Dear Dr. Debbie,
Our children are starting to make friends from school. Before the pandemic – which seems so long ago – they mostly played with children whose families we already knew.
We’re not yet ready to have other children inside our house, nor for our children to go inside the homes of others. But in planning for what we hope is the near future, how important is it that we get to know the parents of our children’s friends?
Their Mom and Dad
In regards to the ongoing pandemic, getting friends together outside of school can be managed with caution. Let’s say you arrange to meet up at a playground. It is conceivable that the parent of one child, once a parent friendship has formed, might tag the other to be “parent on duty” while he or she runs a quick errand.
It is healthy for your children to branch out socially. It is also a good idea to have a working relationship with the friends’ parents.
Several casual conversations should reveal any red flags that might exist for supporting your child’s choice of a friend (and being able to make a friend for yourself out of that parent). You need to be lined up with the other parent on important values to feel that your parenting and theirs can support one another.
For example, do members of the family treat one another with respect? Are you on the same page about reliable drop and pick up times for play dates (and mutally forgiving of lateness)? Do you share similar standards for keeping the children’s clothes clearn? If the friends are doing school work together, are you and the other parent in synch about how much and what kind of help the parent should provide? What crosses the line that you might draw for “cheating” on schoolwork?
Just as you do, the adults your children come in contact with are modelling values in their behavior. You need to feel comfortable enough to allow them into the support network of your parenting village. As a plus, you are reinforcing the value of friendship itself when you model making and maintaining a friendship of your own.
Parent Stand Ins
The nearest adult must be relied upon for many basic needs. If you’re not around, you will be trusting that other parent to monitor your child’s need for food, for getting to the bathroom (and a potential accident), for first aid for cuts and scrapes, and for intervening for fairness between playmates as needed. By the same token, whatever actions you take when you are the parent on duty should be with the understanding that the absent parent would approve.
House rules may be different between friends’ homes, such as what constitutes “parental approval” for video games and other media. You don’t need to have identical stances on everything, however, you need to be able to get past small talk in case trouble arises on your watch or theirs. For example, since a friend is often involved when a youngster first tries alcohol, are you and the other child’s parent in agreement about keeping alcohol under lock and key? (Prevention of underage drinking should be on parents’ radar well before age 12.)
As you truly share parenting your children together, the children benefit from a bigger pool of adults enveloping them in concern and caring.
Instead of being limited to the games, songs, foods, hobbies, life experiences, and interests of only their parents, children who grow up within a village of caring adults gain a wealth of knowledge about the world. Some may plan regular family (and friend) outings to the zoo, the theater, museums, or parks. Others may introduce the friends of their children to braided rugs, making smoothies, juggling, playing the ukulele, baking calzones, or countless other wonders.
A major benefit of having the parents of your children’s friends become friends of your own is that these indivduals are in a similar stage of parenting. They are your peers. You could stay by each other’s side through the ups and downs of parenting for the whole exhilarating ride. With them you can compare childrearing tactics and give ready support in a jam.
Parenting peers are invaluable for advice, for reminders of important events at school or in the community, for having a spare shoe box when one is required for a school project, and for back-up child care.
Through your friendship, you both get to know each other’s children. As friends, you can bring insights to situations to get one another through rough patches. Looking ahead, a strong parenting network is one of the best tools for steering your shared offspring through the turbulent years of adolescence.
Good friendships are vitally important to a meaningful and satisfying life.
The museum is open with online reservations or call: 410-990-1993.
Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.