Is this mom's social ineptitude holding back her daughter?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 7, 2009 06:00 AM

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Barbara, I don't quite understand how social activities in 6-year-olds work. I let my child lead, with me doing some of the actual arrangements. For example, she'll say she wants to play with Sally; I'll call Sally's parents to try and set that up.

I am finding it hard to schedule playdates. I am beginning to wonder if the ease of setting up a playdate with someone else's child is directly related to MY social acquaintance with the parents. It seems that people default to setting up playdates with their friend's children rather than kids they meet at school. When she has playdates, the parents do always rave about how fabulous she was and how well the kids played together so I really don't think its a problem with poor behavior on her end. On our end, we have a safe home, supervise playdates and offer snacks. I feel we initiate most of the play date offers. Are my lack of friends hurting her social life? When do kids take the lead on their social life?

From: Shy parent, Wellesley

Hi Shy,

I think in these early years -- that is preschool, K and first grade -- when parents tend to accompany their child on the playdate, at least in the beginning, it is true that parents tend to gravitate to people they know already. Or put another way, when parents are comfortable with each other and there is a relationship among them, the playdates tend to follow. So, yes, your lack of social ease could be influencing the invitations she receives especially since some mothers can have small friendship groups that, unwittingly or not, become exclusionary.

This will start to change soon, maybe later this year or early next year, when girls -- and boys -- begin to develop friendships that are separate from or beyond the ones their parents have facilitated. That will work to your advantage. Meanwhile:

Reach out to the teacher, tell her your dilemma. It wouldn't be the first time a teacher played matchmaker for the moms. (When my son was in kindergarten, I asked the teacher if there was a classmate she'd recommend for a playmate. I remember very clearly that she said, "Yes, and I think you could be friends with the mom, too." She was right. We're best friends. Still.)

Reach out to a parent who seems approachable and whose child your child enjoys. Invite her to coffee one morning after you drop the kids off.

Make a point to linger at drop-off or pick-up and get up the courage to insert yourself into a conversation group.

Invite one or two moms to your house while the daughters play.

By the way, Wellesley has a wonderful resource for mothers, the Wellesley Mothers' Forum. (I've spoken there a number of times.) Try it!

Lastly, I want to say that what you are experiencing is not unique; many women feel the same way. I hope we hear from some of them here.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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9 comments so far...
  1. The best way for me to break into social circles in my town has been to join volunteer groups, starting with the PTA (called a PAC in our school system). I work FT so I missed out on some of the earliest socialization among mom whose kids went to the same pre-school, mom's morning out group, etc. Meeting other parents when we have something specific to do (man a bake sale table, sell raffle tickets, etc.) is less awkward than just attempting idle chit-chat, and from the PAC and other volunteer groups (garden club, religious education, etc.) I have formed true friendships that have flourished outside of those groups. It can seem like everyone already knows each other even in K/early elementary school and that's not really the case, you just need to put yourself out there a bit and you'll eventually meet other parents like you and in time, those will turn into friendships.

    Posted by Jen October 7, 09 08:44 AM
  1. One of the Confidential Chatters told me, years ago, that asking another mom for a playdate for the kids felt like asking someone out of on date - anxiety over possible rejection, you didn't know what they'd say. I felt that way. I also felt I had nothing in common with the other parents, other than being a parent with a similar-aged child. But I forced myself, inviting children over to our place, and not expecting a return - which did, indeed come. I was such a nervous parent with other parents!// I will say, with all respect to Jen, that joing groups, even school volunteer groups, did not help me at all - many of the parents were snobby, and if you didn't have the bucks to donate, they'd neglect you. Also, there were majorly power struggles in the PTO & etc.// My solution is the one given to many depressed parents - put yourself out there on the line, take the risj, ask and ye shall receive, and remember, most of all, this is for your child, not you.// Birthday parties remainded problematic. The then-principal, who went through the same issue when her children were young, knew what it was like for a child not to be invited. So she encouraged parents to make all-girl b-day parties (inviting ALL the girls from the class), all boy b-day parties (inviting ALL the boys from the class), or a class-wide party. But to never, ever, leave a child out. This can get costly, but parents of small children tend to be creative about throwing a great party and saving money. Still, who could compete with the parents who managed to get a section of a public park closed off, and hired a pony?// I am THE most socially-inept when it comes to dealing with other parents - if I can do it, you can, too. But the only way your child will suffer would be over behavioral issues, or the kids just don't get along. Don't be hard on yourself - so many of us have been there with you :) // Also, don't look for friends for you child just from the local park or school - my daughter's made great friends from day camp and art school!

    Posted by reindeergirl October 7, 09 02:40 PM
  1. I think the Wellesley Mothers' Forum is a fabulous suggestion, especially for those who have younger kids. It's a great way to meet other moms in all walks of life and to become more involved in your community.

    If readers are from Newton or interested in Newton groups, there is an equivalent group in Newton - Newton Mothers' Forum: www.newtonmoms.com. It's a wonderful organization and both my two young children and I have found fabulous friends via the playgroups and Moms' Night Out events!

    Posted by Megan October 7, 09 05:08 PM
  1. Still, after all this time, the last thing I want to do is hang out with other moms based on the premise that we are moms - I don't want mom-ness as the base of the soup. Can your daughter have friends without that? Sure! Just try a little harder; be friendly and warm to both the other mom and her child (offer mom coffee and cake, etc., when she comes for pick-up), and tell mom "any time" for a play date if the children got on well. Say it anyway; you can always excuse later if they didn't get on well (unless the children fought, which is unlikely).

    I don't feel for a "socially-inept" person that groups are the answer. It can be like throwing someone who can't swim into the deep end of the swimming pool. Stop trying to force this on us, other moms. Some of us do better with colleagues, and anyone else but other parents. We'll pull our weight on PTO and such because it benefits the schools and the children, but you can't force people to like each other. We don't all want to be the homecoming queens of the elementary schools. I'm a philology grad student, I find that far more stimulating than mom-talk.

    However, we can help each other when it comes to dealing with school issues and taking pro-active approaches to ineffectual administrators and teachers, & etc. But I've met more than one mom that wanted to be poster-parent for magazines like Parents - boooooooring!

    Posted by reindeergirl October 7, 09 08:14 PM
  1. BTW - The same goes for any like-minded group. I know absolutely brilliant people that won't join MENSA, because one thing unites them all.

    Posted by reindeergirl October 7, 09 08:15 PM
  1. I, too, have young children and feel that I am completely socially defunct when it comes to meeting new moms, joining mom groups, or reaching out to other moms for playdates etc...I have always been shy and much more comfortable in one-on-one settings as opposed to group gatherings. I never had a problem socially until I became a stay-at-home mom and moved into a new town. Many people have encouraged me to join mothers' groups and I have gone on a few group gatherings but I found the experience to be painful/difficult. I have 3 children (5, 3.5, and 2) which makes it virtually impossible to chat/socialize...I am too busy keeping up with my children...However, not making a bond with other moms has had a pronounced effect on me. I feel isolated and lonely...I also worry that others see it as such a negative that I have not found a group of moms. Many people have said that I should join something for the sake of my children which makes me feel guilty/worse for not doing so...I would love to hear if other moms of multiple children have experienced the same difficulties. Should I pressure myself more to get out there more or is this just a normal part of motherhood that passes eventually?

    Posted by momofthree October 7, 09 11:30 PM
  1. I don't want to hang out with other women just because we are both moms, but it's a great opening to get to know others. My kids are now 9 and 7. Over the years, I've made a handful of good friends, and have met lots of women who are perfectly nice, but we just never really clicked.

    If you approach the other moms with a chip on your shoulder that they arent' worthy of being your friend, you wont' make friends. You may only really click with one out of 50, but if you don't make the effort, you won't find out that there's the one who is a lot like you.

    Posted by akmom October 8, 09 08:50 AM
  1. Speaking from experience, I can say that breaking into a new group of friends for yourself or your daughter can be more difficult than usual in Wellesley. If you are a working mother, it becomes even more difficult. After speaking with some of the the teachers at my child's school, I came to agree with an observation one of them pointed out. If the parents don't talk to each other at gatherings (ex. at pick-up or drop-off time, school events), the kids notice this and follow their parent's lead. So, if you aren't talking with other parents, the kids won't talk and hang out with each other. I had a play date with other kids once a week almost every week for 4 years and hardly ever got one in return. Same deal, kids got along, good behaviour, etc. The parents would drop them off in the driveway and leave, not a word of hello or anything. I felt like I was being used as a free babysitter. You need to really make an effort, join any and every group you can and just suck it up for the kid's sake and hopefully it will eventually pay off with friends for your kid and yourself.

    Posted by smush October 8, 09 09:52 AM
  1. Keep in mind some parents that aren't social don't care (as opposed to majority of people here commenting) that they aren't social. So I wouldn't take it personally if they don't seem so friendly when dropping their kid off or don't return the playdate offer until the 3rd or 4th time. But if the kids really enjoy each other's company, that's the important part. We've known some families in a superficial way for years, which is awkward and tiring, but I know my son really appreciates those long-time friends that HE can be comfortable around.

    Plus, my son has tolerated plenty of office parties and dinner invitations to MY friends' houses where's he's been expected to socialize with kids he didn't have much in common with. Being part of a family means being a good sport, and that goes for both kids and parents!

    Posted by Middle of the road Mom October 8, 09 01:27 PM
 
9 comments so far...
  1. The best way for me to break into social circles in my town has been to join volunteer groups, starting with the PTA (called a PAC in our school system). I work FT so I missed out on some of the earliest socialization among mom whose kids went to the same pre-school, mom's morning out group, etc. Meeting other parents when we have something specific to do (man a bake sale table, sell raffle tickets, etc.) is less awkward than just attempting idle chit-chat, and from the PAC and other volunteer groups (garden club, religious education, etc.) I have formed true friendships that have flourished outside of those groups. It can seem like everyone already knows each other even in K/early elementary school and that's not really the case, you just need to put yourself out there a bit and you'll eventually meet other parents like you and in time, those will turn into friendships.

    Posted by Jen October 7, 09 08:44 AM
  1. One of the Confidential Chatters told me, years ago, that asking another mom for a playdate for the kids felt like asking someone out of on date - anxiety over possible rejection, you didn't know what they'd say. I felt that way. I also felt I had nothing in common with the other parents, other than being a parent with a similar-aged child. But I forced myself, inviting children over to our place, and not expecting a return - which did, indeed come. I was such a nervous parent with other parents!// I will say, with all respect to Jen, that joing groups, even school volunteer groups, did not help me at all - many of the parents were snobby, and if you didn't have the bucks to donate, they'd neglect you. Also, there were majorly power struggles in the PTO & etc.// My solution is the one given to many depressed parents - put yourself out there on the line, take the risj, ask and ye shall receive, and remember, most of all, this is for your child, not you.// Birthday parties remainded problematic. The then-principal, who went through the same issue when her children were young, knew what it was like for a child not to be invited. So she encouraged parents to make all-girl b-day parties (inviting ALL the girls from the class), all boy b-day parties (inviting ALL the boys from the class), or a class-wide party. But to never, ever, leave a child out. This can get costly, but parents of small children tend to be creative about throwing a great party and saving money. Still, who could compete with the parents who managed to get a section of a public park closed off, and hired a pony?// I am THE most socially-inept when it comes to dealing with other parents - if I can do it, you can, too. But the only way your child will suffer would be over behavioral issues, or the kids just don't get along. Don't be hard on yourself - so many of us have been there with you :) // Also, don't look for friends for you child just from the local park or school - my daughter's made great friends from day camp and art school!

    Posted by reindeergirl October 7, 09 02:40 PM
  1. I think the Wellesley Mothers' Forum is a fabulous suggestion, especially for those who have younger kids. It's a great way to meet other moms in all walks of life and to become more involved in your community.

    If readers are from Newton or interested in Newton groups, there is an equivalent group in Newton - Newton Mothers' Forum: www.newtonmoms.com. It's a wonderful organization and both my two young children and I have found fabulous friends via the playgroups and Moms' Night Out events!

    Posted by Megan October 7, 09 05:08 PM
  1. Still, after all this time, the last thing I want to do is hang out with other moms based on the premise that we are moms - I don't want mom-ness as the base of the soup. Can your daughter have friends without that? Sure! Just try a little harder; be friendly and warm to both the other mom and her child (offer mom coffee and cake, etc., when she comes for pick-up), and tell mom "any time" for a play date if the children got on well. Say it anyway; you can always excuse later if they didn't get on well (unless the children fought, which is unlikely).

    I don't feel for a "socially-inept" person that groups are the answer. It can be like throwing someone who can't swim into the deep end of the swimming pool. Stop trying to force this on us, other moms. Some of us do better with colleagues, and anyone else but other parents. We'll pull our weight on PTO and such because it benefits the schools and the children, but you can't force people to like each other. We don't all want to be the homecoming queens of the elementary schools. I'm a philology grad student, I find that far more stimulating than mom-talk.

    However, we can help each other when it comes to dealing with school issues and taking pro-active approaches to ineffectual administrators and teachers, & etc. But I've met more than one mom that wanted to be poster-parent for magazines like Parents - boooooooring!

    Posted by reindeergirl October 7, 09 08:14 PM
  1. BTW - The same goes for any like-minded group. I know absolutely brilliant people that won't join MENSA, because one thing unites them all.

    Posted by reindeergirl October 7, 09 08:15 PM
  1. I, too, have young children and feel that I am completely socially defunct when it comes to meeting new moms, joining mom groups, or reaching out to other moms for playdates etc...I have always been shy and much more comfortable in one-on-one settings as opposed to group gatherings. I never had a problem socially until I became a stay-at-home mom and moved into a new town. Many people have encouraged me to join mothers' groups and I have gone on a few group gatherings but I found the experience to be painful/difficult. I have 3 children (5, 3.5, and 2) which makes it virtually impossible to chat/socialize...I am too busy keeping up with my children...However, not making a bond with other moms has had a pronounced effect on me. I feel isolated and lonely...I also worry that others see it as such a negative that I have not found a group of moms. Many people have said that I should join something for the sake of my children which makes me feel guilty/worse for not doing so...I would love to hear if other moms of multiple children have experienced the same difficulties. Should I pressure myself more to get out there more or is this just a normal part of motherhood that passes eventually?

    Posted by momofthree October 7, 09 11:30 PM
  1. I don't want to hang out with other women just because we are both moms, but it's a great opening to get to know others. My kids are now 9 and 7. Over the years, I've made a handful of good friends, and have met lots of women who are perfectly nice, but we just never really clicked.

    If you approach the other moms with a chip on your shoulder that they arent' worthy of being your friend, you wont' make friends. You may only really click with one out of 50, but if you don't make the effort, you won't find out that there's the one who is a lot like you.

    Posted by akmom October 8, 09 08:50 AM
  1. Speaking from experience, I can say that breaking into a new group of friends for yourself or your daughter can be more difficult than usual in Wellesley. If you are a working mother, it becomes even more difficult. After speaking with some of the the teachers at my child's school, I came to agree with an observation one of them pointed out. If the parents don't talk to each other at gatherings (ex. at pick-up or drop-off time, school events), the kids notice this and follow their parent's lead. So, if you aren't talking with other parents, the kids won't talk and hang out with each other. I had a play date with other kids once a week almost every week for 4 years and hardly ever got one in return. Same deal, kids got along, good behaviour, etc. The parents would drop them off in the driveway and leave, not a word of hello or anything. I felt like I was being used as a free babysitter. You need to really make an effort, join any and every group you can and just suck it up for the kid's sake and hopefully it will eventually pay off with friends for your kid and yourself.

    Posted by smush October 8, 09 09:52 AM
  1. Keep in mind some parents that aren't social don't care (as opposed to majority of people here commenting) that they aren't social. So I wouldn't take it personally if they don't seem so friendly when dropping their kid off or don't return the playdate offer until the 3rd or 4th time. But if the kids really enjoy each other's company, that's the important part. We've known some families in a superficial way for years, which is awkward and tiring, but I know my son really appreciates those long-time friends that HE can be comfortable around.

    Plus, my son has tolerated plenty of office parties and dinner invitations to MY friends' houses where's he's been expected to socialize with kids he didn't have much in common with. Being part of a family means being a good sport, and that goes for both kids and parents!

    Posted by Middle of the road Mom October 8, 09 01:27 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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