Photo by Portra Images
I like to keep things easy-breezy when it comes to the other parents at school. I give a congenial car-to-car wave in the afternoon pick-up line. There’s the occasional light side-hug or new haircut compliment when I bump into them on campus. And if I’ve managed to perfectly calibrate my caffeine intake, I can even muster a casual conversation if — heaven forbid — their kid’s birthday party isn’t a drop-off event.
But this low-profile approach just doesn’t cut muster.
These days, it seems parents are expected to show up to a calendar-cluttering array of en masse coffee gatherings, at-home cocktail soirees, book clubs … you name it. Who’s responsible for this spike in parent party peer pressure? I can only guess it’s a cabal of moms and dads who have access to more hours per day than the rest of us.
The gist seems to be: Our kids are friends, so we should be, too. But just because our daughters have (fleetingly) bonded over their shared TV fandom or pop star worship doesn’t mean I want to put on something from the non-jersey side of my closet and munch crudité on your patio. I have friends. And those relationships don’t hinge upon who sits with whom in the cafeteria. As such, those extra-curricular friendships can’t be torn asunder by something as trivial as who is or isn’t invited to so-and-so’s slumber party.
Of course, I know I need to get familiar with other parents for practical reasons. It only makes sense to take stock of another adult’s personal values and responsibility levels before you entrust them with your child’s safety. All the same, I would argue that I don’t necessarily need to join your crafting circle or yoga squad in order to figure out if you’re capable of managing a carpool schedule or an amusement park outing.
After all, my own parents and their peers were able to make these common-sense assessments, execute the necessary child hand-offs, then quietly retreat to their respective corners. If they managed to organically befriend another parent along the way, well, that was just a bonus. My dad — he of the firm handshake and obligatory polite nod — could never abide by today’s flurry of group texts, cc’ed emails and Paperless Posts drumming up enthusiasm around this pick-up basketball game or that weekend hike. Between her full-time job and keeping tabs on her two daughters, my mom was doing good to remember my teacher’s names, let alone the names of the parents of that one girl I sat next to in algebra class.
One key difference between my generation and my parents’ is social media. Facebook and Instagram make it all too easy to dibble and dabble in the lives of people you barely know. No sooner does a parent scan your name tag at back-to-school night than the online friend requests start flowing in. One day, you’re unable to pick their daughter out in a crowd, the next day you’re looking at pics of what they ate for Sunday dinner. The line between your own personal life and school life gets blurred and things have the potential to get messy.
All these parent parties and outings? They can create a social minefield for an anxiety-prone parent like me. What if I end up liking the parents but find their child to be a bit … delinquent-esque? What if my kid’s BFF du jour is the lone Harry Potter amongst a family of Dursleys? Or maybe one parent’s heaven-sent, while the other sets my teeth on edge? Worse yet, what do you do when two families sync up perfectly … until that ill-fated day when puberty comes along and rips the kids apart? Then, there are the mommy cliques; navigating those makes me feel like I’m a teenager all over again.
Don’t get me wrong; I’ve tried to make this grade-level get-along-gang thing work … in my own way. I’ve fired off a chummy ‘getting to know you’ text or two. As standoffish as I’m known to be, I’ve even set up my share of small-scale backyard gatherings and movie outings. But that was before the mania of middle school. As far as I’m concerned, once hormones came into play, it’s every mom for herself.
You know how the classic teen movies have those climactic scenes wherein the two rivals confront one another about how they used to be best friends way back in sixth grade? Well, imagine if their mothers were in on that melodrama, too! No, thanks. I’ll just be over here FaceTiming my college bestie about a must-click podcast pick or my latest makeup blunder.
But then, as soon as it seems I’ve reached peak curmudgeon … the guilt starts to set in. If I opt out of all of this, does my kid ultimately suffer? Does my misery keep her from having company? I mean, while those other parents are sipping their happy hour tipples, they’re also paving the way for their children to grow closer. I certainly don’t want my aloofness to affect my daughter’s social life. These are the kinds of nagging notions that keep me RSVP-ing “Yes,” at least half the time.
Kvetch though I may, I’ll play along for a little while longer (but all bets are off come high school). If only we could all agree to scale back these catered affairs and group camping trips in favor of something more hands-off and manageable, like Facebook birthday greetings and the infrequent texted GIF.