Well, how did I get here? Dad needs support!
August 2, 2010 12:53 AM   Subscribe

Once I was a guy with a few good friends. Now I'm a husband and a dad in a relatively new place with no friends. I need support but have very little no time or energy to make it happen. What can I do?

  • My wife and I came to Seattle right after getting married three years ago because we both liked the city and we knew some people, but those people didn't pan out as the social springboard we had hoped.
  • I'm a telecommuter so there's no meeting people on the job. And I'm loath to give that up as I doubt I'd make as much money elsewhere.
  • Four years ago my wife and I could both say we were Jewish, but no longer. Now I'm an atheist and my wife is exploring Pagan groups, Buddhism... who knows what's next. Anyway, I don't have a network in that regard.
  • I'm getting my master's degree at night time, where I've met a few people. But again these are busy people. The ones that are also dads are exceptionally busy so it's hard to "break in," and the ones that are not are a little harder to relate to.
  • We're 2000 miles away from the nearest family. This has been exceptionally hard on my wife, who has discovered belatedly how much she misses them. In fact, she has a very difficult time trusting hired babysitters (she's getting a little better at this, thank FSM). She's a stay-at-home mom and strives to be a good "attachment parent" for better or worse.
I should be getting my degree in December. Then child #2 arrives in January. I'm dreading both of these events as I fear they will further isolate me. Certainly I'll need to be even more involved with parenting than I already am.

My wife is now making waves about maybe moving to Boston to be closer to her mother. It's an expensive proposition and probably a bad idea given that she finds her father completely toxic. Additionally it would nullify any of my own professional network gains out here. (Plus I HATE the weather.)

Internally I'm a mess. I'm naturally a pretty patient guy but now I have a short fuse. My situation is not sustainable. I need support: a safe place away from my family where I can at a minimum vent about things so they stop gnawing at my insides.

Maybe I need to find a dad's group (where?) or start one (how?), preferably with some kind of a facilitator (?). What else could I do?
posted by rouftop to Human Relations (20 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Tough situation! Good for you for trying to figure something out. Here are a few quick ideas:
- What's your neighborhood like? Could it be a neighborhood card club? Does your neighborhood have an email list, because if so, that'd be a good way to start a dad's group.
- Join a gym? Take up something that requires a buddy, like lifting or climbing, or even a sports team? Or start jogging with some guy in the neighborhood?
- Volunteer on the weekends? Say, with Habitat for Humanity?
posted by salvia at 1:12 AM on August 2, 2010

You wife will need friends too, if she's ready to make bad decisions out of loneliness.

Try meetup.com for your area, but if your time is limited, parent groups might be the best bets. Start paying for a therapist in the short term if you really need to "vent about things". Very few people will want to hear you bitch about life until you're already an established friend, and even then it's a favor. You are coming across as somewhat hostile towards your wife in this post - you might want to explore why you can't vent to her.

Making new friends is a big time sink and it doesn't sound like you have the time. Why not encourage your wife to make friends with new couples in the area (craigslist, various social orgs, new parent groups, etc.) and then see if any of the couples evolve into friends you can go out with on your own.
posted by benzenedream at 1:58 AM on August 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Looking at your question history you asked how to arrange a Happy Hours with your fellow Masters course mates - did anything ever come of that? My thoughts on the busyness of their schedules really comes down to the sort of course you have taken. If this course was about progressing professionally then that was most likely the aim of the others taking the course, but if you took a course in something you found fun and interesting then the other people on the course would most likely have the same mind frame. I personally would think a woodworking course, or a hobby orientated course would allow you to meet like minded people, at the same skill level as you who you could develop your chosen hobby with. If it is a course about hobbies then the people are more likely to want to hang out because it is something you have in common and want to spend time doing socially. Having the Happy Hours with your course mates was a good idea, but the people on the Masters course were probably too time pressured and focused on career goals and not necessarily on making friends - context I suppose!

I also want to address the underlying thread in your question, you seem unhappy, and you seem to feel a little unhappy with your wife's changing religious interests. I can only see her changing religious beliefs as a similar response to the isolation that she must also be feeling. As a stay at home mum she might have even less adult contact then you do and might be trying to find a social niche that she can fit into? How about you two spend more time together as a couple and having fun, because it really sounds like there is nothing fun for either of you at the moment? You say you need a safe place to get away from your family, I would just look at it from your wife's perspective - maybe she wants to get away too sometimes and maybe she would like to do that with you.

It seems to me that finding adult friends through your children's friends is a good way to go as well as parents. You get to double up on the child minding, the kids are occupied and the adults have something in common. There might be a number of couples like yourselves in the local area who could do with some good friends! Whichever organisations your wife takes your child to could be a good means of creating social networks with the other parents. I would try putting up a notice at your kids nursery/toddlers group or speaking with the organisers to see it they know some other parents that would like to make friends. You say your second child is due in January, that means there will be all sorts of groups your wife could attend for parents with babies, another route for building a social network. I wish you and your family the best, and good luck!

(I am not in your situation so please understand my comments are coming from another perspective.)
posted by lilyflower at 2:13 AM on August 2, 2010

I was/have been a SAHM mom for the last 5 years and though I'm very introverted, I also have suffered from friend withdrawal which comes at a time when things are--as you point out--pretty stressful. For me the best option has been online communities. Someone's always on, I don't have to be anywhere physically (that would be time consuming), there's a very low barrier for entry (that is, I don't have to go through a lot of the friend-making hoops) and I can bitch and moan to my heart's content because most people 1) don't know me, 2) are going through the same thing, and 3) the sentiments are diluted by all the other stuff we talk about, too. The down side is that most of these people are anonymous to me and don't function as deep friends who I could call on to, say, come watch my kids if I were suddenly in the hospital. But they have filled a large part of the friend-void and I would be much worse without them.

If this might be an option for you, you could start with the blogroll at Daddytypes and see if any of the bloggers there match your sensibilities. There's also Dad Gone Mad, The Daddy Files, and Daddy Dazed (which was recently created by a mefite). Discussion boards are where it's at for a sense of real-time conversation and griping, but dipping into a blog as reader and commenter can really give you an escape valve for stuff.

A facilitated dad's group sounds very close to something like group support, perhaps moderated by a therapist. I bet you could convince a therapist to create one if you can't find one. It's the type of thing that may already exist in your area and takes a little finding. Try contacting a few therapists and asking around. That sounds like a great option.

But the best option for close-at-hand real other dads is probably fellow parents. Can you/do you take the kid on weekends to the playground? Saturday mornings are total Dad-time in my area. Are there any daycares within a mile of you? Post a flier at the playground or daycare for a standing "Dads and Kids Time" (or something like that) when you'll be at the playground or local breakfast spot, and would welcome any other dads who wanted to drop by. I would describe it as something more social than therapeutic, but the bitch-and-moan aspect will probably show up quickly and organically, human beings being who they are.

YMMV but I found having 2 kids to be much, much easier in terms of energy-drain. It's nowhere near the level of change as the first kid and in fact has been fun. #1 plays with his brother (#2 is 18mo) and while there are some new logistics to juggle (who's nap do I scrap today?) it's been way easier. I would try to roll with it and not assume it will be a whole new level of madness or isolation. Yes, the first 6-8 weeks are that special newborn hell, but after that things may even out pretty quickly.

Getting your degree may signal the end of some IRL face-time, but make sure to exchange contact info with anyone you think you may hit it off with. You can start a standing once-a-month drinks evening to keep in touch and extend your friendships into other areas than academics.

Good luck. I hear your frustration and isolation. It sounds like you're doing the right things to head this off from becoming unproductive. I know it takes energy to do *any* of the things we mention here--energy and time it feels like you don't have--but I've found that energy begets energy, so even small steps can bring a feeling of relief.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:49 AM on August 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

This may sound like a simplistic solution, but having seen it in effect, I think it is worth consideration.

If you have always wanted to get a dog and are willing to spend time with one, get a dog. Walking a dog will introduce you to your neighbors. It may not be the source of close friendships but it will open the door to conversations. It will also be a good break during your work day - get you up and moving for fifteen minutes.

It sounds like both you and your wife have the same problem - I know that when my sister was a toddler, my mother used playgroups to get some time for herself and to meet new people. Basically, the kids go to a different person's house one day a week.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:10 AM on August 2, 2010

If you're a telecommuter, you should checkout a coworking membership. While we're all there to, you know, work, there's enough friendly banter and off-hours activities that you can meet cool people.

(Full disclosure: I'm a happy member of OfficeNomads; maybe I'll see you there!)
posted by whycurious at 5:19 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

When my wife & I moved down to FL from Philly 10 years ago, we had no family or friends. Our daughter at that time was 6 months old.....

WE JOINS A FEW PLAY GROUPS with the baby....

This is was for everyone for many reasons;
Good for our daughter (for obvious reasons)... as she got to play with other babies, etc.
Good for my wife, as she got to meet & bond with the other mothers
Good for me, as i also met other dads.....

You'd be surprised at how many fathers are in the same positions as you....

This is a great conduit for meeting new people. To this day, we are still friends with most of the people from that original play group.
posted by foodybat at 5:33 AM on August 2, 2010

Hey mate - this sounds rough, I wish you the best of luck.

While I'm sure I'm a lovely guy and all that I'm also very selfish, and a few months after our first came along (just turned 1 last month) I started finding stuff to to to keep my sanity. I've always been selfish this way though - if I'm interested in something (I mean an activity or hobby or just a reading topic), then I just go right ahead and do it. It steals time from my family, yes, which I feel a little bit guilty for and am reminded of every now and then but, now more than ever, the only person looking out for my mental health is me so...

Right now I'm playing a lot of rugby and doing other physical stuff. Next year I might get back into golf, or astronomy. I might even start writing again at some point...

In any event, my advice is not to focus on the 'dad' aspect of it, just get your mind occupied by something else and perhaps get your body out of the house! Do you run? Did you ever? Have you read Born to Run?

Take care.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 7:17 AM on August 2, 2010

My husband was the SAHparent, and he made friends by joining a cycling group (23 years ago!). If you like to ride, it's a good way to get social and fit at the same time. Or any other sport will do the same trick--I think men bond best with shared activities, rather than a book group, etc (huge generalization, I know.)

Seattle Meetups might be one place to start, or a cycle/sporting good store.

We started our family with no grandparents/aunts/uncles nearby and it was really hard. Paid help, babysitting coops, kid/parent groups are all so helpful for giving you and your wife some time off. Even attachment parents need time to themselves to recharge.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:30 AM on August 2, 2010

This may have to wait till 2011 but does your town/local gym/neighborhood have athletic leagues? It's a great outlet and a regular day(s) to get out for you time.

Is your child in daycare and if not is your wife able to take them to the park? Our friends now are all parents of our kids friends. Certainly this won't pan out for all but setting up play dates is a great way to meet other parents.
posted by doorsfan at 8:34 AM on August 2, 2010

You didn't mention your neighbourhood/neighbours at all. We became friends with our neighbours without any effort at all, really, just through running into them when walking to the farmers' market, out mowing the lawn, etc and being cheerfully friendly when we're all out front at the same time. I'm also somewhat involved with the local community organization, volunteering when I have time for the kids art show or the jazz evenings in the park or whatever. They're not bestest-friends-ever but they are nice people we have barbecues with and pool gardening equipment with and we can rely on them for a chat, to drop in for a beer, for little favours, etc any time. I think we could/would be even closer to them if we had kids or pets like they do - any time I look out my window I see several people walking dogs or strollers. If your own neighbourhood in Seattle isn't like this, could you move to one that is?
posted by jamesonandwater at 8:42 AM on August 2, 2010

2 points:
1) Make friends with the parents of the kids your child plays with. Your wife will have an in here. If she can join playgroups or even just go to the playground on a regular schedule she'll meet some moms (or dads - I was a stay at home dad for 5 1/2 years) who seem to have a good head on their shoulders and have a kid that yours enjoys playing with. Then, after she's made friends with them sufficiently you guys can invite their family over for a weekend lunch/playdate type thing. That's basically how we made friends after moving to a new town 1500 miles away from our families. The benefit here is that you get to have real life grown up interactions and friendships within the context of family time. In my experience these types of friendships are mutually beneficial for both families as they tend to enjoy the opportunity to vent about the rigors of family life (as in, "Has child x started the whole whiny phase? Child y has started it full force!" Much commiseration follows and then both sets of parents get to feel a little less alone with their problem).

2) Pick a hobby and make time for it. What are your interests? Mrs. Quizicalcoatl has taken up accordion lessons. I'm in the slow and painful process of taking up running (although I love HopStopDon'tShop's idea about joining a rugby team. That sounds awesome!) That will help you get some reflection time and, as you get into it you'll meet others who share your interest. I've got a friend who has a "Running Blog" in my town and he's met many local runners through it. A team sport has new friends built in. That kind of thing may be a great resource for you.

One vital part of both of these suggestions is support from your wife. You absolutely have to talk to her about what's going on and how it bothers you. It may well be bothering her, too, and you guys may be able to support one another through it. Maybe your wife makes friends with a stay-at-home mom who's married to a guy who'd be a great friend. Maybe you'll make friends with someone at your town's rec department pick-up basketball league who is married to a woman who loves to talk about childrearing and Unitarianism. View yourself and your wife as tools to help one another and if you can enlist one another as teammates in this then perhaps you can vent about things at home with your wife.

Once last bit: When you're thinking "It's too selfish of me to take Sunday mornings to participate in my chosen activity" you've got to remember that spending more time with your kids, while Hollywood (or Dr. Phil or whoever) likes to harp on that, isn't as important as spending quality time with your kids. If you're stressed to the point that you have a short fuse then you're not going to be the husband or father that you can be - even if you spend a lot of time at it. The same applies for your wife. Support her in her extracurricular activities. Give her time to go to the lecture on Zen Meditation at the library on Saturday afternoon and make sure that you do all you can to keep her from feeling guilty about it. That's what will allow her to be a better support for you and what will allow her to be a good mom while you're doing your thing.

Remember that you're not alone. There're plenty of other guys in the Seattle area who feel isolated and would love to find an outlet. Just make sure you talk honestly and openly to your wife so that you both know one another's needs in this area and then work as a team to support one another.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 8:49 AM on August 2, 2010

You've got a triple whammy going on here: 1) you're in Seattle, where it can be hard to form close friendships due to the "Seattle chill" ; 2) you're in that age group / life situation (parent with small kid(s)) where anyone you could potentially meet and have things in common with is busy, you know, being a parent with small kid(s) instead of getting out and being social ; and 3) you telecommute and don't have belong to an organized religion, so you're locked out of the two most natural places to make new friends.

Parents' groups, playdates, and meetup seem like your best options, because you need to find people who are ALSO looking to form new meaningful friendships -- the thing about Seattle is, it's really easy to meet people who are willing to be your acquaintances but hard to meet people who want to be your friends. And pretty much everywhere you go, it's harder to form good friendships during the child-rearing years (late twenties to early forties) because people are just too damn busy to spend the time making friends.

FWIW, I feel your pain -- Mr. Rabbit and I moved from Seattle to Portland three years ago and I can count on one hand the number of friends we've made. And those were all via workplace or church. Making friends in your thirties is just HARD. Good luck to you.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:26 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Female here. I agree with the person who said it sounds like Mommy's feeling lonely too: That will definitely foster a longing to return home, even when home has some major downsides. I also would like to submit that, despite being the totally awesome Dad & SO we all know you are, Mommy may feel like she needs more help than she can currently get from you (you being tied up with bringing home the bacon & working towards a better future through education). That line between being 100% supportive & being like, "What about ME??" is bloody hard to walk sometimes.

So some food for thought from a female who just opted to move closer to home WITHOUT her SO (with plans for him to follow, although on a rather open-ended timeline): Parenting is really hard --yeah, you sound like you get that. It is a *lot* easier when there is family nearby. Even crummy, contentious, poorly behaved, often nuts family. It's not just about socializing: It's because there is a built-in network of people who can facilitate in dozens of little areas.

My family can't babysit for me. It's just right out the window due to their issues. But they CAN fix holes in the building when the landlord's being an ass, they CAN provide emergency pickup service when the car breaks down, they CAN play play with the baby, allowing me a bit of quiet sanity time while I watch from an armchair with a lemonade, and they CAN take me to dinner when I feel like it's been 100 years since my routine has had any fun in it.

Friends, whether with or without kids, will only fill some of those crucial support roles. Regardless of how she's settled in, she may be coming up against that cold hard fact.

I'm going to cast my vote for some long, earnest conversations with your wife about what the benefits would be, how they would stack up against the drawbacks, and brainstorming some creative alternatives. It sounds like you're not the only person who's at the end of their rope, and it might be time to go back to the drawing board for what your plans are.

It may be that there are some out-of-the-box solutions that could be implemented. For instance: Do each of you need a My Night? As in, the other parent takes the baby away for the *entire* day and the other can ease out of routine by doing whatever the heck they want? Would a once a week/month/whatever evening babysitter be a Godsend & allow you to spend "us" time together dancing/eating/movie-going or whatever that would justify the cost? If she really needs her Mama and you really need your job, is the distance thing something that should be on the table? Since you telecommute, what are the odds you could telecommute from closer to her family? Maybe you don't have to buy the house next door --maybe you could pick a place more temperate, like southern NJ, that was close enough that the fam could visit regularly with a little work from both ends?

Notice I haven't really talked about making more friends. Friends are great, but I think the underlying problem is actually parenting needs. And here's the thing: Any time you spend with friends you make, unless they are friends you make _with her_, your solution has the potential to aggravate her problems. I can tell you from personal experience: There's nothing quite like being exiled in babyland (currently both of you), and then your SO jumps ship & gets a life without you.

You have a valid need to develop outside interests & friends. But please remember to include her (and perforce the baby as well) as you address that need.
posted by Ys at 9:55 AM on August 2, 2010

The Unitarian Universalists are "church for people who don't like church" and are, at least where I live, welcoming to pagans and atheists alike. That might be something to look into.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:57 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unitarians are often described as atheists with children :)

You might check this site for UU congregations near you to make some connections. Good luck!
posted by Twicketface at 9:58 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

My husband and I moved to Seattle about a year ago. It is hard to form connections. There are many good suggestions here. Here are a couple more:

Read your neighborhood blog. Here's a list. The blog will list all the local events and volunteer opportunities. Some neighborhood blogs have discussion forums. I participate in the MyBallard discussion forum, even though I don't live there.

Does your college alumni association have a local club? My husband's alma mater has a Puget Sound chapter. The club gets together for televised football games and live basketball games -- when the team is at UW.

Regarding meetup.com, I've found it to be a mixed bag. Don't get discouraged if your first few meetups fizzle. I recommend the Conversations that Matter meetup. They are not currently meeting -- check back in the Fall.
posted by valannc at 4:36 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am not a parent, but do work at home. I think you're best bets are:

1. Make friends with the neighbors.
2. Find other parents, schedule play dates, have them over, etc. Be forward.

Find out what other people's interests are, and then invite them to an event oriented around those interests (preferably they are shared ones). A lot of people are in this position. Good luck.
posted by xammerboy at 7:11 PM on August 2, 2010

Thank you all for your kind responses.

I'm looking into the coworking space at Space for some occasional daytime relief (thanks whycurious). It'll be probational but my wife thinks that she can occasionally handle the full workday of parenting while I'm away... at least while her belly is a manageable size!

My wife and I chatted about the UU; I'm going to let that simmer for a bit. There's one pretty close to me in Shoreline. The fact that it's a church where people go to worship makes me itchy, but I'll try to stay open. Thanks Rosie & Twicket.

Also thanks to all the people that chose to favorite this question. I could have left it as short as the headline but the act of describing my situation in detail was itself clarifying, if a little humbling. Knowing that others thought it was worthy of asking makes me feel better for having done so.
posted by rouftop at 11:14 PM on August 3, 2010


I just dropped in to say that I have found this thread really helpful, thank you to rouftop for asking it!

I don't have kids but I just moved to a new city and am working from home.

The suggestions that I found really helpful were

taking a hobby class
neighborhood blogs
and alumni associations - it turns out my university has a cocktail party here next month!

Thank you, everyone! ^_^
posted by Year of meteors at 12:33 AM on August 5, 2010

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