How to hit on moms: getting over your social awkwardness to make plans with other parents

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Does this mean I have a new friend, too? Photo by ktbuffy.
So here's the thing about making friends with other parents: it's kind of hard. Every time my kid makes a new friend I am so excited (!!!) for him, but it's also a little trepidatious for me: does this mean I have to try to make a friend, too? It's not that I don't want to make friends, because I do… it's just that meeting new people, and especially meeting new parents, is a little overwhelming for me. I was an incredibly awkward child and teen who grew into a moderately awkward adult, so I struggle.

It was easy to make parent friends when we lived in the town where I went to college: all my college friends had kids, too! We were already friends… and we had bonus little people who could be friends, too. Once we moved across the country I very suddenly realized I had very few parent friends. I love my non-parent friends, but sometimes you need to be able to bring your kid over to someone's house and know it's ok if they have a minor breakdown over a construction vehicle toy, because that person's kid is also having a minor breakdown over the same thing. You know?

My kid started preschool pretty soon after we moved, and all of a sudden he had a whole new batch of kid friends, meaning I had a whole new batch of potential parent friends. Here are my tips for navigating the seemingly murky waters of new parent friendships:

Get over yourself

It's easy to walk into a new situation and immediately be hit with a sense of otherness. Maybe you have bright pink hair! A bunch of tattoos! Like to dress like a rainbow every day! Whatever your brand of offbeat is, you might feel a sense of dun-dun-duunnn when it comes to meeting parents who don't appear to "look" like you'd be compatible friends. Let me tell you this: you're probably wrong.

When my son started preschool I saw it as a great chance for both of us to make friends our own ages. The first day I casually/nervously smiled at other parents as they dropped off their kids, but nothing really happened until week two of school when my son kept mentioning the same two names of kids that he really thought were the coolest ever. I asked him a bunch of questions about what he and the kids liked to do together, and IDed their parents at drop off/pick up.

It still took me an extra week before I worked up the nerve to approach one of them, but now (eight months later) she's one of the coolest people I've ever met. She's also around ten years older than me and has three kids to my one. I've learned more about being a parent by just watching her interact with her kids than any book has taught me, and she was one of the first people to offer to help out after my son had surgery in April.

Basically, there are two ways you can approach getting over yourself. You can be all "OMG, other parents are going to think my neon pants/green hair/goth make-up/lesbian status/full sleeve tattoos are SO CRAZY" or you can be like "Hey, my name is [your name], I'm [your kid's name]'s mom. I heard our kids really like to play together — want to let them hang out this weekend? I'll bring lemonade!"

I recommend the latter.

Set up the first play date yourself

So once you offer to bring lemonade (clearly my go-to playdate beverage of choice), you have to follow through. Even naturally outgoing people recognize when a situation is a little awkward, and inviting yourself and your kid over to someone else's house can definitely be that. I have too often found that unless I put myself out there and inquire about weekend plans first, it's likely nothing will ever come to fruition. It might give you all kinds of butterflies in your stomach at first, but it's actually pretty easy to find out if another family wants to hang — you just have to ask.

Pick a neutral location

I highly suggest NOT hanging out with a new family at your home or theirs — at least, not at first. Sometimes other factors make this easier (a sick parent, multiple kids, weather) and that makes sense, but otherwise find out the general area the family lives in and meet in the middle! Our most successful new-family playdates have been when we just meet at a nearby playground and let the kids be… kids. Children have this great way of more or less knowing exactly what to do when they're outside and running free together, so a playground gives you a great chance to feel out the other parent and see where this friendship might go. Also, playgrounds are totally low pressure: meeting at a cafe is great because you can get coffee, but you'll have to police your kids the entire time. Playgrounds are glorious because children are expected to act like children, which means totally crazy.

Know when it's not working

Sometimes your kid makes a SUPER EXCELLENT kid friend, and you meet their parents and you're like "…OH." Kid friendships and parent friendships don't always jive, so it's important to know the difference between faking a friendship for the sake of your kid, and actually really being friends with someone. My son totally has a few friends who I think are great, and who have parents who are also great — they're just not people I can spend an extended period of time with.

Your kid making a new friend doesn't mean you have to, and letting your kid do things without you is a massive part of parenting.

If it's important to you that your kid still gets to hang with his friend even if you don't want to hang with that kid's parents, then decide whether or not you're comfortable NOT being around while they play. I'm totally cool with a few of the parents taking the kiddos to the park while I get some work done or just lay around on the couch (what! bliss). Your kid making a new friend doesn't mean you have to, and letting your kid do things without you is a massive part of parenting.

Consider your child's feelings

There are really three ways friendships with other parents can go: 1) everyone (kids and adults) click instantly and really want to be friends, 2) your kids click but both adults feel kind of "eh" about one another and take turns watching the kiddos while they hang, or 3) your kids click but you and the other adult totally and completely don't. Like, you don't click to the point that while you trust this person to keep your kid happy and safe, for whatever reason you don't feel strongly enough about the other parent to even be motivated to drop your kid off at their house.

The first is obviously the goldmine: friends for everyone! The second is totally workable and probably most likely, and the third is a big bummer. If you find yourself in the third category, all I urge is this: make sure you're considering the feelings of your child before you stop hanging with the other family. I feel like when it comes to young children making friends, as long as everyone's happy and getting along… then it's worth it to suck up your own mixed feelings and make friend-making a positive experience for your kid.

And who knows? I do think it's important that you make an honest, valid attempt at friendship before completely writing off another parent as a real friend. I've found that you can almost always find a topic to talk to someone else about, and you might end up in the middle of a great conversation with someone you never would have thought you'd even want to know… if you let yourself get there in the first place. If anything, by keeping a positive attitude about it all, you'll be modeling healthy friend-making to your kid, which is invaluable.

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  1. Thank you for posting this!

    Its so funny, I've been working up the balls to invite some moms at our MyGym for a playdate and this past weekend I finally invited one over for a BBQ. I never got around to talking to the other couple of moms. Anyhow, she didn't end up coming but I'm proud of myself for breaking the ice. Except now I'm in the position of, Well, I reached out so is it her turn now to arrange a possible playdate if we are ever to go beyond MyGym?

    Sigh. Social awkwardness bites.

    On the other hand, I also invited a mom at a park to the same BBQ. We had been chit chatting for over an hour and I gave her my number as I was leaving, she gave me her contact card. I glanced at it and saw the word "doula," and was all stoked, thinking she would be some badass hippie mom. However, upon visiting her site, I saw that she was selling a self-help style book and membership to a mommy club (most of our conversation had centered around how important mom groups are!) so now I just feel burned that she was trying to sell me something. Here I thought it was a blossoming friendship. GRRR.

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  2. This article could have been written specifically for me! I am super shy and we just moved to a rural, very tight knit community as my children are entering elementary school. It has been so hard for me to reach out to the other parents who already all know each other very well. For this reason, my totally social 7 year old has not had a whole lot of playdates, bday party invites, etc. lately and its a total bummer. This article has inspired me to speak up at the next baseball practice instead of sitting by myself at the edge of the woods, only conversing with my 5 year old.
    Thank you!

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  3. Lots of local Offbeat Mama groups were set up, too! Try looking on FB for one local to you and set up something – you'd be surprised who might join you ­čÖé

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  4. I needed this post! Although…it makes me nervous as well. I am so awkward, but I need to just get out there.

    I want to set a good example for my daughter and part of that is a balanced life. I want to show her how friendship works…but I have to find some friends first! Haha.

    This post just inspired me to go to the baby story time at the library next week. Maybe I'll get a date out of the deal…;)

  5. Great article and so hard to navigate friendships young and old. There is a fourth friendship path that I have come across… you really hit it off with the parent but the kids don't hit it off at all. Either because they just don't like each other / have things in common or perhaps one of the kids is just kinda mean or has issues. So I have struggled a little with that in the past where I see a potentially great adult friendship but I have to put my kid first and recognize that I cant take that friendship further. Interesting times. I also have 3 kids and I find it interesting the different types of friendships across the age ranges and the families that you connect with (or not) due to multiple siblings and whether there is an age match across the siblings for friends and then layered on top if they like one another – yikes…. can get complicated and there are only one or two families that you can connect with family on family (kids, adults get along and have same interests), which take you to those life long connections. These are especially the hard ones to leave if you move out of an area. These are your family away from family. Good luck everyone!

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  6. This is really great advice! I'm someone in the totally and completely socially awkward camp. Fortunately, my son is not. He will introduce himself to your kid, you, your partner, your parents, your pet, your garden…it really doesn't matter. I found that by joining some meetup groups, I found moms with similar attitudes that I loved. When my son was old enough, I signed him up for karate and we have both made some great friends that way. I learned that even when I'm terrified of speaking to people, if I sit in the middle of them and kind of look at them, the outgoing parents will start a conversation and it can build from there. I smile when I'm nervous too. Usually people either assume I'm really friendly or really creepy, but that's a 50/50 chance at a new friend! Awkward yes, but it works. Also, after we had been going long enough (I feel the same way with his preschool) I stopped feeling quite as awkward. I figure, I've seen these parents everyday for years. It may have taken me a couple years to use my words and talk to said parents, but I got there eventually. Now we have playdates and birthday parties and all kinds of things. The only downside is that we start kindergarten in the fall at a new school, and I have to start all over again.

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  7. This is absolutely me, too. I live in a tight knit rural community where I constantly feel I don't fit. The majority of women don't work and don't stay in education long, I have received some very critical comments about my choices. I know I need to just get over myself for the sake of my child, I know it but, at the moment, I'm not doing well at this. This week I will really try. Thank you for the inspiration.

  8. I am very much like this too. My social skills tend to range from charismatic and witty one day to completely awkward Mr. Bean the next, depending on my mood. My son is way more extroverted and social, and I have to remind myself that while I'm comfortable spending my free time curled up with a book, it's not fair to impose my hermit-ness on him. This year, his kindergarten year, I'm making myself make that effort for him, and so far have had mild success, making friends with one mom that I probably otherwise wouldn't have bothered to talk to. Great tips in this article – definitely inspires me to keep reaching out a little more.

  9. "I was an incredibly awkward child and teen who grew into a moderately awkward adult, so I struggle." SAME. Oh man. I had no social skills, it's a long slow process. I've done the new city thing too, and it's so hard. I found meetup groups but kept thinking of silly excuses not to go. Finally I was like "I'm going crazy due to loneliness. Self, put the kids in the car and just GO meet some moms!" I have to hype myself up to just do it already! Even more so when the first few meetups were just "meh." I just kept going and finally found a group I clicked with.

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