”Have you made any Mum friends yet?” This seems to a popular question for family members to ask new Mums, in between the old favourite “Is he a good baby?” and the inevitable “Has she slept through the night yet?” It might seem like an odd question at first, especially if you are a social butterfly with plenty of friends, and you might wonder why it is so important to have friends who are also mothers.
However, when you are later up all night with a teething grizzly baby, whilst your old friends are out at the local night club, having friends who can sympathise with your current situation can help lift the burden a little. Furthermore, if you are new to an area, it can be hard to make friends as an adult, but motherhood is one of the few occasions when groups of people are thrown together and forced to talk to one another, enabling friendships to grow.
Of course, it would be daft to assume that just because another person has a child similar in age to yours that you will automatically be friends. That’s like assuming that everyone who lives in Woking would be friends, or everyone who likes Game of Thrones would be friends. If only it was that simple. Instead, making Mum friends is a complicated business, and in many ways, it’s a lot like dating.
Stage One: The Initial Meet
Maybe you meet before your babies are born, at an antenatal class. Perhaps you meet at a parent and baby group, in the school playground, or a class, such as baby massage, baby yoga, or baby sensory. You could even meet in the wild, at the park, or at a soft play centre. Believe it or not, some Mums even meet online, through postings on local parenting sites. There’s even a Mum Dating app.
However you meet, it’s guaranteed that you will make quick judgements about each other to determine whether or not you want to pursue that friendship. You might base it on how the other Mum reacts to a tantrum, whether she feeds her child organic rice cakes or Wotsits for a snack, or even how she and her child are dressed. Much like dating, first impressions count. They help you work out if you have anything in common.
Stage Two: The Awkward Chat Up
After sussing out your potential mate, you decide to take a deep breath and take the plunge. You start with something innocuous: “How old is your little one?” You try and keep the conversation going, with questions about teething and weaning and sleeping, and hope that you don’t come across as too needy, all the while thinking “please like me, I really need someone I can call on as a babysitter one day.”
Unlike romantic dating, it’s pretty unlikely that this first conversation will result in a scribbled down telephone number. Mum dating takes time, and these awkward conversations will continue for a few more weeks before one of you is ready to take things further and move to the next stage.
Stage Three: The First (Play) Date
Eventually, one of you suggests going for a drink. In real dating, this would be somewhere trendy and upmarket, where there are about 30 different gins, 50 different wines, and a delectable selection of tapas. In Mum dating, the drink is a mug of instant coffee at the local soft play centre, accompanied by a Mars Bar because both of you gave up looking after your figures a long time ago and a chocolate bar is the easiest thing to eat whilst you are feeding a baby and wrestling with a toddler.
You try to get to know each other better, but it’s not easy, since your grown-up conversations are interspersed with “Ollie! Don’t lick your sister!”, “No, we share toys. Share with the other little boy. SHARE!”, “No Ellie, you can’t have any more of my Mars Bar, but here’s some banana!” and “What do you mean, you did a wee in the ball pool?” Oh, and unlike actual dating, there’s no boost to your confidence from alcohol.
Stage Four: Acceptance or Rejection
After the initial playdate, you send a text to your potential mate. Timing here is important. Straight after the date looks a bit weird, let’s be honest. A week later and, frankly, you’re being rude. Best aim for the next day, but not during nap time so the arrival of the text message doesn’t disturb the baby, vanquishing any goodwill you might have with the other Mum. You keep it light and breezy, again not wanting to appear too needy. “Hi, Ollie had a great time yesterday at the Play Barn. He seemed to really like your Ted. I’m thinking of going again next Wednesday if you want to join us?”
Then you wait. Totally not checking your phone every two minutes for a response. If things have gone well, your potential friend will get back to you pretty quickly and a second date will be arranged. You can congratulate yourself on getting through the awkward first stages. On the other hand, you might not get a response at all, or worse, something non-committal that makes it obvious she isn’t interested. You have been rejected. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.
You question everything that took place during the play date. “Did she not like the type of snack I gave my child? Was she offended over my use of the naughty corner? Did she find my pre-schooler’s habit of questioning ALL THE THINGS as annoying as I do?” Sadly, you may never find out the reason you were rejected. As hard as it is, it’s important to pick yourself up and move on.
Stage Five: Developing the Relationship
This is the stage where you need to work hardest. Like romantic dating, you both need to put the effort in to make time for one another in order to let the relationship bloom. It’s not that easy when juggling work, naps, health visitor appointments, grandparent visits, and children who seem to require quarantining every couple of weeks. However, if you make the effort, it can be very rewarding.
You probably start with something safe, such as more visits to the soft play centre, before moving on to something a bit more substantial, like a craft workshop or trip to an adventure playground. Eventually, you’ll reach a milestone and bring your Mum friend back to your house for a coffee. Obviously, before you do so you will clean the loo, get in some healthy children’s snacks and hide the Wotsits, and maybe even bake a cake to show of your domestic skills (or buy one from Sainsburys to pass as your own).
Stage Six: Building Trust
Now you are a lot more comfortable with each other, and conversation is no longer awkward (despite being interrupted every 30 seconds by a child). Your trust in your new friend starts to develop, and now when you need the loo you happily leave your child in her care for a few minutes. You start to share details of your life outside of your children, such as where you met your partner and your secret celebrity crush. You talk about your fears over your ability to be a good parent, and finally give your child the Wotsits they crave for a snack in your friend’s company instead of the apple that you’ve been using for show up until now.
Of course, it’s worth mentioning at this point that there are really two relationships that need to be built. That between you and your potential Mum friend, and that between your children. It can be very, very, awkward if you become friends with a Mum and your children actually despite one another. If all goes well your children will be best buds in no time. If not, however, then you and your Mum friend will have to resort to furtive glances to one another across the toddler group hall or school playground. If you are lucky, you can steal a moment or two together whilst your children are distracted with an organised craft activity involving copious amounts of glitter.
Stage Seven: Commitment
”I was wondering, if this Saturday, it would be possible for you to babysit for me in the evening.” These simple words uttered by your Mum friend will mean so much to you. They show that you have reached a new level in your relationship, one where she is willing to leave that which is most precious to her in your hands. It truly is a sign of respect and commitment to your friendship. That, or she’s desperate for a night out away from the kids.