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.