You know that mom. You see her all the time on the soccer sidelines or at school pickup—she’s the one you could imagine dissecting the latest episode of Homeland (or your daughter’s latest tantrum) with over a cup of coffee. But, somehow, you two always end up making small talk about the same things, like some sort of conversational Groundhog Day. Or maybe you’ve just enrolled your kid in a school where all the other women know each other—and you don’t have a clue how to break into their circle. It’s like being back in junior high!
The truth is that making new pals is tough, particularly for moms. “In college or when you first started your career, you were constantly around people with whom you had things in common,” notes Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend. “But once you have kids, it takes more conscious effort and time—which is already so limited for parents.”
As much work as it may take, the resulting bonds are well worth the effort. “Mom buddies are a necessity,” says Meg Meeker, M.D., a pediatrician and author of The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers. “We can’t expect our partners to be our everything—that puts way too much pressure on a marriage. We need friends to share our feelings, fears, and frustrations with.” So go ahead, make some new chums this year—armed with our how-to cheat sheet, of course!
It’s tempting to use the kids as a social crutch—fussing over them at the park or hovering before basketball games—to avoid engaging with other moms who you (subconsciously or not) fear could reject you. Even the most confident woman can feel intimidated because you assume the mothers around you have it more together than you do. But when you finally do chat, “you’ll usually find out that other parents were thinking the same things about you!” says Dr. Meeker.
Try it: Look up from kiddie eye level and take a seat on the bleachers while your child distributes snacks to her teammates; then go ahead and “hit on” another mom—pay her a genuine compliment or make some lighthearted joke about your kids. You only have to reveal a wee bit of yourself to give someone an opening to respond.
“When I go out of my way to focus less on my daughter, it’s better for both of us,” says Ashley Martin, a Philadelphia mother of one. “She gets a taste of independence, and I open myself up to being approached or to approaching.” She admits that striking up a convo can feel awkward—but humor helps. “I’ll jokingly complain about motherhood, and if someone responds favorably, I know she’s a possible friend.”
Put on some lipstick
Sure, the mom who looks perfect 24/7 can be off-putting— but so can the one who always looks like it’s the last week of college finals. So take the time to do even one thing each day that boosts your confidence about your looks.
“Even if I’m wearing yoga pants and a tee, most days I try to at least put on mascara or bronzer,” says Blake Vossekuil, a North Carolina mother of one with a baby on the way. “I feel better about myself when I wear a little makeup, especially when every other mom is dressed up.”
That confidence, says Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., author of The Friendship Fix, attracts people and helps you feel comfortable reaching out: “You’re a little bit more outgoing and make more eye contact when you take that step to make yourself feel good.”
Sometimes, the key to going beyond the Acquaintance Zone is to take things up an emotional notch. “Many people get trapped discussing mundane things,” says Dr. Bonior. The trick to overcoming the cycle: “You’ve got to make an effort to go a little deeper by finding out more about the other person—and revealing some stuff about yourself,” says Dr. Levine.
Instead of lamenting, say, how rainy it’s been, share the story of how your basement flooded as a kid, leaving your childhood home forever smelling like wet dog, or if another parent mentions a trip to see her in-laws, open up about your, ahem, frustrations with your own. But don’t stop there—your next move is to follow up.
If a new acquaintance says she’s nervous about her child’s allergy tests or an upcoming long flight, send a text to see how things went. Advises Dr. Bonior: “String together links from one encounter to the next and check in—that’s how friendships are made.”
Get the party started
The best way to get invited to the party is to host it, right? If you’re longing for group bonding, be the one to start an afterschool playgroup or host an all-family barbecue. If nothing else, you’ll get your e-mail address into other moms’ inboxes.
There’s no better time than September to do it. You may be sending invites to people you barely know, but think of it this way: Other new parents will be grateful to you for creating the ice-breaking opportunity to schmooze.
You might have to initiate a few times to get a relationship going. That said, you don’t want to be the one who’s always doing the inviting. “People often insist they’re terrible planners, but we’re all busy,” notes Dr. Bonior. After you’ve hosted more than once, ask someone else to get the ball rolling next time.
Go on a mom date
Maybe you connect well with another mom while on kid turf, but you’re stumped about how to go from trading jokes in the carpool line to a parents-only excursion. No way around it, you have to ask her out. “It can be uncomfortable to propose a get-together with a virtual stranger,” admits Nicole Brown, a New York City–based mother of two sons. “But I’ve made so many strong friendships by taking that chance.”
If you feel awkward, break the ice by acknowledging it. You might say, “I feel like I’m inviting you to prom, but would you want to grab dinner before the next PTA meeting?” Then remember that it takes time to build a bond—while also giving yourself permission to move on if it turns out you two don’t mesh well after a handful of hangouts.
“We’re so hard on ourselves if we try to get a friendship off the ground and it doesn’t go anywhere,” Dr. Bonior notes. “People assume ‘Oh, I wasn’t interesting enough for her,’ or ‘Oh, she doesn’t like my kid!’ That’s nonsense.” Making friends is largely a numbers game, so keep trying. In the end, you may find some women who are better for big-group socializing, others you can count on for childcare swapping, and, if you’re lucky, a few gems who turn out to be your kindred spirits, after all.
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