Making Friends With Other Parents Is Like Dating

MAKING FRIENDS WITH OTHER PARENTS IS LIKE DATING

Lyz Lenz

THE GIST

  • Make friends by trying new activities with your child; volunteering at school; joining local mom groups; and signing up for baby yoga, music lessons and story time. 
  • Find like-minded parents in the places you already frequent: parent-child classes at your gym, mom night at a local wine bar or a baby-friendly movie screening. 
  • Be proactive about introducing yourself to other parents in your neighborhood.
  • Initiate conversations without expectations — just because someone doesn’t want to hang out, doesn’t mean they hate your face. 
  • Find your people by searching interest-specific Facebook groups and Reddit forums for parents in your neighborhood.
  • The isolation of the early weeks and months of parenthood is a finite phase, like teething. As your kids age, making friends will become easier, with more opportunities to connect.

The birth of my second child threw my world into chaos. I went from being a working parent of one manageable child to a stay-at-home mom with a toddler and an infant. I felt alone, and my nipples ached while I cleaned poop off the floor. What I needed was a friend. 

I struck up a conversation with a mother at my daughter’s preschool. I thought it went well, so I asked, “Want to go out for coffee sometime?” She shrugged, “You should go out with my sister. You both seem to need friends.”

I never went out with her sister. But by continuing to make my neediness known and asking moms online and offline out for dates, I did find my friends (and I stopped bragging to my toddler about my degrees). Study after study show that people with strong friendships are happier, healthier and more satisfied with their lives. Additionally, friendships are a relief valve for the pressure of other roles in our lives, like parenthood. 

Finding parent friends can be just as fraught and unnerving as dating, so I spoke to two authors who wrote books about parenting and friendship, and to parents from all over the country, about how to find new friends as a parent.

WHAT TO DO

Start close to home.

Melanie Dale, author of “Women Are Scary: The Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding Mom Friends,” offers a practical, step-by-step approach to meeting new parent friends. She advises that parents stick close to home — try meeting local parents at a park or pool, or even a mall playground close to you. Some movie theater chains have mommy-and-me screenings on weekday mornings and afternoons (Google your city and “baby-friendly screenings” to find some). 

It can seem a little awkward to go to your local children’s museum just to “pick up” another mom. But rest assured, you aren’t the only one on the lookout for friends. Michael Auteri, a New Jersey-based father of a toddler, met his best dad friend on the bus commuting into New York City. They saw each other every day, so Auteri struck up a conversation about a book the other dad was reading. One thing led to another: Now, they meet at least once a month at a park with their kids in tow.

Make the first conversational move.

Dale advises starting a conversation with a fellow mom by giving her a compliment, something about her child or clothes or ability to calmly handle a tantrum. But you may be able to bond over negativity, too: I met a mom friend when my son was an infant and I was breastfeeding at a park. She overheard me grumble to myself about boob sweat, and we’ve been friends ever since.    

Dale also encourages parents to initiate contact without expectations. “If another mom tells you she can’t hang out, she may just be busy or maybe she was burned from her last friendship and she’s nervous,” Dale said. “And for those of us who are not initiators, maybe we need to say ‘yes’ next time someone gets up the courage to ask us out on a mom date.”

Rachel Bertsche, author of “MWF Seeks BFF,” encourages new parents stuck at home with a baby to sign up for a music class or baby yoga. These classes are really for the parents, she explained: “No 1-month-old is going to turn into a concert pianist. It’s just a fun way to get out of the house and meet other parents.” 

Find an online parenting group that’s right for you.

Online parenting groups can be miserable, with in-fighting and passive aggressive comments, but they can also be an amazing way to find your tribe. Bertsche recommends trying Facebook Groups, Meetup or apps like Peanut and Bumble’s friend feature to find your perfect parent match. You can search Facebook Groups for parent groups in your neighborhood. Even in my small Iowa town, there are hundreds of groups organized by interests ranging from yoga to a favorite TV show to cloth diapering. Meetup also has meetings organized for parents filtered out by interests. My local baby store has a Facebook group for parents in the area and regularly hosts meetups at the store. Most online groups will come with scheduled events and playdates that make it easier for you to take initiative. 

It’s hard to know what groups suit you until you spend some time in them, learn their rules and see how they handle controversy. Try to find groups that reflect your personality. If you are low-key and jokey, filter through groups for that tone. Bertsche met a mom friend by swiping through Bumble’s friend feature and swiping right on a woman who said she wanted to do things without her kids. “That’s how I knew we’d get along,” she explained.

Let your kids do the talking.

As the wife of a pastor, Lisa Cooper, based in Michigan, has moved quite a bit, so she relies on her children’s friendliness to make friends. “It helps when you have kids who will talk to other kids. My youngest toddled over to another toddler, and they started playing. So I talked to the mom of the other kid. Now we’re best friends!”

Host a playdate outside your house.

When kids are little, before the blessed drop-off playdates begin, Bertsche recommends meeting at a neutral third-party location, where kids can play and parents can talk. Go to a playground and then to coffee. Or the zoo and then lunch. Or pack a picnic and go to a concert in the park.

Bertsche suggests finding a place where you won’t always be chasing your kids and hosting more than one parent at a time. “It takes the pressure off, and there are fewer awkward silences when there are more parents around,” she said. It also makes it easier to leave if the interaction is going south. 

Accept that not every relationship is built to last.

Dale breaks down the stages of parent friendships into “bases.” No, you don’t have to kiss anyone. For Dale, first base is the awkward small talk at the park. Second base is the initial playdate at a neutral location. Third base is a playdate at home. And a home run is when you hit it off and start meeting without children around. “Some friends come into our lives just for a season, sometimes literally a baseball season or a soccer season, and then you change teams, your kid quits the sport, and you never see each other again and that’s O.K. But once in a while, you find a lifelong friend,” Dale said. 

Raquel Reyes lives in Miami and said that every parent she meets seems to cycle in and out of the city, which makes keeping and maintaining friendships hard. She met a group of good parent friends by volunteering at her local Unitarian Universalist church. They keep in touch by scheduling monthly lunches and checking in weekly on a WhatsApp group chat.

The initial desperation to create new parent friendships is just a phase like teething. Give yourself some kindness. Eventually you will find your people. And then, when kids start school, you’ll find a whole new set of parent friends.

Put in the effort to maintain new friendships.

Parents are busy; it’s hard for them to prioritize friendships. And making good friendships takes time. Researchers at the University of Kansas found that it takes about 50 hours of time together to go from acquaintance to casual friend, 90 hours to move from casual friend to friend and 200 hours to move from friend to good friend. Bertsche suggests penciling in a regular time to meet up, whether it’s a monthly playdate or a happy hour. “Having that standing date keeps the guess work and effort out of maintaining the relationship,” she advised.

SOURCES

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