One of the best ways to improve your quality of life as a parent is to become good friends with other parents!
Ideally, your new friends will meet the three criteria of great parent friends:
* They have a kid the same age as yours (or if you have more than one kid, your kids are roughly the same age)
* They live close by, or one of you is regularly in the others' neighborhood (i.e. your favorite cafe is near their house, or their daycare is a few blocks away from your home)
* The parents get along and hopefully, the kids get along too (as long as they don't fight constantly though, it's fine - over time, they'll learn to play well together!)
How do you meet great parent friends like this? If you're an extrovert, I suppose you do things like look strangers in the eye, introduce yourself and give the secret extrovert handshake (I never learned it, alas). But if you're an introvert, it doesn't come quite as easily... especially if you aren't part of an organized group, like church or a book club.
So to help out my fellow introverts, I thought we'd pull together a list of 10 things that helped me and Bee meet other parents!
BEFORE THE BABY COMES
1. Sign up for a birthing class in your local neighborhood! This is a great way to meet parents before they make a million other parent friends. We actually signed up for a birthing class at a doula center about a 15 minute walk from our house, so a lot of the other parents lived really close by.
This is Bee walking to the doula center. Just kidding, it's a pro pic from Punam Bean; 100% staged!
This is incredibly important; far more than we realized at the time!! Physical proximity is one of the most important elements of great parent friends.
Hospitals often offer birthing classes too, and that can be a great way to meet parents if you're giving birth at a local neighborhood hospital. We live in Brooklyn and gave birth in Manhattan's Upper East Side though, so none of the parents we met at the hospital would have been nearby. Not something we considered in deciding where to take our birthing class; we just lucked out.
2. Join a mommy/daddy/parenting group. The doula center that gave our birthing class set up mommy groups for all their students (one for each month). Bee joined hers, and it turned out to be a nice way to bond with parents with babies almost the exact same age as ours!
A little boy Mrs. Bee met in her mommy group
3. Join a local mailing list! Park Slope, Brooklyn has a moderated mailing list called Park Slope Parents, and it's a great way to learn about parenting while meeting other parents. You can even join or form a mommy/daddy/parenting group with other parents giving birth at the same time with you.
4. Take prenatal yoga. Make sure to pick the place closest to your house. It's an useful way to meet pregnant moms that live very close by.
Olive demonstrates the downward facing dog position.
Many yoga places are very inexpensive, and it's not a budget breaker to join a class even if you're already a member at another gym. Or if your gym is close by, check out the lower-intensity classes.
Either way, it's important that you take the same class at the same time every time you go! That way, you'll run into the same people week after week and eventually you'll get a chance to strike up a natural conversation.
5. Go to local events, like block parties and BBQs. Our neighbor throws an annual block party, and we went to it twice.
The second time, our neighbor introduced us to a homeowner down the street with a boy and a girl spaced 20 months apart... we have a girl and a boy spaced 22 months apart! We hit it off, and although we didn't setup a playdate or anything, the stage was set for us to become closer friends over time.
ONCE THE BABY COMES
5. Go to your local playground. We would go to the playground at same time every day, and go to the same swings.
We used to hit up these swings every single day at 5:15 pm!
We started to run into the same people, including the couple we had met at the block party! Swings are great, especially for introvert parents who are open to meeting new parent friends. It's just really easy to strike up a conversation when you're standing next to someone for ten minutes at a time!
6. Go on a walk (or run) at the same time every day. Every evening, we go to pick up Charlie from daycare. When we pick him up at the exact same time every day, we run into the same families every evening! There's this one family down the street whose daughter is always hanging out on the stoop; she and Charlie now regularly say "hi," and if we wanted a playdate it would be totally natural to extend an invite!
I don't have a picture of the girl sitting on the stoop, so just pretend Charlie is a girl.
There are running groups for parents that meet regularly for parents to all go on a run together with their strollers; there's one called Stroller Strides that we've heard a few parents swear by. It's a handy way to meet local parents too.
7. Ask a nanny for help! If you have a nanny (or befriend a nanny at the playground), ask her to keep her eye out for you. Charlie's nanny quickly became friends with a bunch of the other local nannies. She set up a ton of local playdates during the week, and sometimes we would do a weekend playdate with the same kids!
8. Let your kid make friends for you at the playground. Charlie was sitting on a playground bench with his nanny, while the little girl below was sitting on another bench with her nanny. Charlie and the little girl started playing and got along so well together, the nannies set up a playdate. She became a close friend, and Charlie's first regular playdate!
9. Buy and sell baby items. I never would have guessed this, but this can be a great way to meet other parents! Bee sold a crib on the local mailing list mentioned above, and the mom brought her daughter to pick it up. It turned out the daughter loves Thomas & Friends trains just like Charlie, and they spent 10 minutes playing on his train table before taking off. The little girl was really sweet, so we gave her a temporary tattoo like the ones that we give Charlie now and then.
The mom ended up stopping by later to buy some other stuff, and we turned it into a longer playdate which both kids loved! She lives near a playground that we go to sometimes, so we'll probably schedule a later playdate so that they can play on her train table... and who knows, maybe we'll become better friends with the mom!
10. Go to a playspace and take classes! Classes at a playspace (like Gymboree or Kidville) are a convenient way to meet other parents, especially if you take one of the classes aimed at younger babies. Or it doesn't even have to be a playspace: music classes are available for newborns, and swimming classes start at six months or so, I think. If your kids are a bit older, you can sign up for soccer classes for toddlers as young as two!
There was a little boy in a gym class Charlie took at Kidville. They had a real connection, and even strangers would remark on how well they got along! Eventually we setup a playdate and spent some time with the little boy's parents, and it turned out they live right up the street from our apartment!
WAYS TO CEMENT FRIENDSHIPS
Once you've met someone that you get along with and you've gotten past that awkward "you could be a serial killer but you're not, right?" stage, there are a few things you can do cement the friendship! Here are some of the ones that have worked for us:
* Do a combo dinner/playdate in evening. We used to be sooo protective of Charlie's sleep schedule, that we never would have considered going to someone's house for a triple date: three families hanging out over dinner and a playdate. But we did it when Charlie was about 18 months old or so, and it turned out to be great!
* Schedule playdates. Before we became parents, we had no idea that playdates were the social currency of the parenting world. But it's true: if you like someone, you generally will suggest that you have a playdate (either at the playground, or at your home). And if you don't like someone but your kids like each other, you might suggest a playdate anyway.
* Go to local events and invite someone you met. Bee and I tend to stay on top of local kid events, and if there's a really cool and interesting one, we might mention it to another parenting couple that we know. We went on a ferry trip to Governor's Island with some friends, and our kids all had a blast!
They had so much fun, they all passed out in their strollers afterward!
There was also a recent truck rally where kids were allowed to touch fire trucks, ambulances and police cars; some parents from daycare casually mentioned it to us, and we stopped by! If we hadn't, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have mentioned future events to us and we would never have become closer. Along those lines: if someone invites you to a birthday party, you should definitely go! Parents definitely appreciate each and every guest at their kids' birthday party.
* Invite parents to coffee (especially if kids are young). Mommy/Daddy/Parent groups tend to all get together over lunch or coffee... just find a family-friendly venue, and you can bond for hours! That is, if it works for your little one's nap schedule!
That's what's worked for us, in any case! We moved out to Brooklyn shortly before having our kids, so we were a little worried about not having any friends nearby. But by prioritizing making time to meet other parents, we found it wasn't nearly as hard as we thought to meet great parents friends! Sharing this parenting journey with friends has made the experience much more enjoyable for us.
Have you struggled at all to meet close parent friends? How did you meet your friends?