Many mothers today can agree that finding a mumma tribe to belong to is crucial to surviving the chaos of motherhood with your sanity intact. A landmark study recently showed that female friendships are fundamental in helping women manage their stress. Having a “village to raise your child” also means having that extra helping hand and guidance for times when Google is more overwhelming than enlightening. But how do you go about finding your tribe when you’ve left that village behind?
Three years ago I was the new girl in town, with toddler in tow and no close friends or family nearby. Whilst being a stay-at-home-mum meant I was never alone – not even to go to the bathroom – sometimes I felt the weight of loneliness rest so heavily on my shoulders.
Even if you haven’t recently moved to a new town, having a new baby would spark the need for mum friends. Going out with a new bub feels much easier when your outing partner is also busy trying to settle a cranky or hungry baby. Maybe just like you, she hasn’t washed her hair in a while!
Why is it so hard to make & keep new friends?
Most new mums will tell you, making friends as an adult is hard. What used to be second nature as kids is now one of the hardest things to do as adults. For an introvert like myself, having to put myself out there and trying to get past the initial awkwardness feels like a lot of hard work. As daunting as it was, I thought Hey, how hard could it be to find like-minded women in the same boat as I was? Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
So, armed with an eager readiness to make mummy-connections, I brushed up on my playground pick-up lines. I braved myself to smile and say the first ‘hello’. I made polite small talk and offered to exchange contact details to arrange play dates.
Sadly, though unsurprisingly, not all of the acquaintances made flourished into friendships for one reason or another. Why?
• The relationship couldn’t go deeper than small talk.
• We end up finding out we didn’t have much in common.
• We couldn’t see eye-to-eye on some fundamental issues like vaccinations, Trump’s presidency, or which contestant The Bachelor really should have chosen.
• One of us flaked out, couldn’t make schedules work or just got too busy.
• Or, some – shock horror – just didn’t want their kid around mine. (Okay, admittedly, there have been a couple of kids I didn’t want near my kid either, so no judgement there!)
After a few hits and misses, and what seemed like a hundred litres of coffee scoffed down at a million playgrounds, I found my tribe. They were women who not only made me laugh. They listened to and commiserated with me over relationship and motherhood dramas. Most of all, they stepped up and offered help at times of crises and always made time to meet.
How to find your true mum friends
1. Put yourself out there
Much like the world of dating, you can’t find mum friends if they don’t know you’re interested. So don’t be embarrassed to initiate conversation or to offer contact details with a view of arranging play dates. Don’t be overly concerned about being the Over Eager Beaver – chances are, if you don’t eventually hit it off, you’ll never see these people again. You stand to gain more than you will lose.
2. Brush up on your pickup lines
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or witty. It’s highly likely that the other mum is also looking to make friends but is just too shy to make the first move. Keep it simple. A positive observation followed by a question expressing your interest in her usually works well. For example, “I love the play equipment in this playground. Do you and your daughter come here often?”.
3. Be a “Yes (Wo)man”
So finally you meet someone who asked for your number to meet for a play date or coffee. You exchange numbers and set the date. As the day draws near you suddenly find yourself thinking up a million reasons why you shouldn’t go. Connecting with new people is hard, but you have to just fight through the nerves, and just give it a go. Who knows, this person could just be the most amazing friend. And if you don’t give it a fair try, you’ll never get to find that out.
4. Meet and Repeat
Keep in mind that the first play date or coffee session may not ignite instant sparks. Sometimes it’s hard to be yourself around new people, because both parties may be anxious. Conversations may be dry – awkward even – and it can seem like you have very little in common. Even if you didn’t hit it off like a house on fire, make another attempt to meet again. Creating more shared experiences with this person will help build and enrich your relationship – the more shared experiences you have together, the more things you can draw on to connect with each other.
5. Slowly does it
As you approach or enter your 30s, more likely than not, you’ve been friends with your besties for so long that you can barely remember a time when they couldn’t finish your sentences. But remember, these friendships didn’t get to that level overnight. When it comes to making mum friends, be prepared to also invest time and energy to help it blossom. Good friendships can’t be rushed.
6. You don’t need a kid to make friends
Don’t dismiss an offer of friendship simply because the she doesn’t have children. Remember that a friendship is not sustainable if the only thing you have in common is your children. If your child-free friend is happy to hang out with you and your kid, then she’s definitely a keeper. The perks of having more child-free friends is that when you do get a “passport” for a kid-free outing, these friends’ availability is not restricted by their child’s schedule, making it easier to organise meet-ups. Talking about topics that don’t involve children can also help you find yourself again if you feel like you’ve lost your sense of who you were before motherhood took over your life.
Where to look to find your mum tribe
1. Join a playgroup
This is one of the easiest ways because groups are usually based on the children’s age group and because bub would be happily engaged (for the most part), leaving the mums with some freedom to chat and get to know other mums with minimal interruption.
2. The playground
The playground is a mother’s equivalent of a ‘single’s club’ – it’s the place a mum who hasn’t yet found a friend for regular playdates go to keep her little one happily occupied. Try somewhere local to your area as there’s a high likelihood a mum you meet would be living nearby too. This makes it easier to set future play dates at a location convenient to you both.
3. Connect online
There are many options for finding new friends via an online platform or apps. You can do a search of Groups on Facebook based on your interests or location. You can also seek to connect with people of similar interests via Meetup, or look up lady friends in your local area through Hey! VINA and Mush.
4. Know thy neighbour
Remember when we were growing up and our first friends were our neighbours, and their parents were ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle’ to us, because they were also friends with our parents? And yet today, how many of us can say confidently our neighbours would be the first to respond in an emergency?
About two years ago, a new neighbour moved in next door, and she had two children around my son’s age. So I braved myself to do the clichéd ‘neighbourly welcome’ – I knocked on the door and dropped off a plate of homemade cookies. It took us about one year of shy, slightly awkward play dates – for the mums. The kids were running amok happily from the get-go – but now, she’s one of my best friends who has offered me help and support countless times and her children are two of my son’s besties.
So take a page out of our parents’ book and make an effort to know your neighbours.
5. Do what you love
Like yoga? Join a yoga class where kids are welcome. Are you artistically inclined? Try signing up for a Sip & Paint session where you can relax, paint and chat with a glass of wine in your hand.
Meeting people who share the same interests as you is more likely to lead to friendships that can grow and strengthen with time.