I Think There Should Be Buddy Benches for Lonely Parents Like Me
By Janice Quirt
Photo © @beaezor/Twenty20
Apr 6, 2018
I love the idea of “buddy benches.” I'm talking about the benches in schoolyards where any kiddo who doesn’t have someone to play with — or who is generally feeling a bit lonely — can go take a seat. Peers take notice of the “signal” and go sit with the solitary kid, and perhaps involve them in a game or activity and generally promote kindness and inclusion. It’s a great concept that’s taking off here in Canada and elsewhere, and I’m glad that my kids get to see and participate in such a positive movement.
I’m also pretty jealous.
Jealous because it can be pretty lonely being a parent, too. Jealous because as busy, single or newcomer moms and dads, we don’t always have a tight group of friends immediately at our disposal. Heck, sometimes we don’t even have one good friend in our immediate community — you know, someone who knows the politics of the school, teachers and kid friend network. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned through the ups and down of parenting, it’s that it is much easier to do it when you have the support of friends who know exactly what you’re going through, whether school bus drama or even just reminding you when the kids have pizza lunch.
Parenting and Loneliness
I’ve felt the loneliness blues a few times as a parent. With my first-born child I had just moved to a new neighbourhood, and although I joined a mom’s group, it was disorganized and I didn’t really get to know the moms there. Instead, I took a lot of long stroller walks by myself, feeling guilty about counting down the days until I went back to work. No buddy bench there for me.
With baby number 2, I had moved to a new city and a friend was determined that this mat leave would be better. She signed me up for a mom’s group renowned for helping moms build connections and get through the tough times — and wow, what a difference. No matter what school class both my kids were in, I had a bestie in the parent pool. Grabbing groceries on a Saturday morning, the fam and I were bound to bump into someone we knew. It was as if there was a buddy bench on every corner. I felt happy, supported and complete — and then I got divorced and moved again.
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Now, don’t get me wrong. My new town is full of great people. But as another newcomer to the town once commented, “They all seem to have best friends already, and while they are perfectly nice, they’re not really open to having someone else joining their close-knit circle of friends.” I have lots of acquaintances in my town and I know most of my kids’ friends’ parents. But I don’t have those deep friendships that make the trials and tribulations of parenting that much easier to bear. If I go to a school concert, I might not know anyone well enough to go sit with them. I’ll celebrate my birthday with my family rather than buds from the 'hood. I’m close with my friends from school, but we’re scattered all over the place. And sometimes it gets so lonely that I really could use that buddy bench.
But I don’t have those deep friendships that make the trials and tribulations of parenting that much easier to bear.
I don’t think I’m the only one. There are the parents whose partners work late hours, or who are often on the road with business travel. It’s hard to always be arranging for a babysitter to go to meet new people at school meetings or get-together events when your children need you for bedtime.
There are the people new to the community, or maybe new to the country. We need friends, too! There are the single and divorced parents who are trying to do it solo, or co-parent or some other arrangement. There are introverts, who still desperately want and need friends, but who just aren’t the type to go out and make a handful of new ones in five minutes. All these people need buddy benches, and if you’re blessed enough to have a group of friends, I encourage you to take the equivalent action of sitting down at the bench with them or asking new acquaintances to join your game or group of friends.
Helping Out a Lonely Parent
Making a difference for a lonely parent can look like the kind mom and school volunteer who wandered over to solitary me at the school holiday concert and struck up a conversation, even though she had never seen me before.
It can be a generous invitation to a parents night out — even if timing doesn’t work out, it feels so good to be invited.
It can be building community by hosting a street party or a park play group and inviting EVERYONE.
Let this serve as a reminder that even grownups can be exclusive and, well, “mean," and that we need to practice the qualities that we want to see in our own kids, like kindness, inclusion and awareness.
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Taking My Own Advice
As for me, I thought about the advice I would give my own kids if they told me that they were feeling lonely. I realized I would tell them to try to keep connecting with kids that they liked, to build on common ground and to be the ones to make the effort.
So, I’ve tried. I’ve hosted neighbour nights, some mom get-togethers and even made it to a few parent school council meetings. My new friend pool may never reach the number or strength of the friendships I had in my last community. But at the last mom get-together, one friend — I think I can call her that that now — seemed genuinely happy and grateful that I had set up the evening of low-key chatter and snacks. She remarked that she wanted to make sure we kept it going, which I thought was a positive thing.
So, all in all, it’s starting to feel a little less empty on this buddy bench.
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