Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Kids as Social Capital

Say what you want about the odium of washing out sippy cups, for me the most difficult part of learning to be a parent has been learning to talk to other parents.

Now that my son has started playing pee-wee sports, I spend most of my weekends small-talking on the sidelines with other fathers and rebuffing suggestions that I volunteer to coach. I’ve never been much of a joiner, so it’s taken some effort for me to get with the program of dopey sociability that seems to be required of parents. But I don’t care how much of a recluse you are, once you have kids, you end up, through no will of your own, being sucked into a whole new social orbit. Because of my kid, I’ve gotten to know my neighbors—all of them parents, too—in a way I never did when I was single.

A short item in the January/February Atlantic (subscription required, scroll down) mentions a study called “Social Interaction and Urban Sprawl” (pdf) that suggests that “suburban sprawl might actually be good for your social life and your involvement in the community.” Two economists studied people in low-density neighborhoods and found that “they have more friends overall, are more likely to spend time with their neighbors and are more likely to belong to local clubs or social groups than are urbanites.”

I’m agnostic on whether suburban sprawl really is evil. But I have lived in the city and I have lived in the suburbs. And if social interaction is the goal, my experience tells me that living in the city or the suburbs has less to do with your degree of involvement or isolation than whether or not you have school-age kids.

In about thirty minutes mine will be home from school. He’ll probably have a few of the neighbor kids with him, all of them looking for hot chocolate. Is this what they mean by “community involvement?”

This is my post on my first blog. The plan is to figure it out as I go, so I hope you’ll keep visiting.