Care and Feeding

Uh, Small Town Life Has Not Turned Out the Way We Planned

We wanted a quieter, safer environment for our kids … not this.

A mother with a party hat on looks disappointed.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by LightFieldStudios/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We moved to a small town from a larger city a few years ago. We wanted a safer, quieter, and less stressful environment for our kids to grow up in. We have two children ages 9 and 14. For me, making friends here has been next to impossible, but I’ve accepted it.

My kids seem to get along with everyone at school, get good grades, and never have issues, but they never get invited to parties or play dates or anything outside of school. I even threw a birthday party one year for my youngest and invited his whole class. Only one child out of 21 showed up.

I volunteer to help with class parties at school and am involved with their sports and such in hopes to meet some other parents, but everybody is really standoffish and keeps to themselves. The parents who I have talked to and hit it off with, always decline play dates or will tell me to find them on Facebook, but never accept my friend request.

We have a nice and clean house. My kids are well-behaved and very polite. We are in no way troublemakers or anything of the sort. I honestly do not understand what the problem is. I hate seeing my kids not having any real friends here, and I’m afraid it’s going to always be this way. Will we just always be considered outsiders here? Is this just how all small towns are? What more can/should I do?

— Lonely From Texas

Dear Lonely From Texas,

As an ambivalent alumni of Moore, Oklahoma, where our mega-churches have signs on the door suggesting “no open carry,” I feel your pain. Yes, small towns can be incredibly insular and yes, you probably will always be considered outsiders to some extent. When everybody has known everybody forever, they can be slow to warm up to newcomers.

Additionally, many small towns can be myopic, and the people there sometimes hold extremely conservative values. This is one reason that “safer” for some doesn’t mean safer to all. It’s possible that something that seems harmless to you has actually scandalized the community to the extent that you’re having trouble being included. Like, I don’t know, you have a prominent tattoo? Or you don’t attend church? (Honestly, if it’s your thing, attending church would probably help.)

That said, small towns and even conservative areas are not a monolith. There are always people who share your values and hold common interests. The trick is finding them. If getting involved in school activities isn’t bearing fruit, try volunteering elsewhere or getting involved with community organizations.

If all else fails, get in the car! For me and many others who didn’t fit in in their small towns, driving to nearby cities and larger towns for social activities was worth the cost of gas. (Shout-out to my parents for driving me to and picking me up from the nearby college town’s open mic poetry night every week when I was 13 so I could hang out with other bookish weirdos.)

Emily

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