On Halloween, I perched on a pint-sized chair in my son’s classroom, quietly eavesdropping on the conversations around me. Topics under discussion ranged from sleep problems to eating habits, trick-or-treating routes to stores that sell good kids’ costumes.
I had intended to meet some other parents — to be brave, extend a hand, and introduce myself — but as I listened to this chit-chat I wanted to crawl under my tiny seat. I flash-backed to those years on the playground with my toddler son, when I’d spend a couple of hours keeping an eye on the boy as he explored the play equipment, all the while making various forms of small-talk with other parents about his nap schedule, his diet, my thoughts on school options, my opinions on diapers. Afterward, I’d push the stroller home feeling pent-up and trapped. On many days, those slim hours at the playground marked my only time to socialize with other adults, and what did we talk about? Only our kids. In situations like this, a stay-at-home parent’s world can feel small real fast.
And so I ask you, parents: must we always talk parenting?
Believe me, I try to extend the conversation whenever I can. “What do you have planned for the weekend?” I asked one mom at the party.
“We have gymnastics class, and then a birthday party, and then there’s swimming, and then a playdate, so our Saturday is pretty packed.”
“Yeah, but what about you?” I said.
As in: what did she, as an adult with an individual personality and life from her child, do for fun when she’s not with her kid? Does she have a date planned with her partner, or an outing with friends, a movie that she’s looking forward to streaming after her child falls asleep, a meal that she’s excited to cook, anything?! Instead, the mom looked confused, as if her kid’s schedule for the weekend was her schedule too, which made me sad.
It takes effort being an individual and not just a cog in the family machine, to be an adult as well as a parent. I see that as part of the work of parenting. I’m happy to know that I’m not alone in this. All of the friends I connect with on a parenting level are also people that I share interests with outside of our kids. We talk books and movies, cooking and dining out, culture and politics, or just dish about this and that.
I’m a parent, of course. But not only a parent. And so, with that in mind, I present a short primer in parent-to-parent etiquette, a guide in how to talk to other parents without being rude, overbearing, or just plain boring.
Even Parents Need to Follow Good Etiquette! 1 of 9
Click on to find out some basic rules for socializing with other parents.
Don’t Just Talk About Your Kids. 2 of 9
This is the first and most important rule. It's ok to talk about sleep difficulties, dietary worries, potty problems, or other such hot-topic parental fodder, but here's the thing: don't ONLY talk about these things. Otherwise, you turn into a bore.
Think of it this way when you go out for drinks or lunch with a colleague, doesn't it get tiring to just talk about the office?
Give yourself twenty minutes or so of parenting chatter and then change tracks. What else is going on your life? This could be as light as talking television, or as deep as dishing about relationships and sex. Whatever the case, don't obsess over your kids.
And please, don't talk about shopping for your kids. This is the height of banality.
Don’t Ignore Either the Parent or Your Child. 3 of 9
When hanging out with both a kid and the kid's parent, you have two groups to entertain. It's cool to play toys with the kids for a little while, but don't forget about the other adult you're hanging out with. Similarly, don't ignore the kids, especially if there's a conflict or they're not behaving themselves properly. I hate when I'm talking to a parent and their kid is going nuts but they keep nattering on as if nothing's happening. Be a parent! And then, when all is cool, be an adult. It's not easy being both, but come on! We're parents, that's what we do.
If You’re Having a Playdate or Party, Provide Beverages and Food for the Adults Too. 4 of 9
Once, I went to a birthday party where the kids got pizza for lunch. You know what the adults got? To watch their kids eating pizza for lunch. I left grumpy and hungry.
If you're providing snacks or lunch for the kids, provide some for the grown-ups too. And while you're at it, how about tossing in a beer or Bloody Mary or something? It's bad enough that I have to spend my Saturday afternoon having out with twenty-odd four-year-olds hyped on grease and sugar, I could at least get a little buzz while I'm doing it.
Again, think if you were having a bunch of adults over to your place. You wouldn't just offer them water, would you?
Sometimes, You Have to Relax your Parenting Rules when Hanging out with Other Folks. 5 of 9
Every afternoon, your kid eats whole wheat organic crackers with no sugar, but his little buddy gets sugary Pop Tarts for snack. You can either make a stink about it, or go with the flow — I say you do the latter. When in Rome, right?
Again, make this an adult situation. A buddy asks if you want a beer and then comes back with a Bud Light. Even if you usually drink craft beer, you'd never say, "I don't want that crap!" Right?
No, you'd be polite and accept that when in at another person's house different rules and preferences apply. Unless your kid has severe food allergies, the same goes with playdates. And if there is a problem, just be cool about it. "He's going right to bed when we go home, so we're going to pass on the chocolate right now. Thanks anyway!"
Don’t Overstay Your Welcome. 6 of 9
Kids rarely know their limits. They can play for hours! That doesn't mean you need to let them. When the conversation is running dry, it's time to say your goodbyes. Remember, your host might have other things that he or she wants to do with the day.
Besides, I think it's best to get out of a playdate before the kids reach their limit with one another. Leaving on a "I'm sad to go" note is much better than leaving because someone the tykes became tired and rammy and someone got punched in the eye.
You Don’t HAVE to Stay with Your Kid. 7 of 9
What do you do when your kid likes another kid, but you don't hit it off with that other kid's parent? Arrange for drop-offs instead of play-dates. Drop-offs are the only kind of socializing I had when growing up. My folks were busy, they didn't want to spend their afternoon hanging out with my friend's parents! With tots this isn't possible, but as soon as your kid gets to be old enough to say goodbye to you in school and behave him or herself without constant supervision, then the time is right.
I think it's good for a child to have his or her own friends, and not feel like they have friends together with their parents. This helps in differentiating.
Never Get Competitive. 8 of 9
I shouldn't have to add this, but I will. It is never ever cool to get competitive about your child's development, achievements, or skills. That doesn't mean you don't shine a light on your kid and the cool things your kid is capable of, but be mindful of your tone. Everyone develops at their own speed, and certain skills come faster to some than others.
Similarly, don't lord it over someone if you do cool things like go out on dates every other night, or take lavish vacations. You wouldn't brag about your salary or compare bank accounts, right? This a fundamental of good etiquette in every situation, which is why it bears repeating.
Clean Up When You Go. 9 of 9
Or at least offer to tidy up, just as you would if someone has you over to their house for dinner or coffee. "Please let me help with the dishes," is always a nice thing to say and hear. Be gracious if the host says no it's wonderful to be taken care of! But at least ask if you can chip in and clean up, and then make sure that your kid helps too. Remember, you're not just practicing good manners yourself, but you're modeling them for your little one.