Shar­ing baby con­nec­tions

Par­ents are mak­ing more friends than ever af­ter baby.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FAMILY - By EMILY PERSCHBACHER

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

- TNS

Moth­ers join play groups to widen their so­cial cir­cles and en­able their chil­dren to in­ter­act with their peers.

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