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Why is it so hard to make mom friends? Solutions to 2 common obstacles

by Meagan Francis on February 21, 2011

Yesterday I posted about the kinds of friends every mom needs. My guess is that you didn’t have a friend or two to fill every role on the list. Heck, if I’m honest with you, the only reason I do is that I have a handful of good friends who fill multiple roles. My sister covers at least three categories, and my two best friends from high school live in town, so it’s not like I had to start all over.

But that’s today. When I was a newer mom of two little ones, living hundreds of miles away from female relatives and friends, my social network was sadly sparse. Yet making new acquaintances, I found, wasn’t nearly as easy as I’d assumed it would be. Even harder? Nurturing real friendships.

Why is it so hard to meet people and create friendships as a mom? I’ve got a couple theories–and some solutions that might help.

Problem: The venues are all wrong.

How did you make friends in school or at work? Well, you were thrown together day after day, for hours at a time, working together on the same projects, sitting together in the same cafeteria, running around on the same playground. Over the days, weeks, months and years, friendships naturally grew.

Contrast that with a trip to the playground, where two preoccupied moms might have ten or twenty minutes, tops, to strike up a meaningful conversation, make a connection, and then try to swap contact information before being having to rescue a child off the top of the monkey bars or push them on the swing. Or a library story hour where parents are too busy trying to pretend to do the hokey-pokey alongside their kids while still hanging on to the scrap of dignity they have left. The places we tend to congregate with other parents, especially when our kids are small, are just not conducive to meeting like-minded people and actually conversing with them.

Solution: Create your own venue.

If you’ve met someone who seems nice but you can’t seem to get past niceties because the kids keep trying to go the wrong way up the slide, offer up your home or yard for an informal get-together. Don’t, for heaven’s sakes, plan any elaborate snacks or activities for the children. They will have fun playing with nothing more than a pile of bags (just make sure they’re paper or canvas, not plastic; I do have some standards.) Let the kids run amok while you drink coffee and get to know each other. Repeat until you would feel comfortable calling her during a childcare crisis.

If your problem is meeting people in the first place, think outside the playdate box. Join a book club or knitting circle. Next time you’re out, pick up a treat for that neighbor down the street–you know, the one with three kids under three, who doesn’t look like she’s left the house in months– introduce yourself and ask if she’d like to bring them over and let them wreck your house for once. Some of this making friends stuff requires guts. Don’t be afraid to reach out…chances are good the other person will be grateful you made the first move.

Problem: Small talk stinks.

I’m horrible at small talk with strangers–so much so that I will avoid situations (like, ahem, library story hour) in which I’m forced to participate in it. Once I get past the first few socially-scripted lines (How are you, how old is your baby, look at that rain…) I feel completely awkward and flounder around until we light on a topic that has some meat to it. Sometimes that never happens and I spend the entire conversation wanting to run for the nearest exit. I’m not shy, I just have to have something to say before I can be expected to speak articulately. Plus, a lot of kid-related small talk just isn’t very fascinating. “So, what does your baby do?” “Poop…and sleep.” “Yeah, mine too…”

Even if you are one of those strange souls who love small talk, you have to admit it’s not the best route to forming real relationships.

Solution: Give the conversation some context.

It took me a while to realize why I was always so awkward with other moms at the playground, but have no problem chatting up women at, say, a blog conference. Finally I realized it was because with the mom at the playground, I have no context. All I know about her is that she is also a mother. I don’t know if we have another single thing in common, or if she even wants to talk to me or just feels obligated. And I don’t want to perform what feels like a rapid-fire interrogation to find out, either.

At a blog conference, on the other hand, I know we’re all there because we share a common interest: blogging, and that we’re all there to meet other people. Getting conversation started is as easy as asking what the other person blogs about.

I’ve found the best way to get around awkward small talk is to seek out people who have common interests and make friends that way. For example, when I moved to our new town a few years ago, I immediately went on a search to find other local writers and work-at-home moms, and connected with them via email before we ever met. When we finally did get together (and yes, it sometimes took a ridiculous amount of time: sorry, Beth), we had built-in history and something to talk about.

You can use services like Moms Like Me and Meetup to connect and converse with local moms before you ever meet face-to-face. Twitter and Facebook can also be good places to try. And hey, even small towns might have a handful of mom bloggers in them. Start your search there!

Even though I’ve just give you two techniques to get around making friends on the playground, sometimes that can be a great way to strike up friendships–if you’re brave enough to try and have a plan for staying in touch. Tomorrow I’ll share some tips for going from “smiling across the slide” to “swapping phone numbers” and beyond.

What are your biggest obstacles to making friends now that you have kids?

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Olivia February 21, 2011 at 2:39 pm

I have found being “the new kid in town” to be a huge obstacle to making friends. I wasn’t exaggerating in the last post when I said it took over 4 years since we move here to cultivate the friends I have. Even now, there are only two or three I feel comfortable calling for help. Now, part of that is me not feeling comfortable imposing on others, but sometimes it really is the other person.

My husband is very sociable (sp?) and together we have made multiple invites over the years to get to know people and we have gotten a lot of polite yesses, but they are seldom followed up on. Or we manage to get them over one time and then they drop us when we call again. It is really hard to make friends as an adult.

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Meagan Francis February 22, 2011 at 11:39 am

Olivia–you are right, it IS hard to be the new kid. I’m going to address that in a future post. Thank you!

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StephJ February 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm

i had a similar experience having moved a year and a half ago. I got lucky and have made a few friends, but only one who I feel I know well enough and really trust to leave my kids with.

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Lyndy February 21, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I find that the fact that our children are always with us to be the biggest challenge with making new mom friends. There is so much distraction when I take my daughter to the park, etc. My focus is so much on her, that any outside interaction is difficult to maintain.

It’s hard to strike up a conversation with another mother who seems just as distracted with their own child as I am with mine!

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Meagan Francis February 22, 2011 at 11:39 am

Lyndy, you mean you find it difficult to connect with other moms when kids are screaming in your ear and climbing on your lap? Whatever could you mean? :)

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Lyndy February 23, 2011 at 7:32 am

haha! Precisely!

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Lyndy February 21, 2011 at 2:46 pm

By the way, I just recently stumbled across your blog and absolutely love it! Thank you so much for everything you do! You are a true inspiration to us busy moms out there trying to balance everything.

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Heather Mundell February 21, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Now that my kids are a bit older (12 and 9), the biggest obstacle is scheduling! It seems that everyone (including me) is “busy”, and that planning a get-together on a weekend sounds like a lot of work. Lame excuses, but obstacles nonetheless.

I really dislike how easy it is to drift away from friends I made when the kids were very little and how difficult it is to create new friendships, but friendships are so important to me that it’s worth trying to get around the obstacles.

One thing that has helped so much is that a friend started a Mother-Daughter Group (modeled after the ones described in the excellent book, The Mother-Daughter Project), and we make a point to get together as moms monthly and as mothers and daughters about every other month. I didn’t know everyone in the group to start out, so it’s been great to get to know other people and move beyond small talk.

Great post! This has been on my mind for a while, how isolating it can feel to be caught up in work and family but missing friends.

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Meagan Francis February 22, 2011 at 11:40 am

Heather, I hear you. Life does get busier as kids get older and you have to make a real effort to stay connected.

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Beth/Mom2TwoVikings February 21, 2011 at 3:09 pm

LOL And, if you remember correctly, Meagan, when we FINALLY did meet, we STILL had trouble carrying on a conversation since we were…at the PARK! Even with DaHubby with me it was hard! LOL

I think our local MOMS Club fills the initial gap for me – out of 50-some moms, I’ve made 4-5 really good friends out of the 30 or 40 I’ve actually met. LOL MOMS Club supplies the opportunities (while still limited by the kids) and then you find those you actually have something is common with and go from there.

It works couples-wise as well since they have Couples’ Nights Out and family activities where the dad are welcome as well.

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Meagan Francis February 22, 2011 at 11:41 am

LOL–Beth, I thought about that after I posted! Maybe we should have chosen another venue. Like Dairy Queen! HA HA HA HA ha.

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kate February 21, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Like Olivia, being the ‘new person’ in town is tough. Even 8 years in, I’m still new in this small city. I also find that in the smaller venue I am more different. In the big city there were/are more moms like me, but here I stand out as different, and sometimes that is a barrier to other people wanting to really get to know me. They don’t know how to connect with me. But I do put it out there in the ways I can, and have made some nice friends, if not close friends. One other obstacle to this town is that a lot of families have to move away as jobs are tough to come by — I’ve lost two good friends that way in five years!
I think that the biggest obstacle with making friends while having kids in this area is 1 – I only have one, very unusual here and 2 – we parent quite differently than many of the other families.

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Meagan Francis February 22, 2011 at 11:41 am

I think too sometimes people who’ve lived in the same place forever don’t reach out because they don’t have to–their social life is already set. There are usually other “outcasts” around, but it can be really hard to find them.

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adventuresinbabywearing February 21, 2011 at 8:24 pm

My biggest obstacles are that I find a lot of “new” moms wanting to have playdates or meet up with me, but I am an “old” mom with “older” kids… and naturally they are freaked and super cautious about their baby and my crazy toddler. You know? So I find that thru our “speed” playdates LOL – the quick meetups at the park or playgroup- I can find who I mesh with and just keep seeing them. I was really excited to hang out with a Mom of a baby who was totally relaxed about Ivy running all around her child, and they all actually loved it.

I think for me, it works to hang out one on one instead of in big groups. So I try to do that via coffee date or park meetup in the warm weather, etc.

Steph

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Kelly February 21, 2011 at 9:44 pm

What do you do when you live in a very rual area, have 4 kids, a husband that works all the time, no family within 100’s of miles, and the only source of excitement is grocery shopping at walmart. I have tried to make friends but I am not a go getter and I am usually the “follower” I guess you could say. I don’t invite people to hang out. Right now, my teenage daughter is the only friend I have, even then I can’t be too much of a friend because we all know where that would go! I don’t know, I try. But it sucks being alone all the time!

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Meagan Francis February 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Kelly–that is a real challenge. I’m hoping some other super-rural people can chime in! My guess is that in that case you’ll have to create strong online bonds and focus on quantity over quality when it comes to local friendships. Some people really thrive on that kind of isolation, but I know I wouldn’t be one of them!

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Melissa October 9, 2013 at 8:35 am

Kelly I completely understand your situation and I am a single mom of four with kids in the range of 13,11,9,8 and would love to make new friends and go places but its hard I work for a Head start to support my family and I live in Benton harbor and unfortunately its look down upon but Im this really great person and would love to meet new people that I can hang out with and go places with so I understand you Kelly.

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Gretchen February 22, 2011 at 6:19 am

Great post! It is nice to know I am not alone in the not having alot of friends category. I work full time and have a 2 boys, 2 and 4 1/2. I can say that there is not a lot of time for friends, but that is not entirely true, what I feel like I don’t have time for is the tiresome prospect of MAKING friends. I’ve tried some of the mommies clubs etc and while everyone is very nice, I haven’t yet made a real connection with anyone. I really feel like trying to meet good mommie friends is a lot like dating, you have to keep putting yourself out there and god willing eventually you’ll meet someone but the process can be very tiresome! I just wish there was an eHarmony for girlfriends to make the process go a little faster!

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Ellen February 22, 2011 at 9:39 am

I was saved when my kids were babies and toddlers by a moms’ group/play group that sprang from an informal class for new parents at the local community center. I never would have even gone except that a friend dragged me…and it changed my life. After the class ended, we kept on meeting at coffee shops once a week. When our babies became mobile and their behavior unsuitable for coffee houses (and when we started having second, third, and fourth babies), we met weekly at one of our homes. Bagels for the kids, coffee for the moms, and loosely supervised play time so we could basically sit on our runkuses and let the kids trash the house (knowing it would be our turn another week to deal with the trashed play room). When the kids started going to school, we started a book group for the moms, and have continued that now for about the past five years. We also go away together for the weekend when we can, keep up with daily stuff by email and texting, and go out for drinks or dinner. These are the friends I call when I have to take someone to the ER and need to drop my other kids somewhere. These are the friends who have fed my family as I’ve undergone cancer treatment. They are the only people with whom I will go to a karaoke bar. The kids also remain friends, even though they don’t go to the same schools. I feel like my kids have 14 local cousins–kids they don’t necessarily see every week, but whom they can always count on for loyal friendship, complete acceptance, and no-pressure play time when they need it.

I’ve met other great mom friends by volunteering (I am not a big volunteer-er, but because I’m so choosy about where I volunteer, I think it’s more likely that I’ll meet people with similar values and outlooks). Also, despite its reputation for being disconnecting, I’ve found Facebook to be a fantastic way to widen my circle of friendships, particularly with other parents at my kids’ schools. I’m not bosom buddies with all of my FB friends, but the regular and easy contact it provides means that I’ve gotten to know people I might otherwise not have. These are the moms I reach out to when I need advice on which pediatric dentist to go to, or which t-ball league to sign my 5-year-old up for. Because I’m a writer who publishes on parenthood and other personal topics, my FB connections often read what I write, which can lead to some pretty great conversations that go beyond the superficial.

I can’t even believe I’m the one writing about all my wonderful girlfriends because, before I had kids, I was really not a “girlfriend” kind of girl. I was just as happy to stay home with my novel, thank you very much. But motherhood has forced me to become more of an extrovert, and has blessed me with great, great friends.

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Rebecca February 22, 2011 at 10:07 am

I can really relate to Kate! I only have one child and it seems like everyone else has multiple children. My husband and I are introverts and our parenting style is not mainstream. Seems like controversial issues come up when we’re just trying to make small talk with somebody. I never know how to respond because I want to be honest about where we’re coming from but I also am not trying to enter a debate. So I answer vaguely and that doesn’t help make friends.

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Meagan Francis February 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Rebecca, as another not-inside-the-mainstream parent-er, I can relate. I’m going to post about this later in the week.

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Michelle February 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I just moved to a new state (my husband’s hometown) about 9 months ago and I have yet to meet people my age and/or people with kids my son’s age. We live in a very small town, I’d say 70% of the population is retirement age, and my husband’s family lives nearby. Sounds ok right? Except my husband is a loner (so no friends from when he grew up here). And I work full-time (no time for the storyhour group) and my son is only 15 months so no friends yet. I’m lost as to how to meet people my age or people with kids my son’s age! I’ve never even met the parents of the kids in my son’s daycare class…..My story is a bit like Kelly’s but I do have my in-laws (yeah! <–said with sarcasm)

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StephJ February 22, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I have found the “finding a mom friend” in a new town to be just like dating. And I find it hard when they don’t call me back after i have invited them for playdates! I don’t want to be the one inviting all the time. Also, what do you do with the awkward situation when you get someone’s phone number, and then you don’t call them for months or almost a year because you get busy and have a new baby etc etc but that mom is really cool and you would like to get together? How long later can you call someone you think is a cool mom and invite them to get together?

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Alison Alfredson February 24, 2011 at 9:30 am

Since Facebook, I’ve had the opportunity to re-connect with friends from high school. And since I live in just about the same area, many of us are still around. Luckily we all started having kids in our early 30’s so we can share that experience too. One woman in particular, whom I hadn’t seen or spoken to in about 15 yrs now, is becoming a friend again. I never would have thought it. Our girls combined are 7, 6, 5, 3, and 17 mos. Makes for a crazy play date but lots of fun for us.

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Barbara February 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm

I’ve been living as an expat for a number of years and I find that making friends is complicated in this setting because people are coming and going every couple of years on work contracts, so people are more hesitant to make good friends because of the pain of losing them when they move away. It is a multi-cultural setting, but there is a tendency for some moms to stick to their own nationality groups. I guess it is because there is that familiarity and bond because of the common culture, but it does exclude others who would make excellent friends. I’m a bit of a social butterfly and am very open, so luckily I’ve been able to find lots of different kinds of friends, but it has been difficult getting close enough to a few that I feel comfortable leaning on them for support or asking for help when I need it, and of course being there for them as the person they want to turn to when they need help.

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Shana February 24, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Meagan – Love this post. When I first had R, I was going to a breast-feeding support group and met one of my future BFFs there. We decided to start a mom’s group through meetup.com. Within a week or two, 30 other moms had joined. Now there’s group of over 400. Which is ridiculous. But it goes to show that moms of all kinds are out there.

The advantage to starting a mom’s group yourself is that you can be very specific. For example, we started a mom’s group based on the premise that we were all new-ish moms, living downtown Denver. I’ve seen mom’s groups on meetup that are as specific as “Moms over 35 who have kids that were born in 2009″ or “Moms of three children living in X county”.

However, no matter how big (or small) a mom’s group is, I always think of them as a dating service for moms: they provide the vehicle to meet other moms, but you still have to work on the “dating” part. :)

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Amber February 25, 2011 at 9:32 pm

I’m late to the party on this one, but now that my firstborn is in school, it’s a HUGE obstacle to socializing. A lot of my mom friends are people who have kids around the same age as my older kid. Now that she (and all her friends) are in school, weekdays suddenly don’t work like they used to for getting together. And weekends are always busy. It’s increasingly difficult to find a time that works.

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Katie P. September 30, 2014 at 1:20 pm

I have always struggled to make other mom friends. It’s not easy! I’m pregnant with my third and luckily this time have plenty of mom friends already to sort of pull me through! I also join a lot of mom forums online and also downloaded a free app called Preggie for my iPhone and I’ve connected with a lot of moms that way too.

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