Something weird goes on when you have a baby. Your normal friends slightly back off a bit for fear of being in the firing line of a milky boob, and you find yourself jumping into a whole new world of needing new friends that Get It when you want to talk about not having enough sleep or poonamis, or the utter beauty and high intellect of your newborn baby. For many of us, this might be the first time we have actively sought out new friends since we were at school and it can not only be daunting, but bizarrely feel like you are dipping a toe back into the world of dating again; albeit this time, playdating. Gone are the days when you could shimmy up to a new potential friend and ask them if they like My Little Pony and then you know, twenty years later you are still best friends.
So, from the initial ‘look’ to the first (play)date, these are the nine stages that prove making a mum-friend is just like dating.
So there you are, sitting on the wooden floor on your knees pretending that your vagina doesn’t feel like it’s falling out of your post-partum body and you scan the circle (it’s ALWAYS a circle) and see another mum sitting opposite you with a baby roughly the same age and she smiles at you. You look a bit surprised and check if anyone is behind you and then give a flattered little smile and nod back; but snap away quickly, because let’s face it, you don’t want to look (rightly or wrongly) desperate for mates*, god forbid. For the next 40 minutes, you find yourself sneaking a little look over to see if she’s looking again so that you can make a slightly more connecting gesture this time that will suggest that you are ‘open to friendship’ and not an ice-queen with a squad waiting outside the children’s centre.
*I feel a duty to point out that that’s exactly why everyone else is putting up with the hell of the Hello Song every week at 9am in December.
At the end of the class, and post the Goodbye Song (it’s as bad as it sounds), you meander over, half-walking-half-rocking the baby and perhaps pretending to be distracted until WHOOPS, WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT you are now right in front of her. This is where you will attempt to deploy your best, ‘I’m normal, and safe, and not cray-cray’ smile. You start conversation with something innocuous to test the water like, “The class was er.. great today, wasn’t it?” while at the same time studying her reaction to see if she reveals what kind of parent she is (ie. if loved, or loathed the class really) and whether this is a Mum-Match made in heaven; or judgemental hell. You pray for the latter. Fortunately, she’s friendly and nice and happy to chat even when you spit crumbs at her shoulder from the jammy dodger you nabbed from the refreshment table on the way over.
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Asking for her number
So all goes well, and you hit it off! Perhaps you both hung back after the class for a cup of instant coffee in a polystyrene cup and you have a little giggle over the high-pitched wail of Carole, the class leader, and agree that yes, baby groups are generally hell. She’s on your wavelength, and you start thinking of the exciting playdates that you will have away from village halls, and your babies becoming the best of friends. You want to see her again, so now is the moment to ask her for her number. But ARGH – you don’t want to sound too keen, so you sort of gabble out “Shall-I-give-you-my-number” as she looks at you, a bit bemused. DAMN IT. You are SO UNCOOL, keeno.
Speaking of cool…
Playing it Cool
Luckily, she didn’t notice your fluster and you swapped numbers but the ball is now in your court to get in touch. How long do you leave it for? In the dating world, you know the standard three day rule but making mum friends are a different beast. On one hand, you don’t want to appear cold, but on the other, you don’t want to appear desperate. I reckon that on day one you should have plans, day two a day at home (probably watching This Morning but she doesn’t need to know that) and day three is the dating day so leave it another day and you are good to go. Or Day 2? Hmm…. this shit is tricky.
Social Media Stalking
Thank GOD for Instagram. Friend-stalking is now a totally legit way to get an idea upfront if you are into the same things and have enough common ground. Very recently I did this with a new friend and decided that we were like basically twins because we had similar home decorating style. She likes vintage, I like vintage so VOILA, we are destined to be the best of friends. Social media stalking can also give you that ice-breaker that previously we would have had to fish around for. But be warned – like dating, it’s weird if you ACTUALLY admit to following their every move on social media so a casual ‘Oh, your account popped up and I couldn’t help but notice XYZ” is key.
Practising your witty repertoire
I was utterly relieved and delighted when my friend Jo** admitted that she always finds herself practicing things to say in advance of a playdate with a new mum friend. Remember how you role-played your flirty approach in the mirror for those first dates, winning smile and lingering look? Jo reckons it’s all about ensuring that your chat is interesting but not judgy, cool but not exclusive, and funny. That’s the holy grail of a mum-friend; someone you can share a bottle of wine with and a giggle. So you run over your best, funniest, and warm-hearted stories in the hope that she’ll be so impressed by your witty repertoire that she’ll be booking in for playdate two without hesitation.
**Jo is a lie. That’s really me.
The Whatsapp Crisis of Confidence
So you’ve messaged her, and suggested a place to meet and it’s all going swimmingly on Whatsapp with emojis being flung around willy-nilly and you find yourself giggling away at her jokes and so you crack one out yourself, or perhaps a classic ‘YOU’ moment. Like, for example, you drop a little swearword into a story, or you tell them about the time your kid covered the living room in shit… BUT they don’t reply straight away, unlike previously. You can see the double blue tick so goddamn it you know she has read it; but there’s nothing but silence. No ‘…’ to indicate she’s typing, and she’s gone offline. Your palms go a little bit sweaty and you furrow your brow and think ‘shitshitshit she hates me!’. You cracked out the poo-story too early and they are probably one of those women who never even fart in front of their husband and now she thinks you are completely gross. You keep checking your phone for an update and resort to turning it onto its face because a watched kettle never boils and all that jazz and just as you consider deleting her number and pretending you never wanted to be her friend anyway, DING DING DING! and up pops, “HAHAHAHA”. Oh my god, heart-attack: PHEW.
The First (Play)Date
On the morning of the play-date, you are up early (even earlier than the normal 5am wake up call from the baby), washing your hair to remove the ten layers of Batiste, and swiping spider leg mascara off your face for the first time that week. You probably give an extra sniff to your pits as well because it’s highly likely you have forgotten to put deodorant on recently because… BABIES. You pick out your outfit; casual, but trendy; boob accessible, but not mumsy; before realising that it will shortly stink of sick anyway, like everything else that resides on the floor-drobe.
You then spend the next four hours tidying your house to within an inch of it’s existence, leaving everything shiny and dust-free because god forbid if she, a fellow mother, might think that you are actually normal and have a shit-tip for a home the majority of the time like the rest of us. You wipe down the radiators with Zoflora so that everything smells nice and just in case, whazz a bit of bleach in the toilet at the last minute before having a bit of a panic that one of the babies might suddenly learn to crawl and pull themselves up to the pan and lick it or something. Then you debate over whether to chill some wine and figure that you should probably have all options covered so you also pop a beer in the fridge too. You’ve already got the ground coffee in (none of the Nescafe shit for this) and biscuits from Waitrose that you might/might-not pass off as your own home-baking.
Suddenly, the doorbell rings, and she’s HERE.
The First Bottle of Wine
You do the usual thing of ‘what would you like to drink?’ and you run through the sensible options with, ‘we’ve got coffee, tea, orange juice, and sparkling water from Waitrose (that I never normally buy)’ and then there is a PAUSE. So you open the fridge with a dramatic little sigh and say ‘hmm…what else?’ with a KNOWING LOOK at the wine. ‘Oh! I’ve got this? Only if you fancy it, don’t-worry-if-not, it’s-fine, it’s-really-still-early-isn’t-it, ho ho ho’ and she looks deadly serious and says “JESUS I thought you were never going to ask. Yes, wine. Wine definitely.’ and it’s that EXACT moment that you could practically snog her face off with relief but you conspiratorially giggle and say ‘oh go on, just the one!’ which secretly you both know doesn’t refer to glasses, but rather bottles. The pair of you then spend the rest of the afternoon sharing birth stories, because that’s the ultimate mum-friend ice-breaker and you both giggle when you admit you both stalked each other’s Instagram and you spend an hour to compare posset patches on your clothes. The daunting pain of making a new friend is over and you have those butterflies in your stomach that tell you that this maternity leave might just be a bloody riot of the good sort, rather than a riot of poonamis and awkwardness at baby group. You breathe a sigh of relief when she finally goes home and phone your mum or partner and tell them EVERYTHING about her and all the funny things she said.
So if you are nervous about making mum friends – don’t be. We all get the fear at the thought of dipping our toe in the play-dating pool and you never know, the next mum to give you the ‘look’ might just be your long term mum-mance and friend for life.