Let me paint a picture for you.
I’m at the birthday party of one of my son’s classmates. There are at least 15 4-year-olds running around and just as many parents milling about trying to make sure their kid isn’t the one who ruins the party by shoving their fist in the cake or face planting down a flight of stairs or basically, fill in the blank with any number of ridiculous scenarios that could easily go down.
While this is happening, the adults are also trying to talk to each other (bless the person who included alcoholic beverages in the party spread) and go beyond the usual small talk. See, at this point in the birthday party circuit, we’re halfway through the year, and we’ve all seen each other a lot. Aside from the parties, there’s daily drop-off and pick-up and sometimes other activities where kids overlap.
I had actually put on makeup and “dressed up” with jeans and a blouse and was feeling kind of bold. While the kids ate their pizza and cake, I sidled up next to a mom I’d been seeing weekly at swim and school and said, “I know this seems kind of creepy and weird, but can we be friends in real life?”
She laughed out loud and basically said something to the effect of, “I’m so glad you said something, I’ve been wanting to say that too.”
Nine months later, we’re actually friends who hang out with and without our kids, and I’m so happy to have made a new and meaningful connection in my life. Even our husbands have gone on lunch dates and organized playdates for our kids.
Making new friends, let alone mom friends, is hard.
As parents, we have precious little time for extra effort in our lives. It’s all I can do to get myself and my kids out of the house fully clothed with breakfast in everyone’s bellies before heading off to work. While I have an amazing group of girlfriends from college, they’re spread out all over the country taking care of their own families, so phone calls are few and far between. They’re always there for me, but you can’t beat a network of moms who live close by.
Because let’s be real: motherhood can be lonely. Even though I’m basically always surrounded by little, sticky hands and voices calling after me, I crave connections with other women who I can lean on for support and talk to about the absurdities of day-to-day life.
It might seem intimidating to make and keep new friends, but a little vulnerability is so worth it. If nothing else, cultivating this new relationship with “Birthday Party Mom” helped me get out of my rut and forced me (and my family) to make plans for the weekend that revolved around something other than grocery shopping and doing laundry.
So, how do you do this? I have five suggestions:
Accept the awkward
Name how awkward the whole “will you be my friend?” conversation is, and just lean into it.
Odds are the other mom feels the exact same way, and somebody has to make the first move. If you’re getting the vibe that she would be fun to be around, then take a risk! I find it’s easier to do it at a birthday party or in a group environment, because you’re already both there – hopefully, with a few seconds to breathe while the kids play – and you can connect for a minute to establish a quick rapport. Doing it in the hallway during drop-off or pick-up isn’t a conducive environment for making plans.
That leads me to number two: making plans. Once you’ve established you both want to move forward, exchange numbers and decide what’s next. A drink after the kids are in bed? Going on a walk? Watching a show together? Then, put on your fanciest sweatpants and get after it.
Feel good about putting yourself out there
YES! You made plans! My friend and I went on a legit mom date after our kids were in bed a few days after we talked at the party. We met at a local restaurant and talked for hours. It was delightful and refreshing on so many levels. And yes, we both acknowledged how strange it is to put ourselves out there in this way, but it’s been a great bonding experience.
Keep the connection going
Once you’ve established this baseline connection, don’t give up! This is the “how to keep mom friends” part.
Try to find some way to connect in person every few weeks, with or without kids. My friend and I forced our husbands to go on a double date, and they ended up connecting as well and have since hung out without us. I’m not suggesting becoming a stage five clinger or texting every day, but consistent communication and proactively reaching out goes a long way.
Repeat – voila, a new friend!
I realize this doesn’t sound like rocket science. If you want to keep a friend and continue building on what you started, then, of course, you can’t ghost them – DUH.
But seriously, if you don’t try to keep things up, it will fizzle, because everyone is busy, and it’s hard to make new relationships last when you’re older and busy wrangling children.
Trust your gut about the person too. If in the times you’ve talked you feel like there’s no spark, then maybe she isn’t your person. I’m not saying force something, because there does need to be mutual interest. You’ve made it this far in life with friends and so I feel confident saying you’ll know when it’s right, and if nothing else, being vulnerable is a good exercise and something we’ll probably want to instill in our kids.
And last but not least, quality over quantity. A few reliable friends who get you, make you laugh, and generally make this journey of motherhood more fun is better than a wide circle of acquaintances who you wouldn’t feel comfortable around unless you’re in your fanciest sweatpants.