How do you make friends when you’re a new mum? It can be tough to find your people. Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes has some tips.
One of the most common questions I’m asked by email or private message is: “I’m a new mum – how do I make friends?” Becoming a parent is a huge shock no matter how prepared you feel for it, but to then have to do it mostly alone and usually in an empty house, without anyone to say “I know how you feel” makes everything harder.
We need at least one friend who gets us. Ideally you’ll end up with a coven, but at the very least one good mum friend is vital to getting through this parenting lark. Especially the first year. But how do you do it? Well, that’s a question I’ve been pondering for the last five years.
I’m somebody who needs friends. My husband is the most introverted introvert who ever introverted and I’m not of the belief that it’s a partner’s role to give you everything you need in life (or even that they can). I know I need girlfriends in my life. But, I’m a socially awkward extrovert. It’s not a great combo.
But, the good news is: I have friends! Friends who I love dearly. I have a coven, a sister-wife, a platonic husband and in a new development – kindy mum friends. I take the approach that you can’t have too many friends and I sometimes go through life bounding along like I’m on Sesame Street collecting new friends wherever I can. But let me tell you, it sure as shit has been a work in progress.
Here’s what I think I’ve worked out. It might work for you – I hope it does. It might not, and hopefully you can share your ideas too. Because there’s nothing so isolating as those early days. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so lonely in my whole life, so this is important!
Get out of your comfort zone
I know how hard this is. Trust me. My way of dealing with public events used to be (and shit let’s be honest Canon Awards 2017 still is) to get rat-arsed on bubbly because I can’t handle the stress of being in a room packed with people I don’t know. I almost broke into hives going to my first antenatal class. My husband endeared himself to the other mothers by claiming the fake belly they put on him “wasn’t heavy at all”. I smiled weakly in a “I know he seems like an asshole, but I promise he isn’t” kind of way, desperately hoping they hadn’t written me off as a friend already. I looked at the women around me and thought – everyone is so different, will we ever be friends?
Well, five years later, three of those five are still really close and we have eight children between us. I recommend antenatal class to everyone – not for what you learn (it wasn’t much) but for who you meet. I know what it’s like to feel like you’d prefer to eat glass than be in a room where you have to do ice breakers, but trust me, those women have saved my life. Not many people feel comfortable in awkward social settings like antenatal classes and Plunket groups – you’re not alone. But also, these are just really good places to make friends.
Seek and you shall find
Facebook is a great place to find friends. My advice is to stay out of the big mum groups and start your own groups. Small groups are the best kind – you can get to know each other online and then begin planning playdates. I hosted playdates at my house for mums who identified as feminists. Those mums are part of my coven still, five years on. One just turned up at my house for a playdate and she’s now my sister wife. I love her so much I hope our husbands die so we can go and live together and spend our days sharing black sack dresses and bitching about tiny houses.
Think about the type of friend you want to make and then look for them. This seems weird to do but it’s honestly how I made my closest friends. Shared interests help friendships. Go into a group and be specific: “Hey, do you know any baby-wearing, no-sugar, yoga mums in Bluff? I want to meet a mum who likes long walks on the beach and watching old episodes of Grand Designs while tanked on gin.” You will find her. I promise. Twitter is great too – some of my best mates are from Twitter.
Keep out of drama
You know how when you leave high school you sometimes have this thing a few years later where you’re like – why the fuck am I friends with this person? Well, the answer is proximity. You were in the same classes together and you became friends. But maybe you shouldn’t have. You don’t have to be friends with someone just because you both have a baby the same age. Remember you’re a grown-ass woman and you don’t need to deal with daycare committee politics or arguments about baby-led weaning.
Find the babies
I am such an atheist that I sometimes fear I will burst into flames if I go into a church. But you can bet your ass I’ve been to Mainly Music. Did I meet life-long friends there? No I did not. But I got into the habit of getting out of the house to do all the free baby shit. That helped me heaps – and the more I went out, the more potential BFFs for Life I met. Coffee groups, playgroups, baby sensory, rock and rhyme, Playcentre, mums and bubs movies – whatever you can go to, go to it. If you have a kindy or Playcentre nearby just turn up and ask if you can come and hang out with your baby. Kindys are community hubs and there you’ll meet mums on their second, third, hell sixth kid. Kindy teachers are also angels. Playcentre is also a place where (depending on the centre) you should be welcomed with a cup of coffee even if your baby is too small to move.
It’s not you, I promise
I used to stand outside playdates and say to myself “Don’t talk, just don’t open your mouth Emily, don’t say a word unless you’re directly asked a question.” I get so nervous meeting new people that I can’t stop talking. It’s worse still when you can go whole days without talking to anyone over the age of five. It’s not surprising that it’s just an avalanche of words when you finally do see another human. Maybe that’s you, or maybe you’re the person desperate to say something in the conversation but I keep talking and I don’t give you a break to say a word. And then at the end of the playdate you realise you haven’t said anything. Maybe you’re too shy or too introverted. Well, love, I promise you’re not too anything. You’re you, and your best mama friend is still going to find you. I have friends despite being a mouthy idiot who says the first thing that comes into her head. You’re so many more things than your ability to hold a conversation on one hour of sleep. Pinky swear. Remember you were somebody before you had kids and you’re somebody now. Making friends takes time! Which leads me to…
You’re not a loser
Maybe I’m just a weirdo but my prevailing feeling at early playdates was that I was the biggest loser. I would say the wrong thing. Feel judged by another mother’s inane and harmless comment. My kid would always, and I mean fucking always, shit their pants in such an explosive way that it would go all of the way down their legs. I always forgot wipes. I once turned up to a playdate wearing my trackpants round the wrong way and then I burst into tears after being asked if I wanted milk with my coffee. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right. Everyone seemed like they had their shit together. Who would want to be friends with me?
Well, plenty of people. And you’re no different. And nobody has their shit together. Not every day anyway. Making friends is hard, it’s especially hard when you are exhausted and you’re doing this new thing which takes all of your energy and all of your love. When you have a baby it’s like you forever have your heart living outside of your body. Things that hurt feel like they hurt more. So much more. The sleep deprivation: Oh My Fucking God. Life is tough and amazing and beautiful and terrifying. It’s a big deal. You’re not a loser. Trust me.
You are a mum you can totally do this thing
You know what’s hard? Waking up hour after hour and feeding your baby. Pacing all night trying to get your baby to sleep. Juggling everything. Worrying. Trying not to scream when your baby won’t stop crying. Giving birth. Carrying life. Creating life. Adopting and fostering. Suddenly being a mum. Supporting your wife or husband or girlfriend or boyfriend. Being a solo mum. Being a young mum, an old mum. A mum of a child with high health needs. There is so much of parenting that is hard – yet you’re doing it. You can do the thing.
Be brave. If you see a mum online – even if she’s a stranger – if you reckon she’d be a great friend, message her and say “Hey, do you want to hang out?” I know it’s weird. But the time is now to make a friend. She might be a dick. She might not answer (this doesn’t reflect on you). But she might be your best girl friend. And in a year you might be sitting together with a cider toasting your friendship and saying – shit, I could not have made it through this without you.
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