How to Keep Your Non-Mom Friends

How can we continue to nourish relationships with people who can’t relate to the sometimes all-consuming experience of motherhood?

Motherhood is lonely. And I think we all know that starting to seek connection with those who are going through a similar experience is the antidote. We feel less alone and more supported when we find members of our own mom tribe.
But what happens to the people who were there for us before baby? What about those friends that knew you long before diapers and breast pumps? How can we continue to nourish relationships with people who can’t relate to the sometimes all-consuming experience of motherhood?
I feel most connected to my pre-mom self when I’m with my non-mom friends. These friends have seen me at my weirdest and weren’t embarrassed to be around me, supported me when I wasn’t sure where my life was going, and made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe.
I may have a mom tribe, but these women are my soul sisters. Sometimes it’s work to keep in contact, and I never seem them as much as I would like to, but I know every time we get together that I feel truly myself.
Here are some ways to keep your old friendships going after you become a mom:

Don’t make assumptions

It’s easy to go there and think, “They probably think I’m not fun anymore,” or “They probably don’t even want to hang with me anymore.” This can make you resentful and less likely to make an effort in maintaining the friendship.
In reality, a lot of times friends aren’t sure how to act. They may be worried about inviting you places and making you feel disappointed when you can’t come or even not wanting to “bother” you since you have a new baby.
Bottom line, never make assumptions unless you have evidence. Assumptions create unnecessary and unfounded tension and distance in your relationships.

Be assertive in the face of judgement

If you have a friend who says, “I know you’re all baby now,” or “I know your hands are full and you’re too busy for me now,” put it back on them. They may make assumptions or judgments, and you can set the record straight.
“Yes, a lot has changed, but I’m still your friend,” or “You’re right, I’m busier now, but I would still like to make time for us to hang out. Please don’t assume that I’m leaving you behind.” Putting things on the table reduces passive aggressive attitudes and opens up the relationship for more honest and deeper communication.

Let them know you need them

When your life is consumed by baby and family, it can be easy for friends to start to think you’ve “moved on” and don’t need them. It’s an important part of any relationship to feel there is reciprocal desire to keep the relationship going. Let them know you miss them, how much you value your time with them, and the fact that you need their support or whatever else they bring to your relationship.

Prioritize them

It can be easy to just want to hang out with other moms because they get it. Remember your other friends and put effort into those relationships. Make a standing monthly or weekly date that takes priority over other committments. If that’s too difficult, make an effort to text or call them once a week to see how they’re doing.

Be open and honest if things feel different

You can always reach out and say, “Hey, I feel like we’ve been disconnected lately. I know things have changed a lot. Your friendship is important to me. Can we get together and talk?” Be honest about your expectations from them. Ask them what they need from you to heal any wounds and maintain your connection.

Be empathetic to their feelings

Sometimes friends struggle with seeing their friends married and having a child if they want those things, too, but don’t have them yet. If you feel this is the case with a friend of yours, you may need to give them some time.
This may be especially true for friends who have struggled with infertility. Time and space can offer the healing they need before they reconnect. When they return to the relationship, try to offer understanding and compassion. You never know what your friends might be going through or how they see your situation. Try to feel them out and be there to listen and support them.

They won’t get it and that’s okay

Did you “get it” before you became a mom? Most likely not. So don’t expect them to “get it” now. Just because they can’t necessarily relate doesn’t mean they can’t or don’t support you. Try to find other ways to relate and limit the time you spend talking about your mom stuff. Remember there are things you can talk about outside of motherhood. It’s refreshing!
Some friendships just won’t make the transition. This is just a part of life. You may have friends whom you easily partied with before but don’t find much in common outside of the bar. It’s okay to prioritize the friendships you want to keep.
The friendships that are meant to be will somehow make it through.

This Is a Love Letter to the Sisterhood

This a love letter to the sisterhood. This is an homage to all the women who hold us up.

This a love letter to the sisterhood.
This is an homage to all the women who hold us up.
The ones who walked before us, leaving behind a trail of wisdom crumbs for us to follow in the dark.
The ones who walk at our side, whispering those two sweetest words, like a salve to our tired soul:
“Me, too.”
The ones who walk behind, not there yet, who look at us with big eyes and remind us of where we have been and how we have grown and what we have conquered.
This is for the women whose hearts split into a thousand pieces as they give small pieces of themselves to their family, their job, their friends, and their neighbors.
The women who see suffering and resist the natural impulse to shrink away, who meet it instead with an ear, a shoulder, an embrace, a meal.
The women who carry themselves and their babies through a world that still sometimes scares them with heads held high and shoulders back because they are warriors. Because they are afraid and they do it anyway.
The women who learned to stop apologizing for what they are not sorry for.
And for the women who love themselves enough to say no.
This is for the women in the trenches and on the ground and in the schools and in the hospitals and in the community centers and serving in the government buildings.
The women who marched and the women who cheered them on.
This is for the women who work because they have to or because they can.
And for the women who stay home because they have to or because they can.
This is for the women who have taken their bodies back and learned to love the soft places.
The women who wear what they want and let themselves be comfortable or sexy or modest or whatever the hell they want to be because it is theirs to choose.
The women whose scars and stretch marks map a story of survival and strength across their bodies for them to consult whenever they are feeling lost.
This is for the women who dance, alone or in a crowd, and let themselves remember what moving felt like when it was for nothing else but the raw joy of it.
And the women who sing unapologetically in their cars or in the shower or on stage, faking out simply for the freedom of hearing their voice.
This is for the women who create: babies or art or sustenance or beauty or words, worship, a testament of our feminine belief that yes, still, even now, the world is worth making better.
This is for the women who love fiercely, without restraint, and forgive the same way.
The women who don’t forget, not once, not for a minute, how far we have come, and how far we have to go.
This is for all of us who stay a little bit on fire inside.
This is for my sisters.
I love you.
I see you.
Thank you.
This was originally published here.

The Most Important Kid-Communication Opportunity You Might Be Missing

These types of moments happen every day, when our children mention something that they are unsure of and wait to see our reactions.

I want my children to be kind, empathetic, trustworthy, respectful, well-mannered, and savvy. Don’t we all? I want them to make good choices and navigate tough moral dilemmas with ease.
Parents are always looking for opportunities to inspire, educate, and enlighten our children. Oftentimes, we force those moments by teaching our children when we feel the need to teach them something. When that happens in my house, I notice my children tuning me out, totally missing the lesson I am trying to teach, and I get frustrated. I have found that instead of teaching my kids what I want them to know when I want them to know it, I should follow their lead.
When kids come home from school, they offer up tiny morsels of their days. They talk about a challenging test, a fun game they played in gym, what they ate for lunch and, sometimes, situations they found themselves in with a friend. There it is. The little gem of information that we can use to teach our kids the lessons we want them to learn.
When a child offers up one of these scenarios that they either witnessed or were a part of at school, they are testing us. We have a magical opportunity to either make a huge positive impact in the way our children navigate the world or we mold them in a different way, moving them away from their natural feelings of right and wrong and towards indifference. Here’s what I mean:
My daughter came home from school the other day and told me she overheard two boys talking in line on their way in from recess. These boys are known to our family as they have been in my daughter’s class a previous year. They are close friends and neighbors. She explained to me that she heard one of the boys say to the other, “I don’t want you to be my friend anymore. I want to play with (a different boy) instead.” When I asked my daughter why he said this mean thing to his friend, she explained that it was related to not having the right Pokemon cards.
Oh boy.
It just goes to show you how tenuous elementary school friendships are. After she told me this story, she looked at me, waiting to hear my reaction. This is the moment I am talking about. She knows that what that boy said was wrong and mean and uncalled for. She knows in her heart that friends shouldn’t say those types of things to each other. She knows that the one boy’s feelings were very hurt. By telling me, she wants me to validate those feelings. She is telling me this story so that I can validate how she is feeling about this event and give her the tools to deal with this type of situation.
We have two moves in this case:

Parent inaction or just nodding could cause apathy

If your child tells you something like this and you don’t really hear them or pay attention – or just nod and then move on to the next thing – you have shown your child that what they witnessed is not such a big deal. That it is not that bad to talk to friends that way and that your child’s feelings are unwarranted. Basically, they will see that their parents don’t think it’s a big deal, so why should they? They will begin to feel apathetic towards those situations in the future and you, the parent, will have missed your chance to shape your child in a positive way.

Validation and discussion could create empathy

The second move is to validate those feelings. “Wow. I can’t believe a friend would speak to another friend like that. How do you think he felt?” Having this discussion with your child gives them the chance to empathize, to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. In doing that, they can learn that words and actions have power, both negative and positive.
After talking with your child, ask them what they would have done in that situation? What could they say if someone says something like that to them?
We have told our daughter that if someone says to her, “Do this or I’m not your friend anymore,” she should respond, “Real friends don’t say that to people” and to move on with what she was doing. We have encouraged her to not give more weight to those words than they deserve and to just let the friend know that saying that is not cool or acceptable in the friendship.
The last thing about this moment that can be teachable is to ask, “Is there anything you can do to make the situation better?” When we said this to our daughter, she suggested checking on the boy the following day at recess to make sure he had someone to play with. If not, she was going to go play with him or invite him to play with her.
Beautiful.
These types of moments happen every day, when our children mention something that they are unsure of and wait to see our reactions. If we miss it, then we have missed an opportunity to teach our children on their terms and in the context of their own lives. If we seize it, we can help our children be the kind, empathetic, trustworthy, respectful, well-mannered, and savvy children we hope they will be.

One of the Easiest Ways to Teach Forgiveness

Here is the thing I have learned about forgiveness. It isn’t a behavior, it is a feeling.

If you were to reflect back on your childhood, I bet you could think of someone you never gave yourself the chance to forgive. I can think of a few times someone hurt or scared the pants off of me, yet until this day, I am not sure if I really ever forgave them.
There is one moment, however, when I do remember talking about someone behind their back. I still feel bad about doing that. Could it be because I haven’t forgiven myself?
Recently, one of my daughters had a slew of social media posts (untruths) stated about her. It took months for her to tell her father and I. Just as we were gathering the evidence, the person spreading the rumors sent a text to my daughter apologizing for her actions.
“What do I do, Mom?” my daughter asked.
“You accept her apology, let her know this is never to happen again, wish her a good year, and forgive her,” I said.
And that is exactly what she did.
My daughter has seemed to move on unscathed. Could it be the forgiveness that set her free?
Me on the other hand – I still have my mother bear guard up, keeping a keen eye out for my daughter. Perhaps, I should take my own advice and give myself a little of this forgiveness medicine, not just for the other person, but as a way to free up any residue of guilt for not standing up for my girl in the first place.
Here is the thing I have learned about forgiveness. It isn’t a behavior, it is a feeling. Sure you could encourage your child to say I forgive you, but until they feel it, it may not make much of a difference. That said, forgiveness is a personal and powerful decision to surrender and let go. The question becomes how do you teach it?
One of the simplest ways to teach forgiveness is to tell stories. Stories about situations and feelings you have experienced. When you tell a story, you share a part of yourself that is vulnerable, real, and normal. You share moments when you, too, succumbed to peer pressure as a way to cope with the fear, rejection, or sadness.
My husband has a wonderful story about the day he hugged the woman who struck him with her car and nearly took his life. We laugh as he explains how he had to yell loudly to the woman because she is so hard of hearing. I am not sure if the actual words “I forgive you” came out of his mouth. But in many ways, letting someone know you are okay is no different than giving them permission to go about living their life.
It is through stories that we can illustrate what forgiveness looks like in motion. Forgiveness is a movement from your heart. While your head might say, you really hurt me, your heart says, I am okay, and so are you.

Starting Over: When Mama is Nana

The term “grandfamilies” has entered the lexicon.

Last fall, my friend spent Tuesdays in a utilitarian meeting room sitting on a folding chair while “experts” expounded on topics like bonding, sleep patterns, and infant milestones, information she didn’t need since she’d already ushered her own children into adulthood. The good part was that there were other grandmothers in the class who told each other their stories. Tuesdays also brought paperwork and state mandates and social work regulations. Her new normal – the one she never saw coming – had just landed in her lap.

When her grandchild was born and it was clear the birthparents could not be the caregivers, my friend began to quietly text the baby’s temporary foster parents in another state. She relished the photos they would send her. She would comment on “the sweetest little hands.” That text would, the next month, turn into “the cutest smile ever.” She sent books and clothes and every age-appropriate toy she could find.

It made sense that she’d be invested in giving this baby the best start she could. After all, she was the baby’s grandmother. I figured her role would be filling in the gaps until “real parents” could be found as soon as the court ruled the adoption could go forward. Then, I thought, the social worker would consult the list of couples yearning for a baby, and a whole new family – a young family – would be created, and those parents would take over.

I was fooled. Partly because my friend carefully skirted the issue of the baby’s future. She’d indulge me in phone conversations that began with me saying things like, “I know this is sad, but there’s a young couple somewhere, just aching to have a baby and soon they’ll have one!” Looking back now, I remember her soft silences in response to my enthusiasm. She was probably averting her eyes too, but I couldn’t see that.

I believed that in her life, as in mine, it would be unthinkable to dive back into the grinding mechanics of caring for an infant 24 hours a day, much less summoning the reflexes to prevent a  three-year-old from darting into traffic. Or sitting, albeit proudly, in the audience at your kid’s high school graduation when you’re in your 80s.

When she finally told me she was beginning adoption proceedings, I told her all the reasons she was making a terrible, immutable mistake. I warned her that once the baby arrived in her home, no matter how difficult the going got, she would never be able to turn back to her old life – her sane, comfortable, predictable life – with me as her sane, comfortable, predictable friend.

“How fair is that?” I asked. Not fair to her and not fair to her grandchild, not when there were prospective (young) parents, waiting so hopefully in the wings.

She approached my logic with statistics about the numbers of babies who have been rescued by willing grandparents: 2.7 million nationwide. She told me about her distrust of the system the baby would be thrown into, even for a short time, and the damage that could be done. Then she refuted my logic with emotion. The term “grandfamilies” has entered the lexicon. The baby was part of her extended family. That baby was her family.

Her mind was made up, and I was left to look at what my rational arguments said about me. I wanted our two lives to stay on the intended arc we envisioned together, the continuation of everything we’d shared. We always had each other as we parented our young children. Then came the teenagers and the college years. We hosted weddings, then baby showers. Now we were supposed to be free to go out to lunch, learn to play golf, discuss politics, or gossip idly without any interruptions. What about our bucket lists?

It turns out her baby loves eating in restaurants, watching people go by, sampling new foods, and playing peek-a-boo with the waiter. I look at my friend, enveloped in all of it. She’ll be called “Nana,” she tells me. The baby is beautiful.

There are all kinds of bucket lists.

Why Your Teen's BFF Might Keep Them Happy for Years to Come

According to a recent study, bonds that kids form during adolescence might have a positive role in their mental health for years to come.

Teenagers spend a ton of time focused on what their friends are thinking and doing. This period can be filled with struggles due to puberty, school pressures, bullying, and popularity contests. And of course, teens drive their parents crazy with all this incessant drama.

It turns out that some of this drama is a worthwhile investment for their future emotional and mental health. According to a recent study at the University of Virginia published in the journal Child Development, bonds that children form during adolescence might have a positive role in their mental health for years to come.

Researchers followed 169 individuals for 10 years, starting when they were 15 years old. The participants were racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse. The process began when the participants brought in their closest friends for one-on-one interviews. Then they were assessed annually and asked questions about their closest friends: how much trust there was, how good communication was, and how alienated they felt in the relationship. Additionally, they were given questionnaires to evaluate levels of anxiety, depression, social acceptance, and self-worth.

The strong friendships were evident in the interview videos. These teens asked their best friends for advice or support and talked through any disagreement. They were open with one another about difficult topics and overall quite connected. The study found that those who had close, emotional links with friends showed less anxiety and depression yet higher self-worth. In fact, their emotional state improved from age 15 to 25 at the times they were evaluated by researchers. On the other hand, those who did not have the same bonds with friends in their teen years did not show much change in symptoms of depression and anxiety or in their sense of self-worth throughout the study’s 10 years.

The scientists think that friendships provide critical support during the challenging adolescent years and also help guide emotional development. Positive experiences with friends help boost positive feelings about oneself during this stage when personal identity is being formed. For example, learning how to resolve conflicts with a buddy provides beneficial life-long social and emotional skills. Also, being able to make and keep solid friendships shows that they can trust another person in both good and tough times. This is a huge step in maturity, and an attribute necessary for success in life, whether it be at a job or in marriage.

The study’s coauthor Joseph Allen, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, points out that the study confirms the importance of forming strong close friendships during the teen years because these experiences stay with our kids and influence their level of happiness in the future. He warns that we must be careful with technology as it could hamper the ability for teens to build these close ties with their peers.

Here are a few ways we can encourage our teens to form strong friendships:

  • Talk about what makes a healthy, positive relationship: caring for one another, understanding, respect, ability to solve problems together, open and honest communication, similar goals and values.
  • Provide avenues for your teen to meet new people, such as joining extracurricular clubs and teams, attending camp, or getting a part-time job.
  • Teach them how to communicate kindly and effectively (without always relying on technology!).
  • Be careful not to judge their choices in friends too quickly. Of course, if you see a pattern of negative behavior, then it’s okay to step in and have a calm discussion with them about your concerns.
  • Support them in their requests to spend time with friends. Work together to set reasonable guidelines such a curfew and who they can get in a car with.

My Kid Sabotaged My Dreams of Making Friends With the Cool Dad

From across the room, I saw I him. He was wearing a Stone Temple Pilots’ T-shirt – and not just any STP tee. It was an authentic early tour shirt.

Emma squeezed my hand tightly, moved closer, and used her free hand to wrap herself around my leg.
I know how my one-year-old daughter felt. If there was a giant, friendly man standing next to me at that moment, I probably would have wrapped my spare arm around his thigh just like Emma.
Emma and I were standing in the library waiting for story time to begin. All around us were little groups of moms and little groups of children, and neither of these groups appeared to be welcoming any new members.
All the moms were dressed casually, but meticulously, in new, top-of-the line workout gear, and they all wore yoga pants. Did this story time have a dress code? Was I supposed to wear yoga pants? Did they even make yoga pants for men? Should I have just taken Emma to the park again?
These were some of the questions I was pondering when he walked in.
He was a late-30s/early-40s dad with a toddler boy attached to his loosely dangling arm. From across the room, I saw he was wearing a Stone Temple Pilots’ T-shirt – and not just any STP tee. He was wearing an authentic tour shirt, one from an early tour the boys did with the Meat Puppets and Jawbox. This dude was a legitimate fan. If he was even a quarter as passionate about the music of Scott Weiland, Robert and Dean DeLeo, and Eric Kretz as I was, I’d knew we’d wind up being best friends.
A brief note about my obsession with the criminally underrated 90s rock band the Stone Temple Pilots (aka, STP) and my beautiful wife Liz: My intense love for STP is beyond annoying to my wife, and it’s a big part of the reason Liz hates the band, a band she probably would’ve only mildly disliked if she hadn’t met me. This comes into play later.
“I’m so glad I didn’t take Emma to the park,” I thought, as I subtly tried to get STP Dad’s attention. When our eyes eventually met, I gestured for him to come over with all the subtly of an air traffic controller inviting a commercial aircraft to enter the runway.
After the necessary info was exchanged (His name was James, his kid’s name was Jeremy, and he and his wife were new to the area), I got down to it.
“So, I gotta ask … the shirt, are you actually a fan or did you get it at a thrift store or something?”
“Are you kidding me?” James asked, incredulous. “STP is my favorite band.”
“You’re fucking with me, right?” I exclaimed, loud enough for a couple of moms nearby to stop their conversation and stare disapprovingly at me. “I’ve seen STP more than 20 times.”
“27 for me!” James said. “I actually used to date this photographer who worked with the band. She broke up with because she thought I was more in love with Scott Weiland than her. I even played bass in an STP cover band called ‘Sour Guys.’ I know, the name was supposed to be stupid.”
“I play guitar!” I practically screamed. “This is so crazy. Sometimes when I drink too much red wine, I’ll watch old YouTube videos of their Rolling Rock Town Fair show and pause it to try and find myself in the crowd so I can see what I looked like on the happiest day of my life.”
“That’s actually really sad, dude,” James said, but in a joking, good-natured kind of way.
“And this dude is funny, too! I have to get his number,” I thought.
Just then, STP Dad’s little one looked at me and waved.
I waved back. “Hey buddy, those are some cool shoes you have on,” I said to the kid.
“They’re Chuck Taylor Slip Ons,” James answered. “I was gonna get him Crocs, but I just couldn’t bring myself to actually pay for a pair of those hideous, hideous shoes. Know what I’m saying?”
I nodded while desperately trying to use my leg to shield my own daughter’s pink Crocs from James’ view. I made a mental note to take off her shoes during story time, and put them in the diaper bag.
Emma and I sat next to James and Jeremy during story time.
While the grouchy volunteer reader with the smoker’s cough rushed through the standards and fantasized about her next cigarette, I envisioned my future with James. I pictured us jamming in James’ basement on Friday evenings, or waving goodbye to our concerned wives and children as we embarked on a mini-road trip to Cincinnati to see the preeminent Stone Temple Pilots cover band of our generation, STP2, or even jamming with the DeLeos, after Rob, the sensitive brother, responded to my impassioned letter about my serendipitous meeting with James.
When story time was over, James and I continued our interrupted conversation while our kids played with the hodge-podge of toys that were spread out around the children’s section.
I was trying to think of the best way to ask for James’ number, when he broached the subject himself.
“Hey man, we should hang out some time,” he started.
What happened next took place in slow motion. Emma and Jeremy had been playing tug of war with a toy school bus when Jeremy gained the upper hand and ripped the bus right from Emma’s grasp. In a fit of rage, Emma picked up a sizeable toy fire truck to her right, launched it at Jeremy and connected squarely with his face.
Both kids immediately started screaming, and James and I rushed to tend to our inconsolable toddlers. For his part, James wasn’t pissed, but I could tell the opportunity to exchange numbers had passed. On his way out, I saw him catch a glance at Emma’s Crocs (How did I forget to take them off!) and knew James and I wouldn’t be taking any road trips to see STP2 together.
Even at such a young age, I can already see parts of my wife and parts of myself in little Emma. The part that sabotaged my shot at having a lifelong friendship with a dude who’s arguably as into STP as I am by smashing a toy truck into his son’s face, well, there’s no doubt that part came from my wife.

My Lifelong Social Anxiety Doesn’t Have to Belong to My Daughter

My lifelong anxiety that hovers like a ghost at the edges of my parenting, always tempting me to manage my overwhelming feelings by overcompensating.

In the week leading up to my daughter’s first sleepover at our house, I mobilized. First, I cleaned the common areas in the house and admonished my daughter to tidy her room. Then, I made an extra trip to the grocery store for snacks and drafted a breakfast menu. With 24 hours to go, I cajoled my husband into erecting a tent in the living room – the tent that sleeps eight adults and has multiple rooms. If you have visited Costco this spring, maybe you’ve seen it hanging from the ceiling above the seasonal items.
Naturally, having a gigantic tent erected in our living room made me think of s’mores, so I headed back to the store to get marshmallows, Graham crackers, and chocolate.
If they gave out prizes for sleepover hosting, I’d surely be on the podium for a medal.
Somewhere between my trips to the store and looking up recipes for Dutch pancakes, I had a moment of self-awareness. Why was I working so hard to ensure that a sweet, well-mannered eight-year-old had an epic time at our house? I had no evidence to suggest she expected heroic measures and expert-level party planning for the twenty hours she would be a guest in our home. In fact, when my daughter spent the night at her house, they went out for barbecue and then made ice cream sundaes at home.
So why was there a 20-foot tent in my living room?
Anxiety has long been a part of my emotional make-up and having people in my space has stressed me out since my first sleepover over three decades ago. As a kid, I would invite friends over because they had hosted me and my mom said we had to reciprocate. But as soon as one of them would arrive with her Holly Hobby bedroll tucked under her arm, I would be flooded with anxiety. What were we supposed to do? Like, literally, what were we going to do in my room or in the back yard until dinner time? And then after that? We didn’t have a rec room or a basement. We didn’t have closet stuffed with board games or a pool. We could watch a movie, but that only took up and hour and a half.
I didn’t know how to relax and let time unfold in the company of friends while on my turf.
As a kid, I never thought of telling my parents how I felt. As an adult, I suspect my parents had their own social anxieties that they managed by not inviting people over very often.
But now I’m the parent. I’ve slowly learned how to manage the family playdate where we (actually, my husband) invite over a whole family so the parents can visit while the children play. Anxiety over what we will talk about, or whether they will stay too late, or judge our house for not having a playroom or bucolic backyard still plagues me, but I diffuse it ahead of time by scrubbing the toilets and shoving errant Legos in the toy box.
Before the doorbell rings, I say to my husband, “Why do we have to do this?”
He says, “Because this is part of being in a community. And it’s fun!”
Easy for him to say.
A sleepover lasts roughly five more waking hours than a regular old playdate. The night before my daughter’s, I reminded myself that after a few of these, I’ll just have baseline anxiety, not the turbo jitters that coursed through my veins as I watched my husband erect the tent.
My husband reminded me that my daughter is the host, not me. He was right, of course. It wasn’t the first time – or the last – I blurred the lines between me and my daughter. I had just enough clarity to understand that I needed to make mental space for possibility that she might not be anxious about hosting at all.
The story of her life may not be the same as mine.
Still, I told my husband that if I saw my daughter floundering, I would throw her a lifeline. And by lifeline, I meant I’d take the girls to see Hamilton or to get their nails done at the Ritz. You know, just a little something to help pass the time.
The sleepover started with dinner, and we took the girls to a restaurant where my daughter whipped out a deck of cards so they could play Uno while waiting for their food. She didn’t seem anxious – she seemed giddy. On the way home, the girls chattered in the back of the mini-van about what they would do when they got back to our house. Once at home, they disappeared into the tent, where they watched a movie and ate s’mores. The next morning, they slept in, ate breakfast, and went to the park. By 11 a.m. her friend was gone and my daughter was genuinely sad to see her go.
It appears that my daughter is thus far free of the social anxiety that has ensnared me for most of my life. She didn’t need a lifeline on Friday night, because she wasn’t drowning.
Did we need to erect a living-room-sized tent to help my daughter entertain her first overnight guest? Definitely not. The girls would have been happy with some generic microwave popcorn and an extra blanket. All those bells and whistles were for the sole purpose of allaying my lifelong anxiety that hovers like a ghost at the edges of my parenting, always tempting me to manage my overwhelming feelings by overcompensating, which is bad for my daughter, me, my marriage, and my finances.
I’ve passed plenty of traits onto my daughter, including my blood type, the shape of my feet, and the ability to curl my tongue. But maybe a life riddled with anxiety isn’t her destiny. Maybe it stops right here in my own trembling, untrusting heart. This would be welcome news. As is the notion that maybe I won’t have to work so hard on the next sleepover.

I Met My Best Friend in My Thirties

When my son was one month into his NICU resort stay, I met the woman who would become my best friend. I met her on the worst day of my life.

The NICU is not the place you go to meet people. It’s an intensive care unit, not Cheers.
Chances are, if you’re here, it’s a high-pressure situation. The background noise is beeps and buzzes and the whooshing of air in and out of ventilators. There’s a clicking, too, a “tck, tck, tck” of the feeding pumping, counting down the milliliters of milk and vitamins dripping down tubes and into bellies.
This is not the soundtrack for small talk.
And yet, when my son, born prematurely at 30 weeks, was one month into his NICU resort stay and clearly thinking he was on sabbatical and would return shortly to the womb, I met the woman who would become my best friend. I met her on the worst day of my life.
Brain scans are funny. Dots on black and white and gray delineate good from bad, solid from liquid, tissue from bone. On the day in question, my son had a 30-day brain scan, unbeknownst to us. Apparently, this is standard procedure. (Over the next few months – how long it took us to graduate – we would come to learn all the procedures much better than we would have liked.)
It was a sunny and warm day in April, the kind that makes all the kids in all the classrooms stare out the window and wish for summer. Of course, inside the NICU the weather is irrelevant behind tinted windows and fluorescent lighting. But I carried the mood in with me, a spring breeze along with my pumped milk in its little cooler.
The nurse in my son’s room was new. They always were. I never could learn them all. She informed me that the head of the NICU would like to see me. She’d page him, she said. And then she looked at me three seconds longer than was normal. That’s how I knew something was up.
When he entered, the big man himself, he spoke a great many words I did not hear while pointing to gray spots on a picture of my son’s brain. I looked at the scan, and then I looked at my son in my arms, awake and eyeing my like, “You, hey you, I see that milk there. What’s the hold up, lady?”
And then I heard the doctor say, “periventricular leukomalacia.” Eleven syllables to tell me that my child had damage in all four quadrants of his brain. Very gently, I kissed him on his head, which smelled of hand sanitizer, and handed him to the nurse so I wouldn’t drop him. Then I walked out and lost it – lost all control of my body and words and thoughts. I cried and shook and tore at my clothes a little.
Hours later, I went back in and sat in the hospital-issued rocker and held my son again. We looked at each other. He sized me up with an owlish stare and then stretched and pooped, very casually, like he was The Big Lebowski and I, his bowling buddy. No biggie, man. The nurse laughed from her corner where she’d been charting stats. We got to talking.
Five years later, this nurse is in my contacts under “family.” She has a husband and a house and a dog and a mother, and I’ve seen it all. It sounds weird to refer to your “best friend” when in your 30s, like you’re one mall trip away from buying matching necklaces at Claire’s. But she is.
After we came home from the NICU, finally, she called to check in. Nobody actually uses the numbers they swap on the way out the door, but she did. She came over a week later. And she’s been coming over ever since, swapping quips and bringing iced coffee and all the good magazines for the pool. We’ve celebrated birthdays and Thanksgivings and drunk wine at vineyards and made our husbands watch Katherine Hepburn flicks. She’s the one I call when I’m losing my mind over insurance battles with my son’s wheelchair or swim therapy. She’s also the one I call when I watch the newest episode of “Game of Thrones”.
She’s my person. She’s my best friend. She would roll her eyes at this. This is why we work.
You don’t expect to make new friends at my age. You’ve got your standard go-tos locked in, the ones that don’t require effort. You’ve already dated and wooed them. But I wooed a new one. I met the best friend I’ll ever have on the worst day of my life, which I guess moves it up a notch.
Who knew your 30s could be your social growth spurt?

Helping Your Introvert Navigate Recess

The energy and chaos of running around on the playground isn’t the break all kids need during the school day. Introverts may do well to have an alternative.

In my work as a third grade teacher, I’m out on the school playground a lot. With an entire grade level usually outside at one time, in my school (as in most) there’s a certain controlled chaos. Balls fly boldly through the air, this way and that. There are frequent lengthy, high-pitched yelps resembling animal screeches. Children run in small groups, crashing into each other and into stationary objects. Recess is a busy, noisy, chaotic time, and it can be an introvert child’s worst nightmare.
I’m not an introvert, but recess isn’t my favorite time of the day either. It’s a little manic  – over 100 children dashing wildly around in different directions. It’s the opposite of calm. Yet recess takes place before school, in the mid-morning and again right after lunch – times of day when some of us could really do with a little bit of quiet.
Introverts in my class often ask me if they can stay in for recess. They ask to read in the library, draw, play Legos or board games, or to help clean up or organize a section of the classroom. I used to believe that playground recess was the only kind of “real” recess and that it was a non-negotiable, fixed entity. I would tell an introvert child who asked to stay in that the answer was “no” and remind him/her that recess is an important time for socializing, play, and exercise. That was before I read the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, by Susan Cain.
Cain defines introverts: “Those who prefer quieter, more minimally stimulating environments. The key is about stimulation: extroverts feel at their best and crave a high degree of stimulation. For introverts, the optimal zone is much lower.” Her book helped me empathize with what my introvert students might be feeling when recess time came around – something the extrovert in me had never imagined before. My students hadn’t articulated their feelings to me or challenged my preconceived ideas. They’d always taken my firm, “You can’t stay in at recess” as a given and headed woefully outdoors.

Start a dialogue about introverts and recess

I soon began to wonder if I was supporting introvert students at recess as best as I could. Children need daily opportunities to develop their social and emotional lives and to learn the skills of socialization and emotional regulation. As long as kids have a daily opportunity for unstructured social time where they can choose which activity they’d like to do with their friends, I see that they are, in actuality, having a recess. Many teachers at my school already give their students exactly that: “Choice Time,” or “Free Time,” within which kids get to choose what they do with their time and with whom. But it’s usually on a Friday afternoon, or at the end of the day. What if this choice time was part of recess, and happened more often? Once I started talking about the different ways that recess could look, things began to shift.
I know how critical physical movement and fresh is for children and so I regularly have my students run around or stretch during transitions between one lesson and another. Sometimes we do specific exercises that are part of a program for schools called “Brain Gym.” I call these short periods of time where we move around “Brain Breaks.” Essentially, as long as students do have the chance to run around, stretch, and get outside regularly, then recess can, I think, be boundless in its possibilities and manifestations and not simply an outlet for physical activity or a designated socialization time. Recess can be just as Dictionary.com defines it: “Temporary withdrawal or cessation from the usual work.”
Of course, fresh air and exercise is essential for invigorating and reviving us (introverts and extroverts alike) and I certainly wouldn’t advocate that children stay inside during every recess. But I really do wonder, are we doing our best for introverts at recess? What if one classroom per grade level was designated a quiet zone for just one recess a day? What if we allowed children to spend one recess a day in the school library? What if we said yes when an introvert asked to stay in for recess? Your child’s teacher is a great person with whom to start the dialogue about your little introvert.

Introverts prefer quieter spaces with less stimuli

Think about how your child choose to spend his/her “at play” time when at home on a play date or with siblings. Do they make a den to retreat into together or alone? Do they choose to sit in a quiet room? In this vein, redesigning the physical space of playgrounds can have a wide-reaching impact. What if the playground wasn’t all concrete? What if there was a cabana, marquee, or tent just for children who wanted to sit in a more peaceful place? Or, what if playgrounds had grassy areas where children could sit somewhere where the ground was soft beneath them and just talk, play, or do a quiet activity such as reading or drawing – a place to just be, without fear of being hit by a football just as they’ve settled into their latest chapter book? What if every playground had a designated “No ball area” or “No running” area?
At my school we recently solicited children’s thoughts on an ideal playground and we now have a grassy area (we’re an urban school, so the grass is fake, but grass nonetheless) where balls aren’t allowed. We have an area that is fenced off from the main playground, where small groups of children gather to chat, sit, and be peaceful. They don’t have to worry about getting hit by a ball while they relax together. It’s made a world of difference. We have a bench now, too – because sometimes children want a comfortable place to sit down at recess. And some teachers are allowing children to stay in at recess sometimes – including me. Not every day, but sometimes.

Introverts are risk takers too – they just do it differently

School is, in many ways, an optimal environment for extroverts – the playground especially so. Cain talks about how extroverts generally get more excited than introverts and this is related to risk-taking. Extroverts rule the playground with their shrieking, loud games, ball games, and risk-taking endeavors. The introvert child recharges her batteries not necessarily by being outside, but often by being quiet for a while, sometimes by looking inward, having quiet time – by having a break from an otherwise busy day jammed full of stimulation.
Susan Cain notes that some of the world’s riskiest professions (traders, police offers, etc.) are done by introverts. It’s not that they don’t take risks – it’s just that they’re more considered and thoughtful about the risks they take. They’re less impulsive. To be this way, they need down time – alone or just with one or two friends to think, consider, or reflect. In the same way that you allow the time and space for your child to have the down time they need at home, encourage him/her to seek out and speak up for this time and space at school if they need/want it.
Ideally, our schools and our playgrounds should allow for introverts to retreat from the world for a little while. It doesn’t always have to be you starting the dialogue with your child’s teacher or principal – you can encourage your child to ask for what he/she needs at school, too.

Introverts aren’t anti-social – they’re socially different

There are a few children in my class who spend most recesses together, sitting in a quieter part of the playground, reading their books together. They always read the same book, sharing a copy or reading identical copies, and they discuss it together as they read. Sometimes they play a talking game together such as, “I’m going on a picnic” or take a slow walk around the playground looking for interesting things in nature. A nature walk, if you will. Or they’ll get some chalk and play a quiet game of hopscotch. They want to be together, not alone, but being introverts they rejuvenate by being together doing something calming or enjoyable for them – something which isn’t always a physical activity.
Being “at play” is different for every child and I know to honor the introverts at recess as diligently as I honor the extroverts.

Questions to ask your child’s principal about recess

  • Is there a designated no ball “Quiet Zone” on the playground where children can choose to read or talk or play together quietly?
  • Can my child bring a book, notepad or sketchbook out to the playground?
  • Can playground chalk, jump ropes, and hula-hoops be provided? These can be great tools for solo, partner play, or small friend group play.
  • Is indoor recreation time in a quiet room ever an option for recess?
  • Are there places to sit down on the playground – benches, stools, or chairs?