Disclaimer: I have a super hot husband, and his beard happens to make me googly-eyed, so let's keep in mind that when I cornered a sweet little girl's dad after karate lessons yesterday, I was razer focused! By the end of the conversation we were talking about our spouses, what our work schedules were like for the summer, the upcoming belt test for our babies and, most importantly, when we could meet up and play during summer vacation. Was this my end game when I smiled brightly and waved hello? Absolutely. And it worked.
If you're a parent you're going to understand this post wholeheartedly. If you have an only child, you will understand on a whole new level.
Five years into motherhood, I have found myself a great "friend" to my child. This is not to say that he does not look to me as his mother, but those of you with one child knows that automatically means you are a built in playmate. We're more fun than dad. Always. :)
So, I've gotten little indentions on my knees from easing myself off of the floor and landing on legos, and I'm not as sensitive to being outside for hours and hours on end as I've watched and participated many a time as we dig our "construction" sites around the yard. But what happens when Mama is tired? I get the sad, puppy dog face and tears pooling around my Little's beautiful brown eyes and then mom guilt enters. Of course, I should keep playing. Even though I'm tired. Even though I don't mind watching cartoons (as long as it is one I like), and even though we've been doing "it" whatever it is, for hours, I should just keep going because at the end of the day, I don't get this time back do I?
While I am a firm believer in making every second count with my Little, I have also learned that in order for him to have a balanced "diet" of socialization, he needs to play and interact with other little people. Preferably not the same ones all of the time, and preferably those with mothers that I can endure for long periods of time :)
HOW DO YOU GROW YOUR KID'S FRIEND NETWORK?
Here are a few, quick ideas that I have found myself relying on.
1) Choose likely friends from activities your child already participates in. My son's extracurricular activity is karate. Since he goes to a small, private school, his interaction with other children is limited to the children at his school, children at karate and the children he has church with. This may not seem like a huge and diverse group of friends, but I enjoy the fact that I have met and talked to just about each and every parent he has karate lessons with or learns with in his school classroom. The shakeup happens in church, when he often gets to meet new friends as our church is large and has many new members on a regular basis. Just like my son has favorite children out of each of these groups to play with, I have a few parents that I tend to click with better than others and I reach out to them when I’m able to invite them to join us at a local park or restaurant for a meet. Nothing formal, but giving the kids an opportunity to grow outside of their usual activities.
2) Scope out the neighbors you've been too busy to interact with. I grew up a 90's kid and if you did too you can attest to the fact that television for younger people was MUCH BETTER to watch back then! There was a show called Clarissa Explains it all, with Melissa Joan Hart. Not only did I love that she dressed kind of funky, but I loved the fact that at any given moment when she was hanging out in her room that her best friend Sam would, get this, climb up a ladder and into her (always open) window. I wanted friends like that! Unfortunately, growing up with a dad in the Army, I didn't really have close friends growing up. This is a whole other post, but the upside was having the ability to encounter many different children with many different backgrounds, even for a lesser amount of time. But, realistically, in today's society I would have to question my parenting if I allowed my young child to walk down the street by himself, let alone to someone's house, unless they're basically like family.
It took my putting my son in karate to realize that one of the little boys he enjoyed actually lived right down the street from us. So do I mean that for the first four years of his life, while I was bruising my body with legos and playing hours on end (mom guilt and an honest infactuation with my son :) not allowing me to take a break) there was a kid virtually the exact same age RIGHT DOWN THE STREET??? Yes. Am I excited about this. Double Yes. As I am allowing my son to ease into this friendship, my husband and I have found a couple close to home who raise their boys with the same beliefs, and who we trust. Win. And double win.
3) On occasion, put your child in an uncomfortable social setting. No, I don't mean take your kids to a foreign place (aka, any public place) and leave them to their own devices. I mean try something new. Take a car ride to a neighborhood park that is not the one you usually visit. Or, hit up a place like Chuck E. Cheese or Monkey Joe's and teach your little people how to fall into the crowd. Unfortunately, there will come a time when we cannot control so much in their lives, so isn't it best now to help them to understand that while they may not be trying to fit it, that it is good to be able to mix and mingle with people whom we may not have chosen to spend time with in the first place?