By Aimee Foster
When I had my daughter almost nine years ago, I was wholly unprepared for the raft of life changes I was about to experience. One of the many changes I had not expected was the change to my friendships.
The first of my friends to have a baby, I suddenly had lots of free time during the days. But my friends were all at work. And come the evenings when they were available, I was shattered. Plus it became evident that my new baby conversations were, at best, confusing for my friends and, at worst, incredibly boring.
The first few months of my daughter’s life were incredibly lonely for me, mainly because I spent most of my time alone with her.
Recent research by the Co-op and British Red Cross highlights how widespread the problem of loneliness is for mothers. 82% of mothers under the age of 30 reported feeling lonely some of the time, with 43% saying they are often or always lonely.
If you are feeling lonely or isolated, please know that you are not alone. Nine years on from the birth of my first child, I now have a wonderful network of mum friends. But it didn’t happen overnight.
Here are a few things I learned along the way:
1) Just Do It!
You have to get out there and meet people, they won’t come to you. I know how much of an ordeal it is to leave the house with a new baby and believe me I spent many a day stuck inside because I couldn’t be bothered to get dressed, get the baby dressed and get together all of the baby paraphernalia I needed whilst making sure I timed the outing around her feeds.
Eventually, I decided that I would have to step out of my comfort zone and just get on with it. I am so, so glad that I did.
2) Find Places To Go
Local and national parenting websites have wonderful resources detailing places you can go with your kids. Toddler groups, bumps and babies groups, children’s centres and libraries are all places frequented by mums (and dads) who are looking to make new friends.
If you work full time, there are normally groups on Saturday mornings run by other full time working mums plus plenty of weekend activities available for children. If you’re not into the group thing, there is always the internet!
3) Once You’ve Found Somewhere With Mums – Start the Conversation!
Being shy, it took me a while to realise that if I wanted to make new friends, I would need to speak up (out of that comfort zone I went again!)
Baby groups, toddler groups and classes can be daunting when you’re new to them, especially if it seems like everyone already knows each other.
Be smiley, say ‘hi’ to people and start up a conversation by saying something complimentary about their child e.g. ‘Wow, I love your daughter’s shoes’. Once you break the ice by talking about the little people’s shoes or clothes, you can move on to more interesting stuff!
Another thing to bear in mind is that if you go to a baby or toddler group and don’t find it very friendly; don’t give up on that particular group. If you go a second time, there will probably be different people there who you might strike up conversation with. And once you’ve been four or five times, you’re a regular and you can help other new people to integrate.
4) Once You’ve Started A Conversation – Close the Deal!
So you’ve been chatting away for a while with another mum and you feel you would like to meet up again. Make sure you don’t just walk away without following up. Exchange phone numbers or arrange to meet next week at the same group or somewhere else.
This can be quite cringy (along the lines of, ‘please be my friend!’) but I’ve found that if you really want to see someone again you must speak up or you may regret it later.
5) Go Online
There’s great potential to meet other mums in this way. Just as internet dating became a big phenomenon fifteen or so years ago, ‘mum dating’ is now an established way to make mum friends.
Eight years ago, I posted a notice on a local parenting website and had many replies. Of the twenty or so people I met, five are now lifelong friends (two of them were bridesmaids at my wedding).
Using the internet to make friends felt very strange at first, but I quickly got used it and felt more comfortable. I’m so glad that I bit the bullet and did it, even though it seemed unnatural at first.
To say that I’m happy I finally took action and met other mums is a huge understatement. I now couldn’t imagine my life without my wonderful mum friends. And as an added bonus, my daughter has made close friendships through them too.