Having a little baby is often a social magnet – conversations in the shopping centre with strangers, with other mums are not unusual. There are groups in communities that bring parents – especially mums – together for education and support. But soon those change and the tantruming toddler isn’t such an awesome drawcard.
Then mums in various baby groups head back to work, move into older children’s social experiences like playgroup, have another baby or simply lose interest in hanging with the original mother’s group. Some original friendships remain but there’s usually a high rate of friendship attrition at times of transition in the early childhood years.
When the time comes to go to school there is the promise of a new range of friendships is on the horizon. Like all friendships, some school friendships are about mutual convenience – like I’ll pick up yours on this day if you pick up mine on another. Other friendships develop around mutual interest – like book clubs, going out, going to the gym or catching up for coffee. And as the years go by these friendships change, grow, blossom and fade.
The ghastliness of loneliness
For some mums though, there is always the feeling of being on the outer. Not quite part of the group. Not always invited when the ‘let’s go out for coffee on Thursday’ invites are thrown around and awkwardly not knowing then whether to go or not. Loneliness and a feeling of isolation – even in a sea of mums in the school playground – is more common than many think and can be an sad, unseen and despairing part of motherhood.
Loneliness comes from all sorts of places in motherhood. Perhaps one of these is your story…
Shyness – it’s always been your shadow and making new friends comes with a little anxiety and a lot of procrastination. Breaking into what looks like established social circles is enough to give you sleepless nights worrying about the how, the when and the who. And so, opportunities that show promise can be observed from a distance, tentatively identified but not actioned.
The ‘Square peg in the round hole’ – you’re just that sort of woman who doesn’t quite fit. Every week catch ups and coffees feel overwhelming – but once a month sounds do-able. But then friendships grow in your chosen absence and you feel even more isolated when you do turn up. You feel like your interests, your outlook and your approach is not on par with the group. Last to arrive, first to leave.
You have ‘that’ child – you know, the one who accidentally bumps the table playing the game of chasey that you’ve asked them a gazillion times to play further away. Everyone’s coffees get spilt and you get vague reassurances that ‘it happens.’ But you know that they’re vague, empty and there’s some head shaking and quiet murmurs when you have to get up… again… to sort out your trouble-magnet child. 5 minutes ago you had to peel your child off another child and ask them to give the toy back and say sorry and in 10 minutes you’ll be doing it again. (Perhaps you’d like to read more on this sort of trouble-magnet child here )
Outsider syndrome – perhaps you’ve come into the social circle as a late comer. Your child may have moved schools or your child is in a new class where the majority of children have stayed the same and you and your child are the new kids on the block. Now you’re busy playing catch up on all those intrigues, close relationships, strained relationships and alliances that always exist in friendships. The netball teams have been established for seasons, the coffee invites seem to be an after-thought and there’s just no wriggle room to try and learn the names of the other mums, match them up to their kids successfully and try and squeeze into the, ‘We’ve know each other since our kids were in Kindy” sisterhood.
Tips for those on the outside of the social set
- Make a start – today. Find one mum that you can have a chat to. Down at your local park, waiting for the kids after school. One success builds confidence.
- Practise some social starters out loud as you drive along by yourself. There are lots of ways to start conversations that don’t start with, “Hi, I’m Lola, Sam’s mum.” What about, “I tried those boots last year and they fell apart. How are you finding them?” Ta-da – immediate conversation starter that gets you past the awkward introduction and then the fishing around for something else to say.
- Volunteer some time through your school association. That’s where parents gather and it’s a good way to get introduced and find out what’s happening that you can be part of. Starting with action (like making canteen lunches) always leads to conversations and often goes on to friendships.
Tips for those on the inside of the social set
- Find the new mum to your school and ask her for coffee.
- Avoid developing and nurturing exclusive groups that feel hard to penetrate by other mums.
- Go out of your way to include newcomers to meetings and catch ups. Encourage them away from the outer and into the middle of the group.
- Remember that the mum with the difficult child, the anxious child, the unruly child is probably
- feeling overwhelmed, embarrassed and different. Find a space to acknowledge her and maybe even congratulate her on being such a great mum.
Child and family resources that make a difference: Claire is the co-Director of BEST Programs 4 Kids with Helen Davidson – both are experienced therapists and mums. They know that child and family well-being is the core business of every person that has influence over a child – in their own space, within their family, their social and learning communities. They have co-written and published numerous resources to support children, parents, schools and therapists in helping all kids to be the very best version of themselves possible. You may wish to read more on their website. www.bestprograms4kids.com/