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.
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.