I'm sitting here on the bench of the playground surrounded by laughter. The kids are laughing and having fun swinging like monkeys from rung to rung; sliding down twisty slides with reckless abandon. The moms on the playground are swapping stories about their children chuckling about diaper changing woes and bedtime routine meltdowns. I've been there too I'd have so much to share if they would only let me in.
Women have this ease about them when it comes to chatting someone up on a playground. I always marvel at how easy their conversation begins and the long duration of their discussion can become. Soon, they are exchanging numbers and making future play dates just like that.
Staying at home can be isolating. Now take that feeling of loneliness and compound it with the knowledge that I am the only dad here with my kids. Can you not talk to me because I am a man? Is being friendly going to be misconstrued as flirting? Will your husband be comfortable when you tell him later that you met a stay at home dad and his daughter played so well with your daughter?
For many of us stay at home dads not knowing if we are "allowed" at Mommy and Me classes or part of the playgroup can be intimidating. We've been in classrooms where volunteers are always referred to as "Class Moms" and overheard you referring to your husband as an overgrown child as we are putting on a puppet show for the kids at story time. If seems like we are standoffish it's because we don't know how you feel about us being there.
In my experience, conversations between myself and a mom are more forced like we've been thrown together on a date with nothing in common. The reality is, we do. We are both parents. We are both staying at home. We have both seen and heard it all so let's just share the joys and struggles we both have experienced. Parents should support one another without judgment because every family is different. Here are a few ways we can all be more welcoming and supportive to one another as fellow parents; remember we are all #doingood.
1) Put your phone away
I make a concerted effort to leave my phone in my pocket while at the park. A parent on his/her phone at the park says "I'm busy. I'm not available to talk. Move along, nothing to see here." Putting the phone away allows us to actually have eye contact before we have a conversation and not having distractions means we are invested in actually talking to each other.
2) All we want to do is talk
We aren't there to hit on you, we are with our children! We love our wives. We've spent most of the morning scraping Cheerios off the floor and watching the same episode of Peppa Pig on an endless loop. We just need to have a conversation with someone who doesn't say potty when they are referring to the bathroom. Forget what When Harry Met Sally has taught you, men and women can be friends.
3) Don't be intimidated
As a 6'7" bald guy I get it. I'm ginormous. Your kids probably think I am straight from the Jack and Beanstalk story or maybe my green sweatshirt is giving them a Jolly Giant flashback to their favorite frozen peas. Many of us have beer bellies and beards but that doesn't mean we don't have feelings. We are staying at home because we are caring and nurturing just like you. Please don't judge us for our outward appearances and give us a chance and take that leap.
4) Start the conversation
We love talking about our kids as much as you do. An easy ice breaker is asking how old our children are. Find out what we have in common and we'll probably talk your ear off. Many of us are introverts or have anxiety about friendships with other parents that we don't know. In many cases, we may be new to the area or don't know any other stay at home dads. Be willing to open up that door with us.
5) Be encouraging
How good is it to hear a compliment from a total stranger about how you are doing something right with your children? Many dads like to play along with the kids while at the park and aren't passive. Does he hang back and let his kids explore? Is he helicoptering around his toddler? Either way, he's doing things his way. Compliments reinforce that we are doing something right with our children, We've all questioned whether what we were doing was right for them so hearing that someone else is supportive of our choices is a great feeling.
When I moved to a city where I didn't know anyone and I was the only dad at preschool pickup, a group of moms who I regularly saw once asked me "Hey, would you like to come out with the other moms sometimes? I did and it was great. It started friendships based on one commonality, that we were all engaged parents. It didn't matter that I was a dad and they were moms. Our kids were growing up together and they accepted me into their community.
Eventually we ending up moving away and it was hard leaving new friends behind. What it taught me was that a supportive community means everything to parents. The parents your kids are playing T-ball now will be at baseball games later. That dad volunteering to read in class may be your son's scout leader in the future. Your daughter's soccer coach might be her teacher by middle school. Just like in the video below, that mom raising her daughter by herself may need a little encouragement from you. We are all connected. Let's help one another now and into the future. Take a moment to thank someone for being the great parent who is #doingood for other parents in your community.