When you have a child, you are completely and woefully unprepared for much of parenthood: how much the late-nights will drain you, how exhausting a toddler can be, how your threshold for "gross" will go out the window the minute your kid pees, poops and vomits on you at once (the "unholy trifecta"), how much you can love another human being. But one thing that I was unprepared for and never considered was the vast and complex mommy social dynamics.
In college, I felt like due to my small program and interest in clubs, I was surrounded by like-minded people who were intersted in a broad spectrum of liberal arts (unemployable nerds); in law school, I was surrounded by students who were studying the complex theories of property law (employable nerds); in my job, I'm surrounded by grown adults who get excited about Federal Circuit decisions (nerds who want to quit their jobs), and so for the past (cough cough) years, I've been surrounded by people who are on the same social level as myself (nerds).
But then I became a parent, and I was once again surrounded by a vast group of people who I only knew because we happened to be doing the same thing at the same time. The last time I think I was surrounded by such diversity of people was during high school. Back then, I was interacting with all sorts people because we were all learning algebra. Now, I'm meeting all sorts of people because we're both learning how to discipline a toddler without losing our minds.
It hadn't hit me how unique that fact was until I was at the playground one day, and it was a rare Boston fall afternoon when everyone had finally stopped traveling, and everyone in the neigborhood was there. I've been blessed to be a part of an amazing network of great moms who have become dear friends. And I've found it to be the particularly refreshing that for the first time in ages, I've been making friends with people from different backgrounds and different fields. And while I'm sure I could have sought these people out in "real life" (aka, life before kids), the reality is that your friend groups tend to reflect your work and hobbies.
But now, it's far more common to make friends with a fellow parent because your only commonality is that you both "have the exact same sippy cup" or have "totally been 'there' with the sand-throwing thing". And as a result, I've met artists, and teachers and lighting designers and doctors and all sorts of people who I likely wouldn't have met in any other capacity. And I LOVE the different perspectives they've all offered on life and on parenting.
An unitneded consequence of this open-market friendship is that people with very different personalities (and parenting styles) are forced to regularly interact on the playground. And when you get everyone together with such different personalities, it doesn't take long for those old personalities to come out, except now the former jocks are the ones with the yoga mats strapped to their backs and the artists are the ones who have brought a full set of chalk to the playground for playtime.
As far as I can tell, this interaction with parents who you would otherwise not be friends with is probably not going to end until our kids are out of college. And I say, great. It's refreshing. And although we might not have a ton of commonality in other areas of our lives, I'm recogonizing that the only prerequisite to "parent friendship" in my eyes is respect and support.
The Mommy Wars have been popularized by the media, and seem to pit all these parents against each other, in one big replay of high school. But in my networks, I've seen first hand that parents that co-sleep can be parents of cry-it-outers, and parents who offered formula from day one are cheering on moms who are nursing into year two.
Parenting is hard and we're all frankly making this up as we go along. So for many parents (particularly on places like BabyCenter.com), it's hard to understand that someone else's choice, which may be different from yours, is not a rejection of what you're doing as a parent. Every child is different, every parent is different. But so long as we all agree that each parent knows their child best-- and that chances are the toddler is being a jerk because toddlers can universally just be jerks sometime-- I think we can all be friends.