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Carly Stasko investigates the quandaries of new parents


Cruising on Facebook for some M.I.L.F action is not what I thought I’d be doing in the first few weeks of motherhood.  By “M.I.L.F” of course I mean a “Mom I’d Like to Friend” and by “action” I simply mean the very important act of sharing and supporting each other in the crazy journey of new motherhood.

When I saw pictures of Tricia, a friend-of-a-friend, and her newborn baby on my newsfeed I wrote her a short note suggesting we meet up.  I’d already been set up on a few blind dates with other moms and I knew that forging some friendships with local parents was going to take a little social courage and effort on my part. Things clicked with Tricia and she later invited me to join a weekly moms-potluck that was starting up in the neighborhood. Over this past year those weekly meet-ups have been such an important and fun outlet.

It’s not that I didn’t already have friends (for whom I am endlessly grateful), but there is something very special about connecting with other moms when you have just become one yourself. It can be salve for the spirit of a new mom who is sleep deprived, drunk with hormones, and navigating the steep and often anxiety-inducing learning curve of parenthood.

This doesn’t mean that all new mothers are going to instantly bond or become friends.  It also doesn’t mean that it’s always easy. It’s definitely worth the effort however, because the early months of parenting can be very isolating. It truly does take a village to raise a parent. Not to mention that current research has shown that forming social connections with other parents in the early months of motherhood can reduce the risk of post-partum depression and baby-blues.

Maybe you are lucky and your close friends are having babies at the same time as you. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to expand your support network a bit during this time of dramatic transformation, joy, tears and spit-up. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you seek out some Moms You’d Like to Friend:

BREAKING THE ICE

It’s a snap to meet new moms because they are easy to spot and there are so many straightforward ways to start up some casual conversation. Asking the age of their baby, begging to borrow a wet-wipe, or inquiring if they like the baby-carrier they are using are all great openers.  Not all of these interactions will lead to full-on friendships, but in the very least they are good practice and nurture a friendlier social culture between random moms. In the best case scenario you make plans to meet up again – Is there a story-time at your local library or community center that you could go to? Or a nearby park that has a bench with your names on it?  Grab a coffee or invite her over for tea.  It’s really that simple.

TOO COOL FOR DROOL

Some of the best opportunities for meeting fellow moms can be intimidating at first and require equal parts courage and empathy. The first time I walked into a post-natal yoga class I was surprised by how cliquish and “high school” the vibe was.  No one was really smiling back, and everyone seemed too cool to connect.

“What’s up with this attitude?” I thought. “What happened to the sisterhood?” It turns out it’s hard to feel sisterly when you are bouncing a crying baby, still possibly recovering from giving birth, suffering from sleep deprivation and feeling insecure about a long list of possible topics ranging from your altered physical appearance to your lack of parental “know how” as you try desperately to learn on the fly.

Mass media portrayals of “super moms” don’t help with these insecurities, not to mention the workplace culture of competition and high achievement many women have grown accustomed to but which seems sorely out of place in a community of moms.  What I first took as the “cold shoulder” was actually just a massive dose of insecurity and shyness that many moms can feel. The best thing to do in these situations is to let any feelings of judgment or rejection roll off you, and instead of feeling the cold shoulder feel some compassion and empathy for the other moms like you who most likely feel a bit out of place and are still trying to find their groove as a parent.

It’s hard enough to put yourself out there socially under the best of circumstances – but even more so when you are still figuring out who the new-mom-you is.  It’s true there are some mean and snobbish moms out there, but for the most part we’re a friendly bunch. If you’ve made an effort to connect but it’s just not working, then don’t push it. There are plenty of moms in the sea (or at the playground).

A little compassion and empathy for others and ourselves can go a long way towards creating the right social environment for budding friendships. So when you walk into that mom’s group or yoga class, let your guard down and try to open up.  I was so lucky to meet my dear friend Melissa in a pre-natal class and I hope to watch our little boys grow up together.

THOU SHALT NOT JUDGE— OR  “SHOULD” ALL OVER YOURSELF

There is no one ‘right’ way to parent well, and most of use are just doing our best to figure things out. Try not to judge others who parent differently, but at the same time don’t feel like to you have to hide your differences.  Often you’ll gain tricks or fresh insights from parents with a completely different approach than you— and vice-versa.

Try to create a “should-free” environment for you and your fellow moms. Fortunes have been made feeding off the insecurities of parents. Friendships, however are forged from acceptance.

When your mom-friend keeps cancelling play dates because her family is constantly fighting colds, that’s life! So be understanding. In fact— bring her some chicken soup!  When you show up at the potluck with no food to contribute except the sweet potato smeared on your sweater, your friends will forgive you too.

IT’S NOT A COMPETITION

When a fellow mom tells you about her son’s first words you will feel such a strong urge to jump in with the story of your daughter’s first words (or sentences!). Sometimes it’s fun to go around in a back and forth like this because of course we all have our own common but uniquely personal tales to tell. I struggle with this, but sometimes it’s best to just listen to your friend’s story and celebrate their child’s accomplishments without putting in your own two-cents.  You’ll have a chance soon enough to bask and share in your own baby’s triumphs.

DADS RULE TOO

While my focus has been on forging friendships with moms, all parents and caregivers need to build support networks.  More than ever, today’s modern Dads are getting knee-deep in parenthood, and that’s great.  That new dad on the playground may not only make a great parental ally but may also have some refreshing insights on parenting.

Recently my husband organized an outing for his birthday with three other new dads in the neighborhood. He called it a “Four Fathers Gathering”.  It was the first time most of them had the opportunity to go out without their kids or partners.  It was so replenishing for them to let loose a bit, and also to support each other as they emerge into their roles as fathers.

HEALTHY NETWORK HAPPY MAMA

Forging and nurturing friendships with fellow parents is a great way to support yourself when you spend so much time supporting your kids – but the kids benefit too! Now that my son is just over a year I am able to see what it’s like for him to have his own friends and it’s a joy to behold. You never know what will come from these friendships, but it’s clear that the health of our social networks can have positive impact on the health of our entire family in mind, body and spirit.

THE LEAGUE OF MOMS


About six years ago when I was going through cancer treatments my doctor warned me that I may not be able to have kids as a result of the chemotherapy.  I was devastated, and had only a matter of days before the treatments started.  I was having an incredibly hard time finding a fertility specialist to speak with when my mom started to contact every person she knew, including the mom of one of my old high school buddies.  Sure enough this mom got us an appointment with one of the top specialists in the field the next day.  Thanks to what I later dubbed the “league of moms”, I am now a mom too.

When I told this to the moms at my weekly potluck they decided we should call ourselves the League of Moms.  Every time we meet, amidst the chaos and comradery, we always take some time to each share three things from that day we are grateful for.  It’s a great chance to share, celebrate, laugh and pause to reflect. It also gives us a moment to celebrate our successes and life’s little miracles. Many of us will be returning to work soon and our weekly meet-ups will likely take on new formats as our lives change and children grow, but I know for sure I will always be grateful for the support of fellow parents during this first year and in years to come.  It takes a village to raise a parent, and I’m so grateful for my village.

So the next time you notice a Mom You’d Like To Friend at the playground, grocery store or online – don’t hesitate to reach out. You never know if you’ll connect unless you try. Take inspiration from your kids who are constantly trying and sometimes failing as they learn.  Good luck!

Carly Stasko is a self-titled Imaginator, one who agitates imagination. She is also an artist/writer/producer/public speaker/cancer survivor/new mom living in Toronto. For more Carly Stasko, check out her radio stories on CBC’s Definitely Not the Opera and her blog, Imaginate the State.

Her series, How to Raise a Parent, appears twice a month.

All photos and images via Carly Stasko

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