By Guest Blogger Laura Simon

I am not a little kid person.

I gave birth to three kids in four years.  Right now, the tiny people in my house are 6, 4, and 1.  I love being a mom more than I could ever have fathomed I would, so much that I just walked away from a fourteen-year career in education to homeschool those tiny people.  But I’m still not a little kid person.

I’m not a baby snatcher.  I don’t speak baby talk.  I don’t magically know what to do with someone else’s crying two-year-old.  Most of my interactions with young children are kind of painful and awkward.  When my turn comes up to be the preschool parent helper, I age ten years in two hours.

Some people are magic with the little ones; some of those people are my friends.  It amazes me how they comfortably engage and carry on conversations with other people’s children.  My comfort zone, it turns out, lies firmly in the teenage years, when kids know how to enunciate words and wipe their own noses and butts.

It makes absolutely no sense for me to be a stay-at-home/homeschool mom to a tribe of tiny people, right?  But six years into this parenting thing, I’ve discovered something.  My kids don’t need a little kid person. They don’t need a preschool teacher, and they don’t need baby talk.  They need me, the me I’m meant to be.  The mama who might not be a little kid person, unless those little kids are her own.

The problem with my “condition” is that my little kids cannot exist in a vacuum.  They need friends other than their siblings.  They need a community that includes other people their age.  They need playdates.

Dun. Dun. Dun.  Playdates.

Playdates wreck me.  Not because I can’t handle kids running crazy through my house, dragging out every toy I forgot we even had.  And not because I don’t love the time to chat with another mom…assuming we actually get to say something in between, “Put your underwear back on!” and “Why is your shoe in the toilet?”

Playdates are hard because I share the mommy figure role with another mom, so I get asked to tie shoes and pour drinks and talk sense and referee fights.  It’s like having my weakest link on display for all the world to see.  It’s equal parts being uncomfortable in the role and being pretty bad at it.  Playdates are so important, but I struggle to initiate them.  It’s not unlike making a dentist appointment; I know it needs to happen, but does it have to be today?

There are, however, a few things I’m discovering that make playdates easier. First, it helps to plan them in common areas, where I don’t have the added introvert pressure of playing hostess.  The more stimulus for the kids, the less shared parenting I have to do, and the greater the likelihood that I’ll get some friend time, too.

I’ve also started seeking out friends with older kids looking to hone their babysitting skills.  I discovered this one by accident, when my friend brought her teen and pre-teen nieces and nephews along on a playdate at the park.  They were practically babysitters.  I got to speak in complete sentences.  COMPLETE SENTENCES.  It was amazing.  My kids were happy and exhausted.  I was happy and not too exhausted.  I cannot recommend this strategy enough. This sounds superficial, but it totally isn’t.  It’s all about learning from your friend in the next stage of mommyhood…and sharing baby snuggles if that friend happens to be a little kid person.

I’m also starting to cultivate consistent community; this can be really hard, especially if you don’t know where to start.  But the more I’m in contact with a kid, the more comfortable I am around him or her.  The neighborhood kids that regularly scale the “unclimbable” fence we put in?  I know them.  I can (sort of) understand them.  I do not walk on eggshells when they take over my backyard.  That’s what the backyard is for, you know?

And at the end of the day, I console myself with this fact: someday, these little kids will be teenagers.  The teenage years are precisely the time I want all the kids coming over to my house…so I can supervise them.  And when we reach that point?  I’ll make it up to all my little kid people friends.  And in the meantime, I’ll take the slobbery kisses, the nonsense conversations, and the lack of personal space…from my own kids.  Because they’re mine.

Are there any other moms out there who aren’t great with little kids?  How do you navigate this sweet – and challenging – time in your lives?