Meeting Other Parents
Social Skills for Parents
Many new parents complain that the hardest aspect of parenting is the loneliness.
People go from having a busy, sociable job to being at home all day with a new-born baby and, not surprisingly, it can be hard to adapt.
The good news is that there are many places where you can meet other parents in the same situation.
Your social life may change dramatically, but it certainly does not need to disappear altogether just because you have a new baby or young child.
Classes and Courses
There are a number of classes and courses where you can meet other parents. These start even before your baby is born, with antenatal classes, and extend right through to school age.
Antenatal classes are a great way to meet other parents who will be having children at the same time as you.
In the UK, they may be available free or for a very small fee through the NHS, and your midwife will be able to advise you. There are also classes organised by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) for which a fee is charged.
NHS classes are generally women-only, and NCT classes are for couples.
It is well worth meeting up with your group members outside the meetings. This can be either all together, or separately. It’s a good idea to do this before the babies arrive as you can then get to know each other a bit without distractions.
Do not underestimate the importance of this support network. You will all be struggling to start with, and having other people who know absolutely nothing about what they’re doing will help a lot.
Postnatal Classes (Parenting Classes)
The popularity of postnatal classes comes and goes, and you may or may not be able to track one down, but they are good ways to meet other parents.
Good sources of information about these include health visitors and children’s centres.
Baby Music Classes
Music, and particularly hearing nursery rhymes and songs sung by a familiar and loved voice, is known to be good for babies’ development.
There are a number of organisations that offer music classes for babies and toddlers, usually starting at around six months old. Don’t worry, nobody’s expecting your child to be Beethoven. The idea is for you to get out and have fun with your baby. The bonus is that you will get out of the house and meet a few other mums in the process.
Googling ‘Baby music classes in [my area]’ will probably be enough to find a range of options. You can usually go to a trial class for free to see if it suits you and your baby, so ask around and try several.
You will probably have to make a bit of effort to be sociable though, perhaps introducing yourself to other parents and suggesting a coffee afterwards, as many classes introduce and name children but not parents.
Swimming and Other Exercise Classes
Lots of people choose to introduce their babies to water early through baby swimming lessons. You will, of course, have to get in the pool yourself, and this may not strike you as the ideal social situation. However, you may find that parents gather in the café before or afterwards.
As children grow, there are other exercise classes that offer similar opportunities, including baby/toddler gymnastics and football.
There are a range of groups open to mothers (and fathers) with babies and toddlers that may be more or less formal. You will need to register for some and reserve a place, while others will be ‘drop-in’ sessions, so check in advance.
Mother and Baby Groups
Mother and baby groups are often run by children’s centres or churches.
The idea is to get mums with babies out of the house and meeting other mums in a safe environment. There are usually opportunities for babies to play safely, or be put down safely, and for mums to have a cup of tea and a chat.
Look via websites for mums in your area, or ask at local churches and children’s centres if they know of any groups. Health visitors are also a good source of information.
As your children grow up, you may move on to toddler groups. And by the nature of the world, many mothers with toddlers also have new babies.
If there are no mother and baby groups and you have a new baby, you may therefore find that the local toddler group is a good substitute, although don’t be surprised if it is a bit chaotic and loud. The good thing about toddler groups is that you will meet more experienced mums, perhaps on their second or subsequent child, but you may not make much contact with other new mothers.
If you don’t want to engage with a formal music class, but you do like the idea of singing nursery rhymes in company, have a look at what is offered by your local library. Many libraries have regular ‘Rhymetime’ or ‘Storytime’ sessions for young children, together with parents and carers, and it’s a good chance to meet other parents locally.
If you become a regular at these sessions, you will probably find that you start to chat naturally with other regulars and can suggest a coffee afterwards or at another time.
The children’s library is also a good place to meet other parents informally. Most other parents will probably be happy to chat as they are often in the same situation and feeling a bit deprived of adult company.
All of the above situations might broadly be described as organised to enable parents to socialise. But there are many more informal situations where you can meet other parents and get chatting.
Some of these, such as playgrounds and parks, are free, whereas others need payment. These include soft play and cafés.
Especially in towns and cities, activities for small children are incredibly localised. It is quite possible to entertain yourself and a baby or young child without having to take a car anywhere. This means that it is relatively easy to meet other parents who live locally on a regular basis without really making any effort apart from leaving the house.
Playgrounds and Parks
These are great places to meet other parents, especially as your children grow up a bit, and can move around independently. But even when you have a new baby, it’s good to go for a walk around the local park. You will almost certainly meet other parents doing the same thing and, especially if you get into a routine, will probably meet the same people again and again.
It is entirely possible to make lifelong friends from meetings at playgrounds and chats in the park.
Soft play centres are increasingly popular.
They are full of cushions, ball pools and soft slides, and are ideal (and safe) indoor places to play, and may even have a café for parents.
The disadvantage is that they are often very noisy and crowded, especially on wet days. You may not make lifelong friends there, but you might easily find someone else with whom to have a chat while your children play.
Cafés are great places to arrange to meet a friend, but they are less good for finding new friends. However, if there is a café near you where local mums often meet, then you may find that you see people there whom you have met elsewhere and can strike up a conversation.
Children’s Clinics/Weighing Sessions
Many mums will admit to attending the baby clinic to have their baby weighed just so they can talk to another adult, however briefly.
There is no shame in this!
Drop-in health visitor clinics can be a lifeline for parents and you will often meet the same mums each week, especially if you stick to a regular time slot.
Health visitors are a source of experience and advice and are especially useful if you’re worried about anything, or feel you’re not coping, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“We’re all in it together”
New parents often feel that they are entirely alone.
It’s important to remember, however, that there are plenty of other people who feel exactly the same. Getting out of the house can be the hardest thing; once you have done that, the rest is easy.