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You may be thinking: Friends? I already have plenty of friends! But a parent friend is different.
We're talking about someone who's living through the same sleep, feeding, and development issues you're facing with your new baby. Someone who's happy to talk about poop, breast milk, and spit-up. Someone who won't mind – or notice – that you're wearing the same sweats you wore yesterday and the day before.
This kind of camaraderie will help you more than you can imagine. But forming new friendships isn't always easy, and approaching new people can feel as awkward as a first date. Here are some tips to make it easier.
Step 1: Locate other new parents
"It's always a challenge – not only making new friends, but finding them!" says Rollie Sampson, a military spouse who has moved a lot. "I usually start with playgrounds and play areas at restaurants."
You can also find a moms' group or dads' group in your area or sign up for parent-and-baby classes, such as yoga, swimming, or music. Many neighborhoods and towns have their own parents' clubs, and libraries, churches, and synagogues often do too.
"I joined a mothers' group that resulted from a newborn class led by the county nurse. We still meet twice monthly, 22 years later!" says Linda Carlson.
Another good spot for finding friends is the gym, where you can exercise and meet potential pals in one fell swoop.
"I've met many moms walking from class to the childcare area," says Caren Cohen. "It's natural to gravitate from there to coffee or lunch."
You might just meet a new friend while you're doing errands, taking your baby on a walk, or even waiting in the pediatrician's office. So aim to get out of the house at least once a day, and keep your eyes open for chances to make a connection.
When Jessica Barton took her 6-week-old to the mall, she didn't expect to stumble upon a friendship. But she happened to see another new mom sitting on a bench.
"She was fumbling with a bottle while her baby screamed. My son was working himself into a major 'I'm hungry' tantrum as well, so I looked at her and said, 'Is this seat taken?' We fed our boys and started sharing the details of their births," says Barton.
By the end of the conversation, Barton's new friend had invited her to a playgroup. The two moms are still buddies four years later.
Consider your online options, too. Apps like Smile Mom are a great way to meet local moms and schedule playdates. Online social networking helps you get in touch with old friends and make new ones. And if you haven't already, create a profile on BabyCenter's Community and put the call out to moms or dads in your area.
Step 2: Make your move
Okay, so you're getting out of the house, you've joined a parents' club, and you've registered for a class or activity. Now it's time to focus on approach.
"The pick-up line that always works for me is 'How old is your child?'" says Kathleen Kerber. "If someone wants to talk, you can go from there."
Complimenting someone's baby is another conversation starter. "The best mommy pick-up line is 'You're probably tired of hearing how beautiful your baby is!' No mother ever gets sick of hearing her baby is beautiful, so you're in," says Jenna McCarthy, author of The Parent Trip: From High Heels and Parties to Highchairs and Potties.
Gear-related icebreakers work well too. "I often will say something like, 'That baby sling looks so easy to use. Would you recommend it?'" says Katja Presnal.
If you're feeling shy that day and just can't get out a greeting, you can always let your child help.
"My favorite way to pick up mom friends is to wait for one of our children to inevitably push or hug a little too hard," says Jessica Smith.
"If my child is the perpetrator, I apologize profusely and then ask how old her child is, which gets the ball rolling. If her child is the perpetrator and she apologizes, I say that if it wasn't hers, it would have been mine."
Even with the smoothest introductions, making small talk can be nerve-racking. "I find myself stressing about everything I say. I don't want to come off too strong and run off a good prospect!" says Stephanie Johnston.
It helps to remember that many other new parents want to make friends just as much as you do. If you do encounter someone who isn't interested, don't take it personally
Step 3: Seal the deal
There's no getting around it – exchanging phone numbers or email addresses with someone you barely know can feel awkward.
"I started talking to another mom on the playground today, and I couldn't shake the feeling that it was like a first date. It felt even stranger when I gave her my number!" says Jenn Savedge.
Weird as it may feel, just bite that bullet and go forward. Think about it this way: If you put off making a move, you could lose your chance.
"I was having a great conversation with another mommy at one of those mall playground places. I was just about to ask for her email address and a playdate when her sister showed up and whisked the whole family out from under me. It was like losing that great guy at the coffee shop when the hot barista comes along," says Stephanie Johnston.
The simplest wording is probably best: "Would you like to get together for a playdate sometime?" (The term works even if your kids are too young to play together. For parents of babies, "playdate" really means "sleep-and-eat-date.")
Others go the online route by asking whether a potential friend is on a particular social networking site, then following up from the comfort of their keyboard.
No matter your approach, keep in mind that other parents are probably feeling just as self-conscious – and just as hopeful – about making new friends as you are.