Maybe you’ve also felt it… that mixture of pressure and hope when you’re finally face-to-face with the other parents. It could be a school event or just a moment on the playground when your kid’s playing with another kid and their mom or dad is suddenly right there next to you.

Will they like me enough to want to be my friend? I used to ask myself. Will I finally have someone to talk to at these (birthday party, parents’ night, soccer game, afterschool program) things? I used to see other parents happily greet each other and launch into animated chit-chat with a familiarity that eluded me. I wondered what was wrong with me when it didn’t happen, and—I admit it—even speculated that one parent had formed a bad impression and then spread the word.

I wasn’t overthinking. I wasn’t exaggerating. The other parents were polite on the surface but ditched me the minute something better—i.e., anybody else they knew—came along. “Okay, gotta go!” a mom once said as she headed off in the same direction I was walking, crossing the street in a lame effort to appear to be going elsewhere.

Admittedly, my biggest worries centered around my kids being left out of things because their mom wasn’t in with the neighborhood parents, but that was the intellectual part; the emotional me, the non-mom-and-still-very-human me, was just feeling hurt.

But here’s the part that took a while to sink in: I didn’t like them any more than they liked me. I wasn’t dying to hang out with them because they seemed interesting; I just didn’t like that feeling of being left out. Those parents weren’t going to do an about-face and start including me in their playground conversations, walks, or coffee plans, but did I really want them to? My ego sure did, but my heart did not.

So I let it go.

Long before I became a parent, I was already a person, and that person had plenty of friends. They didn’t abandon me when I had my first kid, even though most of them weren’t doing the same just yet. Sure, I couldn’t go out on the fly anymore, but they understood that and were still right there, on the phone or by email, and even in my presence. We could still get together; I could bring the baby (or later, the kids) along. They came to me to make it easier, or they picked a meeting place that was baby-friendly enough to make it work. Best of all, they wanted to talk about things other than being parents, because—news flash—so did I.

Sure, I was eager for info about baby-raising, but dammit, I also still wanted to talk about movies and music and books and family and career stuff and feelings and fears and funny things that happened and the usual array of weird thoughts that went through my head. And let me tell you something: Once you give up the idea that your kids’ friends’ parents have to be your friends, it’s incredibly freeing. You don’t feel like you’re being tested all the time, you stop feeling judged, and the pressure is off to hang out with people you don’t have a real connection with. If that connection is there, great. Enjoy! But if it isn’t, don’t sweat it.

Related: Surviving Motherhood Without Mom Friends

It’s not like I didn’t make any mom friends. One of my nearest and dearest is someone I met because our kids played together, and there were a few others, but we gravitated toward each other the same way you do with people at work, instead of under the pretense that having kids the same age was enough.

I’ve been lucky to have met extraordinary people throughout my life of all ages and backgrounds and found true friends: the ones you can call for advice, ask for help, offer to help without offending, laugh ‘til you cry with, and most of all, tell the truth to. My friends who are also parents aren’t afraid to admit their struggles, to ask what to do when their kids are floundering, or to joyfully celebrate when they aren’t. Those petty resentments I saw on the playground, the snobbery and the cliques, those don’t exist among my friends, since the reason we spend time together is that we actually like each other.

What a concept.

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