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There are a million things they don’t tell you about having a child—how heartbreaking it is when you realize they’ll never be a baby again, the sheer amount of vomit involved—and they sure don’t tell you how often you’ll have to interact with other parents. Maybe it’s low on the list in terms of importance, but it’s a big life change: You go from being able to choose who you socialize with, to regularly finding yourself interacting with people you have nothing in common with beyond having become parents around the same time. And unlike the people you talk to at work, no one is even paying you.
According to Kelly Bos, MSW, RSW, a social worker, psychotherapist, and co-host of Talk Therapy Pod, “Connecting gives us a chance to normalize ages and stages with other parents who are experiencing it.” And while I don’t doubt that, what if you mostly want to be left alone? What if you’re all set on “normalizing ages and stages,” you’re antisocial, or you have an unearned sense of superiority like I do?
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to become friends with other parents, like this article from the New York Times, but if you already have enough damn friends and you want to avoid socializing with other parents as much as possible, there are few resources available. Here are some tips.
Have your spouse run interference
My wife genuinely likes other people. She looks at a room full of strangers and thinks, “yes!” before diving in and talking to them with openness, curiosity, and warmth. She knows all of the other parents, volunteers at the school, organizes things, and meets other parents for coffee, just for fun.
I’m pretty sure one of my kid’s friends is named “Kevin.”
We’re a good fit, but if you’re fortunate enough to have a parenting partner of any kind, you can find ways to divide the emotional labor of having to talk with other parents.
Commiserate with other antisocial parents
The overly social types monopolize attention, but most parents are probably thinking “Oh, god, this shit again?” just like you are. Once I had to take my kid to a fifth birthday party at a ball pit or a slaughterhouse or something, and I ended up sitting in the parent’s corral with another mom. After staring at our phones in silence for an hour, sheer boredom won out, and we started talking. It turned out she disliked the awkward forced socialization with other parents as much I did. We had an interesting conversation that didn’t involve telling each other how awesome our children are, and, when the party mercifully ended, we didn’t exchange numbers or ever speak again. It was perfect, and evidence that many parents feel exactly like you do.
Smoke, if you smoke
In the liberal-urban-bubble in which I live, the ultimate “just leave me alone” move for a parent is smoking. Firing up a Marlboro as soon as your kid is out the door at morning drop-off alienates 90% of parents immediately and permanently. Once your reputation as “That parent who smokes” is established, you won’t need to organize playdates ever again.
You probably shouldn’t actually do this, though. I read somewhere that smoking causes cancer or something. More importantly, if you care about your kid, you can’t totally alienate other parents. You have to find a middle-ground that’s tolerable for you, but doesn’t turn your child into a pre-school pariah.
Fake it as much as you can handle
Like most everything about parenthood, socializing with other parents is a sacrifice you make. I don’t enjoy meeting people, but it’s not about me. I could easily start home-schooling my kid and stay within my heavily-armed compound, but my son is figuring out how to navigate peer relationships, and until he’s old enough to take the bus, it’s up to me to make it possible. So I force myself. I go through the motions. I take him to playdates or birthday parties when my wife is busy, and genially make small talk about sports or the weather when I have to. I might be silently wishing to be anywhere else, but I act friendly at Chuck E. Cheese because I’m hoping to be put in a good nursing home later.
Donate money to avoid joining the committee
It’s possible to facilitate your child’s social development while also protecting your isolation if you can recognize which events are for the benefit of children and which are more for parents who actually want to hang out with each other. Basically: don’t join the PTA. Bring your kid to birthday parties and play-dates but don’t volunteer for anything.
If your kids’ school has fundraisers (and your kids school will have fundraisers), donate items or give some money, but do not volunteer. There are plenty of parents who like that kind of thing and will step up to send you an email about it. Don’t rain on their parade by taking a spot.
Don’t become the “room parent,” either: that good-hearted type-A who organizes the Teachers’ Day present and the cupcake schedule. Instead, be the person who donates to the classroom. Send your kid to school with cleaning wipes and tissues and be ready to write a check. It might cost a little more, but it’s money well spent if you want to contribute while being antisocial.
And an important final note: Don’t ever attend any “adults only” functions attached to your kid’s school. You don’t want to show up at the fundraising auction with the open bar. It is not pretty.