I know — you thought you were done dating. Whether you're happily partnered or just focused on your kid, you probably thought your dating days were long over, or, at the very least, on hold. No, sorry, the dating game starts all over once you and your baby are ready to go outside.
You need mom friends if you even want to have a chance at making it. No one should go into battle alone, and raising a kid is a team sport. I know, so many metaphors, but the point is that you need company. Toddlers are pack animals, and they were not meant to be raised one-to-one. Back in the day, women lived with their extended families, and aunts, grandmothers, and sisters worked together to make parenting palatable, possible, and, dare we say, more fun. (Think one woman does laundry while another cooks and another sits and relaxes while the children entertain each other!)
Assuming you don't live in a home with all your relatives, here are some tips for picking up the members of the village it takes to raise a kid. (Disclaimer: these ideas are NOT AT ALL SKETCHY OR CREEPY. Mom dating requires breaking all the rules you'd employ for regular dating.)
1. Make assumptions
See a nice-looking woman breastfeeding a baby on a park bench? Let's assume she's the mom. Let's assume she's also struggling in some way, because, come on, aren't we all, and let's assume she needs a friend. Go up and say something (without making her uncomfortable in her vulnerable moment, of course)!
2. Listen in on other people's conversations at coffee shops
It doesn't make you a stalker. Necessarily. Back when my first baby was a few months old, I was at my favorite local coffee shop and I was struggling to breastfeed, as per usual, when I heard a nice woman (with a stroller) one table over talking to someone else about how awesome her doula was. I walked over, and inserted myself into the conversation. Turns out we used the same doula and our kids were a few weeks apart. Cut to a month later and we were besties. Still are.
Lesson learned: don't be shy. You never know!
Once you get a good conversation going with a fellow new mom, you can feel free to share your birth story if it comes up. Complain about sleep deprivation. Compare breast pump techniques. Coo about how adorable both of your babies are. You know, say the things you're not going to say back at the office to Randy from marketing.
4. Ask awkward questions
Not just any awkward questions, of course, but don't be afraid to talk about things you might usually not broach with strangers. For example, with a regular stranger at a work function, you might not bring up her boobs. With a new mom who you've seen nursing her baby at mommy-and-me yoga, feel free to ask how breastfeeding is going. In this case, it's actually polite. Even if you feel weird, she might be glad you're giving her a chance to talk about something she's dealing with or something she's proud of.
5. Don't be afraid of rejection
If the new mom you approach at your baby's music class doesn't seem into you, give her another chance in a week or two. This is not some weird "don't take no for an answer" thing; I'm just saying that at this exceptionally overwhelming, emotional, crazy stage in life that we call "new parenthood," we all have those days where we're not in the mood to talk or think or be out in the world. So go easy on the seemingly unfriendly mom at the playground and try again another day if she seems more open.
6. Keep an open mind
The friends you targeted at college or Summer camp are not necessarily the same kinds of friends you're looking for now as a new parent. In fact, you probably don't know what or who you're looking for, because on most of those early days you barely know what or who you are! So be open. The lonely looking stay-at-home-dad by the swings? He needs a friend, too. Go say hello. The mom chasing after twins near the slide? She totally needs a stranger to reach out, even if it seems like you don't have anything in common on the surface. And if someone starts a conversation with you, give her a chance. We're all new at this, and making new friends is hard.
7. Introduce your friends to your other friends
Host a playgroup if you know a few moms with kids around your kid's age. Even ones you're not necessarily that close to or those with whom you have nothing in common. You'll be doing them a service, too — who knows, they might meet their new mom BFF at your playgroup! This happened to me, and now two of my mom friends are each other's "In Case of Emergency" people. They've even taken their families on vacation together! And yeah, I feel left out sometimes, but I'm glad they hit it off. I have my own "In Case of Emergency" people, too, and you can ever have too many friends, right?
8. Don't panic
You have plenty of time. Some of my closest friends are moms I met when our kids started preschool. This is not to say that you won't have a close friend until then; just remember that things are always changing. People move, they go back to work, they drift apart. Your best mom friend may not necessarily be hanging at the same playground as you right now, but you might find each other later in the journey. Enjoy those around you now, and take comfort in the fact that motherhood provides constant new opportunities for making your new best mom friend.
9. Turn a regular friend into a mom friend
Found out your old college roommate is having a baby and is moving close to where you live? Score! Even if your kids are not the same age, or one of you is going back to work and the other isn't, make sure to consider her as a mom friend. You might learn something from each other even if you're in really different places parenting-wise.
10. Turn a mom friend into a regular friend
On the flip side, say you love hanging out with a fellow mom, but your kids just don't get along or you have wildly different parenting styles and don't love having your kids play together. Never fear; all is not lost. Invite this mom out for a drink some evening, sans kids. We all need kid-free time, and you don't have to give up this friendship just because your children don't hit it off.
Bonus: you can talk about something OTHER than being a mom for a while! And that is priceless.