Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Friends with kids: the shifting pool

My partner and I have started some planning for our impending emigration. In the process, we've started talking about the different situations we will find ourselves in with regards to making friends. He'll have Epsilon in a department where he knows  peoples, I'll be alone in a new department and commuting to them every weekend. In this series I'll try to collate our thoughts and write them down.

Sometimes making friends in as an academic feels like building a community while being a highly educated tumble weed. I welcome any insights and experiences from my fellow tumbleweed readers.

Epsilon was born a few months after we made a significant move to start my current post doc. We knew no one in this part of the country, and the logistics of seeing old friends is difficult enough that it rarely happens. One of the first things we noticed is that it was very easy to meet people with a kid. By the time Epsilon learned to like dogs, we knew every dog walker on the street. Well before that every neighbor who was of a grandparent's age knew our little family as well. We became friends with those of our immediate neighbors who had children.

At the same time, the people we met outside our neighborhood were very different. At the religious organization I attend periodically, it seemed that giving birth graduated me from the group of "young adults" to the group of "full fledged adults." Instead of hanging out with the young, post college/early career crowd I was used to, I found myself surrounded by older women who wanted to coo over the bundle in my arms. There were also some other young mothers there as well that I organized play dates with. But it was very hard to make friends with young childless people.

The colleagues I socialize with outside of work, as a result, are those who also have small children. I know very little about the lives of other post docs in the department. The people in my group I socialize with while at work, but see very little of outside work, no matter how interesting I may find them socially or scientifically.

Part of the problem is scheduling. Given Epsilon's early bedtime and early mornings, it is hard to go out as a couple with people after 7. Sometimes we manage to invite people over for after dinner drinks or games, but often the noise level involved causes problems with Epsilon. Part of the problem is my discomfort with the mixing of my parental life with my academic life.

The result is that our new friends set would be unrecognizable to either of us from our graduate student days. We had very few friends with children before Epsilon. After Epsilon, that ratio has literally been inverted, at least locally.

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