What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Rachel Roth Tapling who blogs at Rachel Roth Tapling.
The other night I was chopping up cantaloupe for dinner and bringing my husband up to speed on the latest. The latest being the mom-friend-drama I was navigating (Hey. He asked about my day. Sometimes he describes Fantasy Football trades for 87 minutes when I ask him about his. He can manage this.). And suddenly his face lit up. “Hey! That’s awesome!”
I was confused. This wasn’t the proper response to the part of the story I was telling. I rewound the lines in my head, and stopped chopping. “What do you mean, awesome?” I asked. For heaven’s sake. If I can manage to keep blinking and nodding while he talks NFL stats at me, the least he can do is respond with the correct emotions as I weave my tale.
He looked at me. “What your friend said! That sounds like an olive branch.”
I stared. I ate some cantaloupe. I shifted my eyes and feet. “That’s……not how I interpreted it.”
He made eye contact. “Oh. Well, maybe I read it wrong. You were there…..um…so, what did you ….say?”
I made the clenched-teeth emoji face.
What I want you to know about differing parenting styles between friends is that its okay for them to be different.
I think that ideally, mom-friends are a safe space in which to learn about and negotiate boundaries between different parenting philosophies. Because of course, there are as many parenting styles and tactics as there are parents.
I mean, I change my mind on things at least weekly, so that’s in the mix as well. #keepingitfresh
Here’s what I had been wading through: My current circle has become so close in the last year (the very best thing to happen in 2016- worldwide, I think) that we’ve built up a protective hedge.
But our children have evolved now to have something of a sibling dynamic, and we don’t agree on everything.
My preschooler is intense. And I say this as an emotional and intense person myself. Game recognize game (or issues, as it were). This isn’t always the best bundle to bring to a play date.
Also, my kids have guns. Not like, real guns, but Nerf guns. And swords. And another of my sister-friends has a hard rule against them. And I get it.
If I had had my wherewithal when I was 24 and had just given birth to my first child, I may have instituted a similar ban. Really though, its the kind of thing you have to have decided pretty quickly and then hold tight to with conviction.
It was like one second I pushed the baby out of my vagina, and the next literally everyone I knew was buying him Nerf weapons, and he got really obsessed with medieval armor and renaissance festivals. It happened sometime after weaning, I think, and before preschool- honestly its a blur.
Then there’s the business of personality, allergies, and special needs. Finding friends with whom your particular cocktail of crazy mixes smoothly with theirs is the new dating. And as far as I know, there’s no tinder for it yet*
(*update- there kind of IS! Check out https://www.girlfriendcircles.com/ )
Its not just that we are all constantly negotiating our own parenting “yes’s” and “no’s”, its that they are shifting and evolving as our kids are.
Something that works now may be a disaster in two weeks.
The vegetable your kids can all finally eat may bring out hives in your best friend’s kid.
The one parent you know in play group who understands what its like to have a child on the spectrum may also be the one you connect with the least.
Honestly, though, I have friends who are child development specialists, friends with PhD’s in child psychology, friends with over a decade of teaching experience, friends who raised their siblings,friends who can set a broken arm, and NO ONE believes they have this all figured out.
Not a one hasn’t lost their shit in a public space, considered joining the circus to get away, temporarily declared war on instagram, and done the mental gymnastics to try to orchestrate living in a commune.
I mean, I suppose there are women out there who do feel that they have parenting handled, but I don’t know them and wouldn’t be friends with them if I did.
Right now, I feel icky and twitchy and suppress both the urge to ignore the bits that are uncomfortable and also the urge to brandish my feelings as weapons. Instead of taking fearlessly to Facebook messenger after perhaps a glass of wine or two, I probably am going to have to listen, lay down my weapons (often nerf, though sometimes sharper ones like jealousy, defensiveness and arrogance), and allow for more growth, more change. We are here to learn from each other. Huh.
So we talked. I worked to be less insulted when my kid needs space rather than a playdate, or when he isn’t blending well. I will enforce the ban on violence (with play weapons, sticks, celery, etc) when we are together.
A little peace is not a bad thing.
Not all friendships last forever, and not all children are able to get along. I know this
Sometimes, with Mom-Friend-Drama, you may think on it and decide to let space fill itself in and send her on her way. Go with God, just not with me, you know? It happens.
Sometimes you both need a beat.
Sometimes the season is done.
But I know I don’t want this with these friends. We may not always need each other, but we do now. And research backs this up, amazingly and with great gusto:
“We have a doctor in one article in The New York Times saying; if I have a patient who is a chain smoker, obese and, lonely and I want to do something, the most important thing for that patient’s health, I’m going to get her to make friends. That will have a bigger impact on her health than the smoking and obesity. If you feel disconnected or don’t feel supported, it’s as damaging to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. They can actually see the results of the impact. It’s twice as harmful as being obese and it does the the equivalent of damage in our bodies as being a lifelong alcoholic..”
This is a season of life that demands a support system more like a coven or spider web than a few names to call in case of emergency.
I do need someone I can reach out to if I can’t make carpool, but today I probably also need someone to come talk me through my existential laundry crisis, loan me a breast pump, bring tampons to a BBQ, or for whom I would give my last cup of coffee. We’re sistering. We’re circling. We’re managing.
I am here to report that many differences can be managed.
I am proof that vastly different backgrounds and upbringings can serve to enrich the friendship. I am here to encourage everyone to start an ongoing text conversation where you can share the important things that aren’t 100% appropriate for the general public.
I may have missed the olive branch the first time, but it’s worth it to me to go back and find it. Next time, I’ll have one ready at jump. I’ll just walk around with one. What else would I be carrying? Nerf weapons?
I’m here for the drama, because I’m a better parent and person by learning from my circle. I’m here for the health of it, the chaos of it, the support of it, the forgiveness within its hedges.
I’m here for it all.