If you've ever sat alone at the playground while your child is running around happily with other toddlers, you're not alone. For new moms, making lasting friendships can be a challenge. Stacy DeBroff, founder of MomCentral.com and best-selling author of “The Mom Book: 4,278 Tips for Moms,” was invited to appear on TODAY to offer some advice. Here are her tips:
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Why it's so hard
Learning to navigate the waters of making new like-minded mom friends can be tricky and disheartening at times. There's the awkwardness of reaching out to someone you don't know and engaging in the dreaded small talk. Exhausted from a day of taking care of your baby or chasing after your child, the last thing you probably feel like doing is being upbeat and warm, and forcing yourself to be outgoing to strangers in the hopes of appealing to new potential friends. Plus, trying to ingratiate yourself into a group of already bonded moms or self-appointed “Alpha moms” can be a painful reminder of the cliques of junior high.
Each one of us at times, and particularly as a new mom, has felt lonely and isolated and craved the close companionship of other moms, especially those with kids the same ages of our own. And it's not easy to pound the playground pavement on a quest for mom friends. Making new mom friends is also much like dating since you are looking for other moms with whom you really connect. To get going, you've got to take on a little social risk. Something as simple as inviting a mom you meet to grab a cup of coffee or get together at a nearby park for a playdate.
It helps to keep in mind some cultural trends we are swept up in that make forming mom friendships so much harder than it was for our moms before us:
- As moms, we are having kids at widely disparate ages (in contrast to a generation ago where the average mom had her first kid around age 22 or 23).
- Many of our personal and work friends will either not have kids yet or be at vastly different stages of parenting and thus hard to relate with. So you find yourself on a quest for new mom friends who have a child the same age as your own.
- Extended families tend to be separated geographically, so the instant local family support network of mom, aunts, siblings and cousins has disappeared.
- Before having kids, many of us don’t even really know our neighbors and haven't invested lots of energy into making nearby friends.
- We moms are often have less time to put into our socializing as we juggle a new baby with returning to work or, on the other hand, we feel isolated from the social world after having left the bustling work environment to spend their time home alone with a fussy baby.
- Welcome to joining the busiest moms on earth. Whether at work or at home, we live much more hectic lives with the complications of caring for a child, running our own lives, and keeping up with obligations consuming our time.
- Research has found that when we have children, we drastically reduce the amount of time we spend with our friends — barely five hours each week, down from 14 hours a week pre-baby.
- Once we have kids, our identity starts shifting, and we feel less certain of ourselves.
- Plus, the current competitive parenting environment can leave you feeling defensive about your parenting choices or your own child's development vis a vis peers.
Don't be disheartened by rejection
Putting yourself out there in trying to make new mom friends leaves all of us feeling vulnerable. It's much like dating all over again. The worst part: You likely will get rejected by a handful of moms along way. I found myself when my son with 6-months-old trying to engage with a mom of a small boy at the baby pool, only for her to jump up and walk away without a word as soon as someone she knew approached. Ouch! And here I thought I was being super-friendly. Some moms simply won't respond with equal warmth, won't like the way your child interacts with theirs, or won't approve of something you're doing as a parent.
Use kids activities for mom friend bonding
Invite moms you meet along the way, such as at the playground, children’s room at the library, mom’s groups, community-sponsored events, or the gym, to grab a cup of coffee. That’s your one simple task. Plus, with kids' activities, from tumbling to baby swim to music — you instantly know you have one thing in common — children roughly the same ages. Remember it takes lots of exposure for you to find a handful of moms you adore and grow into close friends. Think about how many people you meet at school or at work before finding those you really connect with. Whenever somebody says a kind word or even smiles at you, you need to say. “Coffee!??”
Discover these mom-networking staples
- Use your kids! Have a play date for your child’s favorite activity or school classmates and invite their moms over for a little mom-bonding tea party.
- A leader-run mom's group is an ideal way to meet new friends. There’s nothing like sharing concerns to build intimacy. Out of 7 women in my first new mom group, I have become best of friends of two of them, and our friendships are going strong 14 years later. Churches, temples, park and recreation departments, and hospitals often offer facilitated parent groups.
- The children's section of your local library. It's a magnet for moms. Check out the library story times for infants, or just take your brood for a weekly trip to pick out some books. This is multi-tasking at its best, you can enrich your children and make new mom friends!
- Become a joiner. Sign up for a variety of community-sponsored playgroups, and hook up with the moms' groups in your area.
- Check out lots of different playgrounds and parks: even if it means going a neighborhood or town over, so you'll meet lots of different moms. Share a laugh over children's antics and strike up conversations.
- Sign up for mommy & Me, tumbling, swimming, and music classes, and see which has moms you like the most.
- Find out about what kids activities and groups your town's Parks & Rec Department sponsors
- Find a local gym with a high quality childcare facility and meet the other moms at drop off and pick up.
- Walk the dog with your baby in the stroller. Other moms struggling to do both will stop and share a laugh.
- On trips to the mall go to the kids' play section. Even with babies, moms are putting their feet up and looking for some engaging conversation.
- Be proactive: Put up a flyer that you're looking to organize a local mom's group with others who have kids the same age in local children clothing stores and or your pediatrician office. Remember if you are looking for mom friends, others are also. It is just a matter or connecting.
- If you are a stay-at-home mom and your spouse is still in the workforce, ask him if he has any buddies at work with wives and families. A “couples” dinner could turn into a great mom friendship.
- Check out national groups with local chapters, such as Mothers & More or Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS).
- Check out Stroller Strides for new moms to walk with.
- Enroll in some exercise classes at your gym. You are likely to meet other moms struggling to loose that baby weight, and maybe even find a new workout buddy.
- Keep your eyes and ears out for moms who have just moved in to your neighborhood. Chances are they are looking to meet local mom friends as well. Don’t be shy about knocking on their doors with a little welcome to the neighborhood gift. They will probably be eager to connect and get the low down on which creepy neighbors to avoid and how quick the town is to plow the streets when it snows.
Ask everyone you know for introductions
Tap into your social network and think six degrees of separation between you and your soon-to-be best mom friends. It's like being fixed up on blind dates. Nothing like being hooked up with a friend-of-a-friend to break the ice fast. At the very least, you can start off talking about the person you know in common!
Cheer on and celebrate other kids
Take a welcome reprove from the competitive parenting atmosphere that has become the norm and instead try cheering on other's moms kids at activities or classes. They will be grateful for your encouragement and praise, and seek you out to talk more.
We all feel shy when approaching someone we don't know. The Net is great practice for real-time connecting: It's a lot less intimidating to reach out to someone online than in person. Plus, The Net is waiting when you're wide awake after a 3 a.m. feeding or your baby finally dozes off for an afternoon nap. From big sites such as www.ivillage.com to new sites like www.MamaSource.com (connecting you with local moms and local resources/playgroups), you can find other moms whose personalities, preferences, advice and concerns resonate with your own. And lots of moms are starting blogs. It's easy to do for free at www.wordpress.com or www.blogher.com and it instantly connects you with other moms by sharing your personal experiences.
Start a mom's dinner group with the moms you like
Form a potluck dinner group of moms with kids the same ages, with no agenda other than sharing what's up from kids to work to life to marriage. Get together every six weeks for potluck dinners. Mine has been going strong with 14 years, and has been a huge source of comfort and advice to the 8 of us in it.
Mostly I revitalize with other people I adore. I treat myself to girlfriend’s nights out. The thing about me is that I get more energy with being with people than just by myself. So I’d rather go out and have a margarita with a good friend than just have time alone.
—Amanda, mom of two, ages 10 and 5
Schedule a yearly girlfriend's getaway weekend
Make time to keep up with close old friends as well. As kids get older, many moms organize a girl’s escape, whether an afternoon at a spa, an overnight away from the kids, or even a major weekend:
Every year I go to a dude ranch with three friends from elementary school. We started by going to celebrate our joint 35th birthdays and then skipped a couple of years, but we all decided that it was too much fun, and so now we go to a different dude ranch every year. Our husbands or parents take the kids for the weekend, and we go for four days, three nights. We try to find a central location, as we are coming from all over the country, and we look for somewhere we can get to fairly quickly and use frequent flyer miles. We reached our decision about a dude ranch because we wanted to have fun somewhere that we can spend time doing activities together, and that would be warm, as we do our girl’s weekend in the winter. We also need something reasonably economical, as different people had different budgets. While there, we horseback ride, hike, sit by the pool, talk and laugh and sort of spend time together. We have all found there are some things you can talk about with old friends who are not part of your daily life that you can’t talk about with friends you see every day. For example a couple of friends have brought up marital issues, which if they talked about with friends at home, those people would go, “Oh gee…” every time they see your husband. We look forward to it all year, and we’re always amazed how we spend the whole weekend just laughing.
—Carolyn, mom of three, ages 8, 5, and 2
Be a leader
As you go out there at each stage of your child’s life, from having a newborn to starting preschool to your child joining a new sport team, to different ages and stages, you will repeatedly find yourself in this process of seeking out new mom friendships. As simple as it sounds, it helps to smile, and be courageous, and realize that many of us carry a fear of connecting with other women leftover from bad middle school memories. As moms, we need to be leaders, and not be afraid to make the first move. As we know when we discover a wondrous new friend, it will be so worth it. A huge part of what you’ll love about being a mother is the friends you've made, even making friends with women you never thought you would have otherwise liked.
And hold this wisdom shared to me in mind:
“Oh, I need something other than 3 cups of coffee to get me through the day so I just take deep breaths and know I’m supported by all the millions of other mothers out there going through the same stresses. We are sisters of the soul and taking that quiet time to remind myself of this and spending time with my mom friends sure helps.”
—mom of 3, ages 10, 7, and 3