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'I'm Killing My 2nd Grader's Social Life'

Dear Catherine,

I think I might be killing my 2nd grader’s social life. After hearing other moms at his school talk about this kid going over to the other one's house for a swim playdate, and how so-and-so goes over to whose-its house every Wednesday after school, I realize that we never, ever, do this. Mostly because my husband and I both work and therefore, cannot schlep our son to other people's houses after school. Our son has after-school activities that are still at the school, and we really can't find any way around that, short of one of us quitting our job. I really do worry that he's not getting to hang out with friends as much as his peers, and maybe that's hurting him when it comes to getting invited to birthday parties, or just regular hangouts. I shouldn't quit my job so my kid can be popular, should I?

Thanks,

Guilty Working Stiff

Dear GWS,

Here are some good reasons to quit your job:

1. It’s exceedingly dangerous.

2. It’s sapping your soul.

3. You got a better one.

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Nowhere near this list would I put improving your 2nd grader’s popularity. The notion that your child needs a thriving social life is, I’m afraid, a by-product of breathing in the air around contemporary American parenting. I used to worry about the same thing with my kids, and I did quit my job when my first daughter was an infant. Although I didn’t leave the workforce because I feared my baby wasn’t hanging out with enough neonatal peers, the impetus was definitely related. I obsessed.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the frenzy. Parents, especially mothers, in the United States develop performance anxiety in droves because society is always telling us we aren’t doing enough. I don’t think my mother thought twice about a being “bad mother” when I was little, but I would slap myself with this label on a daily basis. The crazy thing is, as far as I can tell by your letter, your child isn’t even complaining. Rather, it’s your own fear that he’s missing out that has you losing sleep. You are obsessing.

The French operate under the assumption that if the parents don’t lead normal, adult lives, then the whole family will suffer.

It was only when I took a close look at French parenting that I realized how unbalanced I’d been. The French operate under the assumption that if the parents don’t lead normal, adult lives, then the whole family will suffer. This means that it’s healthy for mothers to work, go out regularly, have privacy, and many other cool things that don’t involve their kids.

If you get the feeling that your son is a loner because he’s not on the playdate circuit, perhaps you or your husband could take off a half-day here or there to facilitate an occasional bro-down. However, I’ve got a hunch he’ll be just fine. This past school year, we went totally raga with our girls and took them out of their enormous public school. They, instead, attended a very small collective—like a one-room schoolhouse with only seven kids of varying ages. I worried incessantly about my 3rd grader, who had only one classmate remotely near her age. The word “socialization” haunted me in my dreams.

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Turns out, my daughter had a great year. She played with her friends at school and she played with her sister at home. Amazingly, she seemed happier than she had the previous year with all of the chaos and classroom politics. I realized that I was the one equating popularity with happiness—not my daughter. I’m hoping this holds true until middle school at least.

Keep working!

Catherine

Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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