How to beat new-parent isolation
August 18, 2014 11:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm a few months out from having my first kid. I'll be staying home to care for the child for at least the first year, and the thing that scares me the most is how many parents who did the same thing report feelings of isolation and loneliness. How can I minimize this in my life?

I don't have family in the area, and none of my closest friends are having kids right now. So far, the ideas that stand out the most are joining/forming Meet-Up groups and maybe starting a blog. I'm generally a bit of an over-achiever and won't be working, so I'm interested in having an active role in creating a kick-ass community for new parents in my area.

The problem I see with the Meet-up groups is that planning is sporadic, and thus requires more scheduling work to see people. I feel like a standard meet-up time, maybe once or twice a week, would make more sense, so people can just show up when they can and there's less organizing.

The problem I see with the blog is that it is online, and I'm really looking for personal interaction. But obviously, some adult contact is better than none.

Parents, is there any type of event or organization that you wish existed when you had a small child? If you felt lonely staying at home with your kid, what did you wish for to make it easier? And related to that, what is realistic to expect? I know that new parents are sleep-deprived and stressed out, so maybe there is a way to engage other members of the community? Grandparents with kids who live far away? I'm up for any and all ideas.
posted by ohisee to Human Relations (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A friend of mine started a social network specifically for this purpose. It is called Mom Meet Mom.

Does the hospital or other birthing spot have a new parent group? My wife met a bunch of other moms this way, and now our kids are still pretty good friends in some cases.
posted by mkb at 12:06 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you have some great ideas already. However, one thing I think you should also consider is making sure to get some solo time in the evenings, assuming your partner can watch the baby at that time. I found that I really missed being out in the evenings after my daughter was born... and I also just needed some time without the baby. I ended up joining a running group that met three times a week, and it did wonders for my mental health. I think I just needed to have some time when I wasn't responsible for a helpless little creature.

Another advantage is that it gives your partner a chance to have some one-on-one time with the baby, which helps with both bonding as well as having him understand how difficult caring for a baby can be.
posted by barnoley at 12:06 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I found having my babies brought a ton of new friends into my life.

I attended local baby classes (mommy and me, swimming with baby after 3 months, baby massage at a month, library story time, our local park and any drop in moms groups in our area). Pretty much all new moms go through this so the thing to keep in mind is that if you see another mom and baby out in the world more than twice you are now friends!

I like the "how old is your baby" as my ice breaker. I then introduce my baby and myself. We talk about some age specific thing (growth spurt, teething, rolling over). Everyone laughs and then I say "baby and I are going to local park/walk to Starbucks/music class tomorrow/now at a specific time would you like to join us?

It doesn't take long before you have met a few other moms. I started to host a weekday play date and would invite all the moms and usually 3 would show up which was perfect. If you are a bit of an outgoing person you will find that many other moms are just looking for someone to make the first move :)
posted by saradarlin at 12:17 PM on August 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Time for yourself.

A (well-vetted) sitter for a few hours a few times a month will do wonders. New parents often struggle with taking care of themselves since babies get all the attention/focus.

I'd check with your local library/school district for kid-friendly activities too. Great way to meet new parents and avoid being cooped up in the house.

And congrats!!
posted by Twicketface at 12:18 PM on August 18, 2014

Find events in your community and attend them! You will probably find other parents around too. Pre-school age story-time at the library? Stand in the back with your baby and meet the other parents. Some of them may have infants of their own in addition to the little ones who are listening to the story on the carpet.

If there is a community center, or even a senior center, go hang out during the day or attend specific events. Seniors, especially those without family nearby (or at all) would probably love the chance to coo at a baby. You could also find some great retired daytime babysitter options there too, for when you just need an afternoon to run errands and take care of yourself.

Organize a weekly meetup somewhere. You don't need an established group. Just put up flyers at the public bulletin boards in the library, community centers, grocery stores, etc. "Weekly Moms (and Dads) meetup, Panera on Broad St. every Tuesday at 1pm. All are welcome."
posted by trivia genius at 12:18 PM on August 18, 2014

Knowing Portland, there are TONS of parent groups in your area already. Try looking at baby/maternity stores, the YMCA, the JCC, religious orgs, and the hospital. If they don't organize groups themselves, they may have fliers for other people who are. Ask doulas and midwives about groups. There's a Baby Boot Camp in your area, if you want to exercise with the kid. Mommy-and-me classes are another great idea -- when the kid's young, they don't really learn anything, but you both get a nice, low-pressure way to be around others.

You can meet people at the park, if you're motivated. You'll find that befriending other parents is easier and harder than making friends any other way. On the one hand, you want to talk! About your kids! With an adult! On the other hand, plans will cancel 50% of the time because someone's asleep/covered in spit-up/sick.

But really, make it as easy on yourself as possible. It's tough to start your own anything when you're busy starting off a new life. Find an existing groups -- or multiple groups -- and go as often as you can, even on the days when you don't think you can do anything but complain or cry. Stick with the people there you like, and ask them where they meet others. Pay for classes or groups, if necessary. It's definitely worth it.

And say yes to all offers of help! Yes to food! Yes to dishes! Who cares if the house is a mess? We've all seen underwear before. You're going to rock it.
posted by equipoise at 12:24 PM on August 18, 2014

Sooo many activities.
Seriously, take your child to every library story-time, every Parent and Me, sign up for infant gymnastics, swim classes, whatever.

Having done that, _make_ yourself go, even when you are tired, the kid is half-dressed, *you're* half-dressed, even if you're basically a zombie.

Chances are very good that you will see the same other parents, at the same classes, every week.
Talk to them, even if you aren't super outgoing.
Linger after class and let your kids coo at each other when babies, and toddle after each other when toddlers.
You don't need to instantly bond with someone, you just need to talk to an adult.

Also, if you have errands, drag them out.
Make a grocery store run last 2 hours, go to 3 different stores for milk, eggs and bread, etc.
Walk to the bank, instead of driving.

Go to the playground, even if your child isn't even rolling over. There are other parents there. Their kids might be older, but it doesn't matter.
They may know someone else with kids closer in age to yours.

The main point is, don't stay home.
Don't think to yourself, "The baby will fuss too much if I go out" or "The baby is tired" or whatever.

If you're going to start a group, meetup, whatever, that's great, but be prepared for people to be flaky.
Think the worst of "missing volunteer syndrome" combined with "new parent on 2 hours sleep".
Keep your plans loose, but available.
posted by madajb at 12:26 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

My sister is heavily involved with Mom's Club - i don't know if this is true for each chapter, but her's has standing play dates at Ikea on Tuesday's (kid's eat free), a certain park on Thursdays, etc. There are extra activities that are sporadic with the scheduling, but you attend what works for you.

2nding the local library idea. Story time on Wednesdays is HuGE with her kids. So much so, that when the head librarian was out for surgery, her kids were devastated and wrote get well cards for her as an activity.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 12:26 PM on August 18, 2014

The hospital where I gave birth had a "very new moms group" for parents with babies up to maybe 3 months, then a "new moms group" for age 3 months to crawling. Both were open to everybody -- meaning, you didn't have to give birth there to attend. I LOVED THESE. Really helped me keep my sanity in those early days.

Also, I took my kid to Kindermusik around age 8 months. Not because I thought his brain needed the stimulation. More because it was something to do and got us out of the house. My son is now 11 years old and we have 5 friends who we met in that class that we're still close with. I love the fact that my kid has these friends he's literally known since he was a baby. I and I love my long-term mommy friends.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:32 PM on August 18, 2014

There will be times you are stuck at home. Podcasts help with this pretty fantastically, NPR in the background gave me the illusion that adults still existed.

Spend a couple bucks on a nice coffee or tea setup for yourself. Spend a couple bucks on nice coffee and tea, depending on your persuasion. Invite a childless friend over for a regularly scheduled 'tea time' type deal.

Also, if you know enough parents with kids, start a babysitting cooperative. There's a couple different models out there, and they help you get out of the house just to do normal things. I had my wife's blessing to use half our 'points' towards having a friend in the cooperative just come over and sit our kid during daylight hours so I could walk downtown, go to a coffee shop, and zone the fuck out for an hour or talk to another friend. It was a really useful way to break up the lonely.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:37 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed going to Gymboree with my daughter. We kept her in until about 2, if I remember correctly, though she was a bit too mature for it toward the end. They do have "classes" for newborns, and you can get a free visit to check it out. They also have art and music classes, plus there are usually a few weekly times where the room is open just to come and play which is great for rainy days.
posted by sacrifix at 12:45 PM on August 18, 2014

Wow! Thanks everyone. There are some great suggestions on here, and definitely good advice to go out even when I don't want to.

Someone mentioned Portland, and it's true, I've seen a lot of mom's groups. I got a little worried cause my friends here still complained of feeling isolated. Although, I tend to be pretty outgoing and motivated to leave the house, so maybe that's enough to make up the difference?

Also, my partner is awesome, so I'll be able to get alone time. We've already talked about how he'll want time where he has the baby all to himself, and are working out a schedule to make that happen. However, we don't have a ton of extra money, and it'll be even tighter with me not working, so classes that cost a lot of money and babysitters are less attractive.
posted by ohisee at 12:54 PM on August 18, 2014

Also, I started marking best answers and unmarked them cause it's ridiculous to have a thread with all the answers marked.
posted by ohisee at 12:59 PM on August 18, 2014

I don't know how relevant my experience is, since I only stayed home in the traditional sense for 3 months after my first was born, but I rarely felt lonely or isolated when my kids were babies because I just took them with me everywhere and went about my normal pre-baby social life (minus the drunken Saturday salsa nights). So to answer your broad, above-the-fold question "How can I minimize this in my life?", don't assume just because your current friends are not having babies that they are going to disappear from your social life and you now must spend time mostly with mommies. Especially when they're in the larval stage, babies are so easy to pack up and haul around! I'll admit that I didn't have too many issues with feeling sleep deprived or stressed out, which may color my perspective on how easy it is to get out and about with baby.
posted by drlith at 1:07 PM on August 18, 2014

Library story time is where we met all of our current parent friends until we started preschool. Every library has them, usually weekly, and they are great. We used to go 3-4 days a week to different story times at different libraries. They are free, educational, and you will meet a bunch of other parents who are also trying to grow a new network of people.
posted by markblasco at 1:49 PM on August 18, 2014

I was very aggressive about befriending other parents (usually moms) that I encountered. Mostly at the playground, but I once chased someone down in the Costco parking lot. I had business cards made with my name, phone number, and e-mail, and my husband's, and our kids' names and handed them out left and right.

I formed play groups that met weekly, met people for coffee, went to La Leche League meetings even though everything was fine, changed my ideas about what type of people I liked to hang out with, and did pretty much anything that would get me contact with other new parents.

I'm still friends with some of the women for those early days.

When my daughter was three we joined a great co-op preschool, so we met even more people in the neighborhood.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:14 PM on August 18, 2014

In Portland, there are TONS of options for new moms' groups. A woman I know who ran several out of Providence mentioned that each group has its own vibe, and if you go to one that doesn't suit, try again. All the hospitals have them, and Alma Midwifery runs several groups as well. I also recommend the various library storytimes (although, these vary as well -- I went to the one near the Whole Foods in NE, and, in my late 20s, was significantly younger than the other mamas). Cafe Au Play is a kid-friendly coffeeshop; a lot of neighborhoods have Swap 'n' Plays, which are fantastic communities -- there's the Woodlawn Swap 'n' Play in NE, the St. Johns Swap 'n' Play in St. Johns, Eastside in outer SE, Southside in Woodstock, and Harrison Hill in closer-in SE -- Google the one that's in your neighborhood! :)

And feel free to MeMail me if you want to talk mama stuff or get together; I can always use new mom friends, too!
posted by linettasky at 2:30 PM on August 18, 2014

When the weather is nice, just sitting in a park/playground is a great way to meet other mothers. Everyone's in the same boat. When the weather is crappy you have to make more of an effort to go to those indoor groups, etc.
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:57 PM on August 18, 2014

Mommy-and-me classes, new parents groups, breastfeeding support groups if that's the way you go, story time, etc.

I started a weekly park playdate on Facebook because there weren't a lot of activities locally for toddlers where older or younger children could be accommodated (which is often a must, siblings!). I just sent it info about the group through my friends and asked them to send it to other women they knew who might be interested, and just scheduled weekly Tuesday parkdates for a few months at a time. Facebook took care of reminding people and so on. Sometimes it'd just be me, sometimes it'd be like 10 families; either way I got to go to the park.

Moms walking groups are really popular around here ... they meet in a park with good paved walking paths and stroll with strollers. A little exercise and socializing for the moms, nice fresh air for the babies.

Do not discount the internet and your blog idea; I joined both MetaFilter and Facebook when home with my first baby, and they SAVED MY SANITY. Sometimes you are lonely at 3 a.m. and that requires the internet.

Also keep in mind that infants are crazy-portable until they're 6 to 9 months old, so when you feel up to it, go places with your grown-up friends! Take a stripped-down diaper bag and whatever feeding paraphernalia you require and take the baby out to lunch, out to the bar (really; babies love non-smoking bars), on shopping trips, whatever you normally do with your friends. As they get bigger it will get harder as they sleep less and want to move around and can't easily be entertained just by being held and looking at stuff (true story: used to take my baby to incredibly dull city planning meetings and he would sit on the table in front of me and babble delightedly for an hour and a half, thinking everyone talking was talking to him), but by then it's easier to get a sitter and leave for a few hours. I went downtown to meet my working friends for lunch a lot; I could schedule any time that was convenient for them since I wasn't working, the baby liked the trip back and forth and liked the lunch (or slept through it), and as he got older and started finger food he liked sitting at the table and gumming food with us.

I'm not sure there's a way to COMPLETELY avoid feeling isolated ... sometimes parenting an infant is just isolating because you're sleep-deprived and spending the majority of your time with an incoherent poop-machine and you can't really GO anywhere. So don't feel too badly if sometimes you feel isolated despite your best efforts!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:32 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mommy and Me classes/activities and playdates exist for the benefit of the mothers, not the babies. So do that.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:41 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you have friends without kids? I am a friend-without-kids. I don't want to impose on my new-mom friends, but, damn, do I miss them. If you're open to socializing (with or without baby), let them know. I'm always willing to move things around for moms, and I bet your friends are too. Offer a lunch date or happy hour or hanging out at someone's house.
posted by freshwater at 6:24 PM on August 18, 2014

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