We just had our annual “Four Families” holiday dinner. My husband says this name makes us sound like a crime syndicate or something, but it’s the affectionate way in which we refer to four families who met when our oldest children were in kindergarten together. We’re an eclectic bunch, but through our similarities in parenting style, our dedication to our kids’ school, and personalities that somehow click (among parents and kids), this group of 16 has collectively maintained a friendship for over five years now.
Before having children, my husband and I found it difficult to get to know people outside our academic worlds. Our closest friends were colleagues or fellow graduate students. We lived, worked, and played with people we knew through our university contacts, and over the years have developed some deep and lasting friendships with other academics from similar backgrounds and with mutual interests. Early in our careers, with busy schedules and little time to pursue outside activities, it was difficult to get to know people in other settings without deliberate effort. It’s no wonder I married someone in my field, from my own department, as do so many other graduate students.
Then we had children, and suddenly there was a new common denominator to grease social wheels. When my son started school, I felt like my world broadened as I got to know the other parents from a variety of backgrounds who came to drop off their children at kindergarten. Those of us who became closest were new to the school, with our oldest children in kindergarten. It was pretty clear the first-timers had a different mindset from the veteran parents who were old hands at leaving a child on the first day. I gathered with the other anxious moms for support, and we watched in admiration as the experienced moms simply said good-bye and walked away without looking back.
Through the friendships mothers and children developed, we “Four Families” have remained close over the years. Perhaps it was sharing our hopes and worries about kindergarten that initially sparked friendship, but we also shared a common bond in being driven career women who had given up full-time work to be home with our younger children. As our friendship grew, we found we could support one another in caring for the younger kids so we could engage in activities to keep us active in our professional lives, or take turns volunteering at the school. When I became seriously ill a few years ago, these friends were a lifeline and vital to keeping routines as normal as possible for my kids after our home life turned upside down.
The “Four Family” adults represent a variety of professions and educational backgrounds, including scientist, lawyer, filmmaker, high school teacher, pastry chef/professional cake decorator, healthcare industry recruiter, interior designer, musician, and executive from a major restaurant chain. Some of us live in modest townhouses, while others live in big houses with rec rooms in the basement, where we can send the eight wild kids while the adults linger over dinner and wine. Two of us mothers are still home full-time, while two of us work part-time. We support one another in our decisions to be home and in our efforts to be back at the work. Although it was the relationship among mothers that got us together, our husbands get along well too and now meet regularly for hockey and golf games.
This year we booked our “Four Family” holiday dinner back in August to ensure that with busy schedules we’d make time for the big dinner. Although we get together on many other occasions, it’s our December gathering, squeezed in before everyone takes off for Christmas to be with their own families, that my children now think of as an important holiday ritual. This has been a difficult year for some, and the support we provide one another is especially important right now. In a season when there are way too many things going on, it’s lovely to enjoy the company of a group of people with whom we all feel so comfortable. Just like family.