Do you think children suffer from parents' lack of social circle?
May 1, 2018 12:58 PM   Subscribe

If you have kids and a really small social and family circle (no "village"), how did it affect your kids? Did you still throw birthday parties and who was invited? Did your kids ever realize or ask, "How come my parents never have visitors or go see people?"

My husband's small family is in a foreign country. I have a large extended family in the States, but they are hours away and there is some estrangement among many of them, and they no longer have big family get-togethers except at weddings/funerals. So while I grew up frequently visiting relatives, now I'm really only close to my own mother. We are moving to a city where we know NOBODY. We won't even have anyone to invite for our baby then child's birthdays until she's in school. Speaking of which, is it the custom now to invite all classmates from preschool upward? I've always gone to big family holiday dinners, but now it will just be the three or four of us. It feels a bit sad and weird to me. But will it feel that way for my child? I wonder if I make a much bigger effort to grow my social circle even though it's not what I would naturally do.
posted by KatNips to Human Relations (38 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
This was me as a kid. It did not feel sad or weird at all. It felt comfortable and safe and I felt well loved. Once in a blue moon when we traveled for larger family gatherings, I hated it and longed for my quiet small family dinners back.

That said as an adult I have a great deal of social anxiety, I'm not good at making friends, and I have a much greater need for alone time than anyone else I know. It seems entirely possible that all has something to do with me not having any real models of adult friendship and interaction. My parents lived in books; I live in books and on the internet. Maybe it's because there was no one else around to show me other ways to be. On the other hand, maybe it's just how I'm wired.

It's worked out fine. I have a partner who understands and accommodates my need for him to go away sometimes, and my circle of friends is very small but very beloved, maybe all the more so because it was so hard to acquire it to begin with.
posted by Stacey at 1:13 PM on May 1, 2018 [13 favorites]


This is also us. We moved states, and haven't found a local group of friends for casual parties and hanging out, beyond some work friends, but we see them outside of work pretty sporadically. Parents-in-law live close, and we're also close with them in terms of family, so they're who we have at birthday parties for our kids and us.

Oldest kid is in a small school, but we're 20-30 minutes away from his classmates, and he's a solitary kid by nature, so he's happy enough with family on the weekends and for events. Plus his birthday is in summer, so he's never had a celebration at school. Younger kid is currently the outgoing one, but he's in daycare, and his birthday is near Christmas, so he's out of daycare for his birthday, so small family events again.

I wonder if I make a much bigger effort to grow my social circle even though it's not what I would naturally do.

This is the question to answer, for yourself and your husband. Are you happy with the current situation? If so, great! If not, then you can work on growing your circle of local friends.

As for your kid, don't fret - their "normal" is however they grow up. Are you a loving, supportive family? And is your child comfortable in social situations? Congrats, you're doing great!
posted by filthy light thief at 1:13 PM on May 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think kids more or less accept the home environment they are presented with. My parents were not especially social, and I turned out ok :)

They had get togethers from time to time with my father's work collegaues and their wives, but that was very rare. My extended family was all out of state, so holidays and other special occasions were just the three of us. When I would visit my friends' houses, I found the frequent adult socializing, large dinner gatherings, and seemingly infinite amount of cousins dropping by to be odd and chaotic. I much preferred my quiet family time at home -- it felt special and familiar, not sad.

I grew up to be quite a bit more social than my parents, and now that I live nearer to my extended family I see them quite a bit.

Baby will not remember the attendance at early birthdays. Once she is in school you will have plenty of other parents to connect with and invite. If *you* would like more parents to connect with, maybe join a new mother's group locally. But no, you don't have to turn into Sally the Social Butterfly for your kid's sake.
posted by ananci at 1:15 PM on May 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


We moved away from our families just as we were starting to have kids. What we ended up doing, and what it seems like a lot of people end up doing, is making our own "family" out of the friends we made. It's pretty much a natural progression, when you're making up your own rules and traditions. My closest adult friends' kids and my kids are basically cousins; my kids don't really have relationships with their actual cousins because they're too far away.

If you sign up for playgroups even before your daughter is in school, you'll start building a social circle, if that's what you'd like to do. You may not want to hang out with the people you meet via playgroups at, like, holidays, but at least you'll have people who can bring you dinners when you're sick with the flu, or swap baby clothes/toys with.

It's also pretty natural for non-native city transplants to make friends with their kids' friends once school starts. Sometimes those friendships last and sometimes they don't. It's okay either way.

Basically, if you want to have a bigger social circle, make one! If you don't, that's okay too. Your kid will be fine either way because it will be all she knows.

Oh, as far as birthday parties for your kid and who to invite: totally up to you. Her preschool may or may not have rules about inviting the whole class that you might have to follow, but other than that, it's whatever you decide. I always preferred the "number of kids invited = age of birthday kid + one" rule. Makes it way more manageable than an entire class of first graders.
posted by cooker girl at 1:17 PM on May 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I grew up as an only child, with only my parents in the country. While our celebrations were small, my mother never ever said "its not worth celebrating" because it was only us. We still had nice dinners at the holidays, and traditions etc. I feel its as important to celebrate those "big family holidays" even if the family isn't big. Even now, our family is bigger (ie my husband's family), I still have "our family celebrations" around the same time. So Christmas dinner with the big family, but I'll cook a turkey just for us on another day. We celebrate Pi day, and my dad's birthday (he's passed)- creating memories doesn't always have to be big family.

I feel the same as you in some ways. My social circle is small, and I wonder if my kids are missing out of the social experiences that some of their friends have. But the times when I have tried to create those experiences haven't worked, and I've decided the stress is too much. I invited all the kids for birthdays from the time they were in JK to about Grade 3. Then we started to reduce the size of the parties, based on what my kids wanted. There was no pressure to have everyone, it just felt like the right thing to do. We meet with various friend groups a few times a year, and my kids look forward to them, but also like our time. The kids do a lot of sports, and we don't really participate too much in the social aspects of those sports either. The parents who have a ton of friends, and like to socialize-- aren't my people. And I've decided to be okay with that-even though sometimes I'm not and wish to part of it. I dont have that social gene I guess.
posted by Ftsqg at 1:21 PM on May 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


This sounds a lot like our family, and it seems okay right now, at mid-elementary-age, from the kid's point of view. It's normal to him. He likes the family he sees, and it's a special treat when we see them. It's a lot harder for *me*. Not having a village means not having someone to bring you ginger ale when the family's all down with a bug, and not being able to have a short-notice date night, and not having someone to notice little things about the kid's routine that are hard to notice when you're in the middle of it. It turned out that I found it really hurtful to not have a complete list of local emergency contacts when the kid went to school, so we've tried to cultivate a closer circle. We have kids and parents over for weekend playdates and dinners, we have regular meetup-acquaintances (gaming and fiber-arts related), we have people that we can trade cat-sitting duties with, we have folks we can trade driving-to-kid's-karate duty with. That's the bit of village stuff that was important to me, so I did go out of my initial comfort zone to do it.

For holidays, we find other ways of making it special, with music and food and special activities. He's gotten overwhelmed at big family things, and it forcibly reminded me of how all the kids were crying by the end of the night, growing up. It's nice to have a holiday that doesn't end with tears.

>is it the custom now to invite all classmates from preschool upward
It varies from place to place, but locally, in preschool, about half the kids invited everyone, and those parties were always held outside the home. Starting in elementary school, only a few kids have invited the whole class. We never have. Our rule has been, for a regular kids party, that he can invite his age +1 friends to the party at our house, and that has scaled up just right. (One year we went over that due to some circumstances and it was a mess; this year we were short one and every kid was SO mellow, polite, and happy.) We've offered to do a whole-class party at a big place but he actually prefers the smaller size.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:23 PM on May 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


My family social circle as a kid was mainly through my mum's friendship with two other women who both had children about the same age as her third child (I am the eldest). I think she had struggled to make friends when I was little, and it took her a few years to find her tribe. But they were an amazing 'village' to grow up in, even though I was the eldest and friends with the younger kids. My parents really didn't socialise much otherwise, and honestly these two other families, plus visiting my mum's extended family a few times a year was definitely a big enough tribe for us.
posted by plonkee at 1:34 PM on May 1, 2018


My parents moved to a new city when I was a baby and did not have friends or socialize when my brother and I were growing up.

My brother and I are both well into adulthood now and are both very solitary people. My brother is in sales and spends all day talking to customers, so he's well adjusted enough, but personally while I don't have social anxiety and get on with others pretty easily, I don't really...enjoy socializing, if that makes sense. I much prefer the company of only myself and (like Stacey above) require significantly more alone time than anyone else I know, except for maybe my parents and brother.

I can't speak for my brother but I know that I'm perfectly happy with my level of social interaction, but at the same time I'll definitely say that my lack of desire to do social things or have a wide and active friend circle has marked me as an outlier frequently in my life.

I'm sure being more comfortable "networking" would be helpful for lots of sorts of jobs, but I'll never be that guy. I also self-select to never have the kind of job that relies on networking.
posted by phunniemee at 1:40 PM on May 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm a kid from a family that did not have much of a social circle. They were immigrants with no family in the US. They saw friends maybe a couple of times a year when I was younger, and less and less frequently as I grew up.

Personally, I have a lot of social anxiety, and I've varied from having two or three close friends to not having any friends at all. I've never been part of a larger 'social circle.' I'm mostly fine with that, though I do find it discomfiting when people say that not having friends means there's something wrong with you and you should be avoided.

I have three younger siblings. The oldest is 18 and has never had a friend, and it bothers him a lot. The 14-year-old is 'normal', has plenty of close and distant friends, not at all socially anxious. The youngest, 10, seems to have a couple of sort-of friends but nobody he's close to.

I don't know if all that can be entirely attributed to the fact we weren't modeled social relationships when we were younger- 18yo has mild Asperger's; we're North African and thus don't fit into any common racial category; we grew up with no TV and little access to pop culture.

I will say that making sure your kid has some sort of socialization out of school hours, as early as possible, seems essential to me- those skills are learned early. I remember hating recess because I didn't have any friends as early as age four.
posted by perplexion at 1:41 PM on May 1, 2018 [11 favorites]


Maybe if all of us whose parents had very little social life all got together we would totally hit it off!

My parents changed careers and towns and then spent their lives in a perfectly pleasant provincial area that did not suit them at all. Because they also moved right when they had two small children, they were pretty busy for the first few years. In a college town or a big city, they would have been pretty typical people; in a conservative suburb, they stuck out like a pair of shabbily dressed, glasses-wearing thumbs with unusual values.

In many respects my childhood was pretty great, but I will say that I too am much, much more solitary than almost anyone I know and this worries me a little in terms of aging and health. I think it would have been good to see my parents model adult social interactions, and I think it would have been good for me to spend time around unrelated adults - my peers' kids seem to spend a lot of time interacting with their parents' friends (I guess I do have friends; I seem to know a lot of small children and I don't think that would happen if I weren't spending time with their parents) and they seem to have a LOT of social skills for people who aren't old enough to walk to the store on their own yet.

I don't think "adults must make friends so that kids have friends, who are the children of the adults' friends" is too much of a thing - my friends' kids have friends from school and activities far more than from adult hangouts.

If you really wanted to do something to help your kids be more social:

1. Make sure they're in a school situation that is interesting and where they are not getting bullied or treated badly.
2. Let them be normal. My family are lovely people in almost every way, but they have a lot of disdain for things like wanting the same kinds of clothes, toys or experiences that others do. I was raised very strictly and was never allowed to watch the same TV shows as others my age, play outside with other kids after dinner, etc, and this really contributed to isolating me.
3. Find them activities that they like that are social and that connect them with the same kids over time, not just for a few weeks.
4. If you're into that kind of thing, join some kind of adult activity - volunteering at the library, playing softball, whatever - that gives you some regular interaction with others a couple of times a month. You'll be better plugged in to your town but you won't have to manage the whole thing yourself.
posted by Frowner at 1:58 PM on May 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


When I was a kid I never really put any thought into what my friends were doing at home. My parents didn't have any family in our city but they had made lots of close friends and so during the weekend we were always going to people's houses or having people over at ours. And very often there'd be things going on during the week as well. If I thought about it at the time I'd assume that all of my friends were doing the same but looking back now I would bet that almost all of them didn't. Birthday parties would be large but would involve kids coming over to our house and we'd play and have food and cake.

Now that I have kids of my own things are quite different. During the week our kids might have programs/play dates but my spouse and I don't. Even during the weekends we probably will only see other people every other week. Our place isn't currently large enough to have a bunch of kids over so we've had their birthday parties at various play areas for our daughter. Our son has a summer birthday so we've been able to get away with inviting people over and let the kids play in the backyard. For our daughter's parties we invite about 20 kids and for our sons we've invite less kids and more of our friends because up to this year he wasn't in school and didn't have many friends of his own. Some kids will invite everyone in their class and others will be more selective. Kids parties are expensive and kind of a pain for all of the adults involved so if you don't invite everyone I don't think the uninvited parents will mind.

If your kids are in pre-school or other programs then you can use that to make friends with the other parents. You likely won't get new best friends but it'll be something. And then you can organize playdates with them too.

I will say that I find the current situation lacking as far as social connections go. The last year has seen a significant amount of our free time taken up with renovations to our house something that'll be wrapping up in the summer. After that I expect our family to be much more social if for no other reason than we'll be able to invite people over again.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:03 PM on May 1, 2018


Neither of my parents were very social while I was growing up. Dad likely because he was a workaholic, and Mom was left caring for myself and my sister, and on top of that is very shy and socially awkward. I don't think it fucked me up, exactly, but I wish they'd had friends and I had had somewhat more exposure to other ways of being. (For example, I didn't really clock that Dad was an alcoholic until I started making a big group of friends -- in high school -- and noticed that other peoples' fathers were not like mine. We won't even get into the classism I was raised with.) It would probably have been nice for Mom to have someone else to lean on too; my aunties and uncles lived relatively nearby, but we weren't overly close to them.

That said, I have a decent range of friends now and very heavily live the idea of friends as found family. I much prefer my own company, but I'm socially basically okay, and my sister is a social butterfly who loves going out with her nine million friends, so you child's mileage may vary!

In the end, then, I guess I would advise: make friends for your own sake, and to model socializing and hanging out and having friendships of all types. But it won't destroy your kids' lives, and doubly it won't if they grow up in a warm, supported environment.
posted by kalimac at 2:11 PM on May 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


This was also me as a kid. It definitely had a negative impact on me. My parents did not get along with other adults, were constantly creating reasons to not have people over, and didn't even like me having friends over. In hindsight I think a lot of it was fueled by my dad trying to hide my mom's alcoholism but there was also mental illness and general anti-social sentiment going on. Plus, their parents had disowned them when they got married and moved to another state, so family was not a good backup.

As an adult I really struggle with keeping long-lasting friendships and understanding how adult socializing works. I do believe a lot of this comes from not having any role models or examples to pull from my childhood. It also means I was never really around babies - I'm nearly 40 and I have still NEVER held a baby in my life - so the concept of motherhood is lost on me.

I definitely think it's important for kids to grow up around other adults that their parents are friends with and see healthy social dynamics between adults.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:11 PM on May 1, 2018 [12 favorites]


Just to provide a counter point to a lot of the experiences in this thread - my parents never socialized growing up, we lived far from extended family, but I grew up to be a pretty social person and I consider myself an extrovert with a lot of friends. Growing up I liked being a close family of four, particularly for holidays, and never felt a lack. But now that I'm an adult with a family of my own, I put a fair amount of effort into connecting with people and building a community of friends and neighbors to spend time with. That's just how my personality has grown to be...but I certainly don't resent the way I was raised!
posted by cpatterson at 2:38 PM on May 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think that even as an introvert, you will gradually make friends and a community and slowly build a circle for both you and your little one. And as for inviting all classmates, our montessori school requires it (starting in preschool). I hate it. Kiddo has no desire for 30 kids and their parents at her birthday party and neither do we. Sigh. We are trying to sneak around behind the school's back this year. I'll see how it goes.

But I will say as the only child of a woman who is basically a true hermit and whose only friend was pretty much just me as I was growing up, that it can become a disaster as the parent ages. I am now faced with arranging care for someone with absolutely no support network. It's hellish.

Growing up I had tons of socialness from the other side of the (divorced) family, but it did result in my mom and I being rather codependent for a long time. And I was often guilty when I couldn't be there, knowing that she had no one else. I wished much of my life that she would find friends, but it doesn't seem to be in her nature.
posted by mkuhnell at 2:52 PM on May 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


I don't think you need to be the social butterflies with a ton of friends, and it's OK if it takes time to form a social circle, but I agree with joan holloway that children need to see the adults in their lives modeling good friendships and social relationships. It's not necessarily something kids learn all by themselves or just at school.

And what mkuhnell said, too: you don't want to grow old with just your kids as your only friends. That's not healthy for you and it's definitely not good for your kids. I've seen this happen, and unfortunately, lonely older parents can really be nightmares when their kids want to marry and start their own families. You don't want to be the codependent mother-in-law whose child-in-law writes to AskMeFi about: "how do I set boundaries with my spouse's clingy mom who has no life of her own?"

You have years and years to set up a circle of friends, and please don't feel you have to rush! But it's ultimately better not just for your kids, but you, to have a few good friends. You want an adult life outside your kids, as you will eventually have an empty nest.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:00 PM on May 1, 2018 [7 favorites]


Only child, single parent for the most part. My family's small life was very difficult for me, but there were extenuating circumstances. It was probably less my mother's lack of a social life than it was (and continues to be) her beliefs about maintaining relationships and that she actively impeded me from doing normal friendship maintenance stuff as a child. It's all stuff I had to learn and practice as an adult, and I had a lot of trouble getting up to speed. Lots of introverts can raise well-adjusted kids in small families, but I'm going to describe how this can play out when a parent's introversion goes into isolation territory.

Something that's important is that my mother is from a small, insular place where all her friends were distant relatives or family friends over a few generations. Raising me in a much larger city in a different country meant that she didn't have the same type of preexisting ties to the families of the kids I might befriend, which made it difficult for her to let me make friends. When you're raising kids in a culture that's not your own, that's something to be mindful of.

We didn't celebrate holidays for the most part, she didn't want me to invite other kids over or accept invitations to their homes, she felt she couldn't deepen her friendships because we lived in an apartment... the list goes on. I grew up feeling pretty weird and sad and isolated and as an adult, am sad and isolated but not weird. I'm an extreme introvert myself, and she has always been dismissive of my belief that relationships with others require maintenance, and that even introverts can benefit from having a sense of community.

To be honest, I understood that she'd never make friends for her own sake, and I didn't expect or ask her to. I think I'd have ended up differently had she:

-been a bit more vulnerable about her circumstances
-understood that my childhood desire for more family and more connectedness was perfectly valid and that it wasn't a reflection on our relationship
-not assumed that I am an extension of her and her social anxiety
-understood that even introverts can want friends and that emotional labour isn't merely peer pressure
-been attuned to how her parenting choices made it difficult for me to maintain relationships with other family members and potential friends
posted by blerghamot at 3:22 PM on May 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


From An anonymous commenter:
This was me as a child, and yes, it has had a lasting negative impact. Both my parents had immigrated from other countries, so nearly all of both families were abroad, and I had very little interaction with them. I was an only child and my parents didn’t have many friends; having anyone other than the three residents in the house was unusual, as was being at anyone else’s home. My father was distant, either at work, at the dinner table or in his office, and my mother was a housewife who had no outside pursuits or social life. It was really difficult to learn to enjoy activities and events outside the home, or to do things just for the sake of doing them, as I never saw my parents go out to the movies or to dinner or over to friends for an evening or do anything but spend their free time at home.

My childhood was isolated and bookish, and I had trouble making friends; as far back as preschool I can remember other kids seeming to just *know* how to talk to one another and play together, and feeling an outsider even at that age. It’s hard to say exactly why but looking back I think it was due to my environment. I didn’t have models for normal, healthy social interactions, didn’t see kids my own age, and on the rare occasions I encountered friends of my parents was praised for being ‘well-behaved’ — basically, keeping my mouth shut and keeping out of everyone’s way. When I occasionally found myself at another kid’s house in primary school the environment felt markedly different — more comfortable, more relaxed somehow.

I didn’t mind it at the time because I didn’t know any better, but it seems pretty clear now it had a profoundly negative influence on my socialisation and ability to interact with others. I never had a birthday party, disliked holidays because they were obviously forced ‘special occasions’ wherein the only thing that differed from every other day was eating ‘special occasion’ food off ‘special occasion’ dinnerware in the dining room instead of the kitchen — there was never a sense of joy or being happy to be together or inviting others for the pleasure of their company. I wasn’t encouraged to make friends or participate in school activities, and my parents didn’t pay much attention to my emotional well-being. If they knew I was at home and that I wasn’t doing something they disapproved of they left me alone. I don’t think I was a happy child, and I think I learnt at a young age that my unhappiness and loneliness were ‘normal’, or at least okay. I think the isolation had a lot to do with that.

As an adult I have pretty marked social anxiety, and an inability to get close to people, likely at least in part because in my formative years I didn’t have examples for how people showed emotions to each other ‘normally’. I’m incapable of showing pain or weakness to others for fear of being rejected and don’t know how to relax around other people or speak up for myself because being around a group of people is linked in my mind to the need to perform the appropriate role; whether I’m enjoying myself or not is irrelevant as long as I’m being ‘proper’ and everyone else is pleased. The few relationships I have with relatives are stiff and awkward because I don’t know how to behave with them. I don't have many lasting friendships and haven’t been in a romantic relationship in over a decade. I can go for months on end without human contact, though, so I guess that's a plus.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:40 PM on May 1, 2018 [14 favorites]


This was also me as a child— both parents immigrants with family overseas— and while I had a lot of great one on one time with my parents, it was often sad and lonely. A big part of that was seeing that it was also sad and lonely, or as you said “sad and weird“ for them too, which your kid is absolutely going to pick up on. I think there’s a difference between having a small relatively nonsocial family where everyone is happy and healthy and functional and the families I knew growing up who sort of went into reclusion for one reason or another because the parents were having issues. Good friends of a close friend of mine all went into some kind of family wide grief seclusion upon the death of a grandfather, and that social withdrawal had a pretty big effect on the children iirc. I was recently going through old family records and was kind of hilariously mortified to see that all of my preschool and kindergarten teachers were writing home that I obviously hadn’t been socialized around other children and needed to work on peer social skills. It was embarrassing/funny, but also sad, because I can remember being about four or five and desperately wanting friends but having no idea how to go about making them. I also think there’s a difference between a small and happy family and a sad, claustrophobic closed family system, and it can be difficult to stay on the good side of that line, because when it’s only the three of you and if something happens to you or your partner – physical or mental or financial issues, work stress, whatever– there are only the three of you to absorb it. Both of my parents had a tendency to socially isolate themselves, and I think there was a lot of emotionally relying on/fixating on me because they didn’t really have another emotional outlet. That is a situation that you and your partner probably want to avoid. This sounds like I’m going on a giant pity party, which I don’t want to be at all. I don’t think you need to have a gigantic close knit family village for your child to be happy, but I think having an isolated family unit means that any problems are going to be magnified in a way that will impact the kids.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 4:32 PM on May 1, 2018 [11 favorites]


Upthread Frowner mentioned something about letting your kid be "normal". Not all parents (particularly immigrant parents and parents living in places where they're cultural/demographic/political minorities) are wholesale comfortable with that. What helps to satisfy the "normal" criteria is making sure that your kids have access to other kids who are raised with compatible values and restrictions. If you're the kind of parent who doesn't want to make a bunch of parent friends, it's more difficult to suss that out for yourself. The easiest but most difficult way around this is trusting your kids as a barometer of group norms.

Norms are not necessarily bad, and you and your kids can engage with them on your own terms without losing your sense of identity. This is difficult for a certain type of introvert to accept, but it's necessary for being a good parent.
posted by blerghamot at 4:34 PM on May 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


My parents immigrated to a place where they basically didn't know anyone. I was a social little kid and made a bunch of friends at school - by the time I was old enough to care, there was no need to worry about who to invite to birthday parties.

I asked my parents if they had any friends, and they told me "no, adults are different". My dad eventually started going out for karaoke nights here and there. My mom was on good terms with my friends' moms, but they weren't close. She didn't make other friends, either.

As an adult, I struggle with social anxiety. Does this have to do with my parents' lack of friends? I can't say for sure, really, but my hunch is, don't worry about finding friends for your kids - watch out for your own mental health.
posted by airmail at 7:08 PM on May 1, 2018


My parents were like this (though we were from an armed forces background with requisite moving around and not immigrants) and I think it has affected me as an adult, since I didn't really have models of positive friendships, which affected me both growing up and now.

As well, my parents don't really have friends now and their lives are becoming more and more solitary, especially now that they are both retired. It makes me worry for them, particularly my dad, and makes me feel more responsible for being their social interaction, which is particularly hard because I live across the country from them.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:17 PM on May 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


No. By the time kids are of the age that they want to be social, they are in daycare, kindergarten or school for a good portion of the day. If your toddler ends up being especially social minded, you can place them in preschool or playschool or take group classes with them.
I was an introverted child who absolutely despised my parents forced socializing when I just wanted to be at home, alone, having downtime and reading books.
posted by OnefortheLast at 7:33 PM on May 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


My parents didn't maintain long-term, intimate friendships, nor close intimate contact with most family. We also moved around a lot.

I have pretty severe social anxiety and a way lower threshold for ordinary social stuff like big gatherings and noisy, chaotic groups, and even just prolonged social contact with one person (e.g. longer than 10-15 mins).

To be fair, a lot of this also probably stems from the fact that my family's situation was very dysfunctional and Not Okay, and from frequent peer rejections and associated coping mechanisms early in life (e.g. ignore humans, read books) and my high sensitivity.

However, I also feel like I just fundamentally don't... like... know how to make or be friends. It's a skill I didn't much see modelled or normalized and it seems I just fundamentally don't Get It.

As a preteen/teen/young adult, I tried to make friends by being performatively loud and weird for attention, or inappropriately desperate and clingy (obsessive?), often toward uninterested parties.

Although I know better than to act that way now, I don't really know how to act, and ordinary friendly overtures feel fraught, complex and bizarre to me, especially in light of my humiliating past self.

I'm most at ease now with distant, formulaic interactions because they are familiar and safe. Even online, I am much more comfortable with responding impersonally to a public topic (hi!) than trying to participate in one-on-one messaging.

When people talk about having made friends with their neighbours or coworkers or ex schoolmates or people they met in forums, my immediate thoughts are: "why (on earth would you want to subject yourself to that exhausting and dangerous and likely futile struggle)?", and "how (on earth is that possible/do you do that)?"

I also find that most relationships seem a lot more disposable to me than to other people. I rarely get super close, and I'm not much bothered when we grow distant.

It doesn't occur to me that people might care to hear from me or be hurt or lose interest if they don't. It's as though I expect people to be like books that I can pick up where I left off. I guess that sounds very cold, but I'm not a cold person, I'm just accustomed to people being transient figures in my life, and hold no expectations for most of them to be around or ill will for their leaving. The exceptions to this rule, who I do get close to, are extreme exceptions; the pain of missing them when and if we detach is agonizing.


I wish I had seen more healthy, mutually supportive, consistent, long-term friendships, and general social/community-building skills modelled, and even been desensitised more to the difficult parts of having other people in my life.

I am working on building these relationship skills as an adult but this avoidant way of life is very entrenched. I am mostly alone. It is safe and usually comfortable, but it is very lonely.
posted by windykites at 8:05 PM on May 1, 2018 [13 favorites]


I think there are independent parts to this: do the parents have a small social circle because they're awkward / extremely introverted? Or is the small social circle circumstantial, i.e. immigration?

fwiw, my boyfriend grew up with two brothers and lots of family nearby, his mother can get the cashier's phone number by the end of a Trader Joe's transaction and is the life of the party, and his social needs are lower than mine. I grew up with an awkward mother who didn't help me do anything socially and a very social father hampered by language, but I eventually figured some of it out.
posted by batter_my_heart at 8:21 PM on May 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Similar story - child of immigrants who didn't have a social circle and family far away. Family dynamics aside, I just wish my mom or dad had more parties or encouraged me to throw my own so I'd know how to behave as a hostess or as a guest and in general feel more confident putting out a spread. Some stuff I learned the hard way. Hosting parties still make me anxious.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:59 PM on May 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


I have a friend, an only child, whose parents (especially mom) have basically no friends. There's no immigration here, just a mother who is codependent as hell and demands her daughter keep up seven games at a time of Words with Friends. Friend's Mom is a constant and real reminder that keeping and maintaining friendships is work, but necessary work.

I don't necessarily think your child will be scarred for life, but skills like hosting, small talk, the ability to be warm with strangers-- all will benefit your kids in long run, and give them more opportunities. Clearly, some people pick up those skills elsewhere, or seem to have an innate ability, but I would give them the opportunity if possible to learn those skills young. If that's not something you can manage, I'd put them in scouts and make an effort to smile at the other parents to the best of your abilities.
posted by jenlovesponies at 9:35 PM on May 1, 2018


FWIW, I'm also a child of immigrants with no extended family in my country, yet my mother is/was a total social butterfly and always made friends easily within our cultural community, and we had friends and dinners and entertained all the time while I grew up-- my parents loved socializing. They befriended some families with children a similar age to me, and we even did the 'go away with family friends' road trip as a kid, multiple times. I was always carted around to her friends houses too, sometimes with no other kids there, and my parents used to act in amateur theater and I grew up going to infinite rehearsals, giving out flowers on stage, etc. In fact, my mother sees her friends once or twice a week even now, in her much older age.

Yet the idea of being social like my mother was, (and still is) sounds totally exhausting to me, I have never sought out that kind of large friendship circle as an adult, and I am a super introvert. I'm not sure I will ever have a dinner party, I don't mind going out for coffee and stuff but entertaining sounds wildly unappealing to me. My friends circle is tiny, and I'm fine with that. And part of it I think is because my parents were so social etc, I never felt the need to be, on that level. I have always loved being alone, and my own company, even if I get along pretty great with others.

I mean, it did do me some good, I guess? I do have really great social skills (so I'm told) and in mimicking my mother, can be attentive and charming, like her. Although It didn't help my shyness as a kid. I recall being dragged to events and trying to hide, feeling painfully shy around adults even when forced to interact and be around them all the time. Eventually, I got over it, and being in social situations a lot helped me be able to talk to others, especially as I reached my teens. But I personally think that interacting with my siblings and peers would have given me similar skills, and I didn't really need those big social gatherings to learn small talk, etc. It didn't give me more opportunities. That said, I do have really fond memories of the events I attended as a kid, even if I went reluctantly at the time.

I guess what I'm saying, is, purely anecdotally, I feel personality makes more of whether someone becomes an introverted adult or not, and I definitely didn't take after my mother. On preview, I wholeheartedly agree with filthy light theif don't fret about it. The most most most most important thing for me was having a tight-knight, loving and supportive family-- this taught me the most and did me the most good-- and ultimately being able to handle social situations was just a bonus.

In a nutshell, as long as you cultivate healthy, and happy relationships with the people you are close to, and your kids have some kind of social circle for themselves also, then I think that you'll all be fine. I wouldn't worry too much.
posted by Dimes at 12:13 AM on May 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


My parents didn’t have a lot of friends and at 33 I sometimes feel poorly socialized.

We went to church every Sunday. My parents socially spent time with other adults maybe once a month, not usually in our home. I was a younger sibling by 5 years, and my older brother was my best friend until I was 9, then I didn’t have a close friends again until I was 12.

My mom has 6 sisters, but I didn’t have any local cousins close to my age. My mom mostly communicated with them over the phone because most of them lived in other states. Can’t name any significant friendships my dad has had.

Nowadays I have what looks like an active social life, but I still feel like there are huge gaps in my ability to make and retain friends. I have trouble starting conversations that aren’t goal-oriented, either over text or in person.

I wish my parents had modeled more different social behaviors for me, and I wish I’d had more frequent and sustained contact with kids my own age between 3 and 5.
posted by itesser at 12:38 AM on May 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


Welp, my family was super social growing up and I still wound up with social anxiety. Nothing that a low dose of Zoloft doesn’t zap but still.

My mom has strong social skills. You could plunk her anywhere and she would have friend dates and other couples over for dinner within a week. She’s moved several times in her adult life and she’s socially thrived wherever she lands. She’s not an incredibley nice person but she’s fun to be around and is very good at interacting with people of different classes and values and getting them to like her. My dad is just a nice guy who has a few close friends, lots of lower tier friends through his hobbies and is kinda my moms social copilot. Growing up we had tons of extended family around as well.

As someone prone to social anxiety I think it was really good for me to grow up in an environment where good social skills were modeled and to be around a lot of social situations. Otherwise I feel certain I would be struggling a lot more than I do.
posted by pintapicasso at 5:29 AM on May 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


Joining the chorus of “I didn’t experience this as a problem at the time, but as an adult I have to deal with a fair amount of social anxiety.” Not sure if that’s a “child of solitary parents” thing or just a Metafilter thing, but I will add my data point. My parents also followed a lot of social occasions with talking about how annoying other people were, or how good it was to get away from crowds, or how nice it was to have an empty house. If you are wondering if those narratives wormed their way into my worldview of "my presence is probably a bother and an inconvenience to people around me, no matter how nice they act to my face", then that's probably a pretty easy question to answer.

I will say that although this state of affairs never really troubled me as a child, as an adult I am struggling hard with my father verging into elderly territory and being very alone and frequently depending on me for socialization. This is a normal thing for widowers, but he actively avoids social settings with other people and then gets frustrated with “being alone” if I’m not able to visit weekly. In retrospect, I wish he had been cultivating a more robust social network so that I could count on him having more people in his life, and so that I didn’t feel like the entire burden of his social needs was somehow on my shoulders.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:18 AM on May 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


I want to note that there's a difference between introversion, social anxiety, and not having social skills. Introversion means you're happy with less social contact than most (I've never found an introvert who's said they're happy with no social contact at all), and certain types of social contact, or extended social contact, are draining and irritating. Social anxiety, on the other hand, means social contact is, well, anxiety-inducing. It's awful and painful (sometimes physically painful) and stressful. Not having social skills often just means the inability to make social contact, full stop.

Introversion means you're choosing less social contact, which is perfectly valid; anxiety and a lack of skills can often mean that you'd like more social contact but can't get it. The combination of the latter two can be crippling, because you can't tell if it's your anxiety speaking or if you genuinely shouldn't [talk to that person/accept that invitation/say that thing].

In the end you only have so much control over what happens to your kid. My 14yo brother is one of the most socially confident kids I know- he once scored a personal invitation to tour a marine biologist's lab on the sheer strength of his charisma. On the other hand, if three out of four of my parents' kids struggle with being social, then I'd suggest that's not purely down to chance, and that upbringing does have an effect.
posted by perplexion at 7:58 AM on May 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


I grew up with immigrant parents but my parents found other friends for their country nearby and became community leaders. We grew up with big gatherings and parties almost every weekend. My siblings and I learned great social skills but we grew up to be introverts. I can throw a great party with lots of people but it creates a lot of anxiety for me and I find it hard to enjoy it. I'm known at work for organizing lots of after work social events which are well attended yet outside of that, I rarely socialize with my work friends.

My husband and I are alike in that we have many acquaintances but few deep friendships and enjoy small gatherings much more than heading out to the bar with friends. We have a 13 year old daughter who shares the same level of socialization needs. Most of her life, she's had just 1-2 good friends at time and rarely wanted to spend time with them other than occasional weekends.

I know people say you make friends through your kid's circle of parents but we rarely clicked with that crowd. Maybe because I was an older mom and still shy even as an adult. My daughter is extremely close to my sister and mother because they live nearby but all our other relatives are abroad. My very social mother's friendships have been a huge support when she was widowed.

My daughter has made many new friends this year after a rough start to middle school. We've encouraged her bring her friends into our home as much as possible. In fact, she's become kind of famous for having "Sunday happy hour" at our house where we might serve pizza and have an ice cream bar for 3 hours and exactly at 8 pm everyone goes home. We're all mentally exhausted from hosting anxiety yet happy to support her friendships.

I hope we have modeled good social skills for my daughter. She seems equally adept at juggling our small family and her widening circle of friends.
posted by IndigoOnTheGo at 9:06 AM on May 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm an introverted child of introverts. I also have social anxiety in situations where I don't have a "security blanket" person or activity (someone who will stick by me 90% of the time or a duty I am occupied with 90% of the time).

My parents came from another state and another country, respectively. One was an only child and the other's sibling had no children. They both were introverted, had children late, and had parents who were older (so I had no living grandparents by the time I reached the end of 3rd grade). My father had no one I would think of as a close friend beyond workmates. My mother had no one I would think of as a close friend who lived in the country and who she would see more than once every few years - she was an avid writer of letters. We never had guests in our home beyond my grandmother before she died and my mother's friends - one at a time, once every few years. We attended church and my mother joined a moms' group which she seemed to enjoy, once a month. I don't think I ever met any of those other moms or their children. We extremely rarely visited at other people's homes, and such occasions were spoken about with dread. I also have a sibling with a disability, and I understand that homes like ours rarely had visitors regardless of other factors (whether reticence of issuing invitations or reticence of accepting them). I struggled socially as a kid and had few friends - I was bullied for being different, a quality which my parents encouraged (and which I value greatly in myself as an adult - and which also I believe kept me safe from peer pressure during my teen years, so I'm unsure about the above advice encouraging fitting in). In high school I formed a tight-knit group of very close friends with whom I am still extremely close. My mother shared with me that my friend-group was similar to hers, and I felt loss on her behalf at having left that support system back in her home country. My father would occasionally say that he didn't think that my mother's moms' group friends were very good friends to her, but I knew that she needed that support system, as much as it was a poor substitute for what she would prefer. I learned from her that there are tiers of friendships, and it's ok to have dear friends you see rarely and acquaintance-friends you see more frequently.

All of this to say: I inherited introversion from my parents. I likely learned to be socially anxious through my experiences with bullying. I still have close friendships and enjoy spending time around my husband's extended family. I learned those values from my parents even though I didn't see them model that behavior very often (or directly). My mother often talked through my social issues with me and gave me feedback around how to be a good friend, and what is and is not ok in friendships (if people were cruel to me). Be aware that your kid will be your kid - inherited qualities, learned behaviors, and all. I hope this helps.
posted by pammeke at 9:20 AM on May 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


First of all, you are strangely throwing way to much emphasis on things that don't happen very often like birthday parties and holiday dinners.

What's going to affect your kids far, far more than this is that they won't be interacting with adults other than their parents day-to-day. It seems like you are planning on moving to this new place where you don't know anybody and are not interested in making any new friends -- the question you want to ask yourself is: "Do I want my child to grow up and be the sort of person who won't be able to make new friends if they move somewhere that they don't already know people?", because they will be learning from you.

If you have kids and a really small social and family circle (no "village"), how did it affect your kids?... Did your kids ever realize or ask, "How come my parents never have visitors or go see people?"

My own parents didn't have visitors over or go see people in their own homes socially, and we had no other family nearby, but I was still part of a huge "village"/social circle. You can do this without having to have people over.

We won't even have anyone to invite for our baby then child's birthdays until she's in school. Speaking of which, is it the custom now to invite all classmates from preschool upward? I've always gone to big family holiday dinners, but now it will just be the three or four of us. It feels a bit sad and weird to me.

I assure you, a baby isn't going to remember if they even had a birthday party, let alone who was there. There's no reason to feel sad and weird on their behalf. Perhaps you really are wishing that you had more people around, but it feels selfish to want that "for yourself" -- it's ok to want to have friends. Really.

I wonder if I make a much bigger effort to grow my social circle even though it's not what I would naturally do.

That's what people usually do when they move to a different place where the don't know anyone. It takes some work, it's not natural. It's far easier to meet new people when you move to a new place than after you've been there a while, as it's a common time people look for new friends.

Lots of people have big holiday dinners without any relatives around, but it's not a thing that happens all by itself.
posted by yohko at 3:10 PM on May 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


My parents didn't really have any kind of social life or hobbies, and all our extended family lived far away. And they pretty much worked all the time. It took me a while to realize that it's possible to both have a job (even a fulfilling, high-powered job with long hours), and also have a separate life outside your job. Still wrestling with that in some ways.
posted by miyabo at 10:54 PM on May 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


One more bit of anecdata: My parents moved far away from 90% of our extended family when I was an infant, from the NYC area to a really isolated, tiny town in Florida. They kind of had a social circle when I was really young, I guess -- we had a small/medium-sized Christmas party every year, things like that. But they weren't extremely social people, and their circle got a lot smaller as the years went on. I feel like I missed out on a lot of early social learning that didn't get demonstrated to me, and I have a really hard time socializing and opening up to people.

Please think about the future. For your kiddo's sake, have SOME SORT of social circle in place for yourself. Have a life beyond Kiddo. My mom pretty much only has me now that my dad's gone and my brother lives far away, and that's a lot to carry. I worry about her all the time, and I'm still kind of socially hopeless because all of my decisions about where to live, etc., have to be made with her in mind. Please don't isolate yourself to the extent that Kiddo becomes your whole world. It's not healthy for anyone.
posted by QuickedWeen at 7:32 AM on May 3, 2018


For what it's worth, I grew up an only child of two socially isolated parents and very little extended family (b/c of immigration). I felt lonely, vulnerable, and alienated. I hated it as a child, and hate the ramifications of it still.

All the problems within the family are magnified a thousand-fold because it's such a closed little circuit, and those problems are also especially bewildering because the child hasn't been exposed to much "normality" through family friends, extended family, etc. Speaking of, I was always thirsting for knowledge of "normality," which meant I drank in television families/norms like they were water in the Sahara. There's a feeling of being a perpetual outsider, experiencing everything secondhand.

Relationships also always felt very precarious. It felt like everyone else had a web of people to keep track of them, that they indelibly belonged to (for better or worse), and meanwhile, you had to precariously bumble along, fundamentally alone and liable to slip into an oubliette any second. There's also this awkward lifelong knowledge that, unless you have children yourself, you will die alone -- and perhaps even then.

Although at the same time, in the midst of that loneliness, the parents' social needs are left up to the child, and they can also be a heavy burden. Generally, I think this dynamic (ironically) puts the child under immense pressure to perform socially -- with the family, for the sake of the family, and in order to meet ALL of the child's own social needs -- and all while offering the child absolutely no help or guidance in how to do so.

There were a lot of years where I felt very vulnerable and alienated -- alone in the world -- and it did leave a mark on me that other people still notice. I'd say that my childhood was overall very happy, my social skills are strong, and I am not especially introverted. But a time comes in every close friendship I've ever had when the friend will ask what's up with my family and/or confess that they find them off-putting or strange or inappropriately demanding.

So basically, I think -- yes, you do need to cultivate an adequate social life for your child's sake (if not your own). If you don't, I think your child will suffer for it.
posted by rue72 at 8:59 AM on May 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


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