Your Guide to Building Your Own Mom Tribe
When I was pregnant with baby No. 1, “how to make mom friends” was nowhere near my ever-growing to-do list. Why would it be? I had friends. They threw me a kick-ass baby shower, visited me in the hospital and brought me sweet treats and coffee once I was home recovering. But honestly, it wasn’t enough. I was lonely. I had no clue what I was doing and all of these perfectly awesome ladies were no help. They were all child-free and, while they loved and supported me, they just didn’t get it.
“It’s understandable,” says Suniya S. Luthar, PhD, professor of psychology at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. “The challenges of motherhood are unique and it’s very important to have friends who do more than sympathize, but understand the pain, the joy and the anxiety of parenthood.”
And it turns out that finding and fostering this type of mom community is essential for new moms to feel like good parents. In fact, women who have close, authentic relationships with other moms are better buffered from the challenges of motherhood than those without, according to Luthar’s 2015 study in the journal Developmental Psychology.
But Luthar’s not talking about the lady you sometimes chit-chat with while pushing swings at the playground. She’s talking about the mom you share breastfeeding anxiety with; the one who still invites you to playdates even after your kiddo refuses to share his Thomas train time and time again; the mom who you raise a glass with at that kid-free happy hour. “The key is finding mom friends who allow you to be yourself—with no facade,” Luthar says.
It doesn’t take most moms long to understand the need for that kind of camaraderie, but finding your mom tribe can be easier said than done. “Putting yourself out there and being vulnerable to make new friends can be especially tough for new moms,” says Miriam Kirmayer, a therapist, friendship researcher and PhD candidate in clinical psychology at McGill University in Montreal, Québec. “Because there’s so much pressure to be seen as the perfect mother, moms often feel inadequate or insecure, making it hard to approach new people and connect in an authentic way.”
I certainly didn’t know how to make the first move. I’d awkwardly sit next to other moms at mommy-and-me meet-ups while my baby fussed, not knowing how to soothe him, let alone how to connect with strangers with seemingly perfect babies. I hated it. And I know I’m not alone. You don’t have to be either. Here, your guide to finding your very own mom community.
Making mom friends who’ve got kids the same age as yours is a smart move not only for playdate opportunities, but for building a “blanket of love and support,” as Luthar calls it. In other words: They get what you’re dealing with. “You’re all going through the same things, so you all can offer each other emotional support and practical, tangible types of support too,” Kirmayer says. That means playdates, babysitting trade-offs and sharing resources, whether it’s the number for a great sitter or information about daycare. But it can also mean a good girls’ night out when you need it, with people who just get it.
Pregnancy is a great time to start laying some friendship groundwork, says Melanie Dale, author of Women Are Scary: The Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding Mom Friends. “Once you’re a new mom, it’s often hard to get up the energy to even leave the house, let alone seek out new friends.”
I mucked this up from the get-go. I scheduled my birthing class near my office, ensuring that every future mom I met lived nowhere near me. Do yourself a favor: Find a birthing or baby CPR class in your zip code, even if it’s inconvenient at the time. You’ll be thankful you did. And visit your local baby boutiques, lactation consultants and pediatricians, who often have old-school Due Date Club sign-up sheets, connecting you with other parents set to give birth the same month you are.
Heading back to the gym is also a great way to make new mom friends. Many gyms offer a variety of prenatal classes—Pilates, yoga, swimming, Zumba and more. Plus, there are exercise studios that cater to the pregnant set, like Oh Baby! Fitness and FIT4MOM. But it’s not enough to simply sweat side-by-side, you have to talk. “When you see someone you want to talk to, be honest and genuine,” Kirmayer says. “Tell her that you’re looking to meet fellow moms-to-be. Most are actually relieved to have someone else make the first move.” Dale suggests always leading with an encouraging word. But if going right for the IRL chat is too overwhelming, simply search (or post) for fellow moms-to-be in a local parenting community board, like The Bump community.
One of the first things you do when newly single is notify your established tribe of your ready-to-mingle status, right? Do the same as a new mom by asking friends, family, coworkers and your Facebook connections if anyone can make an introduction to any new moms nearby, Kirmayer says. If your current social circle offers zero matches, it’s time to put yourself out there with local events specifically geared toward newborns and the moms attached to them, like breastfeeding and baby-wearing classes or mommy-and-me fitness classes and stroller walks.
“It’s really important that you figure out where the moms in your own neighborhood are,” Dale says. Scope out nearby parks, playgrounds, coffee shops and libraries when you’re still pregnant to see when and where moms gather. “The reality is, you are not going to want to travel far once you’ve got a new baby.”
Take Julia Goodman, a mother-of-one in Beverly Hills, California, who was apprehensive about having her baby in the car. “I didn’t feel comfortable driving all over town with my newborn,” she says. “But I was dying to make mommy friends, so I really needed to find moms who were close.” Goodman’s solution? She created her very own neighborhood new-mom group on Meetup. “We meet a couple of times a month and it’s amazing!”
Socializing with older babies and toddlers is still mostly about moms, “but now it’s way easier to use your child as your excuse—and to your advantage,” Kirmayer says. “And I mean that in the nicest possible way!”
As baby gets older, new activities and classes, like toddler music, art and gym classes, open up the possibility of casting a wider friendship net. Perhaps more importantly, you can hang all your making-friend moves on the excuse of wanting to have a playmate for your child.
I remember when I was at my toddler’s play school holiday performance and a fellow mom strode right over to me and said, “I don’t know any of the other moms here! Do you?” I laughed, confessed I didn’t either and in a matter of minutes Lauren told me she was on a mission to make her daughter some friends and we had a kid amusement center meet-up on the books. (And we’re still great friends to this day!)
Just because you’re at home with baby doesn’t mean making mom connections will be easy. In fact, many of the challenges of finding mom friends can be amplified for a stay-at-home mom, Kirmayer says. When you’re at work you have regular social interactions, like meetings, workshops or outings. “If you’re a stay- at- home mom, there are no structured activities where you’re guaranteed to interact with others unless you facilitate them,” Kirmayer says. That’s a lot of pressure, especially for a new mom who likely hasn’t had to make new friendships in years. “It’s very easy to feel socially disconnected and get stuck in a cycle where your loneliness makes it harder and harder for you to put yourself out there,” Kirmayer says.
To help sidestep the disconnect, locate your fellow stay-at-home moms. Meetup, local parenting listservs and MOMS Club, a chapter-based support group designed just for at-home moms, are great places to start. And take heed: Being a stay-at-home mom offers more free time and flexibility, which can be key in developing new friendships. “You have the opportunity to interact with friends during the day or whenever is convenient, which can make it infinitely easier to prioritize and fit get-togethers into your schedule,” Kirmayer says.
Stay-at-home moms have more chances to take friendships to “third base,” so to speak, Dale notes. “You have lots of opportunities to invite different mom friends back to your place for playdates,” she says. And that’s where things get more vulnerable. “She’ll see your dirty dishes and your kid being possessive over toys, but it’s these types of interactions that really start to build that solid friendship foundation,” Dale says.
Working moms need mom friends just as much as the next mom. Unfortunately, the mom who’s just heading back to work from maternity leave is more likely to put that need on the back burner, Luthar says. “Time pressure is high—there’s just not enough of it, so friendship simply is not prioritized like it should be.” The key is locating those pockets of time, opportunities and remembering that, “when you commit to interacting with friends on a regular basis, you’re not only providing your children with a healthy model to guide them in their own friendships—but you’re nurturing yourself too,” Kirmayer says.
For me, I actually didn’t find my tribe till I was back at work and a full year into this whole parenthood thing. I spied an ad that a fellow mom posted on a local parenting listserv. She worked in media (me too!), had Fridays off (like me!) and wanted to form a small, like-minded playgroup. I sent her a gushing email pitching myself as the perfect mom friend and soon four strangers and their littles met every Friday for playdates where we bonded over flex schedules, potty training and more.
Angela Baggetta, a mom of two in New York City, landed her mom community once she returned to work too. “Once I put my son in day care, I really started clicking with a few of the other moms who I saw every day for drop-off and pick-up,” she recalls. “We were all working moms, so we cut each other lots of slack on all fronts—and were all game to get together when we could on the weekends,” Angela says. Plus, her son’s teachers were great mom matchmakers, helping to bring the right pairs together. (Don’t be afraid to ask for the same from your child’s care provider.)
It also helps to think beyond playdate potential. While I was super focused on finding fellow newbie moms in my neighborhood, my sister (also a new mom) was busy making nice with coworkers who were also moms. While she didn’t score any playdates, she did get plenty of wisdom and comfort. Essentially, she got herself mom mentors. “There is something to be said for having older, wiser mom friends who can give us the encouragement we need to persist, and valuable information and advice about how they handled things,” Kirmayer says. Your workplace is a great place to look for them.
It’s comfortable. Convenient. And we’re used to it. Online mom groups are a great place to start your search for mom friends, whether it’s through social media, apps, mom blogs or a local meet-up site.
“Online friendships can provide emotional support, validation and practical advice that can make motherhood easier,” Kirmayer says. That said, it’s important to log on with your BS detector turned up to high. Social media, especially Instagram, can create the illusion that other people’s lives are picture-perfect—and that can take its toll on a new mom’s well-being and self-esteem.
Moreover, you don’t want your own carefully curated social media image to hold you back from being vulnerable and authentic. “We all need to choose to be ourselves online and in person, so we can attract people who are like us and people who will like us,” Dale says.
Some great news ways to put yourself out there online (and possibly in person):
Peanut In a nutshell (we couldn’t help ourselves), Peanut is Tinder for moms. The app connects to Facebook to cull photos, location and occupation to start your profile. Next, you add some fun details (like utilizing the Hot Mess or Single Mama badges). Peanut then matches moms (and moms-to-be) based on interests, location and children’s ages—no awkward how-old-is-your-baby ice-breakers needed. If you think you’ve found a potential pal, swipe to offer a “wave.” If the other mom “waves” back, you’re a match and can connect. (Free on iTunes.)
Hello Mamas (formerly Mom Meet Mom) This is another Tinder-like app geared toward moms, where you fill out a survey gauging your personality, values and parenting style. And with that, you get all the geo-based mom friend connections you’d expect, plus community-wide alerts on child safety, parenting articles, product recommendations and personalized suggestions for groups to join within the community. Bonus: It features giveaways where you can score hot new baby and kid products. ($2 on iTunes and GooglePlay.)
Moms Meet This one is an online community, not an app, but still offers an awesome mom tool that zeros in on healthy living. Here, moms can sample free natural, organic, eco-friendly products and services—all while connecting with an online community of like-minded mamas. The only catch is you need to apply and be approved to sample and review products. (The program, and the products, are free.)
Cardamom If Peanut is Tinder’s mom doppelgänger, Cardamom is Match.com for the mom set. Looking for quality friendships, not just coffee-and-swingset playdates? Then this app, which is hyper-local to the point where it can match you within one city block of a like-minded mom, is for you. Cardamom also hosts local events to help break the ice with IRL socializing. While Cardamom originally launched to serve the New York metro area, it continues to expand and has grown to encompass cities and towns in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas and Illinois. (Free on iTunes and GooglePlay.)
EXPERTS: Suniya S. Luthar, PhD, professor of psychology at Arizona State University in Tempe; Miriam Kirmayer, a therapist, friendship researcher, and PhD candidate in clinical psychology at McGill University in Montreal; Melanie Dale, author of Women Are Scary: The Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding Mom Friends .
Published June 2017