Sunday, September 18, 2011

"I have a 2 year old, you have a 2 year old! Let's be friends!"

Do you ever remember a time as a kid when your parents had a friend with a child the same age as you, so they would invite them both over and say "This is [name], they are the same age as you so you two should get along great, now run along and play"?

I remember this happening quite a few times when I was a child.  I remember it being successful at times, but I also remember it being a complete failure at other times.  Parents do this to children a lot, as if two people will instantly become good friends and have common interests simply by virtue of being the same age.  Strangely enough, we don't just expect this of kids.  Many times we expect two people will become good friends because they have the same sexual orientation, they have the same ethnic background, or they majored in the same thing in University.  People especially expect this magic formula to work out for everyone if they are part of the same marginalized or fringe group as well.

"This is Bob, he's gay too, you will love him!"
"Marcy also majored in English, you two are going to be best friends!"
"I should introduce you to my friend John, he's black too, you guys will have so much in common!"

While sometimes this type of incredibly well meaning matchmaker move works out, a lot of times it doesn't.  Then you not only get to feel awkward, but you get to feel like something must be horribly wrong with you for not feeling a cosmic connection with this other person who is "so much like you."  As someone who has worked within many community groups, I can tell you right now that it takes a lot more than fitting into a few common demographics to create a bond with another person.  People often wonder how there can be drama within organizations or workplaces that have people with the same overall vision, but the fact is, PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT!  It seems so simple, and yet... it's not.

Parenting is a great example of this.

Every week Aias and I attend a number of playgroups in the city.  The people in these playgroups have kids the same age as Aias.  Some of these people are even my age.  By golly, sometimes we even have the same stroller!  Lots of times we have a few things in common, and other times, that's where our similarities end.  I'm nice to all of them and 99% of the time they are nice to me as well, but for some reason I still feel some pressure to take it one step further and befriend these people, as though they are the people I now have to become good friends with because we both have a child the same age.  Sometimes it works out, but mostly it doesn't, leaving me to feel like a socially inept fool.

"I have a 2 year old, you have a 2 year old! Let's be friends!"

It sounds like it could work. Maybe it should work! Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. We see sparks fly on parenting websites and sometimes even in playgroups because we hold this unrealistic expectation that parents will be best friends just because they are parents.  No one would ever round up 100 men from around the world who happen to be the same age and have the same birthday, put them in an auditorium together and expect them all to become friends, so why we expect this to work in other areas of life is beyond me.

This isn't to say it's impossible.  I have actually met a few people since having Aias that I likely would not have met without having had him, and they happen to be people I'd have loved regardless...  I'd just probably never have crossed their path if it weren't for having had a kid.   I've also re-connected with past friends I'd lost touch with and re-established my bond with them and the catalyst for this was us both having children close in age.  What made these friendships flourish and what makes them continue to grow is not and was never the fact that we have kids the same age; it was just their willingness to expose the "non-parent" inside them.

I don't know about you, but when I meet another parent, I'm always curious about who that person really is when they take off their parenting hat. Do they laugh at episodes of The Office/South park/Arrested Development?  Did they used to love going to the Fringe Festival or the VIFF before their nights ended at 8pm?  Do they drink beer, wine, or cocktails? Who are these people... who are they REALLY?  I don't know about you, but when I meet someone at a playgroup, this is the information I desperately want to know.  But is it appropriate to ask these things?  I want to base my friendships on more than the fact that we happened to get knocked up around the same time.

So, who were you BEFORE you had your kid?  How much of that "you" is still kicking around in there?  You see, that's the person I want to know.  It's a bonus if you have a kid the same age as Aias because it means you'll understand why I have bags under my eyes at a playgroup, but it's probably not enough for us to be best friends.  I used to feel bad about this, but now I don't. It's unreasonable for me or anyone to expect friendship and human relationships to be so formulaic.  In fact, I'm happy they aren't.






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