Moms and dads of small children need to find a way to reconnect with friends and family, apart from our kids. Too often I’ve made the mistake of scheduling a group play date thinking it will allow me time to converse with my adult friends. Group play dates at the park or restaurant with playscapes have their place in our social lives, but they just don’t suffice for the deep reconnecting required in adult friendships.
The group play date scene is a familiar one for moms and dads. You plan to meet your friends and their kids at the park for lunch. Adults are excited to see their friends. Kids are hungry. After the chaos of feeding the kids an al fresco lunch, the parents settle themselves at the picnic table, thinking our kids will simply take the cue and run off to play harmoniously with other children on the playground. Ah, we think, now I can really talk with my friends.
“So how have you been, Jess? My friend, Sara asks me.
“Well, I’ve been better. Lately I—“
“Mommy, I’m bored. Come push me on the swings.” My four year old is at my side.
“In a bit, sweetie. Mommy wants to talk with her friends for a few minutes.”
That’s how the adult time begins. And ends.
The parents spend the two hours at the park in futility, trying to pacify the children just enough so that I can get back into the flow of conversation with my adult friends. I don’t actually get to talk. And I certainly don’t get to hear how my friends are really doing. We all leave the park feeling frustrated with fractured conversations.
Of course, it’s better if, as parents, can adjust our expectations about group play dates. Narrow down the goals to say: Feed children. Shove straws into juice boxes. Push children on swings. Hug friends goodbye.
But if I want to really reconnect with my friends and family, I have to be intentional about scheduling it outside of mom-on-duty time.
Three months ago I got some great news. My favorite cousin, Brenda and her family would be moving to Austin, where I live. Brenda and I have not seen each other for fourteen years, but at one point in our twenties we were inseparable. At twenty-four and twenty-five years old we moved to Taiwan together for a year, sharing a drafty, one bedroom apartment, teaching English, blowing our Taiwanese dollars on bubble milk teas and all night karaoke. We were both single, childless and had zero plans for the future.
After our carefree year in Taiwan, Brenda and I both moved back to the states. Over the next fourteen years we both got married, tried out various careers and jobs and had two kids a piece.
And now, here we are fourteen years later living in the same city again. It’s a dream come true. She and I have so much to talk about. But I’m not going to make the group play date mistake. Yes, we will get our kids together to play, but not with the expectation that she and I will get more than one minute of talking time.
No, this reunion with my cousin requires intentional time away from my kids.
I want space and peace to sit face to face with Brenda. She wants to get her Master’s degree, and I want to hear about that. In addition, I’ve never had the chance to describe for her the journey of writing my first book. I also want to tell her about the next book I want to publish.
And of course we need space to laugh. That’s what she and I do best. Friends who make you laugh deserve more than a text message and a laughing face emoji. So, I’m scheduling a sitter for next week so that Brenda and I can sit for hours at Austin Java and reconnect.
Moms and Dads need friend time too. In an age of constant distraction on our smart phones, added to the constant demands of small children, more than ever we need to intentionally step out of the grind. Make a request on Komae, then meet an old friend or a new one for drinks. Sit face to face. No phone in hand. Talk then listen. Listen then talk. Allow the other person room to be vulnerable. Laugh together at your own failed parenting moments. Cry if you need to because the world feels really scary these days, and garner courage from your friend’s company to go home to the family.
Repeat above scenario as needed.