Making Friends 101

Yesterday I posted about the importance of making friends when it comes to being a happy mom.

But I know that’s easier said than done.

For many of us, motherhood—particularly when we have a baby or toddler and don’t have school field trips and PTA to bring us together with other moms—is the first time we find ourselves in a situation where we’re trying to make new friends with absolutely no help. After all, in school and later at work, you’re thrown together with the same people day after day, week after week. Even if you and your classmates or co-workers have very different personalities, you have a shared goal: passing the class, finishing the big project, landing the major account. Plus, you have time to get to know people, to break the ice in a lot of small ways over weeks, months or even years

But it can feel different when you’re standing in the park, trying to figure out how to approach another mom and start a conversation in a short window of time, with the knowledge that you have just this one shot—you may never see her again. How do you make a real connection with another mom you meet while you’re both trying to keep your tots from climbing the wrong way up the slide? And even if you hit it off, how do you take it to the next level and get her digits without seeming like a stalker? Here are some tricks to try:

Make connections. Trying to think up a good excuse for asking for that other mom’s phone number or e-mail address (or for giving yours out)? Sometimes it can feel less awkward to initiate future contact if we set up some context first, so ask a few questions that will tell you what the other mom might be interested in. As she talks, keep that mental Rolodex flipping, and think if you have any connections or resources that might be helpful or welcome to her. Then before you break up the party, say “You know, I know of some websites (organizations, clubs…fill in the blank…) that you might be interested in. Can I get your e-mail address so that I can send you the information once I get home?”

Use technology as a crutch. If you’re part of a playgroup, mom-baby class or other formal activity, you may find that there’s not much time for getting to know the other moms in the room beyond simple introductions and “oops, sorry!” when you bump into them. One way to make a connection outside of the group is by offering to set up an e-mail loop for everyone to keep in touch with. By putting yourself in charge of getting the group together, you not only have the ability to make further contact with everyone through the list, but you can also get closer to specific moms you’d like to know better by asking for their help getting the group off the ground. Plus you can do it via e-mail, which can feel less intimidating—and certainly less rushed—than in the five minutes while you’re being herded in or out of a room.

Pass out business cards. Or, if that feels silly, think of them more as old-fashioned calling cards. List whatever information you’re comfortable handing out to virtual strangers—maybe your full name; perhaps just your first name and an anonymous e-mail address, maybe a blog or the web address of an organization you belong to. If it feels too awkward to pass out a card during a casual exchange, you could say something like “I’ve been trying to organize a few moms of toddlers for a playgroup. Here, let me give you this card with my contact information—if you’re interested, give me a call.” If she accepts it eagerly, why not get even bolder and ask for her info, too? That way, even if she loses the card (and let’s face it, who doesn’t occasionally misplace business cards?) you won’t lose track of her entirely.

Use your kids as an excuse. “Look how nicely our kids are playing together! I’ve been trying to get Sam together with kids more often…” if she’s paying attention, she’ll probably get the hint—you want to see her again!—and if she’s interested, she may toss the ball back in your court.

Fake it ‘til you make it. For those who sweat bullets over the idea of approaching a stranger, this is easier said than done, but sometimes there’s really no way to break through that shyness unless you “act as if” you’re confident, extroverted and outgoing.

Give yourself a job. Many moms feel awkward making small talk, or when they aren’t sure what to do in a social situation. But many of those same women don’t have any trouble exchanging niceties with a cashier as they’re waiting to pay for their groceries. What’s the difference? In the grocery store situation, you know exactly what’s expected of you—and of the other person—so there’s no awkwardness. Similarly, volunteering to help (cutting out shapes at your child’s preschool co-op, arriving early at playgroup to get refreshments together) provides a couple of perks: it allows you the chance to get to know people in smaller groups, and it gives you a well-defined role, so there’s none of that awkwardness where you’re trying to figure out what to do—or say—next.

When it comes to putting yourself out there on the playground or at the pediatrician’s office, have any tricks worked for you?

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