Q&A: terrified of preschool social scene

Christy writes:

"With the upcoming school year approaching I was hoping to get you andperhaps your wonderful commenters to help me through something. My daughter (who just turned three) is starting preschool in September and I’m so incredibly nervous. Not for HER. For ME. This child is one of the most outgoing, excited, adventurous little people on planet earth and she wants so much to be out of the house and exploring with other kids. (For some back round- she was in home daycare until she was 13 months and I’ve been home with her since. Aside from a couple of gym classes, this will be her first real classroom experience with lots of other kids.) I certainly don’t expect perfection but I know she’ll do great. So onto me. I don’t have an easy time making friends and parent involvement is a big part of the preschool we chose. I did this on purpose because I know I have to make the leap into the league of  “preschooler parents”, but I truly am scared shitless. I really don’t have any other mom friends my age (late 20’s) and I feel so intimidated by the whole process. I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for here…maybe an idea of what other moms look for in their “parent friends” or some helpful preschool parent etiquette? I certainly don’t want to use my child to gain a social life but it would be nice to feel comfortable with a couple other moms to share the experience of life with a 3 year old. ANY advice surrounding this topic would really help ease me in to preschool life!"

I think making friends is a system. People who do it naturally don't think of it as a system, but it's something that can be learned. I'll break it down into the steps I can think of, and if anyone else thinks of more, please add them.

1. Be yourself. Your mother's been saying it for years, but she's right. You have a ton of outstanding qualities that would make people want to be your friend, whether you're shy or loud, an optimist or a pessimist, snarky or earnest, or you like dark chocolate or milk chocolate. People want to be around people who are comfortable with themselves, so make no apologies, let your freak flag fly, and be who you are.

2. Pick the right school for you and your child. This all goes back to #1, which is that you have to be able to be who you hare. If you've gotten yourself into a school in which everyone else is waaay different from you, you're going to feel like the odd woman out all the time.

If your interests are in sustainable agriculture and environmentalism, then you probably won't be super-happy at a school in which everyone drives Denalis or Canyoneros or whatever the hugest SUV is. If you like lots of structure then the crunchy preschool where the only curriculum is running around and painting each other purple may not be the place you're going to find bosom friends. That doesn't mean you focus on externals, because the mom wearing the Motorhead T-Shirt and the mom in heels and a suit for work could be best friends because they just click, but if you find displays of wealth crass and your preschool is a feeder school for the cast of Gossip Girl, then things may not be a great fit.

3. Join up, in a way you feel comfortable with. The best way to get to know other parents is to be around other parents. So volunteering is a good way to meet people. But pick something that you'll at least halfway enjoy doing. Maybe you want to help sort and label books for the library, or plan fundraisers or put together information packets or do the newsletter. All of these things are giving you opportunities to talk (or email with) other parents. I definitely believe that 90% of life is showing up, so pick something and keep showing up.

4. Take it off site. After a couple of sessions of sorting permission slips or editing copy, you can suggest that you take it off school grounds or off email. "I could use some caffeine. Do you want to get a cup of coffee?" Memorize it, then use it.

5. It's for the children! If #4 scares you too much, then turn it into a playdate. "Poindexter comes home every day talking about Tigerlily. It sounds like they like to play together a lot. Do you guys want to come over on Saturday at 10 for a playdate?" Because then it's not about you, it's about the kids. But you'll be talking and getting to know each other. Unless the playdate ends in violence, you'll probably have another one.

6. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Sometimes it's easier to approach someone if it's kind of a group thing. Plus, if you end up not really clicking with one person, there are a couple of others to mitigate at that, and maybe you'll click with one of them. You can approach it as a group playdate (outside works really well for groups of kids) or as a kind of "parents night out" kind of thing.

Anyone have anything else?