How to Make Friends: The Mommy Edition
I am a horrible judge of character. I basically like everyone on sight and invite them into my home and give them my stuff immediately. I ended up with a lot of jovial troublemakers in my circle, which was all fine and dandy when I was on my own. Then I had kids.
And for three years, I couldn't make a friend to save my life.
I wondered often what had happened to me. I didn't remember hating people so much. Since when was I the type to stew in the corner finding possible reasons not to talk to people, especially other moms? I had gone from eagerly making conversation and talking a mile a minute to brushing off small talk attempts by those probably as apprehensive as myself. Why?
Then it hit me. It's not that I hate people. It's that I know I can't trust my instincts, and I don't want to make a mistake and force my family through an erratic friendship filled with trepidation and woe. So instead of working to improve my judgement, I simply shut down that area of my life. Good plan. Except that three years is an awful long time to go without amiable contact (well, I have a few friends, but that's because they're amazing, and they didn't give up on me even through my cold shoulder), and not only that, it's bad for the kids. There's no need to live in a bubble, even if you're like me and can't suss out the bad from the good right away.
If you want to make friends, you have to give people a shot. A guarded shot, but a shot nonetheless. So, how do you strike up a conversation with a would-be friend and keep it going without everything getting wonky?
1) If you have a thought about something, say it out loud. You could be wondering where a child playing nearby got her dress, or what kind of sandwiches that picnicking family over by the trees is eating. I used to shut these questions down as they arose, but why not just ask? It seems intrusive, but the responses I've gotten so far have been beyond positive. You'd be surprised how many moms want to share their recipe with an admirer, or love gushing about the fashion deals to be found at the local boutique. And if the person is not interested in talking to you, they'll let you know with little to know embarrassment. A short answer with an immediate head turn back to the activity at hand, and you just walk away. It's no big deal. At the very least you now know that pasta salad came from the Publix. Try again with the next person you randomly have a question or comment for. There's no reason to keep these things to yourself. Even if the mom doesn't want to be your new bestie, you probably made her day by complimenting those earrings.
2) Let the conversation flow naturally. We're all moms, yes, but that's not all we think about. If the conversation heads toward talk of the kids, embrace it, but don't force it there. Complimenting jewelry, for instance, will probably lead more naturally to shopping stories and style ideas, which will very soon make its way into playful bemoanment of kids in the shopping cart or whatever. The conversation will very often be about the kids. You don't have to get it there immediately. Most people enjoy remembering they have other facets to their personality as well, and by letting the conversation go where it goes naturally, you're allowing yourself to see a bigger snapshot of your new possible friend's life.
3) Keep it light. It doesn't need to be mindless small talk, but do you really need to know the person's views on abortion, attached parenting and formula feeding all at once? I didn't think so. Now, this isn't to say ignore incompatibilities. There are going to be things about other people that you don't agree with, that make you uncomfortable, or that are absolute dealbreakers when it comes time for real friendship, and you'll want to know about these things before inviting anyone over for a cookout. But you'll be sure to sour any budding friendship by asking about their political or religious views in the first few minutes of the first conversation. And if you bust out with "I hate formula," people are likely going to shy away.
Finding someone who agrees with, or at least accepts, your parenting style will be paramount to any friendship, but sometimes moms place too much emphasis on this in the beginning, as if trying to weed out the friendship before it's ever had a chance to bloom. If your new friend lets her child cry it out, that will come up. You don't have to ask right away. And if you can't be friends with that person because of it (or any other reason), then at least you've gotten a few good conversations out of the deal. It's practice for the next potential friend.
Really, it's all about being positive and giving yourself and others a chance. As parents, we do have to be really cautious about who we admit into our family's lives, but we don't have to automatically disqualify every person we see just because we're scared. Most likely, they're scared, too. Most likely, they would really appreciate someone bold enough to make a friendly comment and keep an easy conversation.