When was the last time you made a new friend? You’ve probably become close to one or two people at work, but it’s unlikely you ever see, or speak to them, outside the office. But the last time you actually met someone new and arranged to meet up with them again for coffee?
Being a new mum is fantastic in so many ways but when you have up to a year on maternity leave you realise very quickly you have stepped out of your normal life into a whole new world. You don’t see your work colleagues, or your regular barista in the coffee shop near your office, and your friends are busy working during the day when you are at home, and out in the evening when you are at home trying to put a baby to bed.
I felt really sorry this week when I read about 32 year old Emily Fox, dubbed ‘the world’s loneliest woman’. She says she hasn’t made any new friends in ten years and feels isolated when attending baby groups with her children, so stopped going.
I’m sure Emily can’t be the only one feeling this way and it’s a shame that she hasn’t felt she could reach out for support. I’m not judging Emily in any way or suggesting it is easy to build a network but for anyone who is experiencing a similar sense of loneliness, even if to a lesser extent, I want to share some suggestions.
Ways to combat loneliness and make friends when you are a new parent
- Ante-natal classes
My NCT ante-natal group was very small with only two other couples, but we got on really well and see each other regularly (our babies are currently 8 months old). As the group was small, the co-ordinator also put us in touch with another NCT group (the same area, but for babies who were due a month later than ours) and we had a joint lunch one Sunday. As well as the paid for NCT groups, there are free ante-natal groups that your hospital or midwife can tell you about.
It might require a bit of effort to keep in touch afterwards, and I appreciate that sometimes all you seem to have in common is that your babies are due around the same time – but sometimes that can be enough. Or like me you will find that you do have things in common and genuinely click with the others.
2. Your health visitor
If you are a new mum you will have been under your local authority’s health visitor service where you drop in to have your baby weighed once a month for the first six months. You can also call them when you have questions or need advice, and they can refer you to support groups that are free of charge. For instance Home Start is a family support organisation where a volunteer can come to your house for a couple of hours to provide company, make you a cup of tea, watch the baby while you put the washing on and so on (if you have a baby that won’t settle little things like that are really helpful!) and they also do things like organise Christmas parties as well.
Similarly, your local council-run children’s centres may have groups that are designed for parents needing a bit of extra support that are invitation only aside from the regular children’s groups.
3. Parent and baby groups
There’s a huge range of things you can do with your baby ranging from baby massage to ‘stay and play’. Many are free – check out your local council website for the ones at children’s centres, and there may be things like story time at your local library which is free of charge. That’s all very well, but like Emily Fox said, it’s easy to still feel isolated. When you don’t know anyone at these groups, sometimes you turn up, focus on your baby and what they are doing, then go away again at the end not having spoken to another adult. But so many other parents will be in the same position and all it takes is a smile and a ‘how are you’. It’s easy to find a conversation starter when there are babies in front of you.
It’s rare that people at these groups already know each other outside of the group, so even if they seem cliquey at first, they probably met just by being friendly to the person next to them, and you can do the same. Even if you don’t pluck up the nerve to ask them for coffee or to add them on whatsapp at first, if you find you are going to the same groups regularly, you will see many of the same faces and after a couple of weeks of friendly small talk, it’s easier to take the next step.
If that seems too daunting, why not try something I did – the baby massage group I went to had a Facebook page and I could see the names of other people who had commented on the organiser’s post. I spotted a name I recognised – someone I’d sat next to and chatted to a few times (we always introduce ourselves and our babies at the group so I knew her first name) – and tentatively added her as a friend on Facebook. She accepted the request so I added someone else as well and sent them both a message asking if they would like to go out for coffee after class next week. If you’re a bit shy at taking the plunge and asking someone in person, this is a good thing to try!
5. Apps like Peanut or Mush
There are apps to enable parents and expectant parents to meet other people like them – much like a dating app but for friendships and coffee dates. Peanut and Mush are two examples; on Peanut you can view profile pictures and see basic info like how many children someone has and what age they are (or their due date), plus some of their interests. You can then wave at someone and see if they wave back, or send a message. Dating sites and apps have become so mainstream these days – I actually met my husband online eight years ago and even then it wasn’t unusual – so there’s no reason why they can’t be used for friendship as well. And the people on them are less likely to be timewasters!
6. Support groups
Other than the ones run by the council or health service as I mentioned above, there are plenty of groups out there aiming to provide parents with support networks and contact with other parents. For instance Gingerbread, which is for single parents but as well as providing information and advice it’s also a way to meet other single parents. La Leche runs breastfeeding support groups where you can meet other mums. The NHS and your local council website should also have details of other local support groups.
- Friends of friends
Even if you don’t have any friends having babies at the same time you might have friends who have friends who do – and they can put you in touch.
It is hard to find the time to do anything when you have a baby, let alone volunteer – but this is a good way of meeting people and creating opportunities to talk to them. It might be hard to do the type of voluntary work that springs to mind unless you have someone who can look after your baby for a couple of hours, but there are things you can do where you can take your baby with you. My local NCT group runs a ‘bumps and babies’ coffee morning every week for parents and babies to get together, which is run by volunteers. There may also be opportunities to volunteer in nursing homes where the elderly residents would love to see a child come along with you for a visit. If your children are at school or nursery you can sometimes volunteer to accompany them on trips and there are loads of opportunities to get involved once your children are at school, at everything from the school fete to becoming a parent governor.
There’s no getting away from the fact that being a new mum can make you feel isolated, even if you have a partner and family and friends around you, if you don’t know anyone with a child of the same age or who is on maternity leave at the same time. And making the first move can be daunting -but in my experience other parents are just as keen to make new friends and will be glad if you break the ice. Don’t be afraid of rejection as it’s not that likely and if it does happen, don’t take it personally and the next time you are seated next to a parent at a baby group, ask them how old their little one is, and if they are sleeping through the night – parents seem to love talking about that! And before you know it you will be chatting away.
These tips are not intended to trivialise feeling lonely and isolated, and if you are really feeling down then please do reach out to your health visitor or someone you trust, whether that’s a partner or family member, to say you are struggling. But I hope these tips are helpful for anyone who is wondering how to meet new people at the same stage in life and thinking that they don’t know how to make friends!
And I can’t end this without a shout-out to my new mum friends from NCT, baby massage and MyGym – you ladies are rocking it and I’m so glad I’ve got to know you!