Illustration by Lauren Tamaki
The first time my daughter had a school friend over, the mom marched through our living room and parked herself at my kitchen table. (I’d met her once.) I thought, “Ummm…is she going to stay here the whole time?” Yes, she was, and yes she did. That was the start of the small village that became my life in the years to come.
Village friends are people with children the same age, living a parallel life at the same point in time. We crave company, commiseration and venting. Suddenly we’re together waiting in lines, watching games, figuring out carpools, bitching about teachers and coaches. Eventually we’re downloading daily on all things Kid—from truly important to completely inane. Yet as organically as it all goes down, the village would obviously never be if not for our kids. That is what makes these friendships so different from others.
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But in the village, conflict can be a beast unlike any we’ve tackled. A mom (an in-everyone’s-business kinda woman) of one of my daughter’s seventh-grade friends started talking about a girl in the grade who was struggling. I stopped her, then found the nerve to tell her that maybe we should do what we tell our kids: “mind our own business.” A week later, my daughter was the only girl not invited to her daughter’s birthday party. When I called to try and reason with the mother, she told me to mind my own business and hung up.
For a split second I’d felt so empowered by calling the woman out on her crap. A week later, I could barely breathe—I felt so guilty that my daughter was being excluded as a consequence of something I’d done.
There is no rulebook for navigating conflict in the village. It is uncharted territory. We’re steering for two—our kids and ourselves—unlike any other friendships we have. What I didn’t know then, when I was in it, is that the village and these friends have a shelf life.
I wish I’d been able to grasp early on that village friends come into our lives for a reason: the kids. Doesn’t matter if nothing else about us lines up—we share the one single thing that matters most.
But as time passes and kids change, so does the need for the village. The slow fade is as organic as its launch. At some point, there are no more birthday parties and day trips. Parents move from front and center to the back of the balcony. And that is what marks its shelf life. We suddenly don’t speak to or see one another, and it isn’t until this happens that we realize it was the kids who glued us together. And it feels perfectly natural. Not right or wrong or good or bad. It’s just what happens when kids grow up.
Looking back, it might have been helpful to have a little perspective on village life during the rough spots. So I’m sharing my two cents.
• Do your best to find a way to be part of the village—for your kid and for you.
• Tread carefully: You see them every day.
• When in conflict, remember, your kid lives at the village base.
• If you think she’s crazy, she probably is.
• Go slowly. There’s no rush—you still have years of parenting left.
• If a villager comments on your kid or your parenting, take three long, deep breaths before responding.
• When there’s strife, remind yourself: The village has a shelf life.
P.S. Everyone finds at least one true friend that lasts a lifetime in the village.