Parents must tag-team to survive

Published 6:27 pm Friday, December 14, 2018


Life with a Smile

One of the earliest lessons we teach our children is the importance of taking turns. Don’t hog the Tonka truck, Jimmy. Let Sarah have a chance on the swings, Sally. Learning to take turns helps our children navigate their childhood more peaceably, but I believe these lessons are also training our children to survive their own future experience as parents.

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Taking turns with other parents is key to our collective survival.

Let me explain. As I may have mentioned once or twice before, parenting is gorgeous, luminous work. It’s also utterly exhausting. Having the opportunity to share the load with other folks who totally “get it” is a beautiful thing.

Last weekend, my kids were invited to a pool party to celebrate a classmate’s birthday. I’m not actually sure which of my children was the primary invitee because our school is a close-knit community and friendships span the grades. Thus there were about 20 kids in the pool and I found myself in the role of “designated grown-up” for roughly half of them.

One mom needed to duck out and asked me to keep an eye on her boys, mostly to prevent horseplay from getting out of hand since both were proficient swimmers. A grandma hadn’t brought a suit, so I kept her 5-year-old granddaughter afloat, while my youngest daughter paddled around us in happy circles. Several other parents had brought suits, but took advantage of the opportunity to chat on the pool deck instead, realizing that their kids were happy without them.

It was a boisterous hour. There was a lot of splashing. And shrieking. And then more splashing. And cannonballs. And fights with pool noodles. And then reminders not to fight with the pool noodles. A rambunctious game of “shark attack” got a bit out of hand when I realized there was a small child actually biting my shoulder from behind. Another insisted on emptying a toy watering can on my head whenever I wasn’t looking.

Just before I was temporarily blinded by the tidal wave from a particularly enthusiastic jumper, I swear I saw one of the deck-side parents raise two fingers in the salute from the Hunger Games, but perhaps it was just the chlorine in my eyes.

To be clear, I had a blast and I waved off other parents who asked if they should join the fray. I was perfectly content to take my turn in the pool and respond to every exuberant shout of “Miss Kate, watch this!” Because I know these parents. They’re my tribe. And I knew that, when we got out of the pool, I’d be able to sit in a chair sipping a juice box while somebody else doled out cake and Cheetos and napkins and more napkins — and then still more napkins while dealing with the inevitable spills. I could “tag out” without shame, happy to let someone else wipe the frosting off my daughter’s elbow.

After the party, one of the moms invited several of the kiddos to her house to play for a bit. She “tagged in” for an hour and a half and DJ’d a dance party in her living room while I cleaned my kitchen and started on dinner.

Parenting is a team sport. If you’re lucky enough to have amazing teammates, the give and take of shared responsibilities just makes the game that much more fun.