Advice about how to adjust to being a new parent, whether you’re staying at home with Baby or you’re headed back to work, tends to include a note about making parent friends – not as a replacement for the friends you already have, but as a supplement.
You already have the friend who likes all the same movies, or can reminisce about your shared childhood. Now you’ve got to find the friends who can knowledgeably empathize about Baby’s bowel movements, or how much sleep you haven’t gotten in the last week. And oh, are they out there!
One thing new parent advice sources aren’t brimming with though, is advice on how to find those friends. This is mainly because just like any time you’re trying to make friends as an adult, without structures in place to encourage making connections, making new friends can be really hard. It is do-able, though, and it gets easier as your child gets older and starts school, and some of the same ways it was easier to make friends when you were in elementary school circle back around to help you out. There’s no need to wait quite that long, though, as long as you’re willing to take some risks, and maybe face some duds – there’s a good chance you’ll try to befriend a few parents you won’t click with before you find the ones you can connect to.
Location, location, location
It’s hard to make parent friends when you aren’t meeting other parents! Luckily, some of the places where it’s easier to run into parents with kids in your age range are pretty intuitive – the park, kids’ play areas at places like chain restaurants and the gym, age-appropriate activities through community centers, religious centers, libraries, or the Y. These kinds of locations are good because they give you the chance of a built-in connection with the people you meet. Beyond having given birth in the last year, maybe you’re both passionate about fitness (or just trying to find the most painless way to get back into shape), or you both want to give your children an interest in books from an early age, or you’re both sick of the music the instructor of an activity insists on. Having something besides the existence of your children to chat about can really help to break the ice.
On the other hand, these kinds of environments can be a little intimidating, especially for new parents whose babies aren’t quite old enough to be into the activities yet. Like most aspects of our lives though, there are online options! Various online networks help parents find meetup groups with other families in their area, and if you feel more comfortable breaking the ice and establishing a connection that way first, instead of pulling Baby along on a mission to see who the two of you can run into, using the internet can be a great way to feel people out.
If you’re working, connecting with other working parents – either at your job or just more generally, through a more specific parent group – can be a good way to find someone you may relate well to. Even simply going to activities that happen during non-business hours may help you make the same kind of connections.
Make the first move
It’s as hard now as it was when you were 13, but making the first move is the best way to help these kinds of connections to happen. It can help to remember that as hard as it might be for you to go up to a complete stranger who just happens to have a child around the same age as Baby, the person you’re thinking of approaching probably feels just as uncomfortable as you about reaching out – and maybe just a little bit more. She’s in the same boat, after all, or at least a very similar boat following a very similar route.
Take a chance
Even if you don’t click with your prospective parent friend right away, give yourselves a chance to get to know each other a little better. Sure, his parenting philosophy might be a little different from yours, but he might have exactly the same sense of humor, and you’d never know it if you walked away before he got the chance to crack a joke. If you have a couple of questions in the back of your mind to feed fading small talk, you’ve got a better chance of keeping a conversation going long enough for it to find a natural rhythm.
Parent friends don’t have to be just like you any more than any other friend you’ve ever had – parenting is a touchy subject, but keeping an open mind to people who parent differently than you can help your chances of expanding your social circle.
Seal the deal
It might feel uncomfortable asking for or offering contact information to someone you’ve only been talking to for fifteen minutes – in fact, it probably will. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it though, so just remember, that really cool-seeming mother with the adorable 9-month-old might come to the same park you do sometimes, but the chances that you’ll run into her there again actually aren’t that great. This means two things: first, it’s probably now or never, and second, if she flakes out on you, or, even worse, says no outright, there’s a good chance you’ll never have to see her again.
When that time comes, ask if she wants to have a playdate – even if Baby is a little young to be appreciating the chance to socialize, the term definitely applies. If you’re uncomfortable, it might feel easier to offer your own contact information than to ask for hers. This also invites her to make the next action to reach out.
The most common comparison is that trying to make parent friends is like dating, and it’s not too much of a stretch. Meeting people can be tricky, pickup lines are important and shouldn’t sound practiced, it’s hard to decide who should call first, and when to call, and the thing you really want to do is make a connection. Don’t lose heart, though – just like in the dating scene, there’s someone out there who’s looking for a parent friend just like you.