We recently held our annual “Parent Social” which is something my husband and I work at hosting every year while our kids are in middle school and high school in order to spend some time with the parents of our kids’ friends.
The tradition started many years ago in our home state of Wisconsin when our son Allen-Michael, now almost 25, entered middle school and we began to understand his friend group was changing and we didn’t know the kids or their parents. I decided (this was before we all had cell phones) to ask my son for a list of who he considered his close friends and then to call each parent (at that time we had a hard copy of a school directory) and invite them for an evening of fellowship in our home.
I remember being very nervous the first time I called a parent I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure what kind of response I was going to get to my “Hello, you don’t know me, but our kids eat lunch together every day and I thought it might be nice if we met.” And, as a testament to my fear, the first dad who answered the phone when I gave my script literally hung up on me. To his credit, he told his wife who then called me right back and said they would absolutely attend.
We held this gathering for a few years before leaving Wisconsin and heading to Texas. Then, I have to admit, circumstances in our life sidetracked us and we dropped the ball for a few years both with Allen-Michael and then with Brigham (who ventured through middle and high school right after Allen-Michael). I could have spent time and energy kicking myself for dropping the ball, but instead I decided with my last two kids (Maddux currently in 9th grade, Mia in 7th) to recommit to consistently practicing the annual parent night I’d thought was so valuable.
We have now done Parent Social with the two kids’ groups for the past three years and I know that, no matter what, we will continue this practice throughout the rest of their LISD careers. Just like our kids during this stage in their lives, the group of parents changes a little bit from year to year but I am convinced; now more than ever, providing opportunities for parents to connect with one another is incredibly necessary.
Teenagers are living in a world very different than the one we grew up in and parents are having to navigate these new “norms” as well (which often instill some fear). I, along with many others, am pioneering what it looks like to raising kids in the digital world. We are all well aware there are plusses and minuses to technology and how it impacts our family life. In my coaching of parents of teens there is no shortage of experiences our kids are facing, and sometimes personally experiencing, that cause parents to shutter and, instinctually, want to put the hammer down on.
And, while we had a kind of camaraderie in parenting our kids when they were babies through elementary school age, once middle school hits and our kids begin to make more choices for themselves, often parents begin to shut down or isolate themselves about the relationship they are encountering with their child as he/she moves through this sometimes turbulent stage. I have worked with some parents over the years specifically because they didn’t feel they could talk to family, friend or counselor about what was going on behind their (often beautiful) front door.
This year was the first time we held a “mixed” group, normally we host a separate night for my son’s friend’s parents and another for my daughters. Based on busy schedules we decided to hold both groups on one night. And, quite frankly, I think it was even more successful that way. There was a great mix of parents who have older kids talking with some whose oldest is in 7th grade. This made for a lot of great conversation and experience sharing.
Yes, it can be awkward at first, but with a few well-placed introductions on my part people let their guard down and things really fall into place. Most leave feeling like they’ve made some new friends, or at the very least, know the names of people they see around town all the time.
I really want to encourage parents of all ages, but especially those with children in middle school and high school to find the time, energy, and courage to host a casual evening in their home to give parents who have interest an opportunity to connect. We say “it takes a village” but are we living out this essential piece of raising our teenagers?
If you decide to plan this for the parents of your kid’s friends, I would truly love to hear about your experience. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.