They say it takes a village to raise a child. But that village isn't just populated with people who help raise the kids — it's also populated with those who help hold you, the parent, up through the child-rearing years.
It's awfully ironic, but the very act of adding to the population can, at first, make you feel incredibly lonely. Though it inspires a transcendent, resplendent level of unconditional love, parenting challenges the very fibers with which your sense of self is woven. The compulsion to commiserate with others who are also undergoing this remarkable shift in self-identity is almost overwhelming. You'll find yourself making small talk with almost anyone who asks about your birth story (if you have one), various milestones, or the Darwinian process of gaining admission to better schools. But after 14-plus years of parenting, I've developed a theory I believe holds true, and is important to remember: The best friends you'll make as a parent are the people you would've been friends with before becoming a parent.
Parenting is a rite of passage not unlike the first day of high school or freshman year of college in that, socially, you're starting over as a stranger in a strange land, forced to mingle with other strangers in alien social situations. Before you know it, you're cruising for suitable companions at baby yoga or preschool as you once did on JDate, or in your local pub at 1 a.m. You remain open because you never know when and where you might meet the one.
I met one of my dearest friends when I least expected it, on a crowded F train platform in Manhattan. She had a blonde cherub dangling off of her tall frame in a Baby Bjorn while clutching two enormous Bed Bath & Beyond bags. I was hugely pregnant with cankles you could spot from space. Naturally, we struck up small talk while waiting for the train. There was but one seat left and we spent the next two stops on the ride offering it to each other between bursts of great conversation. I disembarked many stops later with her digits on a scrap of paper crumpled in my pocket.
Though fate intervened, it took a while for us to seal the deal. I was busy with work and late third trimester exhaustion and didn't call her right away. My son showed up three weeks before his due date. The second I scrounged up the bravery to conquer the snowy streets with him there she was, in line in front of me at Starbucks. We wound up chatting there for an hour about being new parents. Fourteen years later, we're still tight, as are our sons. But the reason we're tight has almost nothing to do with them.
Children are designed to take you over completely and, in the tiniest increments of time, leave you with what's left of yourself. It's all too easy to take shelter in being so-and-so's mom, or so-and-so's dad, losing who you were in the process. As the years pass, the bonds that will stand the test of time are forged with those who don't just share your concerns about finding the right stroller or preschool, but with those who get the essence of who you are, and what motivates and moves you at the core.
One of many things my friend and I have in common is that, though we both love our children more than anything on this green Earth, we've also managed to retain something of who we were before we had children. Had we met 10 years prior, we would've hung out at the same comedy shows or concerts, likely finding the same things despicable, absurd, or hilarious. Most importantly, there's a shared sense of loyalty. Through the years we've had each other's back through the deaths of our parents, relationship transitions, and professional triumphs and failures. The values we share have less to do with how we choose to parent and far more to do with the meaning of friendship itself, and how we choose to honor it. I'm convinced this has a lot to do with how we've maintained a close friendship, though our children never went to school together until this year.
Elementary school is the largest exposure you'll have to other parents. In a way, it's like being in high school all over again. Cliques are formed and alliances are forged, as much between the parents as the children. I've seen alarming displays of cut-throat social engineering worthy of a Mean Girls sequel. I've also connected with many people I've come to love and admire. But once your child hits middle school, your community begins to shift, and as your children gain independence you'll have fewer opportunities to meet other parents. By the time your kid gets to high school, you'll have little-to-no idea who the parents of your kids' friends are, and will have to make some effort to find out.
Through all these changes, your alliances will no longer be enhanced by proximity and convenience, and you'll actually have to make time and an effort to retain and honor them. Carving out that time isn't easy for anyone also coping with the demands of children, partners, lifetime friendships, career, and extended family. But when your children grow and you're left with who you've always been, you'll suddenly have enough free time to contemplate your navel again — maybe head out to a concert. I'm so grateful to have a friend I know will want to see the same band.