This week, I got a letter to the editor which made me pause and think. The writer said, “I have a few friends, but no one I can truly trust. So I ask you, where can I meet mum friends?” Other mums seem to be everywhere we look, but how do we meet them, and make friends with them?
You see, I’m a serious introvert, and I find it difficult to make friends – and not only with other mums, but with other people in general. I get tongue-tied and I blather and I do silly things like fall off my chair or drop crumbs down my bra. However, since I became a mother 11 years ago, I have met some wonderful other mums who have become my very dear friends. I cherish these other mums as dear friends and people I can commiserate with over the highlights and lowlights of parenting. But how did I meet them, and how did they become my friends?
I’ve been reflecting on my journey to motherhood, and I remembered that it was really a chance occurrence that set me on the path to making friends with other mums. When I had my first baby 11 years ago, I was the first person in my friend group to have a child – and that was pretty isolating in itself. I attended antenatal classes, but I confess that I skipped the last session (the one where we were supposed to exchange phone numbers and set up a coffee group) because the thought of forcing friendships with people just because we had babies the same age was terrifying. Especially Amanda, who was scarily confident and cool. So I spent the first several months of my daughter’s life at home, doing crafts, watching way too much daytime TV, and feeling quite lonesome.
Then somehow, accidentally, I ended up on a list to volunteer for Plunket. As in, one day I opened the front door to find a fundraising bucket sitting on the mat, along with a list of the streets I was to visit door-to-door to collect money for their yearly fundraising drive.
And while there were instructions about where to drop the money off once it was collected, there was no info about whom to call with questions – and I felt quite embarrassed about the idea of ringing up my local Plunket and suggesting that I did not, in fact, want to help them with fundraising, when all they were asking was that I visit two streets in my neighbourhood and knock on some doors.
So I put my daughter in her pram and I went out into the neighbourhood and I asked people to donate to Plunket. It was quite challenging to my introverted self, but I did it. And then I went along to the designated place at the designated time to hand in the money, and I met some other mums.
“Stay for a coffee!” they said, and I was too flustered to say no. They were friendly. They were chatty. They were kind to me, an obviously socially awkward first-time mum. They cooed over my baby and invited me to come to a music group. And much to my surprise, I agreed to go, and I actually went.
And it was lovely.
Yes, there were some other mums there who weren’t really “my type”. And there were some mums there who were in their own little cliques and didn’t even so much as glance at me. When I felt awkward, I just busied myself talking to my baby or pretending to look for things in her nappy bag. After a short while, I realised that the best way to handle interactions with other mums was to compliment their baby! And inevitably we could find some common ground, talking about our children, and I would start to relax.
Here’s my first secret about meeting other mums: You meet them through your children.
Over the past 11 years of motherhood, I’ve always met other mums through my children. At mother and baby yoga class, baby gym, music group, preschool drop-off and pick-up, kid birthday parties, in the school parking lot before pick-up time, volunteering at school events, in the creche at church, at local community events for kids, at school concerts where parents have to sit with other parents, at ballet or swimming lessons, at school meetings about how to help the kids with maths, at tutoring drop-off and pick-up, in the waiting room of the local Plunket clinic, at the playground… And my go-to for meeting another mum is still the same as it was when my oldest daughter was a baby: To talk to them about their child. (This works especially well when their child and your child are playing together, or are friends at school or an activity.) And even though some of the conversations were just one-offs, and I never saw those mums again, I can tell you unequivocally that 99% of those other mums were pleasant and friendly right back to me.
Here’s my second secret about meeting other mums: Other mums want to meet you, too.
I don’t know a single mum who has found it easy to make friends with other mums. But I have heard, time and again, mums saying they find it hard to meet people as they get older and their life circumstances change. Having children is a great life-changer, and who better to understand it than another mother? Chances are high that the other mum you’ve just made tentative eye contact with across the room is also feeling nervous and a bit reserved, and isn’t really sure about you, either. And chances are also high that she is also thinking to herself, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I meet people and make friends?” when there’s nothing wrong with either of you. You’re both in the same boat.
Here’s my third secret about meeting other mums: It’s okay if they’re not all your close friends. It’s okay if you just want one or two close mum friends, and the rest you’re friendly with when you meet them.
Friendships take time and attention. They’re a bit like plants: You have to put something of yourself into them, or they’ll wither and die. And when you’ve had a bad experience, or felt like someone else was judging you, or were unable to penetrate one of those inevitable mummy cliques, it’s tempting to just give up and retreat back into your shell. Believe me, I get this. Remember, I’m an introvert! But after a long time, I learned that it’s okay if I just have a handful of close friendships that I nurture, and a wider circle of acquaintances. And some of my friends with other mums have been seasonal – they’ve been intense and lasted the length of time my daughter did swimming lessons, or my son was in a particular class. And that’s okay. That’s life. People come, teach us things, and go. It’s the learning part that’s beautiful and important, because these friendships, however brief, can help us to learn a great deal about ourselves.
So accept the invitation to coffee group. Try out the local class at your community centre. Go along and see who’s there. And if the first time isn’t that great, try again. And again. At some point, you will meet someone you’ll click with. It will happen to you, just like it happened to me.
And here’s the moral of my own story: One day I ran into someone from that original antenatal class, years before. I don’t even know where we were or what the circumstances were, but I remember the feeling of utter shock when I saw her face and realised where I knew her from. “I remember you!” exclaimed Amanda. “You were in antenatal class with me, but you didn’t come to the last class. We all wondered what had happened to you!” And it turned out that this scarily confident, cool woman I’d thought I could avoid was meant to be in my life, and was actually hilariously funny, wickedly smart, and wonderfully kind – and she became one of the dearest friends I have. I just had to give her, and me, a chance.