My husband and I moved to Memphis for his job without knowing anyone here. In the beginning, when it was just the two of us, we were fine being by ourselves. We worked long hours at very demanding jobs, went on dates on Fridays, and worked around the house on the weekends. We really didn’t have time to find friends socially and had never been big partygoers even when before we got married anyway, so we were good. We didn't need a big village.
When we had our first child, things got a little tougher. On top of the sleep depravity and the sheer physical exhaustion of dealing with a newborn, the loneliness was almost soul-crushing. It was just the two of us, with the seemingly impossible task of keeping a new human being alive, and no friends or family nearby for any kind of support whatsoever. But somehow, we managed. On the rare occasions when friends and family from out of town would visit, they would tell us that when our child started going to school and making friends, we would naturally form friendships with other parents as well. So we looked forward to that day like a light at the end of the tunnel. They say it takes a village to raise a child and thus far, we were a village of two parents.
We enrolled our child in preschool when she was 2 years old – at the time, this was the only school offering a 2K program. Our daughter went to that preschool for three years and we made friends with exactly one family from that preschool in all that time. We are still friends with that family and for that, we are forever grateful, but we did not form any sort of parent community there that we so desperately craved. We attended parent meetings, school programs, and went to birthday parties that our child was invited to. We smiled at other parents, made small talk, and tried to form connections, but except for that one connection that we made, it just didn’t happen. It wasn’t that we were unwelcome, it was just that no one else seemed to make an effort. I could certainly understand how busy everyone was (by that time, we had another child as well). But it seemed to us that since we were the only ones who didn’t have friends or family in town (except for that one connection that we had made), no one else needed friends as much as we did. For us, the effort was exhausting.
When we selected a school for our child for kindergarten, we were hopeful and terrified at the same time. Like other parents, we hoped that our child would be happy and make friends, but for ourselves – we also dared to hope that this may be where we would finally find our parent village.
We received our registration packet from the school in the mail, and, much to my surprise, included in the packet was a sweet little invitation that read “Kindergarten Moms’ Night Out.” I wish I had kept up with that card but it read something like, “All kindergarten moms are welcome! We are all in this together and it’s time to have some fun!” Reading these words, my hope for our parent village flickered that much brighter.
It’s been more than six years, but I still remember walking into the restaurant of that Kindergarten Moms’ Night Out with a sick feeling at the pit of my stomach. Friendly invitation notwithstanding, I thought, how many women would actually talk to me? Some of them had been through 1-2 years of preschool together and some of them no doubt knew each other previously from elsewhere, and I knew no one. The waiter directed me to a long table that was almost completely full, but as soon as I walked up, at least three women waved and smiled, motioning me to a couple of empty seats beside them. At that moment, I knew it was going to be okay.
It took me a while to remember the names of the 20 or so women who attended that first moms’ night out and I don’t really remember who I talked to that night. But what I do remember is this – I knew when I went home that night that I had finally found my village. Every single one of those Kindergarten Moms smiled at me, introduced themselves to me (I was one of only 3 new moms in attendance), and made an effort to talk to me and make me feel welcome. Every single one.
To this day, I am happy to say that I am still friends with everyone I met that night, although some of them have moved away and others (the boy moms mostly) I no longer see on a regular basis - since my child is now in middle school and many school activities are now separated by gender. I have made deeper connections with some more than others, of course, but I will never forget how everyone made me feel so welcome that night and how much of a difference it made to me. In the years that have followed, I have tried to make a concerted effort every year to welcome new moms (and dads) whenever I see them – it does not take a lot of my time, but I know it can mean the world to someone looking to feel included, as it did to me.
Finding our village was not easy, and it took us a while to get here, but the journey has been so worthwhile.