I feel very isolated in my offbeat-ness. Of course, I live in a small-ish, conservative southern town. However, I have found it very hard to meet other parents who do not want to pursue the whole “lets give trucks to boys and princesses to the girls” parenting style. I read your articles about urban tribalism and the acceptance of alternative styles and would love to know how you were able to develop your own community.
This is a great question, and certainly much bigger than just making friends as an offbeat parent — once you’re well into adulthood, how do you find your people? Stephanie and I will both take a stab at answering, and then we’d love to hear from Offbeat Mamas themselves about how y’all do it!
Stephanie’s right: making friends as an adult can be a tricky thing, and finding parent friends can be even weirder … it’s hard enough to find friends for yourself alone, and if you’re partnered, it’s even harder to find “couple friends” where both you and your partner like both halves of a fellow couple. When you add kids to the mix? YIKES! There are so many personalities at play, and sadly parenting philosophies are all-too-often used as a way to mark the the differences, and create divisions between mothers who are already feeling isolated.
I’m lucky because in Seattle there’s this thing called PEPS — Program for Early Parent Support. When you join up, you’re matched with a new group of other brand new parents in your neighborhood who have kids all born within about 2 months of each other.
I honestly wasn’t totally sure about joining — I went to a city-wide orientation, and looked around and thought, “These totally aren’t MY people.” Where were the freaks? The nerds? The underground weirdos? Everyone was wearing khakis, and I felt foreign. Also: MOMS GROUP!? Ug, how stereotypical! What, are we going to do stroller aerobics together?
After a particularly rough morning with the baby, I realized I needed the support. I figured I’d give it a shot. The first meeting was about three months after Tavi was born, and as I looked around the group, I thought with a cynical heart, “these are totally, completely NOT MY PEOPLE.”
But you know I found? That the very fact that my fellow moms weren’t what I thought of as “my people” was part of what made the group so valuable. It was wonderful to see how I was dealing with the exact same mother-of-a-newborn challenges as the 40-something Boeing lawyer, who was dealing with the same issues as the 20-something stay-at-home-mom, who was dealing with the same frustrations as the former Army captain, who was crying over the same challenges as the University of Washington PhD student. We were all coming from different backgrounds and parenting philosophies, but we were all dealing with the same challenges.
I also found that our differences exposed me to parenting ideas that, in my progressive offbeat mama bubble, I hadn’t even considered. One example: a fellow mom explained that at the 4-month point, she just started putting her daughter down for bed at 7:30 pm, whether the baby looked tired or not.
“It took a couple days of sitting with her as she fell asleep, but now she goes right to bed at 7:30 pretty much every night.”
Having a scheduled bed time initially struck me as over-structured. I was still in the “Tavi goes to bed when he falls asleep” mode, which meant he was up until 9 or even 10, after a period of fussiness. But on a whim I decided “Huh, maybe I’ll try putting him down at 7:30.” And what do you know! It totally worked! He started sleeping better, and I had more time in the evening to get work done.
My point here isn’t that this bed time technique would work for every baby — rather that it was an idea outside of my parenting comfort zone that, thanks to being exposed to moms who I thought of as “not my people,” I found was actually a great fit for my kid. And after six months, several of these “not my people” moms are totally “my people” and have become real friends. We chat about feminism and media and gay marriage and I learned (for the 500th time – stupid Ariel is stupid) not to judge books by their khaki covers.
That said, part of how this works is because I also have a circle of “my people” friends — a hodgepodge of hippies, retired ravers, media dorks, role-playing geeks, and aging partiers. Here are the most common ways I’ve met my favorite people:
- Used to party together
- Worked together, whether that’s on-the-job, or a side project like the Salon of Shame)
- Internet (one of my dear friends is also named Ariel. She found me via a vanity web search six years ago and emailed to say hi. Turned out we have more in common than just our names!)
- Mutual friends of one of the above
Parenting, of course, can interfere with some of these methods. Not partying as much, so fewer party friends. If you’re not working, there goes that idea — but even if you’re working, you may not have the time to socialize after-hours. THANK GAWD for the internet. We have each other here!
Of course, only a small portion of these “my people” friends are parents, so we don’t always have current experiences in common, but repeat after me: PARENTS & NON-PARENTS CAN AND SHOULD BE FRIENDS. It’s awesome to get away from talking about my kid all the time, and get into a different mode where we can gossip about the publishing industry, kvetch over the creative process, dork out over tv shows, laugh over stupid cat stories, and talk about all the non-kid things in the world. Maintaining these relationships takes effort after you have a baby, but even if it’s just a text message saying “I’m thinking of you! XO!” it’s important to keep caring and feeding your friendships.
In summary I’d say:
- Try searching your area for parenting groups
- Don’t avoid talking to fellow parents just cuz they don’t look like “your people” (Remember: stupid Ariel was stupid. DON’T BE STUPID) Focus on the common experiences, and celebrate the differences.
- Don’t lose touch with your child-free friends just cuz they’re not parents (make time to maintain these relationships! They’re really really important!)
First, there is no other way to put it — making new friends as an adult can be hard. Most of my friends are people I met in college, with a handful of high school friends that are still awesome to know as grown-ups. I have loose friendships I have made with people that I have met since graduating, but I’ve known the bulk of my friends for at least four years now.
In everyone else’s defense, between December 2008 and August 2009 I didn’t really get out that much. When we graduated we moved across the country, and didn’t make a lot of friends there. When we moved back (also to a conservative, small-ish Southern town — I am dying to know where you’re from!) we had a breastfed (read: must be near Mom at least every 1-2 hours), colicky (read: started to scream around 5pm almost every night until midnight) three-month-old, so we didn’t get out much. We saw a few people during the day, but I spent most of my time with Jasper.
We never intended to be Those People, the ones who have a baby and drop off the face of the earth, but it happened for a while. Sean is back in school now, which means he’s seeing people all the time, and also that Jasper and I usually see those people with him. We also have a night each week that the two of us go off together while Jasper stays with his Nana — something I highly recommend. This night is the shit, because it means we can take some time to just BE together, and we can also use that time to be together with other people. We also started taking Jasper out quite frequently once the colic subsided, so we’ve met people that way.
I’m not very good at doing the whole Little Gym/Mom Friends thing, and every time I take Jasper there or somewhere similar, I always get Sean to come so we can hang out. I definitely have a mental block about approaching women that are older than I am, dressed differently, and who, in general, seem to have different perspectives about parenting than I do — whether they actually do or not is a mystery to me, since I get too intimidated by their Awesome Momness and Always Brushed Hair (mental blocks!) to find out.
So what to do? My advice for adults looking for friends, be they mamas or otherwise, is to first and foremost maintain and nurture the friendships you already have. If they’re still stable, healthy relationships, make sure you tend to each one. Call your friends, Facebook your friends, text your friends — whatever. Just stay in touch. Second, get out of the house! You can meet people, you just have to (gulp) be brave and say hello, find out your common interests, and hang out. It’s kind of like dating, but not quite as awkward.
I am quite curious to see what kind of advice YOU guys have — I’m still getting the hang of this whole adulthood thing!
So now I want to know — Offbeat Mamas, how do YOU find your friends?