Ask any mum out there who has attempted to befriend other mums and she will tell you it is a lot like dating. Nerve-wracking, embarrassing, hilarious, fulfilling and liberating all at once. When I began maternity leave I found myself short of friends in the same situation as me. I had lots of existing friends (some of who were fellow parents) but none of them really fitted the bill of living locally enough to see regularly and being at the same stage of their parenting journey as me. This is how I found myself entering into the world of ‘Mum Dating’ in pursuit of some new mummy friends.
Based on my experience, here are the Ten Steps of Mum Dating:
Mum ‘Dating’ Apps
If you are actively looking to find mum friends a good place to start is one of the apps created just for that purpose. I call these ‘mum dating apps’ because in many ways they are like regular dating apps – only these ones are for finding mum friends, not prospective partners. Each mum has a profile that you can view with a bit of a bio about her. Based upon that profile you can decide whether you think she is someone you’d potentially like to hang out with, or someone you’d purposely sit far away from if you found yourself together in a mother and baby group. Assuming it’s the former rather than the latter you might then choose to get in contact with her. On the same basis you may get friend requests / messages from other mums who have looked at your profile and think you look nice enough (and normal enough!) to potentially go on a ‘mum date’ with.
Creating a Profile
Once you’ve created an account you’ll want to set up your profile. Just like the world of dating, the minefield of creating a good profile quickly becomes apparent. What do you say about yourself? What don’t you say about yourself? What will other women read into the ‘tags’ you select about yourself? (You will be asked to select a few tags that describe who you are as a parent, and a few about who you are in your non-parenting life.)
I struggled to find enough tags to fill up my quota to describe me as a parent. I questioned the relevance to a potential friend whether I am a bottle feeder or breast feeder, whether I opt for baby led weaning or purees. When it came to describing myself in my non-parenting life though I found myself having the opposite problem – I could easily have picked probably 10 different options but had to narrow it down to just 4. I quickly found myself in a dilemma – would it give the wrong impression if 2 of the 4 that I picked were alcohol related? I decided yes, quite possibly, but in the end thought ‘sod it’ and went with my gut. Anybody who is put off by the fact that I describe myself both as a ‘wine lover’ and ‘pub lover’ is clearly not someone I need to be friends with anyway.
Other Mums’ Profiles
Your own profile created, you then enter the realm of looking at other mums’ profiles. Just like you would if you were on Match or Plenty of Fish you’ll probably find that you instinctively have various reactions the profiles you come across.
There’s the personal bio, giving you an inkling of whether you’re likely to be on the same wavelength. This is where the importance of those ‘tags’ come in too; I found myself a lot more drawn to my fellow ‘wine lovers’ and ‘foodies’ than to the self-confessed ‘tea lovers’, ‘gamers’ and ‘loud mouths’. (Despite the fact that I have a borderline serious tea addiction myself, and I already have at least a couple of good friends who could be labelled as loud gamers. Harsh, I know.)
And then there’s the profile picture too. Obviously you’re not looking for physical attraction like you would with romantic dating but nevertheless you’ll probably find you have some kind of instinctive reaction based upon a person’s profile picture that leads you to believe this person is more or less likely to be ‘your kind of person’. (Does this make me sound like the modern day mother version of Shallow Hal? I promise I’m not really! Although I did used to love that movie.)
Then come the messages. Once you find someone you think looks like friend material, you can friend them and send them a message. Do you start with lots of small talk? Do you establish what you have in common first? Do you just go ahead and ask for a meet up? Oh the possibilities! If this step goes well you may actually make plans together.
When arranging to meet, where is an appropriate location? For me a coffee shop is the perfect meeting ground. You’re probably both already familiar with the place, it’s guaranteed to be child-friendly, it’s a winner. And you can stay there for as little or as long as you want depending on how it goes. One friend of mine (a pre-mum friend, but not a local one. We’ve swapped stories about mum dating with each other the same way we used to swap stories about actual dating!) was disconcerted when another mum invited her to her house for their first meet up. Cue fleeting visions of a secret weirdo, ulterior motives and unwittingly walking into her own death… or something slightly less dramatic but almost as alarming. Regardless, she decided to go ahead, leaving all valid info with her partner in case the woman turned out to be some sort of psycho. In actual fact she turned out to be lovely and they became good friends. I guess the lesson is (as with everything else in life) not to jump too quickly to conclusions. And also, everyone is different. (Not everyone wants to meet in a coffee shop!)
Bad Mum Dates
When you actually do meet up, be prepared that you might find yourself on a bad mum date. Just like a bad real date, a bad mum date is awkward as arse. If you’re a fairly self-assured dater (and person in general) you may find this kind of situation easy enough to handle. If however you are terrible at these kind of social situations (like me) you may find it embarrassing and awkward and spend most of the time wondering why you didn’t just stay at home where you have Netflix and biscuits and need not talk to anybody but the baby and the cat unless you really want to.
Good Mum Dates
Don’t let that put you off though. Just like in the dating world there is always the chance that you will come across a kindred spirit who you click with right away. A fellow mum who just gets you, who makes you laugh, who you instantly feel that you could happily share a bottle of Sauv (or two) with and put the world to rights. If you find one of these mums, don’t let her go! #NewMumFriendSuccess!
Ditching the Technology
If the app thing isn’t for you there are of course more organic routes to finding mum friends. At some point we probably all find ourselves striking up conversation with a fellow mum in a public place – supermarket, cafe etc- and mid-way through your chat you might think to yourself that you could easily become friends with this girl. There’s the natural reluctance to put yourself out there by asking this stranger for their phone number though – it’s just not something we’re used to doing is it?! I have had missed opportunities like this a few times but then one day I took the plunge and asked the friendly girl in Costa if she’d like to swap numbers and maybe we could go for a coffee or to a baby group together some time. She said yes and we did, and we’ve been friends ever since. Our little ones are the same age and it’s been great having her to share my maternity leave with. So if you’re ever in that position I’d say just be brave and go for it! Who knows, you might get a lovely friend out of it.
Forging a Friendship
Once you start forging a friendship other things will come into play. Do you have other things in common beyond your babes? The best friendships you’ll find will undoubtedly be based on some shared interests and similarities past your parenting experiences and opinions.
Mum friends are great. Once you’ve established a friendship you’ve got another wing woman to share all your baby ups and downs with. Someone to sympathise (in a very real, understanding, ‘I’ve been there too’ kind of a way) with sleep-deprivation, post-pregnancy aches and pains and anything else your parenting journey throws at you. Someone to spend some of that maternity leave time with, to navigate new baby groups with and to pass on lots of useful hints and tips. If you’re really lucky she might also cross the line into a friend that you see long past maternity for drinks and dinners and general giggles. And once you make it that far with your friendship, you will look back and think it was so worth all the early awkward days of trying to find new mummy friends!