How to make mum friends

Words by Jennifer Riddall, blogger at themotherboardblog.com and freelance journalist.

Early in my first pregnancy, my husband was offered a new job in another country. At the time, we were living in my hometown - a spot that’s perfect for raising kids and is round the corner from my family and friends. But, excited by the adventure of moving to a place we had never lived, and completely in the dark about what lay ahead as new parents, it took all of 30 seconds to decide to take the job and make the move.

Iceberg ahead.

The saying ‘it takes a village’ was thrown my direction quite a bit in response to the relocation news, but I didn’t take much notice of people’s concern. Why would I? Before becoming a parent, it’s hard to imagine how utterly life changing having a baby can be. For example, my hypothetical children were much lower maintenance than my actual ones. And, the realisation that having a village to raise your child could be really bloody helpful, only dawned after I moved away from my village - literally.

Denial is a powerful thing so it took a while to admit I needed new friends. I had a lovely bunch of them back in England, but therein lay the problem – my tribe was in another country. During those early weeks and months of motherhood, I spent a lot of time sitting in the house or walking the beach, with only my new baby for company. It was lonely; as wondrous as this little person was, she hadn’t yet mastered the art of tea making and grown-up chat.

So, after greeting my husband from work with major snot-infused meltdowns on a number of occasions, I set about overcoming the isolation by trying to make some new pals. As an introvert, however, putting myself out there (cringe!) filled me with terror and, needless to say, I haven’t found it easy.

Four years and two kids later, I wouldn’t say I’ve found my tribe, but I’m definitely getting better at looking. Mainly because as I get older I give less fucks, which makes making friends a little less awkward. Just a little … Am I the only one who thinks it’s like dating?

In the process, I have managed to forage a few like-minded mums, even if it’s just a conversation with someone at one of the many groups I have attended over the past few years. This is no mean feat (as any introvert will know) and has made the world of difference to a day that has started in the trenches. The power of a cuppa and a chat will never cease to amaze me.

For anyone in the same boat, I can’t guarantee you success but here are a few alternative (and not too creepy) techniques for finding mum friends that have worked for me …

·      Dressing to impress. Slogan tees and quirky prints have attracted the attention of mums and infants on a few occasions. Like the time a lady at my local breastfeeding group thanked me for hypnotising her screaming baby with my bright pink leopard print sweatshirt. I took it as a compliment.

·      Keeping them sweet. Carrying around snacks to entice potential new friends might feel a little creepy, but offering a sugar hit to a tired parent works a treat – tried and tested. Double brownie points if the snacks are also baby / toddler friendly.

·      Lending a hand. Waiting rooms, shops, car parks and cafes are all places swarming with baggage-laden parents juggling balls and trying to navigate their way around impossibly awkward spaces. Open the door, hold the lift, lend a hand and (possibly) make a friend.

·      Catching (or offering) lifts. A couple of months into motherhood, a mum in the baby massage class I was attending offered me a lift to a sling meet the following week. I declined because I didn’t see the point - why would I go to the trouble of transferring the baby seat from my own car to hers? Now I can see it was probably an attempt to make friends.

·      Poaching pals. Making friends with parents who know other parents in the area has been my most effective technique so far. It’s a skill I mastered back in school when one of the gobby kids took me under her wing and introduced me to a group of girls who, 25 years later, are still my best friends. My friendship with the gobby kid, however, was short lived. 

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There’s nothing wrong with just existing.

Words by Amy Rose, Editor of The Fourth Trimester magazine

I’ve ummed and ahhed about whether to post this because I’m almost three years postpartum and therefore this isn’t PND, I should really have my shit together by now right? Wrong. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that anxiety and depression can mess with anyone at any time, and when it does, it is really fucking debilitating.

I’m still exploring why my mental health deteriorated but in CBT sessions we’ve worked out it could be related to:

• A young relative dying suddenly and unexpectedly

• Being on the Thames and experiencing the sheer panic of London during the terrorist attacks

• Overworking and under-sleeping

In the space of a couple of months I went from happy, ambitious and excited about future prospects, to losing interest in everything, almost constantly on the brink of a panic attack and wanting to stay in bed all day every day – difficult to do when you’ve got a toddler to keep alive.

I reached a point where I realised I couldn’t survive like this anymore. I spoke to a doctor, received a prescription for anti-depressants and went on my way. To cut a long story short, I had a very bad reaction to the drugs (The Verve, “the drugs don’t work, they just make it worse” became my soundtrack...), which concluded with me passing out and my toddler having to watch as an ambulance came for mummy.

I was checked over, taken off the meds and prescribed diazepam to stop the shaking and to use if any big ol’ anxiety attacks happen again. I was signed off from work (which would have been nice if I wasn’t self employed), and told to ‘just exist’ for a while. So that’s what I did. Existed, slept, existed, took diazepam, slept, existed.

Whether you’re a new parent trying to muddle through your hormonal changes, or a parent to teenagers trying to muddle through their hormonal changes, mental health issues can just pop out of nowhere. I do believe that as parents our anxieties and general worries become so much more heightened, which can make it hard to put up a fight. But fight we must. 

I sometimes wonder whether I’ll ever feel completely better, which can end in me having a panic attack about having panic attacks for the rest of my life… but that’s something I’m working on! What I have learnt is that if you want to get better you have to do something about it, you’re not just magically going to be happy again, you’ve got to try different things and find what works for you.

Today I’m feeling alright (alright enough to write a post about my mental health so I guess that’s good). What seems to be working for me is taking each day at a time; going to yoga every Monday, walking the dog three times a day, trying to use my meditation app at least every other day, and practising my breathing. And if I can’t help but give in to the panic, I keep diazepam in my bag ready to bring me back down to just existing (personal triumph – it’s been a whole month since I last took one!).

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The terrible twos

Frankie Leigh, blogger at www.themilkrose.com gives us an insight into life with a 'terrible two' year-old.

I am currently half way through the 'terrible twos'. Since Luna was born she hasn't always been the most laid back, easy going kid on the block so I was expecting the twos to follow suit. And they have.

So far this week Luna has had a tantrum because:

* I wouldn't let her run around a busy carpark.

* The biscuit she wanted was downstairs and not upstairs.

* She wasn't allowed to run into a stream fully clothed.

* Her dinner wasn't ready at the exact moment she decided she was hungry.

* I was cooking her dinner.

* I offered her a drink.

* She wasn't allowed to pull the cat's tail.

* It was windy at the top of a very large hill she had been carried up.

And that's not even mentioning the usual issues of not wanting to nap/go to bed/eat most of the food she is given...

I completely understand it, she is frustrated by her lack of understanding and comprehension about a lot of issues, health and safety being one of them. She is also fairly limited in her current vocab. She has the important words 'puddle', 'wow' and 'backpack' down though. All of these combined, plus more teeth, potential growing pains and generally discovering who she is and what she likes, makes for a fairly draining combination.

However I'm not so sure that the twos really are that terrible (I write this while Luna is still awake at 9pm and shouting "Mama" from her bedroom as she's decided she doesn't need sleep). While I miss the squishy baby snuggly stage, this age is amazing. Watching Luna learn and discover is the best. I get to take her to new places and everything seems like an adventure. Almost any outing, however boring, can be spiced up by pointing out the animals/vehicles/colours that you can see. Watching her face as she experiences something new and can understand it, is the best feeling ever. Her personality is coming through more and more each day. Without a doubt she is strong willed and knows her own mind already, which isn't always easy, but I love seeing that fire and determination in her character. Always wanting to lead the way and forever pulling my hand so we can follow the path she has in her mind. She somehow remains my shadow while also building her independence.

The majority of the twos is not easy and trying to reason with a child whose favourite answer is no is somewhat tricky. When they cannot communicate what they want you can see the frustration build and it's not surprising it spills over. On the days when I find myself in Sainsburys as she lays on the floor screaming because I said she couldn't eat the plastic on the outside of the cucumber, I try and remind myself why she is upset. She doesn't understand, it doesn't make sense in her mind. When it's just us, this reasoning helps; in public when others are tutting or rolling their eyes while jabbing a thumb in our direction it's a bit harder. I try to not let the public outbursts upset me, but I can feel the real, and I'm sure sometimes imagined, judgement from others around me. I feel the need to justify her crying and reassure strangers that I'm not a terrible parent, just trying to look after her as best I can.

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Why I don't want to be a 'bad mum'

Words by Sarah Turner, @theunmumsymum | Illustration by Camille Léa Pearson, @camille_fleur

Being a ‘bad mum’ is trendy these days, apparently. It says so in the papers. The ‘good mums’ have had their day and we’re now witnessing the dawn of a new era celebrating the less-than-perfect mums who are not afraid to rant and swear and post Instagram pictures of the large G&Ts they’re enjoying after wrestling the kids into bed. Being a bit rubbish at mummying just got cool, by all accounts, and I am all too familiar with the ‘rise of the slummy mummy’ type articles because I am widely credited as being part of this movement. I’m one of the slummy ones. Yay.

“How does it feel to be at the forefront of this shift where being crap at motherhood is now in vogue?” I was asked last week.

What kind of a question is that? Is that really what people think of me? That I’m a crap mum? That I aspire to be seen as a crap mum? Crikey, how depressing. Yet my biggest beef with these sweeping statements about parenting ‘types’ is not that I have been labelled a ‘slummy mummy’ or a ‘bad mum’ it’s that I have had to be labelled at all. Is this not just another way of putting women in boxes? Good mum or bad mum? Pick a side.

I’ll admit that at times I have foolishly allowed myself to see crafting, cupcake-baking, uber-organised PTA mums as the enemy but that’s only because I have felt like a failure in comparison. That’s not their doing. At no point has a mum wielding crochet hooks and handing out passionfruit meringue cupcakes ever gone out of her way to make me feel lousy. I have felt lousy because I am shit at crafts and baking and because I have the day-to-day organisational proficiency of Dory the fish (if Dory had two kids and a moderate hangover).

I make a living out of documenting my experience of motherhood - warts and all - and mocking my own incompetence is a big part of that. I have taken great comfort in the fact that sharing my own failings has helped other mums to feel brighter, that it has made them laugh and reassured them that ‘we’re all in it together.’ But when I hear that parenting ineptitude has become fashionable somehow, that it’s something to be celebrated, well then I can’t help but wonder if I have unintentionally assisted in flipping the coin so that mums who derive pleasure from doing the activities I am rubbish at feel like they are on the losing side. That it’s now in some way uncool to be a ‘good mum.’

The most ridiculous thing about the fictitious ‘good mums versus bad mums’ divide (after the obvious problem of deciding what makes a mum good or bad) is that it is simply preposterous to assume that anybody would fit neatly into either box. If I herded up all the mums I know and tried to put them into ‘good mum’ and ‘bad mum’ pens, like sheep, I would struggle. Is there a scorecard somewhere? Do we earn points for certain things and forfeit points for others? What if you enjoy a whole host of crafty activities but also enjoy getting a bit pissed on a Friday night? What if you’re Chair of the PTA but swear like a trooper at your kids’ football matches and feed the kids freezer tapas more than twice a week? Which pen do you go in then?

I stand by my assertion that it is good to share the trickier bits alongside the glossy bits and that it is healthier to be honest about our feelings of weakness than it is to put on a front and fall apart behind closed doors. By some people’s standards I probably am a bit slummy but it’s never been my objective to be viewed that way - I struggle to comprehend why anyone would actively strive to be regarded as a shoddy parent. I will probably never blog my ‘Top 10 Winter Soup Recipes’ or make nursery bunting or take a photo of everybody looking gleeful in a field of sunflowers. I’m much more likely to share my eagerness to crack open a bottle of wine after accidentally letting the swear guard down and witnessing the toddler say, ‘Fuck’s sake!’ clear as day for all to hear. I share these things in the hope that a snapshot of my real life puts another parent at ease and if a subsection of the Great British media chooses to interpret that as a celebration of mediocre parenting then perhaps I just have to roll with it. It doesn’t mean I’m ‘proud to be at the forefront of the shift’ and it certainly doesn’t mean I agree with putting mums in boxes. I think that’s total bollocks, if truth be told.

Motherhood is a common ground unlike any other. It’s a club, a society and though there may not be a secret handshake or a formal initiation ceremony, at some stage you will exchange a nod of empathy across the park with another mum whose toddler has self-activated tantrum mode (because the sun is too shiny) and you will know in that moment that you are part of something much bigger than those ‘good mum’ or ‘bad mum’ labels.

Parenting by its very nature just isn’t like that – you should never be expected to pledge allegiance to one camp over another. You need not pick a side.

I’m not always a good mum.

I’m not always a bad mum.

But I’m always a mum.

And if I’m forced to choose a box then that’ll do.