My Kids' Social Lives Are Important, But So Is Mine — And It's Suffering
My face lit up with excitement the morning I received a text from the father of my daughters’ friend Kylie. He reached out one morning, early, asking if the girls could FaceTime. I could almost feel the desperation in his text message. He and I exchanged the typical parental texts: “What time works best?” “What did you decide to do about this school year—are you sending her to in-person class?” ”Maybe they should talk every day, they enjoyed it.” And with those brief texts, I realized that this conversation was the first I’d had with another adult, socially, other than my wife in two weeks.
I speak daily with my colleagues, of course, but not with my friends. When my daughters figured out how to use the filters on my iPhone while FaceTiming with Kylie before I even knew such filters existed, I knew I needed to get intentional about carving out social time of my own (and perhaps even learn how to use the filters too).
At the start of the pandemic, I checked in with my friends daily, but as it has raged on, I’ve been less inclined to reach out. Maybe it’s because of exhaustion, or maybe it’s because I am usually the one who reaches out to my friends, the one who checks in. “Just saying hi” or “Just wanted to make sure you’re okay,” began most of my text messages. And I am tired.
Lately, what little energy I have goes into making sure my kids stay social, that they remember their friends and connect with them, that they feel connected to other people outside of their family. And so my kids presently have a more active social life than I do.
I value my friendships greatly, but to add another “thing” to my to-do list these days seems impossible. I need to pick and choose where I exert my energy because that well is dry. To add anything else to my overflowing plate, I need to take something else off. And with school starting in just a few days, I plan on doing some rearranging of my priorities. I won’t have a choice. When my kids giggled and discussed between them how funny their conversation with their friend was, a familiar “friend” of my own resurfaced—loneliness.
In Lydia Denworth’s essay in The Atlantic, “What Happens When Kids Don’t See Their Peers for Months,” she says, “Relationships with peers are how kids learn about cooperation, trust, and loyalty, as well as how to not just receive support from their parents, but also give it to others. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and the measures that parents, schools, and governments have put in place to limit its spread, millions of children across the United States are missing out on friendship.”
I don’t want my kids to miss out on building friendships, so FaceTime and afternoon play sessions with kids on our block, for now, give them what they need—at least temporarily. But adults need friendship too. By default, I see my neighbors (the parents of the kids my kids are playing with) a lot more these days. And we are bonding, yes, but it’s different. They aren’t my chosen people and I am not theirs, but we are making it work right now, for the sake of our kids.
What I need is different. I yearn for the physical connections, the welcome hugs, and the shoulder-to-shoulder experience of making dinner together with my best friend. I looked to Google for answers, of course, and searched phrases like “Why it’s important to stay social,” and “new ways to go about socializing during a pandemic”—with no luck or guidance as to how I could change my present social life or improve it in some way. I wanted to be near my friends, have a cocktail over dinner or brunch on a Saturday morning. I found advice geared towards aging adults (which I am, yes, but not yet considered geriatric) or about how to safely gather while staying six feet apart. Nothing practical. Maybe next time I’ll Google “virtual brunch date” and see what pops up.
I have not figured out how to be as intentional about supporting my own social life, which I need—and FaceTime, let’s be honest, isn’t going to cut it no matter how amazing the filters are. My giggles aren’t as cute as my five-year-old twin daughters’. Psychology Today notes, “Human beings are social animals, and the tenor of someone’s social life is one of the most important influences on their mental and physical health.” So, moms, if you’ve figured out a way to socialize with your friends, in a way that works for you, that isn’t on FaceTime, please, drop me a line. I mean, we are all in this together, right?
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