“Becoming a mom is a social boom like nothing since college,” says my cousin Sarah. It’s true: When else in life do you find yourself suddenly thrust among new people with whom you have this milestone in common? And even more important, when have you needed social support more acutely?
When I became a mother four years ago, overnight the demand on my existing friendships took on a new requirement — were you a mom, too? Could your child play with mine? Could we have coffee (or a glass of wine!) and kvetch while our babies stared at each other, or (eventually) played?
It wasn’t easy at first. But over the years (my son is now almost 4 years old), I’ve learned to pick up mom friends. And when I say pick up I mean “pick up.” Making new mom friends is a lot like dating. It’s hard to make the first move, but the reward can be so worth taking the risk. And the ratio of rejection is a lot lower than dating.
My friends tease me that I’m a serial mom dater, and it’s true that I’ve made new mom friends at work, in the ferry line, at preschool, while walking the dog, on Facebook, while shopping, at the playground; really anywhere. Here’s what I’ve learned about finding the perfect mom date.
1. Put away the smart phone
When I am out with my son I try to fully engage, experiencing life as he does (for the moment) unplugged. And while I get that many parents have to multitask, the phone is a barrier to in-person connecting. It’s hard to break through the wall of someone intently using her phone. So if you want to make new friends, try going hands-free.
2. Find a common interest
Sometimes a common interest can be as simple as your schedule. Last year my son and I joined an evening co-op preschool. The class was only once a week, and as the parents were all working professionals, the evening was the only time to do it. Immediately, we had the working-parent thing in common and friendship soon followed with several.
I’ve also “picked up” mom friends more easily while doing activities that were already part of my life. I met my friend Rali and her son while waiting in the ferry line to Lopez Island. Right away we realized we were each outwardly outdoorsy types, mothers of boys close in age, and visitors to an island we both love. It was a natural next step to exchange phone numbers and set up a play date on the island. Happily, this has led to a great friendship back in Seattle.
Common interests could be yours or your child’s – anything from music programs to nature walks to sports events. If it is an activity you are sharing with your child, you’ll find other like-minded parents and kids in the same place.
3. Newcomers make better friends (sometimes)
You might have more luck in the mom friend-dating game by going out of your usual circle to find new pals. In particular, parents new to the area have not found their “group” yet and might be more open. It could be as easy as setting up a “blind playdate” on a local parent listserv. A friend of mine put out a call on such a group to form a Monday play group – the only time she had free. This eventually led to a loyal group of three moms and their children; the two other mothers were new to the area, which made them more interested in connecting regularly.
Another benefit is added perspective on your city and culture. For example, I have made mom/kid friends with women and kids from Russia, Nigeria, Quebec, Taiwan and South Africa. My new friends observe living in my hometown of Seattle with a different set of eyes.
4. Set up a safe first date
This is where cultivating a new friendship really is like dating. Once you’ve agreed to meet, then what? And will you still like each other afterwards? Meeting in a public place instead of your home is a safe strategy. Just like a real date, if the play date is not working out, it is easy to depart after an hour, with no great investment made on either side.
I’ve found that trying a completely new adventure can be fun – most people are thrilled to get out of a rut. I’ve proposed hiking or local farm visit excursions to my urban-oriented mom friend Joy, and she exclaimed afterward about how she would never have thought to do that herself with her son (and how “beyond awesome” a time they had!).
5. Missed connections are okay
Not every new interaction leads to a lifelong friendship. Sometimes the chemistry isn’t there after the first blush; sometimes the kids aren’t interested in each other; sometimes families move away. Though I’m an admitted mom dater, always looking for new connections, over time, I have settled into certain mom/kid friendships more than others.
And even if not every invitation leads to mommy romance, you are demonstrating to your child that you are participants in the world. Positive social support in our lives has a spillover effect on our children, giving them confidence in us as their parent and themselves as evolving social creatures.