One Reason Modern Parent Friendships are so Difficult

Look up! Look up!

A young child’s third birthday party. An hour away. The whole family attends. It’s a hot Sunday in June and the playground sprinklers aren’t working. The bathroom is not close by. The entire day is organized around the party, even though the event itself is only a few hours long.

You play Frisbee with your older child and respond to incessant demands from your younger for water or for getting sunscreen out of her eyes or for putting her shoes on or off or her bathing suit on or off even though you keep explaining that the sprinklers aren’t working anyway. You eat pizza and cake. Your gluten-free husband grows increasingly hungry and irritable. By now he should know to pack something to eat for these kinds of outings. This is a source of minor tension.

You chat briefly with the hosts—your good friend from college and her husband whom you’ve known for a long time—but more with parents you’ve never met of kids you’ve never met. The kids attend the same daycare as the birthday girl or maybe they are in swimming class together at the Y.  

At the end you try to take a picture of your kids and the birthday girl but all three are looking down at their goody bags. You remind them that the last time they saw each other was at the pirate ship playground. The oldest one thinks he remembers. This is a really good friend of mine from college, you tell them. They are figuring out that the Peppa Pig ring is really a lollipop.

You fight on the train ride home about how much of the goody bag candy they are allowed to eat. They already had all that cake. But the train is super crowded and you’re not sitting down.

Once you get back to your neighborhood you spend an hour pushing the stroller in the heat to get your younger child to fall asleep. Otherwise the rest of the afternoon will be torture. Finally she does sleep. The Peppa Pig ring lollipop falls to the ground. A late nap means bedtime will be pushed back. You’ll lose a couple hours of time you need to work tonight. 


  1. I think that the vignette you paint has a lot to do with city life, rather than suburban life. Jumping in an AC car for a ten-minute ride is not the same as long schleps on the subway. Also, on hot days, there is indoor space, or easily accessible pools at many non-city places. So your vignette might not resonate as much with non-city folk.

  2. Good point. I'm curious to hear what non-city-dwellers think. I also guess many people just "opt out" of these kinds of hangouts (where naps/meals/worktimes are so disrupted) with young children, or limit them to nearby parties, thereby either forcing the one-on-one adult hangout or going for long stretches without seeing close friends.

  3. This resonated with me, even here in suburbia. But I kept thinking, what stamina! What a hero! Schlepping the whole family on the train in the heat... and then walking around afterward for an hour to get the youngest to nap. Wow! Confession: I recently opted out of a family member's birthday party because it began right at nap time. I think what kills me the most about these events is "the entire day is organized around the party" and you essentially lose that whole day. You draw such a perfect picture! And you made me laugh. I could feel it, sticky lollipop and all.

  4. Oh I don't know if it's all that heroic - the city schlep. But I think the exertion does mean you have to be super judicious about which parties you attend. I used to think the parents who opted-out of naptime parties were a bit selfish or whatever but now I *totally* understand and in fact think it makes sense it many cases. What's tricky about it is after a day given over, you end up not seeing that friend again for a while because it feels like you have to balance things out. But what did either of you really gain from that interaction.

  5. I love this vignette. The second-person you, which is so hard to do, makes this resonate, not only as your story, but as everyone's. (Which is totally the point of using second-person, right? And you nailed it!) I think what grabs me the most is the disconnected connections at these parties. Your good friend from college, her husband, their child, your children...all of it. Yet, you (we, me) end up talking to relative strangers who we will never see again, and form shaky, temporary bonds with them. The kids are out of focus, the stress, the time,the planning, and then it all evaporates and the day is gone. This is so well-written and resonated with me on lots of levels.

  6. The disconnected connections...our lives are full of them...full to the brim with them...not enough emptiness or space to allow real connection. I wanted to put into the story (but couldn't figure out where) that by chance I'd been able to see this friend for a brief 20 minutes the week before the party, and it was then that we talked and laughed about the awkwardness and tension about planning a party and whether to risk too much food or not enough (generally better too much of course but I've been at parties where the over-flowing bowls of chips had such a sad air to them) and how we were displacing all our own hang-ups into the child's party (one reason I didn't start throwing them for W until I absolutely had to around 4). Anyway, this was a random meetup because I was walking by her job, and that was where the real connection was able to happen. But the planned get-togethers rarely allow for it.

    Shaky, temporary bonds = perfect way to describe those other interactions Amie! And the kids out-of-focus. Thanks for the kind, kind supportive words (that go beyond what the vignette deserves but I will gratefully accept).


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