5 Tips for Creating Real Community From a Once Lonely Mom

Creating real community as a mom is hard. Here are tips

Recently I wrote a post about the unexpected ways I’ve found community through my kids. I shared that for me this was not part of my initial plan, that community had happened but was not something I had sought.

That was a bit of an oversimplification, though.

One particular response to that post has echoed in my head, because I heard it several times over and because, initially, it surprised me: “I wish this was the case for me.” These comments left me thinking about how I got to this point – a member of a busy, thriving “village” of friends and families – as well as remembering how it felt before I was here, when I, too, was hungry for a sense of community.

What I didn’t mention in that initial post was the main reason that I, even as an introvert, know to appreciate the benefits of the village: It’s because my first years of parenting were lonely. I had just started to get connected to other local parents when my husband and I decided to move back home, states away from the friends we had made. While the proximity to grandparents was wonderful, we didn’t know anyone else with young kids; there was no one nearby who shared our life stage. There were several months when that felt very, very hard.

When my daughter was about eighteen months old, I started thinking she needed playmates. I was pregnant again, and felt too tired to keep up with her, plus it would be nice if I could make some friends who had kids. I began looking around for groups where we could get connected, and found a local one online which called itself a “Young Moms’ Group.” Perfect, I was a young mom, too – 26 at the time. I emailed them and eagerly awaited a response. Their next get-together was just a day or two away, on a Thursday morning. I blocked off the time on the calendar. Finally, I would connect with some other moms, and Delaney would get to play with kids her own age.

The woman coordinating the group wrote back quickly and told me, not unkindly, that I was too old. She didn’t write, Don’t join us. She didn’t write, We don’t want you here, old lady. But she strongly hinted that I would not fit in. Apparently “Young Moms” meant really young moms. It was a group for women who were 17-21. She didn’t think I would like it.

Needless to say, we didn’t go, and being home that Thursday morning stung more than a morning at home with your toddler should. I was shocked at how rejected I felt, knowing I wouldn’t fit into the only mommy crowd I knew.

When I wrote that post, that experience had all but faded from memory. These days, I fit in with the mommy crowd a little too easily. Yet I was reminded, through the comments and responses of others, that the challenge continues to exist, and it’s a painful one. Worse, community seems to be the hardest to find just when we need it most, in the early years of parenting.

Related: A Group Of Internet Friends Helped Me Survive After My Son Died

“Friend-dating” is something that we all experience at one time or another. Whether it’s because we move, we change jobs, or when we have kids we all look for new connections at some point in our lives. Even as our kids get older we still look for new friends- friends at the soccer field, friends who can help with carpool, and friends that we can have over for dinner while our kids play. The ever-changing landscape of life calls us to do so. But finding a village or a set of friends that you share things in common with outside of your children can be difficult. Especially as a new mom.

Being a new mom is one of the most lonely experiences. You are never alone but somehow you are always alone. You often stop doing things that you did before that would have brought you that adult connection- going to work, going to the gym, studio classes for yoga or art, or going out to dinner with friends. You start to lose a bit of who you were “before kids” to who you are as a mother. Stay-at-home moms tend to feel this the most, with loneliness being a top issue for mothers who don’t work.

The way we live our lives has changed drastically in that many of us don’t live close to family who can help raise our children. And even if we do live close, we are often subjected to doing it all on our own because society has evolved in a way that we, as mothers, are expected to do most of the child-rearing completely on our own with only our partner (who often works) as our help. The days being inside the house, by yourself, with only a little miniature version of yourself by your side 24/7 is difficult. You aren’t alone but you are lonely.

All moms experience this feeling, though- being lonely even when you aren’t alone. Many say that it’s akin to the cliche of “being alone in a crowded room.” Moms have to leave a dinner party to feed the baby in another room. Moms have to go put the baby to nap while there are friends and family visiting. Moms are forced to pry themselves away from other adults to tend to their babies (obviously this isn’t the case for every person in every situation- but most mothers can relate to these experiences in one way or another). And moms, especially new moms, have all felt the feeling of loneliness. And that feeling of loneliness makes us go out and seek friends who are in similar stages of life as us. Who have similar interests and experiences.

Friend-dating.

Don’t you wish there was an app for that? Because we all experience it, and we all scour the playground to see if the mom pushing her baby on the swing is someone we might connect with. We try to figure out by the way she dresses and the way she talks to her kids if she is someone we can get along with.

So I thought back to the time when I was longing for connection, before my own community felt quite so well established, and began to analyze what worked and what didn’t. The following suggestions are a product of my own experience as well as the experiences I’ve witnessed among doula clients, friends, and family. If you are a parent hoping to find community, here are some avenues to try:

  1. Look online, but look local. Social media groups and internet forums are great. They can help foster a sense of connection with people everywhere. It’s nice to know that other parents around the country, or even around the world, have similar experiences. Unfortunately, the majority of those parents live too far away for an afternoon get together. So make it a point to join groups that exist in your immediate area, and start with your areas of interest. Look up your local groups for babywearing or attachment parenting. Introduce yourself, sharing the age(s) of your child(ren) and your town. Offer to host a play date or suggest a playground meetup.
  2. Look for a community, not just a “group for moms.” The truth is, my village today, the one that actually panned out, didn’t start with me looking to get connected with other mothers. Today it is largely a conglomeration of church friends, doula colleagues, and fellow homeschoolers, with significant overlap between these three categories. The more we have in common, the better our kids get along, the more time we spend together. This is not a group of people I handpicked, nor people I met and said, one at a time, “Oh, we are obviously going to be great friends.” Most of the friends in my village are people I met for a specific, practical reason, then friendship and community blossomed as a result of our continued interaction.
  3. Skip any preoccupations with age. I have to laugh, knowing that I was essentially turned down for membership within a group due to being five years too old. I would laugh, except that to this day I know people on both ends of the spectrum – those who have felt too old to fit in with a group of parents, and those who have felt too young. You can’t win, it seems. But why, I wonder, are we so concerned with age in the first place? Nearly a decade after being rejected from a group because of age, I have mom friends who are ten years younger than me and others who are more than ten years older. Some of our day to day experience is different, but other elements are remarkably similar. I hate to think of the ways I would lose out if my only friends were born within 2 or 3 years of me.
  4. Join a local mommy group – but choose carefully. Don’t wait to find a group in which you will agree with everyone on most topics. Diversity is healthy in a community, and we all benefit from a variety of perspectives and approaches. However, it’s helpful to make sure that your fundamental parenting choices and lifestyle will be supported. If you work outside the home but join a group of women who feel it’s crucial to be a stay-at-home mom, it will likely be hard to connect. If you practice co-sleeping and babywearing but connect with a group that mocks attachment parenting, this is not the community you’re looking for. So . . .
  5. Don’t be afraid to keep looking. Creating a community is not unlike dating, or car shopping. The first one you encounter may not be the right one for you. And that’s okay. It’s easy to feel frustrated when our initials attempts at getting connected are met with resistance. I’ll admit, after feeling rejected by one group, it was a long time before I even thought about trying to make friends again. I was worried the same thing would happen, or that I would realize I didn’t fit in anywhere.

Finding friends as a new parent, when you’re vulnerable and maybe a little unsure of yourself, is a lot like middle school. It looks like everyone has friends but you, that everyone else has figured out where they fit. We’ve all felt, at one time or another, like the kid standing in the middle of the lunchroom alone, looking for an open seat at a crowded table.

Related: 5 Tips to Maintaining Friendships With Moms Who Don’t Share Your Parenting Style

But remember what you learned after middle school? No one knows what they’re doing and where they belong yet. We’re all just feeling things out. We’re all just trying to find the right table.

The beauty of adulthood is, we don’t need to find a table where we’re just like everyone else. We don’t need to make sure the clique is right and we’re all the same. Community starts with celebrating our differences, and finding the people who will affirm our choices. Those are the people with whom we build our village.

 

Image: Kzenon/Shutterstock


10 thoughts on “5 Tips for Creating Real Community From a Once Lonely Mom”

  1. I found all my homies at the local mops (mothers of preschoolers) group here in town. Look up if your town has one on mops.org

  2. I cried reading this I’m an extreme introvert and I have a very hard time even reaching out to my friends much less strangers it’s even harder because even though there is a group in town I could easily connect with they are so judgemental and cliquey and most are military wives who try to uphold a certain image and if you don’t they don’t have anything to do with you 🙁

  3. I don’t want to be negative. I am glad you’ve found your village.. but I wanted to say, as a 43 year old mom, whose “babies” are now 22, 17, and almost 12, be prepared to have to work hard to keep the friends you’ve made. In my experience it’s actually easiest to find mom friends when your children are little. I found a wonderful community through my children’s private co-op school whose values meshed with mine, because the school itself drew a certain “type”. It became a second home for my kids and it was like one big extended family. For an introvert like me, this was a blessing. It’s after the busy busy years of early childhood that your compatibility (or lack thereof) becomes more important, IMO. When the kids don’t need you to drive them to play dates, because they are old enough to drive themselves, or take the bus, or spend their time on Facebook.

    The kids couldn’t stay at their amazing Utopian school forever (though I would have loved that!), and while I do cherish the handful of people I do still stay in touch with from that community, most of my close ties to those from that time have weakened. Sources of community when you have teens and pre-teens and a “man child” are much less common.

    Funny to me, parenting my kids as teens and young adults has been a much bigger challenge than those early years of play dates and nursing and cloth diapers, but society in general seems to think that after a certain age, parenting is no biggie and why would you need a supportive community? Even here at mothering.com, how many articles do you see targeted at parents of adolescents? Yes, I know they exist, but in pretty slim numbers. I’ve found it’s the same in the real world. I don’t know where to find my tribe anymore.

    1. Hi Sheri,

      This is a related topic and I guess what you are going thru is probably a bit of empty nest syndrome combined with a return to self without the kids.

      I have some ideas for you-join a gorup of people who have like minded interests. Take a class. make your own group. My son is 14 and I now have more free time. I took an acting class, took some exercise classes, took martial arts. I made one friend from the former. I also started my own collage collective/group and resurrect a dinner club from time to time when I need to get out some and potentially add to my tribe.

      Best of luck, I know depending on the size of the city you live in finding a group to bond with can be hard. Also consider joining a church or if you do not like church a social group like a church(Unitarianism).

    2. Actually, your point is exactly why I stopped buying Mothering Magazine. I remember being 16 and reading an article in Mothering Magazine about the pros of “raves” as a modern invention of a “tribal” event meant to gather people to express themselves through intense dancing and music. The article impacted me so much. Mostly because I was a teenager and the perspective that the article shared resonated with me. While I never actually went to a rave, I did start to read the other articles and became enlightened to perspective on parenting that shaped so many of my values. I truly believe that the magazine helped me raise my 3 daughters more so than another influence. It was so clear that I wanted to be truly attentive to my children, that I wanted to guide them through modeling behaviors I wanted them to possess, that I wanted to cloth them in organic materials and feed them from my body and as they got older whole foods. I think that Mothering.com dose a great job with diapering, feeding, and wholistic health care, but at some point the articles stopped being age appropriate. I needed advice on handling issues like building self confidence and self reliance. I needed articles that felt with struggle with dealing with sleepovers and creating bounds. I needed articles that addresses the needs of my growing children who were out of diapers and eating out of the home and interacting with the larger community.
      I agree that it far more challenging the older our children get as the choices are more complex and the issues that my children have are not totally under my control. What I mean to say is When my children were younger, I was able to make all the choices so the decisions were more black and white. Now that they are 15, 12, and 10 my influence in raising them is diminished by all their other influences. I wish that every decision I make for them now could be as totally perfect as deciding to have their births at home or breastfeeding them. Its just impossible to find that same advice for their needs now that they are older.

  4. Yes, DON’T BE AFRAID TO KEEP LOOKING! And don’t settle! My son was in school, and I didn’t really gel with the other moms. I spent alot of time alone for a few years, then after third grade we started homeschooling, and that is where I found a true community of mothers, and I even found a best friend!
    Stephanie, I am an introvert too. There is nothing wrong with you– (Introvert Power is a great book for introverts to read…) That doesn’t sound like a healthy, supportive group of women for you to be around. Maybe find a local meetup for other introverts?

  5. I like this article a lot. I was a very lonely Mom. I had no friends with kids when I had my son. I made many friends thru desperation and I have to say I women came thru for me. Women are amazing! I had very bad anxiety which turned into depression as well. I would go to coffee shops and just start talking to strangers. Now in this city I live in there is an amazing Mom’s group (where I found this article). I am happy that the Mom’s now can meet thru the Internet.

  6. Hi Jenny, I have to say the only real problem with the Mom’s group was their not having a subtitle. I can see no problem with a group for just Mom’s 21 and younger, but the group was misnamed and did not have enough info for the potential member. I think it should have been called Teen Mom’s or something. It thru you off. “But why, I wonder, are we so concerned with age in the first place? – ”

    So, the being concerned with age can be an asset if you think of it-it was just bad communication on their part. I hope you can see why they might want a group of teen Mom’s to just be with other teen Mom’s?

    1. Oh, absolutely, Laura! At the time I was frustrated at the difficulty in finding a community where I felt like I fit, but I certainly understood the need for them to have such a specific group. It was a communication flaw, you’re right – I don’t believe for one second they were wrong to exclude me, under the circumstances. My recommendation about not being concerned with age was in reference to the women we meet now, in the day to day, not to my experience with that particular group.
      I do hope the women who were a part of that group were also able to connect with moms of different ages. Some of my richest friendships have been with women several years older, including some who have already been through the stages of parenting that challenge me most.

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