Sharing baby connections
Parents are making more friends than ever after baby.
KELLY Ali recently hosted a weekend barbecue at her home. The turnout was great: 37 guests. And she’d met them all in the past few months.
Since Ali decided to stay home with her 10- month- old son, Max, she has joined several play groups and has met new friends at the gym, grocery store and Target.
“I have way more friends now than I ever did before I had a baby,” Ali said. “When I first moved here, I only knew my husband. I would go to yoga and try to meet people, but no one talks to anyone unless they showed up with that person.”
There is something about having a baby that breaks down social barriers. Strangers smile or wave at babies in strollers; some stop to offer congratulations or meet the little one. And new parents seek guidance and camaraderie from others in the same life stage – either by asking people in the baby aisle what they think about a certain product, by joining play groups or both.
Ali, who has a naturally outgoing personality, started joining play groups with other children her son’s age because she was looking for ways to socialise with people who knew what she was going through with a new baby.
“Having a child is a life- altering experience,” said psychologist Eileen Kennedy- Moore. “It can bring up a lot of feelings. It can bring up exhaustion. It can bring up uncertainty because everything is new. It’s very helpful to be talking to someone who is going through the same thing.”
Play groups take on many different forms. In general, there is a regular meeting for a group of children and their parents or caregivers to allow for socialisation and play. But unless your friends happen to have children around the same age, finding a play group often means meeting new people. This can add a level of fear or anxiety to an already emotionally charged time.
“I would tell myself I really should join a play group, and then I wouldn’t do it,” said Amanda Delgado. “I have a different situation. I’m older, and I chose to be a single mum. So, there’s a fear there. Am I going to have something in common with these people?”
Kennedy- Moore said that, in any play group, all parents have one big thing in common: their kids.
“There are so many things that are fascinating to new parents,” she said. “Is your child sleeping through the night? What are they eating? It’s a shared experience.”
Delgado said what pushed her out of her own comfort zone was thinking about the advantages for her nine- month- old daughter, Charlotte.
“Since it’s just the two of us, I’ve joined different groups, so she’ll have some social interaction with other kids,” she said.
Babies are interested in other children at a very young age, even under age one, Kennedy- Moore said.
“I don’t think we’d call it friendship. It’s more like exploring the world,” she said. Kennedy- Moore has written several parenting and child development books, including What About Me? 12 Ways to Get Your Parents’ Attention ( Without Hitting Your Sister).”
“Joining play groups is a unique and easy way to meet other mums in an intimate setting,” said Amy Johnson, NPN director of volunteers.
“You’re not just meeting new people and getting out of the house, but you’re also getting support,” she added. “You’re sharing your experience and finding ways to connect.”
Johnson said some new- mum groups have formed lifelong friendships and are still meeting 10 years later.
“As a staff member of NPN, it’s wonderful to feel you’re a small part of establishing friendship and support for new mums,” she said.
Other resources to find a play group include Mums Club, Meetup. com and even Facebook. Music or fitness classes are also good places for new parents to connect. Try a local yoga studio, Gymboree location or music school.
As with most aspects of parenting, finding the right fit can take some trial and error.
Delgado said she first joined a music play group but didn’t really connect with any of the other parents.
“I didn’t feel guilty if ( Charlotte) was napping and we couldn’t go,” she said.
Ali said she’s encountered about 50 women at various play groups but has just recently settled into a routine with five or six of the mums.
“I decided that, as a woman in my 30s, I wasn’t going to try to morph into someone else to fit in with certain women in a group. There are all sorts of mums. And I don’t have to find best friends in every single group I’m in,” she said.
Ali’s grounded and open- minded approach has served her and Max well, and continues to allow her to make friends in unexpected places.
“If I’m looking at the same baby product as someone at the grocery store, I’ll ask them about it,” Ali said. “Motherhood tends to make everyone more approachable.”
Similarly, new parents are often approached by strangers wanting to meet or talk to the baby. This experience, like play groups, is welcomed by some and uncomfortable for others.
“For a new mum, it is strange to have strangers involved with something so personal as your baby,” Kennedy- Moore said.
“I think there’s a desire to connect with something wonderful,” she added. “Plus, babies are so darn cute.”
That desire to connect is key during early parenting and beyond. Whether you join a play group or call your own parents, everyone needs support.
“A happy mum is what’s good for a baby,” Kennedy- Moore said. “Don’t feel like you have to go to a play group with many other mums. You can meet with one or two. The social support is really what’s essential.” – Chicago Tribune/ Tribune News Service
Mothers join play groups to widen their social circles and enable their children to interact with their peers.