doesn’t have to be any big deal at all. It probably shouldn’t be, at first because that can look like overreaching. But muffins, or dove chocolate squares, or sugar cookies from that really good bakery.
Then you can say *after* the kids are running around the park or whatever “oh, thanks so much for inviting us to EVENT. It’s nice to get out of the house and meet some new folks. I just picked up these fantastic caramels at the co-op. Would you like one?”
Baked goods are an amazing ice breaker. I learned how to bake really early but a lot of people seem to see it as some kind of arcane mystery so even if I post a picture of biscuits online everyone gets really impressed (sometimes they ask for the recipe so it could be a good idea to more-or-less memorise a few or something – that way you can also make it less of a big deal with “oh, I make these all the time”).
Agreed on this. Baked goods are basically my way of making people like me: at my old job, at any gaming nights my fiancé and I have gone to in our new city, with my extended family, with my fiancé’s family, when I was part of Occupy in my old city…because it’s a talent I have, so I’d better use it, right? People generally tend to have good memories of you if you’re the one with all the cupcakes/muffins/brownies.
I am writing this without personal experience of your particular issues, so I apologise in advance if I haven’t ‘got it’.
Would it help to view the mum-socialising as being work? Not a path to friendships, but a task to be completed in order to enable an outcome you want for you child. It would mean working on a few conversational strategies, but knowing that you don’t have to like those strategies, they are simply a means to an end.
For example: my dad was a social worker. And my dad had no interest in sport. It wasn’t until I was well into my 20’s that he told me that he always read the sports pages before going to work. In fact, he looked at the sports pages as a part of his work. He did this because the latest news about football or cricket were the two things that many of his clients could talk about, so in order to be able to make small talk, he just had to brush up on those topics.
Incidentally, I also think it would be useful to get professional help for your son – I am not quite sure why you think this is a bad idea. These days, early childhood workers are very good at identifying strategies to ensure an unusual child can make the most of the good things about their difference to others, and compensate for any deficits. Coming to grips with things early has been shown to make a big difference down the track.
I once went to an organized event where people were issued name tags, but instead of saying, “Hi, my name is _____,” they said, “Ask me about _____.”
That was terrific, and I wish ordinary life had more opportunities to be annotated like that. Imagine walking into a room full of strangers and being able to look at their name tags and know how to start a conversation with them — “NASCAR, dogs, EMT work,” “murder ballads, cooking, new in town pls recommend a restaurant,” “Sherlock Holmes, crochet, learning to speak Spanish.”
If I ever host an event where people don’t know each other, I’m totally going to do this.
Maybe I should make badges that say, “I’m shy. Ask me about greyhounds” or some other thing I’m obsessed with 😛
I WILL ALWAYS ASK YOU ABOUT GREYHOUNDS. MY GREYHOUND WILL ASK YOUR GREYHOUND ABOUT HUMANS.
My greyhound would ideally like to live with me, two other humans, and another greyhound. But for now she just has me. She really likes to hang out with other hound dogs when she gets a chance. Do you want to go to the dog park or for a walk around the lake next week on Wednesday for Thursday in the early evening?! Are you going to the greyhound meetup at PetCo? We could go after that!
I totally and enthusiastically endorse an Ask Me About Greyhounds pin on a bag, or a pin of the logo of a rescue organization you’ve worked with. People will ask!
(See! It works! You just made a new acquaintance!!)
(My dog has a Twitter account, and I kid you not, I have met and made pals with another hound owner in my area by having my hound follow her hounds.)
Haha greys are instant talking points! People always ask me about them whenever I take my boy out. I foster now for the group I adopted through, so now he has company and I get even more questions when I have two 😀
That’s awesome! I’d love to foster, but I don’t have the right kind of place for it right now. Yay for hounds!
omg that is FANTASTIC idea! Mine would be “Ask me about PERFUME” XD
As would mine! (what are you wearing?)
Serin, this is a brilliant and I am filing it away for future use.
Ack, sorry I didn’t see this earlier! Today I’m testing a couple–got Prada Infusion d’Iris on my right wrist and Olympic Orchids Ballets Rouges on my left. Both are lovely, but quite different! Infusion d’Iris is light, sweet, sheer, good perfume for summertime! Ballets Rouges is an old-school style chypre, heavy on the oakmoss, with a rosy floral heart. I love oakmoss, so that’s always up my lane. What’s your perfume today?
Oh, I love that! I go to a meet up where we have that and people actually use them and it’s glorious. “Hi, I’m Sarah, ask me about pirates!” And people shake my hand, look at my name tag, and say, “Okay, Sarah, so…pirates, huh?” Boom. Conversation.
I can’t really give any help with the moms-and-playdates stuff, since I’m not a mom myself. But when it comes to just general friendmaking, has the LW tried making friends online? Recently I was wondering how to make new female friends, since most of my social circle is made up of men due to my hobbies and work, which are both dude-heavy. One night I went googling to try and find out how to meet new people, and it turns out there’s actually a website just for women to find female friends. Well, probably more than one, but I didn’t do a whole lot of searching. The one I found was called Girlfriend Social, and you could fill out the reasons you were looking for friends, like “just moved” or “new mom” or something. I didn’t have much luck with it since I live in a relatively small city and there weren’t a lot of users near me, but maybe the LW lives in a bigger place than me and would make more use out of it. She could look out other moms, or just other people who seem cool to know since friends can be nice to have, even just the friend you only see once a month for D&D or book club.
Adding my voice to the “social skills can be practiced and learned” thing, and also to the “your kids will find their own way.” My mother is extremely passive aggressive, has issues with boundaries, and *definitely* does that “but why wasn’t I invited” thing – but I learned not to do these things! Your social skills are not your kid’s destiny, so while the advice above is, as always, EXCELLENT, if you don’t manage to navigate making friends for your kids by proxy, it’s not going to be the end of the world for them. They’ll still be able to make friends. I promise.
Also, in a few years, it’ll be more of something they do themselves than something you’ll have to manage for them, and that’ll take some of the pressure off too.
Some advice for when that happens, based on things I wish my mother hadn’t done: If/when your kids have friends over, don’t make it a big deal, and let the kids interact without supervising every minute.
That is, my mother used to make sure we were only in certain rooms, and would hover to try to anticipate when we might open the kitchen cupboards/fridge and do it for us (some hoarding tendencies, and a lot of shame) – which got really awkward in high school, since fifteen-year-olds definitely know how to pour a glass of milk. It made friends feel kind of weird in my house, and made me feel awkward about inviting people over. So, um, don’t do that.
I wonder if the common “all the other moms are already friends and get along so well!” thing is just because we don’t see the work they’re all putting into it. We just see people making plans, chatting away, having fun, whatever. We don’t see people juggling schedules and scouring the local paper for events, asking people on playdates, stressing over no/maybe’s, etc. It’s like looking at someone at a party who is talking and laughing and we think “it’s so easy for them, they’re just good at this” but they’re actually exhausted and really wanted to just go home and read tonight. We see their social successes. We don’t generally see their social failures or the effort they have to put in to the successes.
One thing which can help is giving people an obvious thing to use as a conversation starter. Including eye-catching details in your outfits can be helpful. A fun scarf, an unusual piece of jewellery, an interesting manicure, pretty shoes, a coat in a bright colour… If it has a small story attached, like you made it, or bought it on holiday somewhere interesting, even better, as you have a little to say if someone comments on it.
And you can do this in reverse. Saying “lovely scarf” or “great shoes, they’re pretty and look comfortable too” to one of the mums standing near you might be worth a try. If she just says “thanks” leave it at that, but any longer answer or return comment is a chance to practice your small talk. The hair conversation is a variant of this one, so it sounds like it might be worth trying to notice if someone has a new hairdo and saying “love the new haircut”. It all seems very superficial, but it helps build goodwill and a sense that people are interested in and noticing each other.
Yes! I’ve found this very helpful, both having “conversation piece” items in my own wardrobe, and consciously making an effort to compliment people. Just as a general “be more social” thing I try to make a habit of sincerely complimenting at least 3 people every day on something they’re wearing or doing (making sure to avoid problematic body talk or making people feel uncomfortably objectified) like an interesting scarf or nice shoes, or a cool knitting project they’re working on. Sometimes it’s just a, “hey, I love your scarf, where did you get it?” “thanks, I got it at the mall,” exchange, and that’s fine. Sometimes it turns into a bigger conversation that branches out to other topics, and that’s great too.
I’m somewhat lacking concentration right now so maybe I didn’t see it after reading your letter once, LW, but are you sure your son *wants* to make friends? That might come off as on odd question but I’m asking because of my own experiences. To an outsider observing little!My in kindergarten, I’d probably have looked lonely and sad and wanting to make friends when in fact, I just… didn’t. Wasn’t. I really liked to be by myself back then and I do like that now, too. I’ve always had pretty good social skills so it might not be extremely noticeable right away (because I can chat a bunch and meet with others and talk animatedly and so on) but actually, I’ve always preferred being alone. I understand wanting “the best” for your child but I personally am eternally grateful that my own mum was (and is) very much like myself so didn’t really feel the need to make close friends herself *or* make me have friends. So if your son is anything like me he might actually be content on his own and only feel pressured if you make it known that you’d like him to make friends.
Of course I have no idea if all of that is the case regarding your son, but I thought maybe you hadn’t considered this before (because you’re afraid he’ll follow in your footsteps and be sad about his lonesomeness) so I wanted to share my own experience. Best of luck for your own friends-making adventures, though!
Yeah, I had the same stuff going on in kindergarten. My mom set up a weekly playgroup for me from the beginning, and I actively dreaded it. It was just me, another girl, and two boys, but I would have much rather been alone. The other girl was nice enough and we had things in common but somehow couldn’t connect for whatever reason, one of the boys was a good egg but we had nothing in common, and the second boy was a little devil-child bully (whose mother was on top of the social ladder, of course) and remained so the entire time we were in school together. And the devil-child decided to lock me in the bathroom at other girl’s house one week. Don’t know why, he had just decided he hated me or whatever. But I wasn’t allowed to stop being “friends” with these kids. It was extremely frustrating.
There was eventually a girl I became friends with–another loner. I never really noticed her in the classroom/playground hullabaloo, but then one day my parents got an invitation from her parents in the mail inviting me over for a playdate after school. Her parents were about a decade older than mine, and they had just moved from another country. And once we actually started talking, we actually formed an instant connection over our mutual weirdness. I still can’t figure out why that invitation was sent to me, though.
So…I guess parental meddling can be for better or worse. I’d definitely say it’s a good idea to trust a kid’s judgment when it comes to who is and isn’t “good” or “nice,” though. And one friend is very valuable. I remember after meeting my cool loner friend feeling very frustrated because my mom was then pushing me to MAKE MORE FRIENDS, because ONE ISN’T ENOUGH. At that point in my life, though, one definitely was enough, for an introvert being forced to interact with 24 other people every day.
Everyone and the Captain have given some great advice. I’m going to suggest some things that worked for me, though my problems are more related to depression and facial blindness.
1. It really helped me to keep an index-card file or diary of friends and acquaintances. With names (mother, child, other parent/kids), dates they called me or I called them, stuff they told me (because I’d forget to ask about their trip to Disneyland), birthdays, and so on. It was very useful because sometimes I felt depressed and isolated, and I could look at my file and see, “Oh, Susan called me twice but I didn’t call her, that’s why we’re drifting apart, I should ask about her trip.” Often when I felt most abandoned, it turned out that I was the one who broke off contact.
2. A good rule of thumb with playdates if you’re not sure how they’re going to go is to set the end time as well: “We have to leave at 4, sorry!” Where I live, it’s common for the person invited to bring some snacks for the kids and maybe something for the other parent (like fruit or tea); I don’t know what the custom is where you are, but it feels much less awkward if you are well prepared.
3. With kids, advice I got from my friend was to keep an eye on the long game: to think of what kind of adults you want them to be and work towards that. It sounds as if you want your children to be happy; to have the skills to make and keep friends; and to have confidence in social situations. If you could put aside your own worries, and see even then that your child “struggles” and has trouble – and if your child seems unhappy about this – then in the long run choosing some kind of therapy really might be in their best interest. Not taking my eldest to counseling is one of my big regrets; he had a lot of anger and temper problems that only now (in his teens) he tells me were related to racist bullying. I worried that I’d look like a bad parent; but I think if he’d had the words to describe his pain back then, he’d have had a better experience. Best wishes to you!
@LW: You mentioned losing track of conversations & ending up “ten steps behind”.
I wonder if there are little helpful things that other people can do to help you to participate in conversations? I’m somewhat aware of autism-friendliness tips, such as e.g. direct requests working better than hints, and I wonder if there are ADHD equivalents. (Maybe ADHD people can chip in on this?)
The thing is, if I’d met you and you’d mentioned something that would help, I’d probably remember it and try to do it, at least most of the time. So I think it’s worth collecting knowledge to offer people, if possible, of how they could “meet you half way”.
I don’t mean that this type of info would help you with _everyone_. Some people wouldn’t make the effort, some would want to but wouldn’t have the skills themself to adapt. But with a subset of people (e.g. geeks who like to know how things work, good communicators who are skilled at adapting to other people’s conversational style, people who grow to care about you a lot), it could make things easier.
so I’m thinking that if you do get some support around your own ADHD etc, this exploration would be a worthwhile investment of some of that time: trying to identify any such tips, and planning some ways for briefly explaining them. Like “I have ADHD, and it helps me in conversations if…”. Or maybe it’s something you can think about for yourself even without specific support.
h.t.h. & good luck 🙂
ADHD person here (although I was only recently diagnosed) who thanks you SO MUCH for proposing that there might be “little helpful things that other people can do to help” us with social interaction. Off the top of my head, here are a couple of suggestions:
1) The direct requests work better than hints thing applies for ADHD as well. I’m much better at interpreting facial expressions and emotional cues than most people with autism are, but I still have a lot of trouble with hints or ambiguity. According to at least one psychiatric expert on ADHD, this failure to pick up on hints is fairly common. So, please, just state your opinions/desires directly, and don’t worry if they seem slightly rude. As the perpetually single member of my friend group during college, my friends would tell me outright that, “we want couple time. Please leave now.” That simple request took away sooo much of the guesswork, which enabled me to be comfortable in the fact that they really did want me around the rest of the time.
2) Try not to get annoyed when I ask you to repeat yourself! Yes, that means that I tuned out of the conversation (I can’t help it), but it also means that I tuned back in, and that I’m INTERESTED. If I didn’t really WANT to hear what you had to say, then I wouldn’t risk the social faux pas of admitting that I hadn’t caught it all the first time.
3) This last suggestion doesn’t specifically relate to conversation, but I think it’s still relevant to social interaction. ADHD is a disorder with executive functioning (not just attention!). In other words, we also struggle with planning, processing the passage of time, etc. If LW struggles with chronic lateness as much as I do, perhaps people can help her out by telling her, “Well, the [event] is at 10am, but I think we should try to be there by 9:15 in order to get seats,” or “My kid’s birthday party technically doesn’t start till 3, but people will probably begin showing up around 2:30.” I’ve tried adding that extra half hour in myself, however it never works unless someone else tells it to me.
Mama with ADHD here. And while I had some friends as a child, I also had two extremely introverted parents who homeschooled me for a significant part of childhood and one in particular who was very insistent that if you have more than a few friends you are a shallow person and they can’t be REAL friends.
Wow that took unlearning, even though I instinctively knew it was wrong.
My biggest barriers to parenting-socializing have been:
1) Our house, which is small and super-cluttered and has Embarrassing Things Wrong With It, some of which we can’t afford to properly fix right now.
2) I was working a completely absurd schedule for a few years that limited my availability to be social at socially-acceptable times.
3) My spouse was the primary parent when Kids were small and felt really uncomfortable about making his way into “mother’s” social groups for a complex ball of reasons.
4) As a new mom, I had a really REALLY awful experience with a local La Leche League group, because they…totally underestimated the severity of health problems FirstKid was having and heavily encouraged me to go against medical advice. That put me off of mom-socializing for obvious reasons.
5) My kids go to a Catholic school. Spouse and I, though appearing to be a reasonably typical heterosexual couple, both identify as queer, and we belong to an extremely liberal UCC church. I’m nervous about the friend-making process there. (Why are we sending them to this school, then? Because it’s about what THEY need and they are happy there. FirstKid was assaulted when she was in first grade at a public school and nobody would take it seriously.)
6) About that church we belong to. We love it, they like us, but we are very much on the lower end of household incomes in that group, so often expensive socializing gets proposed and it’s Awkward.
That said, I agree upthread that if parents are at “meh” with each other and kids really like each other, or vice-versa, you can probably still have a reasonable get-together. We also try to do our socializing in non-house locations and balance that with what’s affordable for people. It works for the most part.
If it’s just a matter of picking a child off of the class list, and inviting them over for a playdate, the teacher may well be willing to recommend a starting point. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
My second suggestion is more of a bandaid solution, but. While you can’t hire friends for your kids, you can hire babysitters, and if you can find a younger babysitters (like 11-14, a sibling pair, or a tag-along younger sibling to the babysitter) who themselves have a solid social life, then they will tend to teach your kids play skills, just naturally, by playing and leading the game. If your son is having trouble because his play skills are weak or undeveloped, this could be a useful path. I would cloak the real reason – just tell the babysitter that you’re tired/busy and want the afternoon off, and send them all to the playground. The management/logistic overhead for younger babysitters is high, but it gets easier if you work out a weekly arrangement, and it sounds like you’ve navigated other strictly transactional relationships before.
These are really excellent suggestions. I have a 5yo, in preschool, and I touch base with his teacher regularly to see how he’s getting along with certain kids. She is VERY aware of who he does and doesn’t get along with, and would be able to advise me on who to invite to A THING as well as cuing me in to allergy issues.
This is a very good suggestion. My oldest’s social skills improved dramatically when some older siblings moved to the neighborhood and organized the (mostly) only children into a cohesive playgroup.
Younger children often like to follow older ones, and zie was able to make friends at school more easily once zie knew how to be part of a group.
The LW mentioned a vaguely bullying vibe to her son’s best friend.
I had this feeling when the siblings moved in, and came to understand it was them correcting behavior that was beneficial to my kid as an individual, but corrosive to the group.
It wasn’t mean, but they were blunt when zie was doing/not doing something that affected the group, and I can see the beginnings of zie’s public persona when zie is with other kids now.
I have mixed feelings about that, and influential friends like zie’s best friend, who is very much a leader, still raise my hackles.
I’ve been basically riveted to the screen here and have copied many answers into a file. Thanks to all for great insights and advice. It’s funny because I have been mulling over, but not acting on it, of course, not acting, as CA nailed it, writing to CA a very similar letter, only different because I am sINGLE Mother, and an OLDER mother, baby at 45, and not in an area where there are many OLDER parents, and no other single, older Moms that I’ve encountered. It’s not like I didn’t consider the ramifications of embarking on single motherhood later in life, and I made the choice anyway but…
No friends. Used to, but that was then. Luckily, kid (in first grade) now has one. I do what I can for her, but no question I’m isolated and – I don’t quite think I am imagining it- a social reject. Really, her little friends’ young parents, with their friends and family networks, don’t want anything to do with this older Mom. The few old friends I had have raised their families and drifted away. It’s not like I can “hang out” in places one might meet new people. I’ve had a long and incredible life. it’s definitely weird and a little depressing to have NO friends at the end of it.
Any further words of wisdom will be appreciated and considered…
There are many ‘cross-the board good comments on this dilemma. I’m inspired.
Maybe I’ll actually make an “Old Hippies with Young Kids Meetup”…
I don’t even have kids, but I wish I had kids in my life, and I’m only a few years younger than you (47-ish), and I would hang out with you guys. (Also a social reject.) (Probably you’re nowhere near MD/DC though.)
Would your girl (I did read “her” up there, so I hope I am not assuming) be interested in Scouting? It’s fun and skill building, and it’s a way to socialize with a project. I know single parenting is a hefty time commitment, but you could check opportunities for parental involvement, as well. Scout troops are run on the power of parent volunteering, so it is also socializing with a project for you.
This occurs to me because my dad is a pretty introverted person, but he’s been scout leading since my 30-something brother was in grade school. He likes interacting with and working with kids, and as he’s gotten older and retired, has moved more into admin and volunteer training and support and other working-with-adults roles.
The nice thing about Girl Scouting is, it hasn’t had some of the really bad stuff Boy Scouting has had with LGBTQIA participation- it’s never limited who can lead or join based on sexuality and such. So, it’s a less ethically touchy organization to participate in.
A last thought is, while zillions of girls are in Scouting in early elementary, the self-selection to stay in it means as kids age, they are more and more Scouting Types, which in my experience has meant fun, curious, sometimes oddball, independent but still liking social interactions. And, crucially, their moms often are, too.
Thank you. I think that is a great idea. My daughter is quite the girly-girl thus far, but I think scouting has many different sorts of activities and could broaden both our horizons. Thanks so much!
I am glad that seems like a good idea to you!
I hope it, or something like it, works out for you!
If she’s musically inclined, a local children’s choir may also be a good idea. Most are low cost, there aren’t instruments to buy, and there will be lots of new kids.
I ache for you. Being sociable can be very difficult. Here’s a thing about play dates though: they can be at the museum, and if you know something about the art or the science or the history or, or, or, anything on display you can speak to that and so can the other parent(s).
They can be in a park and you and the other parents can speak or knit or read.
They can be at the beach (or lake) and you and the other parents will spend so much time making sure the kids don’t get lost or drown that you won’t worry about conversation.
They can be trying an art or martial arts or riding class, and then you and the other parents can watch or go for coffee.
I make these suggestions remembering what my parents did, and what my friend with 4 kids has done.
As far as socializing goes, most people I know think of themselves as having been or being shy and unable to learn the rules. And yet most of us can function if we follow the kind of instructions the Captain gives. I find it helps to tell myself that topic X is interesting to the speaker, so there must be something in it. I don’t know what the something is, but it’s there somehow, maybe I can find it and share it. Having this thought allows me to show interest, and allows the speaker to feel my interest. That gives both of us the breathing room to become friendly
Great advice here!
Then I read an interesting link on combating “Learned Helplessness”.
Interesting and relevant the to Lw’s position.
Gotta say, I really love the practical advice on this site, even when it’s a question not at all pertinent to my own situation. I have no kids, but I might someday and I’m awkward as hell, so I’m glad you covered this. I’ll definitely keep it in mind if I end up with children of my own.
I’m not a parent so I don’t have much advice or anything, but when my friends go into parent circle mode in my presence, I’m working really hard socially. It’s not a relaxing environment for me. You’re not the only person that feels like this, LW, for sure you aren’t.
Anyway, I just wanted to say good luck! I enjoyed reading your letter, you seem like a cool person to me.
As someone with fairly good memory of being a socially awkward kid, it might also help if you ask your kid/s who they´d like to hang out with. And, this is important, take no for an answer. If your kid tells you they don´t want to play with X because X is mean, please listen. There are a lot of things going on between kids that adults just plain miss.
TL;DR: Since the playdate is for the kid, ask the kid what/who should be part of it.
Seconding this so many times. Forced playdates with mean kids were the WORST as an awkward kid, and the memories of them are on the list of reasons why I won’t be procreating.
I’m socially awkward and had almost no friends growing up. I still have a really hard time making friends, and hate meeting strangers, even strange kids.
What seems to be working for me is sending a note in my 6-year old’s letter pouch (which her teacher checks every day) to the parents of any friend she says she’d like to invite over. I don’t even know the kid, and certainly don’t know the parents, but I introduce myself, and suggest my bringing the kid home with my daughter after school for a couple of hours. We live 5 minutes walk from the school, so it works quite well as a change from going to the daycare service for the other kid. The parents just come by at 5 or so and we briefly make small talk and then they take their kid home.
While the kid is at my house, I need do almost nothing except provide some snacks and occasionally suggest games for them to play together.
It’s weird that it works, since I’d be a little cautious about letting a complete stranger take my kid home for a playdate without me, but I live in a very safe town so maybe that’s why it works.
(And all this in the foreign language that they speak here too, and me not being that great at speaking or writing it! – I’m super proud of myself for doing this).
My point is really that I am not great at making friends and find meeting strangers really hard, so this is NOT fun for me. But it’s just tolerable because all the real social effort comes from my daughter. I just provide the opportunity.
Thank you so much, Captain, this advice, the framing of it, and specific examples clarified so much about friendship and adult interaction in general, not just for parents.
or my weird kid on their kids (who are perfectly sweet, but slightly older than my own)
I wouldn’t dismiss the older children. Sometimes a socially awkward child can do very well with kids who are a little older or younger, because it takes out the age competition element. A 6 year old can get lots of satisfaction from teaching a 4 year old to do something they find easy (while learning themselves about social interaction), or from feeling cool because a 10 year old is showing them something or just they are being allowed to join the older kids’ games (still learning about social interaction). Obviously older kids won’t want to spend all their time with less-skilled younger ones, and parents need to be alert and ready to pull a younger kid out when the older kids have had enough, but as an occasional thing it can work really well for both parties.
Forgive me if I’m reading too much into this, but how much do you want to make friends and how much do you feel you owe it to your kids to be the Social Secretary?
Could you look outside the parent groups? Do you have hobbies you could make friends through? A lot of people have addressed specifics, so I want to talk about something from a slightly different angle.
I think it sort of sounds like you’ve built up this big web where everything’s connected and it’s this huge Problem and you have this entire elephant to wash. How are you going to wash this elephant? It won’t fit in the car wash, never mind getting it in the car, and the brushes for the back won’t work on the toenails and the toenail brushes won’t work on the trunk and it’s an impossibly dirty elephant.
Except it’s not. Pick one section, one tiny section, and tell your brain to eff-off with screaming at you about the rest of the dirty elephant and break it down. Break it down further. Break it down until the steps are so tiny you can’t help but finish one. And then another. And then it gets easier and easier and eventually you’ve got a reasonably clean elephant.
“I want to be a social butterfly” Is a big scary impossibly dirty elephant. “I want to give my son more opportunities to make friends” is less scary. “I’m going to make a list of activities he already does.” is even less scary. “Now I will make a list of potential other activities.” will probably need to be broken down further into researching different groups, asking him what he’s interested in, other tasks, but it’s all doable. He’s not sporty, cool. Lots of people aren’t, is he artistic? Does he like ponies? Pokemon cards? Legos? Religious activities? It’s so much easier to find a square hole for a square peg than to try and force it through, and more productive than mourning that it isn’t oval instead.
Interacting with other humans is a skill. It’s a learned skill and it’s so much harder than you expect and it really feels like everyone else in the social arts class is 50th level black belt doing verbal backflips while you’re still figuring out where your feet are supposed to go. But is this was true, there wouldn’t be a need for blogs like this! So forgive yourself. Please, forgive yourself for not being an expert at it, most of us are just muddling along ourselves. Take the advice here, break it down, break it down again, and take baby steps. Even if you just go up to one new person and say hi, you’ve made a step forward.
My brother grew up in the US but had an arranged marriage to a woman who did not. Almost all their socializing is now done with other families from our country, which is quite the change for him. Besides the obvious food issues, I sense its easier for SIL to have sleepovers and discuss child raising because of common emphasis on academics, music, over sports, shopping, hobbies. Even if DH doesn’t see the need for more social time for himself, he might have the best access to potential families that would mesh well with your values and interests. Temple might also be a good way to connect to that community.We live in an area where that is a pretty deep well, so once SIL made a few connections, it gave her entry to a large network.
Hi LW. I don’t have kids, but I can totally sympathize with having a hard time getting from “vague acquaintance” to actual friend. I find this SO SO hard. Since I graduated from school, I’ve made only 1 friend, and I graduated 8 years ago. And that one person only became my friend because she lived in my house (and she’s awesome). Even people who’ve invited me to parties, who I’ve had dinner with, who I say hi to when I run into them in public…yeah, they don’t really feel like my friends. I find connection is a really hard thing to find, for me, and I really struggle with interacting with people with whom I don’t feel a strong connection.
I don’t think you should worry too much about that now. Mostly because there’s not a lot you can do about it. What I want to say though, is that this doesn’t mean you need to be totally isolated from your mom-peers or your family, or that you can’t have any social interactions on your own.
First, can you explain to a few people in your family and say something to the effect of, “Hey, I realize that since I’ve moved out here, we haven’t been able to see each other as much as I’d like. I really want my kids to grow up knowing you and your kids (if applicable), so I’m going to start trying to make a real effort to see you more often.” (and then follow it up with actually doing so). This might ease any awkwardness of your suddenly becoming a more frequent visitor, or eliminate any surprise at invitations you might extend.
Another thing that really helps me have social interaction without actually having to make friends is to start going to a thing regularly at which the same people will be present. It helps if there is an activity that everyone is doing, and socializing is sort of secondary. For example, I do ceramics classes, and so once a week I go for three hours and work on my art, but also chat and catch up with people I’ve come to know. These people aren’t my friends, but it sometimes just nice to chat and practice your social skills without any pressure of getting people to like you or being interesting. And if you feel like being quiet one evening, it’s perfectly acceptable to just work on the thing you’re working on. If you don’t have the funds to do a class, volunteering is also a great way to have this kind of activity where socializing is really just a side dish.
As for your kid, you can’t magically make your kid a social butterfly, but you can give him lots of encouragement in developing his own interests, which will hopefully result in his being able to find some of his own “kind.” Low-pressure situations might also be a good strategy for him–I like the playground idea, or something like a zoo or museum, both of which can be enjoyed with or without a lot of social interaction. High pressure from you to increase his social circle might add to his anxiety! (My mother was the kind of mother who was like HERE I FOUND A KID FOR YOU TO BE FRIENDS WITH! START YOUR FRIENDSHIP NOW! and it was just counterproductive).
Seconding this. Having something to do that isn´t socializing does a lot to take the pressure off, especially if your kid is just not that social. Some people are happier with just a little social interaction, it´s not a bad thing persay.
This is a really interesting discussion. I’m not a parent, but I know there were things my parents experienced growing up that they were very keen not to pass onto me, and in some cases the very act of deciding they didn’t want to make something a habit in our house was enough to get the desired outcome. Like, my parents were both bookworms growing up and their small town schools didn’t celebrate that. Their way of ensuring my sister and I grew up not feeling like nerds for reading involved reading to us sometimes, surrounding us with books, and not policing our taste in literature. They trusted us enough to know we’d find our way without them being all “SO UH HEY OFFSPRING MAYBE YOU SHOULD READ ANNA KARENINA NOW.”
My point is, LW, you are caring for your kids precisely by deciding to support their social lives, making your home a welcoming space for them and their future buds, and generally wanting them to be happy. Feel free to keep doing the work involved with providing them (and you) opportunities to socialize, but maybe give yourself a gold star/permission to relax for just supporting your kids as they find out what kind/level of socializing feels right for them. You sound cool, your kids sound cool, you will all probably be okay.
Hallo, I’m another person who grew up socially ostracized and was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD as an adult. I wanna address this part, LW:
I’m being flaky about seeing my own therapist to get a handle on my ADHD issues, so having to think about my precious boy seeing a shrink TERRIFIES me. I can SEE that he’s lonely.
Because see, the other thing I am is a therapist. I’ve worked with adults, kids, and families, and the thing I would really love to do is take away some of that terror. I’m not saying you should go to therapy (and I always tell people to go to therapy, so this is like a first for me maybe), but it’d be nice to have it cleared up as an option.
Why am I saying therapy might not be for you? Because for a lot of people, going into individual therapy implies that the problem is them: that they’re broken, that there is something uniquely flawed about them; so they need to be separated from society and fixed, so that they can come back and finally be accepted.
And LW, that is not you. And if that is what therapy means to you, I’m not sure how much it would help your overall problem. Sure, mental health professionals can help you find strategies to follow conversations more easily, or tell you if your son has a developmental or sensory issue likely to make socialization difficult for him; but it won’t affect your essential worthiness, either of you, because you have that already. You don’t need to be “fixed”. You’re not broken. You’re just afraid. You’ve been telling this story of How You Don’t Have Any Friends for so long, because it was true, that now it’s writing itself, and it’s hard to know how to let another story in.
With that said: your letter makes me think of a case that I had last year, involving a six-year-old girl and her parents, who were recent immigrants. I was seeing the girl because there had been problems in the family they were worried would affect her, but she was actually just a fairly happy, resilient kid. Given her circumstances, she was actually coping pretty well and had the normal run of childhood concerns. I also met with her parents every few weeks and got their perspective on how things were going. After all, with a six-year-old, meeting a stranger for one hour a week doesn’t have a lot of ability to create change, but having the parents who take care of her every day adopt a new attitude or set of behaviours can change things far more dramatically.
For this family, I turned into a sounding board and a source of local information. When one of them had a complicated health problem and their doctor was unforthcoming, I could put them in touch with support groups; when they decided they wanted to do marriage counselling, I gave them a list of community organizations who would provide it at a discounted rate. My role could have been filled by an older relative, if there had been any in the country they were close to; but there wasn’t, and they were getting sessions with me for free, so I worked with them. So when both parents and the girl said to me, individually, that they felt a little lonely and yearned for more closeness with each other, we worked on play. I met with them as a family and we played a few games in my office, and talked about the things they liked and the worried and roadblocks that kept them from being together as a family. The parents and I talked about implementing a 15-minute block of time every evening where the family put down their work and focused on playing together: they’d put in a CD and sing, or blow up a balloon and play impromptu volleyball. It’s the kind of thing they already knew how to do, but centering a session around it and deciding to commit to it as a family set it apart in their minds as something special to be honoured, instead of something irrelevant or self-indulgent they were doing instead of “important” things like dishes or homework. We covered a lot of little things–like the practice of sending playdate invitations in their daughter’s lunch and having the other parent return an RSVP slip; or the local ettiquette for telling neighbour kids, “Okay, you have overstayed your welcome, time to scram.” Which, again, they could’ve learned from friends or community groups or other parents at school; except for them that kind of social networking was intimidating and exhausting, so it was nice to have me to just ask.
I think a lot of people would be happier if they saw therapy not just as a place to fix what’s broken (since that implies it is therefore only to be consulted when they’re really bad), but also as a place to strengthen what is already good; to find what’s going right, and learn to do it on purpose. You get to choose where to do that; you have the power to decide what’s right for you. Some of it you could absolutely do outside of therapy, if you chose, like finding community resources or learning how to have fun; and other things really need a close, supportive relationship–like if you’re going to mourn 30 years of feeling alone and left out, which you might need to do before you feel you can leave it behind and move on to a new story, you need someone with the emotional intensity of a friend, lover, relative, therapist, or cleric to help you swim that sea.
Good luck, LW. Check in if you’ve got any other questions or concerns.
I want to like this comment about 50 million times.
Did anyone else get the feeling that the LW is kind of concerned about what friendship IS rather than how to make one? It may be that it just I’m going through that now, the whole “friend? what is this friend concept you speak of?” and what a friendship actually feels like. And a particular kind of emotional deadness as you keep measuring non romantic relationships looking to see if you have a connectedness (romantic relationships never seemed to be an issue)
I’m not a parent but I’m in a similarly isolated job, and it’s a lot harder to make friends of the sort I’ve had. Friends who are also coworkers or enthusiasts of a hobby or taking the same classes, there’s an easy feeling of a common goal. I can ask questions on something I’m stuck on and vice versa. Also the internet, so when I’m looking for a restaurant or recipe, I’m less likely to ask real people I know. With romantic partners, the decisions are still joint, where to eat and how to raise the kids. I have a neighbor who’s taken to complaining about his job whenever he runs into me walking his dog, and can’t stop even after I’ve directly told him I can’t help him. I’m not sure how to derail him without complaining about my life, which isn’t why I’m out for a walk. I’m not sure if that’s worse than the sister whose primary form of conversation is bragging about herself or her kids, alternating with advice to try her newest hobby, Zumba for the last two years.
If you want advice for the neighbor, try forcefully changing the subject to something that isn’t complaining. “Sorry to interrupt you, but hasn’t the weather been nice the last days?” It’s probably easiest if you have ~ 3 positive topics ready when you meet him, so if he goes back to complaining, you can change the topic again. If any of this doesn’t help? “I really have to go, nice talking to you.”
Thanks, I feel like I deal with it each time, and he just reverts back the next time. I’ll try talking about what I’m watching or reading or the weather and three seconds later he’s back to latest frustration. I think half the problem is that he really hates his job, which he is leaving in two months, but the other half is that we don’t have much common ground. I do know how to walk away, but my point was the larger issue that most adult acquaintances flounder at low level chit chat. When I was working in the corporate world, friendships were organic outgrowths of working with others to solve problems. You knew who experienced the same frustrations, who could smooth things with management or figure out a technicality or deal with contractors. I was still listening to vacations and health problems and bragging, but it was easier to care when this person just saved me hours of poring through the manual. I listened to diet talk so I knew what sort of cookies to buy them, sugar free or paleo or decadent, to thank them. I encouraged a parent to brag because it put him in a good mood. If someone was late to meetings and turned in bad reports and got snippy when give constructive criticism about it, well I may be more likely to say I couldnt rememember when she asked for a recipe.
Like many others, I am a longtime avid follower of this blog. I have to say that this is one of my favorite posts ever, Captain. I found it so thorough, so helpful and SO interesting. And like other commenters before me.. I don’t even have kids! Thanks for doing what you do. I have learned so much from you, and from the people who take the time to post detailed replies as well.
I was an incredibly awkward kid, going through school feeling as though I was the only one that never got the memo telling me what pop stars / tv shows / clothes were the right things to like. At 41, I’m still pretty awkward and feel out of place in the school playground. However…
(1) My son is now 8 and is really social. One thing that really helped this was that he did a lot of after-school activities and got to meet children of different ages but with common interests.
(2) I found another awkward parent. At first glance, she seemed like the put-together ladies-who-lunch type but we got chatting at a kiddie party and we had way more in common than I’d have thought. We’re now really good friends.
It did take a couple of years of me feeling like the local weirdo. But even the mums who live in huge houses, spend their days at the gym or getting expensive haircuts, don’t own any non-designer clothes…. some of them ARE pretentious but most of them are just genuinely nice people.
De-lurking to say that I have been feeling a lot of these feels since having my daughter (who is now 3) and worrying about it, especially as we home educate her. We joined a home ed group for younger kids and they had meet ups very infrequently and I didn’t really feel like we were really connecting or making strong friendships. Occasionally I mentioned that we would like to have more regular meetings, and sometimes other people said so too, but it was all very vague. One day I just decided to organise a different outing/activity once a week for the next few weeks, post in the online group the times and dates, and say that people were welcome to come along or not. I made sure the activities were things my daughter and I would enjoy whether anyone else came along or not.
It’s been several months now and the weekly meetings are still going strong. We do lots of fun stuff (moslty free stuff, too – library, museum, park, woods, art gallery…). Sometimes hardly anyone comes, sometimes lots of people do. Sometimes my kid plays with the other kids, sometimes she mostly spends time with me/by herself. Sometimes I talk with the other mums, sometimes just one of them, sometimes I mostly spend time with my daughter or by myself. But what I have found is that firstly, I am gradually getting to know the other mums and feel more part of the group. And secondly, I am feeling less pressure about it because I know that every week I can tick off the “play date” or “making friends” box in the imaginary List Of Stuff I Should Be Doing.
So my advice, for what it’s worth, would be to organise something yourself. Take the initiative. There are other parents who want the same things you do who will be grateful for it! Does your child’s school/class/whatever have an online group where you could issue a general invite?
And also, we have a less frequent but still regular meeting up time for the mums without the little ones. I know that can sometimes be hard to make space for, and not everyone feels comfortable spending time without their little ones, but just an hour or two here and there to talk without the constant distraction of having to be responsible for small people is really good for developing friendships.
I don’t have kids, but I am a super-introvert raised and homeschooled by socially awkward parents. I had to learn how to make friends as an adult, as a natural loner who has to work to remember to actually talk to people. And I have friends. There is hope!
One thing that I had to come to terms with is that not every friend you make will be your best and closest friend of all time–but those casual acquaintances are still valuable. I have, like, two friends in the history of ever who I will talk to about the deep stuff I’m going through, but I have several that I’d happily get together for board games with, and a couple of dozen that I would join a study group with or help them move.
I don’t talk to all of those people all the time. There are friends where we catch up for coffee literally once every couple of months, and it works.
So if you make a friend that is “only” a, “Sure we’ll go to the zoo with our kids sometimes” friend, that still counts as a friend. If you meet the OMG ARE WE TWINS SEPARATED AT BIRTH person who you really click with at the heart level, that’s amazing, but there aren’t very many of them, and that’s okay. To borrow from katepreach’s excellent post above, level 2 friends count as friends, level 5 friends count as friends, and level 10 friends count as friends, and you don’t have a set target ratio for any of those groups.
Yes, introverts aren’t into small talk, and we aren’t into buzzing around with dozens of level 2s all the time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make level 2 friends or that we can’t enjoy their company from time to time. And “Try making friends” is a lot less intimidating than “MUST FIND LEVEL 10 FRIEND ASAP”. All it takes is one jump to level 2 to have success, and thereby feel emboldened to keep trying.
I think that’s part of the issue here, too. I grew up with the idea that, to use this concept, only Level 7 or higher friends counted as “real friends” and everyone else was categorically Not A Friend. I quickly worked out for myself that this was crap, but it *is* harder to self-motivate going from Level 1 to Level 2 to Level 3 etc. when there is that programming to overcome.
Hi, LW. You’ve gotten lots of great advice on this thread!
Speaking as another nerdy mom (I met my spouse through Quiz Bowl!), there was one thing in your letter that really jumped out at me that I don’t think anyone has touched on yet, so I thought I would:
”Best friend’s” mom is really nice, and we might be able to be friends if I can figure out what “being friends” means, but I’m not sure I want to continue cultivating that particular friendship for Big Guy.
Under most circumstances, cultivating friendships for your kids is totally Not Your Job. (The exceptions are things like, a particular kid is unsafe for your kid in some way, or the dynamic between the kids is difficult.) I can’t recommend enough that you separate your desire for a social life for yourself from your desire to make sure your kids develop healthy social skills. If kid and Best Friend want to hang out, your job is to facilitate that to a reasonable degree; whether you and BF’s Mom end up becoming friends is 100% separate.
hi LW, I have 2 things to say:
1. It is not too late to start building connections with other parents. The captain already said this in her response, but I want to underline it.
It might seem like the other parents already have their groups, but kids change their friends all the time. A best friend in preschool might be totally forgotten about by the end of first grade, as both children’s interests and personalities change/develop. The parents in those circles don’t even necessarily have much in common with each other; their kids just happen to like each other right now. As the kids’ friendships change, the circles will be broken up and re-formed many times in new configurations. Any time that happens is a time when you can make it into a new circle. So, have hope!
2. Try to break down the socializing stuff you want to try into discrete tasks. Consider using a pencil and paper to make a to-do list and putting that shit down in a planner.
I was recently diagnosed with ADHD, and I struggle *SO MUCH* with breaking stuff down into small tasks. For me it’s an executive function issue (lots of people with ADHD have executive function issues), and it makes many things seem overwhelming/impossible when they actually aren’t.
What works, when I can manage it, is to literally schedule all the small steps. For you it might be something like, “On tuesday at 6pm I will spend up to an hour online looking for an activity I can take my son to this weekend. At 7pm I will call up parent of kid X and ask if they want to come.” Then, just worry about getting those tasks done instead of thinking about the big, scary, “will my son ever learn how to socialize?” picture. I’m not saying it’s necessarily an executive function thing for you (no diagnosing over the internet!) but I think the strategy can help for anyone facing a task that seems big and scary.
#1 is so true. My mom is still good friends with the moms of my two best friends when I was 4-8; I was in touch with those kids through high school but now only keep in touch with one by Facebook and the other not at all.
I don’t think I’ve ever loved this blog harder than I do right now, y’all.
LW, pretty sure you’re not actually me, but I know these feels. I’ve got two kids of my own and we’re friendly with precisely two other families with kids about our kids’ ages, both of whom we met through our church’s young adult group. And even with just those two families, it’s tough to hang out! We’ve got jobs and kids in school and even if we make plans a month in advance, kids get sick, the weather takes an abruptly weird turn, the toilet explodes or something else intervenes and it all goes up in flames. So! To the Captain’s truly excellent advice about inviting other people + their kids out to places you already plan to be (“Hey, we’re going to catch the morning matinee of the Lego movie, want to come?”) is to just … keep doing it. The two-invitations rule is one that I find really useful for interacting with other grown-ups but with kids in the mix it’s less helpful and only contributes to my/our social isolation.
Good luck! I wish all the best for you and yours.
Geek mom here.
As other folks have said, it’s really important for you to separate Big Guy’s need to make friends from yours. Many folks have given you useful advice for both of those actions. I have a few more suggestions specifically about Big Guy’s friendships.
My daughter (8) is one of nature’s private people. She is very chatty and it’s hard to realize she’s not talking about herself or her interactions, but about events or facts. Took me all through Kindergarten to realize it. So I started asking specific questions that informed me of her feelings.
I always, ever day, ask, “Did you like your lunch today?” and then I say “Who did you sit with at lunch with today?” If I notice a name coming up often, I’ll say, “Do you want me to contact [child’s] parent and see if we can have a playdate?” More often than not, she’ll say yes.
Then, and this may or may not be radical depending on your particular parenting culture, I ask the adult if I can pick up [child] and have them over after school some Friday. I’ll say, “You can pick Child up at my house at 5 or so? Or is it easier if I drop Child off at your house?”
That was a HUGE revelation to me. The kids will play together and I don’t have to do the mom small talk dance! It also encourages the kids to sort of work it out themselves instead of feeling like they are being herded into affection.
Again, your parenting culture may differ. I live in a city with many overlapping parenting cultures, so some parents say “Sure!” and others say “Uh, why don’t we do one together first?” Which is reasonable — you don’t want to send little Emma home with someone who chain smokes, keeps loaded guns, and raises vicious dogs.
But once you’ve established that you’re a safe space, IT GETS SO MUCH EASIER. Now that she’s in second grade and I have three years of experience with these folks, I’ll be at the school to pick up my kid and she’ll come out and say “Can I play with Max?” and I’ll turn to Max’s dad and look a question. He’ll nod, and that’s IT. Max comes home with me and they go upstairs and play Harry Potter for two hours and then Max’s dad picks up Max at dinner time. I have to do ten minutes of small talk, but that’s IT. My role is mostly logistical. (I keep a car seat and a booster in my car at all times so I can drive around kids who are smaller than my Amazonian child.)
Another thing to keep in mind is this: working parents are different than at-home parents. My daughter has friends who pretty much only ever come here. Their parents work and thus can’t do playdates except on weekends. And even then, weekend playdates can be hard because they are trying to do family stuff together. I found this unsettling at first, and it stirred up all kinds of my own insecurities. (“WHY do they never invite her over? Do they not like her?! Maybe the kid likes her but the parents don’t? Is she rude? Is it me? Do they hate me?!” I had a full-on Crazy Mom Fear Spiral.) But once I realized the scheduling challenges involved, I relaxed. A little. (The Fear Spirals still come on bad days.)
Finally, making friends is a skill, like any other skill. Some people have more talent at it, but it still requires practice. I’m a geek with a super outgoing social butterfly daughter. It’s weird, sometimes, gotta tell you. But even though she has more natural talent than I do, I make a point of talking with her about the work I do to make and maintain friendships. I don’t *call* it work, but I say stuff like “I’m going out with my friend tonight. She had a bad week and needs to talk to someone,” or “I asked Acquaintance about this thing that interests her. I learned so much! I’m going to ask her to have coffee with me next week!” That way she can see how friendships work and develop.
OP, I feel you. Parenting is SO HARD and navigating this particular aspect of parenting is terrifying to me, too, since I’m not awesome at it. But you’re aware, you’re caring, and you’re clearly smart. You learned how to take care of an infant, so you can *totally* learn this. And so can Big Guy.
LW, oh how I feel for you. A lot of what you write is so very familiar. I don’t have kids, so I can’t help you from my own experiences, but I stumbled upon this article today while reading other ADHD stuff: additudemag.com/adhd/article/5401.html It doesn’t say much about how to do things, especially not play dates, but it points a little bit at what to do and references some books that could be worth checking out. Maybe you can find something helpful. I know your son isn’t diagnosed, but maybe it’s time to look into that. These kinds of resources can be helpful either way though.
“I’m being flaky about seeing my own therapist to get a handle on my ADHD issues, so having to think about my precious boy seeing a shrink TERRIFIES me.”
This I know very well from the child perspective. I don’t know why you’re being flaky but I know my mother really didn’t want me or my siblings to ever have to be in the evil claws of therapists (she didn’t actually put it that way). The reason for this was that she had really bad experiences with the mental health care industry. She tried and tried again but only got to meet crappy therapists who tried to fit her into their favorite theories (everything is her mother’s fault) or make one of her symptoms The Problem or spending all the time talking about their own problems. She had to find out on her own after maybe 30 years of trying to find help, that she had a major case of PTSD, and even then she didn’t get any proper help. All she got from the mental health care was people asking her to open up and talk about sensitive stuff only to put her down or just leave her there. It has indeed done her a great deal of damage. No wonder she didn’t want any of her kids to have to go through that.
Because of my mother’s experiences I was really wary of ever having to turn to mental health care for help, both because I don’t want to be treated the way she was and because I know she wouldn’t approve of it, to protect me.
At a very low point in my life, after an abusive relationship followed by trying to relationship with an emotionally unavailable, depressed guy, I finally did look for help from mental health care anyway, after having read too much positive about it to not give it a try. Before I did, though, I turned to a center for sexually abused women and also there they cautioned me that the mental health care isn’t always that great. A lot of the women who came to them had bad experiences. I decided to try anyway, just be really careful and as picky as I could be, given my very limited finances.
First I got to meet a lovely counselor two times, who gave me a referral to a clinic. The lady who was in charge of my psychological assessment was awful. She was rude, unprofessional and everything my mother had told me. She even tried to do the old it’s your-mother’s-fault thing. She reminded me of my gaslighty and abudive ex, only more rude. It all gave me tons of anxiety. I had two sessions with her, of which the second included me telling her in which ways it wasn’t working and seeing if it helped. It didn’t, so I requested to see someone else. Her boss was very nice, professional and respectful and sent me to another therapist who I’ve been seeing since, more than 6 months now. She’s very nice and respectful and I can feel that she really wants the best for me, unlike the other one. She may not have all the competence I need, but she’s an excellent sounding board. It has been really helpful, She also referred me to a place where I can get an assessment for ADHD. Still waiting for that to happen though.
The moral of this long winded story is to find the good people in the mental health business for both you and your son and you will be fine. They are out there!
I just wanted to say what a fantastic thread this is – LW, thank you so much for kicking off this great conversation about friendships (for all ages!). I’m usually quite good at making friends but when I moved to my current hometown 7 years ago I really struggled to meet people. After a while I started to wonder why I was finding this so hard when I’d found it really easy in my old hometown, so I looked back at how I’d met the friends I had back there and realised that I’d met nearly all of them by living or working with other people. They were all ex-roommates or friends/exes of roommates or people I’d met at work. When I moved to the new town, I did so with my partner and that meant I didn’t have the enforced socialisation of living with people like I did in my 20s. Also, I started my new job at Boss level, so while people were perfectly nice and friendly to me and sometimes invited me to the pub, I wasn’t going to make work friends in quite the same way as I did in my old job when I was one of the underlings, because they felt they couldn’t really relax and be themselves around me.
It took me quite a long time to make friends in my new town and I still only have a small group – but they are all good friends (I actually met most of them through work). I’d really like to meet a few more people and this thread has inspired me to stop shillly-shallying and start making the effort!
Lots of great advice here. I’d also like to share a mantra that I’ve picked up from a friend (who is also part of the Awkward Army): rational adults do not interpret invitations as insults.
That can be a hard thing to absorb for those of us who were awkward kids, where there often can be an element of “Who does she think she is, trying to invite me to her birthday party?!” And then things get worse and more awkward. But grown-ups don’t generally do that. They may say no, but they’re unlikely to be upset that you even asked.
That is an awesome insight.
Consider this linked to and repeated forever.
Oh, Awkward Mom, I feel for you! I am not at a having-kids point yet, but I’m similarly introverted/uncomfortable in social situations and so don’t always feel like it’s worth the effort to make friends. I just wanted to chime in and say that if it helps at all, I had super-introvert parents who didn’t really have friends when I was growing up and did turn out very like them in a lot of ways, BUT! when I do manage to find people I click with, I have an easy time making conversation and there is mutual enjoyment of company. I think basically what I’m trying to say is that your son will be who he is, and while it’s great that you want to provide opportunities for him to socialize and make friends (because that’s super important!), you don’t need to get *too* hung up on “But if I don’t make sure that my child makes friends when he is young, his life will be Ruined Forever!” That specific train of thought just does not seem like a worthwhile place to put your energy, and there is lots of great advice here for other things that will be worth it.
Oh, LW, I feel for you so much. I don’t have kids, so I’m just navigating the how-to-be-friends problem on a grownups level, but this still sounded so familiar, especially the ADHD thing. A couple of things I’ve found, echoing what other people have said:
Hanging out while doing stuff is *so much easier*. Even when I’m hanging out with dear friends, if we have a date to generically-socialize we still sometimes end up going “so…we just ran out of stuff to talk about. Awkward time.” and most of my friends don’t live super-close so it feels disappointing to just let the evening end naturally when I might not see them again for weeks. But if we have a date *to play board games* or *to go to a museum* or something like that there’s not the pressure to have that more intense sort of social interaction the whole time. It then can be hard to know how to go from person-I-play-tennis-with to Friend, though other people in this thread have some awesome-sounding suggestions, but if it’s an activity you enjoy then at least you’re doing something fun and increasing potential chances for friend-level-escalation.
I don’t know if this suggestion is something that makes sense for you, but I’ve gotten much better at small talk once I concentrated more on listening to the other person. Like you, I have trouble keeping track of the conversation if I’m trying to participate in it as well, but if you don’t mind having people ramble at you, a few questions dropped in every so often can keep most more-extroverted people going more or less indefinitely. I’m not a sports person, for example, but I’ve been trying to get in the habit of saying “no, I didn’t catch that game, how was it?” rather than just sort of brushing the question off as not being into sports. And I find that unless the subject is something like how terrible the speaker is for eating a cookie, I find the answer at least somewhat interesting, because I’m listening to someone talk about something they think is nifty.
Also, while this isn’t *quite* the problem you’re trying to help your kid with, as a grownup who likes kids but doesn’t intend to have them herself, consider the potential for cross-generational friendships with friends you make on a grownups-level. I really value the friendship I have with several of my friends’ kids at different ages, and I know it’s useful for the parents to have a friend-cum-babysitter such that me hanging out with them means another more-or-less responsible person is involved rather than there now being multiple small children to herd.
Hello LW! I also was diagnosed with ADHD-inattentive type as an adult and have two thoughts for you on your own issues.
1) The book What Does Everybody Else Know That I Don’t? by Michele Novotni was very helpful in helping me think about my social skills gaps and how to fill them. There are exercises in the back of the book. The peer assessment one was initially upsetting, but I took a deep breath and implemented the constructive suggestions from my family and friends who completed that for me. (For example, I thought I regularly said please, thank you, but apparently not out loud often enough.)
2) For me, a big part of my ADD is getting overwhelmed with organizational stuff. Maybe social planning is easier for some people with ADD, but for me all of the little details of who, what, when, where, and how to get there by transit often feels like tedious, annoying work. It is work, and that’s ok. I tell myself the tediousness is less tedious and annoying than loneliness, and it will someday be worth it. Go ahead and feel satisfied that you have accomplished something when you send out an invitation, even if you don’t hear back. Every little attempt will someday lead you to what you need, as long as you incorporate what you learn as you go.
All the best to you!
If at some point you feel your son does need outside help in developing his social skills, please don’t be scared. It needn’t be a difficult experience.
I adopted a ten year old who had spent way too much time being moved from one foster home to another, and had few friendship skills. In particular, he could make friends but couldn’t keep them, because he’d never had the opportunity to practice those skills or even see the need for them. We ended up enrolling him in a middle+schoolers social skills group, which was about 6-8 kids meeting with 2 coaches once a week and doing things together. They played games, they did field trips, they had group discussions–all the while, getting some side coaching on what worked and what didn’t. It helped a lot–in fact my son’s coaches invited him to be a peer counselor for a similar group a few years later, his first paying job, and he was very proud.
If your area offers something like this, I highly recommend it. The only difficulty is that many insurance companies will not pay for group therapy. We ended up paying out of pocket, but I feel it was well worth it.
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