Q&A: How does a WOH parent help her child build friendships?

Amy writes:

"I’m employed full-time outside the home. I have one4-year-old daughter. I drop her off at preschool three days a week, but I’m not able to pick her up (12:30 dismissal). My mom picks her up and cares for her at our home in the afternoons. We chose a preschool – and a neighborhood community -- that mostly self-selects for families with one parent at home, so we are definitely in the minority.

So far, my mom has been wonderful about accepting a few playdates here and there, and has hosted once or twice. However, she’s recently raised some concerns about noticing how the other mothers and kids are really bonding after school. Lots of playdates and swimming pool dates, etc, happening. Everyone loves my mom, but there are two issues: one, my mom really doesn’t have the energy to maintain a big, active social life for her granddaughter (nor an overwhelming desire to forge deep friendships with the “young” moms). Two, I think the other mothers just connect with each other differently than with a grandmother (she’s only 58, but I imagine they just don’t feel the same about reaching out).

My daughter’s current social data points: she is well-liked by the other kids at school, and seems to be creating some specific friendships. Outside of school, she spends a lot of time with her (boy) cousin, who’s a year younger –they play well, but they fight like siblings and have pretty different interests overall. She doesn’t have a sibling in the house, and is pretty demanding with the adults around her, wanting lots of imaginary play all day long. She plays independently for stretches, but her introversion seems to be veering toward extroversion these days.

Initially, we got a few invitations to play outside of school, but as soon as the moms learned that I work, the invites stopped. When I mention weekends, you can practically see them groaning inwardly, and I don’t blame them – weekends are so impossibly full for us, too.

Meanwhile, I’m operating from a framework of having grown up with three best friends – our mothers engineered our early connection in kindergarten. To this day, we email each other every day. So, I know that I’m struggling with wanting the “same” solid friendships for my child. And because my friendships have been intensely strong and lasting, I’m not sure I can accurately measure my “success” at helping my kid develop and nurture her own relationships. The bar is set pretty high. And I’m intensely afraid of her feeling left out or lonely, particularly since she’s an only child.

I am entirely overwhelmed at the idea that this problem is going to have to be tackled for *years* to come. I can’t stop working, so …

How do I do this? What do other WOH moms do, and what to SAH moms recommend for moms/daughters like us to connect with moms/kids like them? Are they really all lounging around their backyards together everyday, or are our realities more similar than I think?"

The reality that is similar, even if nothing else is, is that all moms want their kids to have friends.

Note: I'm talking about moms here because Amy's situation is very specifically about moms. Many many of the dads I know have a lot to do with playdates and friendships, so I'm not ignoring you--I'm just addressing Amy's situation specifically. Feel free to offer advice from your POV.

Now I know that there are more similarities between WOH and SAH moms, because I've been both and I was the same person, and the moms in my same "category" all had similar concerns, no matter which situation I was in. (Let me also note that maybe this is a NYC city thing, but there seem to be so many non-standard work arrangements in this city that there are always a bunch of dads and babysitters in the mix so sometimes it's hard even to know who's SAH and WOH and what that really means.)

Because your mom isn't able to just hop into the mix and hang out, you're going to have to specifically pursue friendships with kids your daughter likes. Find out from her which kids she likes the most, and ask her teachers who she likes to play with.

Another plug for preschool teachers: They can be allies for you here, as they can in all things kid while your child's in their class. They see all kinds of things you can't see.

So explain to them the situation, that you want to promote friendships but your mom's not able to just hang with the moms. Ask them if they think the moms of the couple of kids your daughter likes the most would be receptive to playdates with your mom. They'll know what the social scene is, and which moms will likely be receptive and which ones won't. (You don't really want to be friends with the ones who'd refuse a playdate with your mom anyway.)

Then, gather your courage and call or send an email: "Hi, Kelly. This is Amy, Ella's mom. Ella's been talking non-stop about Skylar, and how she wants to play with her. I was wondering if you'd be willing to have a playdate with Ella and my mom next week. We're happy to host." And then you wait to see what the response is.

If you can get a few after-school playdates, then maybe you could expand into evening playdates. When I was a SAH mom, evening was a crazymaker: I'd been on duty all day and then suddenly had to pull a rabbit out of my hat for dinner and the bath-story-bed gauntlet. If someone had invited me over to her house with my kid along (and partner) for a playdate, I would've been happy to eat pretzels and tapwater just to not have to deal. (Of course you will order pizza and have wine or at least ice cues for the tapwater.) Run the kids around together in your basement or yard while you chat with the mom about things you both have in common, and by the time they leave both your kids are exhausted and ready for bed.

I know I have readers on both "sides" of this dilemma right now. Any suggestions from WOH moms who've made friendships? Any suggestions from SAH moms on what would make you accept the playdates without hesitation?

Also, I'd like to give a big shout out to P, the awesome grandma of my kids' friends, with whom I spent many many playdate hours back when I was a SAH mom, and to the excellent nannies of my kids friends who had a lot of really funny stories to tell while we were at the playground. And a big hug to all the SAH moms and dads who have gladly accepted playdates with my babysitters and my kids' dad now that I'm a WOH mom.