Making friends post-college was hard. Especially because my husband and I left our college apartments in May of 2010, and flew nearly 3000 miles away from friends and family to start our careers on the opposite coast. Between the work schedules, the commutes, and the fact that we no longer lived in a dorm full of same-age peers with whom we shared at least several common interests, the community of our dreams didn’t happen right away.
Over the years, we made a handful of good friends—most of whom were also couples. And then, in 2017, we were the first of that group to take the plunge into parenthood. And boy, did that shake things up again.
I’ve found that a lot of people who are the first of their friend group to have a kid experience one of two realities: either they enjoy going out with their non-parent friends even more, because they’re desperate to not talk about their kid, or they find themselves alienated from their non-parent friends because they suddenly don’t have anything else to discuss.
Personally, I was in the latter group. While I still adored my B.K. (Before Kids) friends, I suddenly felt like I had nothing in common with them anymore. In the blink of an eye, I was way more concerned about how to get my daughter to stop screaming when she pooped, and way less concerned about… well, literally anything else. And so I found myself feeling a little bit like an outsider with my old friends while simultaneously craving connection with people who understood what I was going through.
And, to be honest, it was really hard. Because before you have a tiny baby, you’re not privy to the places and spaces that people with tiny babies tend to hang out. So when it came time for my six-week-postpartum appointment, and my absolutely lovely, peer-age O.B. asked how I was doing, I told her the truth. I was lonely. And it was hard. And now that my husband was back at work, I was really kind of dreading doing it all alone.
So she handed me a flyer, and told me to attend the new mother’s support group at the hospital. “People tell me it’s life-changing,” she said.
At first, I was reluctant to go. Because, like many people, I found the label “support group” off-putting. Yes, new motherhood was hard. And sure, I cried a lot. But I didn’t need a “support group.” Did I? At the end of the day, however, I trusted my doctor. (Also, it didn’t take me long to admit to myself that my desperation was stronger than my insecurity.) So I went.
And my O.B. was right. It was life-changing. Because suddenly I was in a room of other women who were all living the same experience as me. They had brand new babies, inadequate support networks, and a cornucopia of struggles. Each Tuesday at 9 a.m., we talked about baby poop, prolapses, c-section scars, feeding struggles, sleep schedules, and everything in between. Oftentimes, afterwards, we would take our babies out to lunch, or to the park, or even to each other’s backyards.
And the best part was that every time a member of our group found another group, or activity, for parents of young babies, we told everyone else about it. And our circles continued to grow.
To this day, some of my closest friends are women I met through that hospital support group, or one of the many other groups I joined as a result. And while I’m now three kids deep, and motherhood is still really hard and lonely sometimes, I have so much more support than I did back then—and it really makes all the difference in the world.
I know that those of you reading this will be coming to it from all over the country, so I’ll do my best to share with you the resources that I found most helpful when I was fresh to the mom-friend game, while focusing on the one’s that might be available to all of you as well, no matter where you are. Most importantly, however, I encourage anyone who’s struggling to find their tribe to ask for help. If I hadn’t mentioned my struggles to my O.B. way back when, I’m sure it would have taken many, many more lonely months before I figured it out on my own.
Building Community Before Baby
Before I gave birth to my first, I took a variety of birth, and infant-preparation classes. I did this, firstly, because I was completely clueless about everything from pushing a baby out to changing a diaper, but I ended up making some friends there as a result.
I chose to take a Bradley Method class, which is a natural childbirth class, focused on partner-supported birth. Full disclosure, I did not once have what The Bradley Method would consider a “natural birth,” in that I had epidurals, Pitocin, etc, etc. However, I am still so grateful for the information I learned in this class, and the community of parents I met there. In fact, one of my five-year-old daughter’s best friends is a little girl whose mother was in my Bradley class. (So, technically, they’ve known each other since they were fetuses).
If you’re not interested in Bradley, there are other courses, such as Lamaze, Birth it Up, or Kopa Birth, which have regional and online options as well. If you’re looking to give birth through a birthing center, or with a doula, they can also be great resources when it comes to helping you find birth support, and new-parent groups.
Postpartum Hospital Groups
I gave birth to all three of my babies at Long Beach Memorial Hospital in Long Beach, California. If you happen to be a local, the program I enrolled in through them (which is the one my O.B. recommended) was called Nurturing the New You: Free Parent & Baby Support Group. The last time I visited my O.B.’s office a few weeks ago, the flyer was still posted on a bulletin board by the door, so I am happy to report that it’s still running.
If you’re interested in finding a similar support group at your local hospital, I recommend starting with your care team, and then taking to the internet if they don’t know. Most hospitals’ websites (particularly women’s and children’s hospitals) will have a page for “Events and Classes,” which is likely the best place to start.
Community Center & Religious Organization Classes
The second class I enrolled in, at the suggestion of one of the other moms in my “new mom support group,” was a mommy-and-me class at my local Jewish Community Center. My family happens to be Jewish, but at least half of the other parents in this class were not. (And I say parents because there were a few dads in attendance as well.)
If you are lucky enough to have a JCC in your area, definitely check it out. Ours runs a whole slew of parent participation classes for babies and toddlers, as well as one of the largest, and most beloved, preschools in the area.
I also recommend looking for classes and/or parent groups through other local community centers and churches. While some may be restricted to members, others likely aren’t, and it never hurts to ask. I even joined a mom’s group at a local church in my neighborhood, after I heard that a friend was involved in it. I am not affiliated with the church, but they welcomed me in nonetheless, and I have met some truly wonderful neighbors there.
Lots of private preschools also offer mommy and me class options, so it’s also worth searching for things like Montessori, Reggio, or Waldorf schools in your area, and checking out their course offerings. Some of these can be pretty pricey, but they’re also a great way to start feeling out the different schooling models before you actually have to choose one.
And lastly, if you are a member of a church or other religious community, it’s likely that they have parent support groups as well. The temple that my family attends has classes for parents, as well as services specifically designed for parents of young children. In my neighborhood, these services take place outside, and are a wonderful opportunity to meet other like-minded kids and families.
If you’re already put-off by the name of this one, don’t be. I assure you that during my four plus years as a member of this organization, I have done far more socializing than exercising.
Fit4Mom is an organization that is composed of local, mom-owned franchises which run exercise groups for moms, families, and pregnant women. I have participated in pretty much every variety offered in my neighborhood (stroller strides, body back, run club, and fit4baby) and loved all of them. The classes are very much at your own pace, and focused on building community, in addition to health and fitness. Most classes are designed for mom and baby to attend together, and most local groups host a variety of social events as well, such as moms nights out, and family field trips. While I don’t attend classes much anymore (it’s a bit tricky to push three kids in a jogging stroller), Fit4Mom, and the community it provided for me, will always have a soft spot in my heart.
Music Classes & Indoor Playgrounds
My two older kids both participated in the Music Together program, which is a family music class for kids and babies as young as a few weeks old. Music Together has locations all over the country, and often offers mixed-age classes so that siblings can attend together.
We’ve also enjoyed classes offered through local indoor playgrounds, such as My Gym, which has hundreds of locations and hosts a variety of age-based playgroups for kids and parents.
While I didn’t make as much of a permanent community through these classes, having places to go certain days of the week really benefitted my mental health—especially during those quiet early months with my first baby.
Put Yourself Out There! (And Hook Your Friends Up, Too)
I met one of my closest neighbor friends outside of her house. One afternoon, I was walking by with two kids in tow, and must have looked exhausted, because she called to me from her front porch and asked if we wanted to draw with chalk on their driveway. Five minutes later, all four of our children were coloring together, and we were chatting away, seltzer waters in hand. Now I know that this might sound like an unlikely scenario, but the more you put yourself out there, the more likely something is to click. So say hello to your neighbors, ask moms at the park for their digits, and find the other mom at the bake sale who also brought store-bought cookies, and see if she wants to meet for coffee.
And then, when you’re old and gray (which, if you have kids, will be about 35), don’t forget how important those early relationships were to you. So when that friend of yours who is just about to give birth to her first kid comes and asks you for advice, you can give her the names and numbers of all the other expecting moms you know—she’ll thank you for it later.
For Southern California Locals — The New Mom School
The last organization I feel like I have to mention—because I loved them so much—is The New Mom School. This organization runs classes out of Long Beach, and Newport Beach, for cohorts of new moms. You can sign up before, or soon after, giving birth, and will be assigned to a group of moms who all have babies born within a month or two of yours. Each cohort meets weekly, to commiserate, share advice, and engage with a variety of experts and professionals, on topics ranging from baby sleep, to returning to work after maternity leave. I actually enrolled in this class after having my third baby and really loved the sense of community I found there. If you do happen to be local to the Southern California area, I highly recommend checking them out.
Sound familiar! Meagan and Sarah hosted a live event at The New Mom School in Newport Beach in 2018!
Why It Matters
All in all, the community I’ve built over the past five years has meant the world to both me, and my kids. The friends I have made have supported me through some of the most challenging (and sleep-deprived) days of my life, and have given me the space to still be me during the seasons when motherhood feels so all-consuming.
But even more importantly, connecting with other families has allowed me to see, first hand, that there really isn’t one right way to do motherhood. There are people in my life whom I love dearly, and who parent their kids very differently than I parent mine. I think that understanding and accepting these differences has made me a better, less judgmental, and more compassionate person, and I’m hopeful it’s doing the same for my kids, as well.
And I hope that all of you reading this don’t walk away wondering how in the world I have time for so many activities. And so many friends. Because at the end of the day, I don’t. My participation in the groups and organizations mentioned above has fluctuated depending on the season my family and I are in, and my relationships have as well. I think that many of us are raised with the fantasy of a “best-friend” who experiences all of life’s struggles and milestones at the exact same pace as we do when, in reality, that’s actually exceedingly rare. For most of us, our friendships will always be evolving, and some of them (read: a lot of them) won’t last forever. So if you’re just embarking on a community-building journey, at whatever phase of motherhood you’re at, just remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect, to still be really, really good.