Finding your tribe

I’m not one of those mums. You know, the coffee shop mum (I like to have my coffee shop trips as solo trips and read a book in peace), or the baby classes mum (baby sensory and Jo Jingles are still something I’ve never experienced), Instagram mum (I have Instagram but mine is messy and not like THOSE ones) or even PTA mum (there is no way I’m organised enough to facilitate anything admin related!).

In fact, when I became a mum, I didn’t really want any mum friends. The idea of a mum ‘tribe’ filled me with dread. I had plenty of friends. In fact, I had enough friends that I struggled to keep up with them – a few from school, a few from uni, a few from church, a few from work. And I love deep conversations. Love nothing better than a good ethical debate, or theological discussion. Where would mum friends fit in?

And sure enough I spent Daniel’s early year or so to myself. I love my own company and was happy pottering about the place with him, attending his many appointments and meeting up with my existing friends. I went to a mums and tots group twice and found it so unpleasant I vowed never to return. I tried a baby class and was so BORED by the chat (‘Are you feeding them yourself?’ / ‘Do they sleep for you?’ being the classic two questions) that I didn’t sign up for the second set.

By the time I was pregnant with Number 2 we knew Daniel needed to start spending time with other pre-schoolers (our closest friends had either babies or primary age children) and once baby Rory had arrived, I reluctantly started the ‘circuit’ – toddler classes, mums and tots groups and the park.

It didn’t start out on a trail for my ‘tribe’. I certainly wasn’t looking a new best friend, but these groups can be lonely if you don’t have anyone to talk to. I just wanted a companion, a mum who shared enough interests with me that we could chat about something other than how much sleep we had last night.

We started a toddler dance class. Daniel enjoyed it, as did I, but I found it hard to talk to other mums and go deeper than just the superficial chat. It felt a bit like dating. Conversations weren’t always easy to initiate. Then once you were chatting, the first few interactions, you’re both trying to work out if the relationship is more than pleasantries.

And then, it happened. It turns out some of the mums were already there in my social circles – the girls at work who now had kids and my best friends from school now expecting their first babies.

Friendships already there deepened with our shared experiences as mums of young children. And the foundations were there for conversations that didn’t revolve around our children, but if you needed to ask, “has anyone seen a rash like this before?” you can!

And new friendships started. I have a wonderful friend in my small group at church to thank for most of my mum friends. She set up a bible study for mums that she has hosted at her house every week for a couple of years now. We meet up, have a coffee and chat and feed the babies while the toddlers run havoc around the room as we have a bible study together. It is the BEST. I’ve got to know other mums in church at the same stage, our children play together and have made friends and the conversation is rarely about feeding and sleep. It can be as diverse as keeping our foot in the door of our various professions, podcasts we’ve listened to and books we’ve read. We share life together. Last minute trips to the farm together on a sunny afternoon. Prayers when a child is unwell. Meals when new babies arrive. Emergency baby sitting when you have a dental appointment. It’s a wonderful group to have in my life.

Friends that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t a mum.

Another great friend was made after I left my phone number with the breastfeeding coordinator at the Ulster Hospital for any mums of babies with Down Syndrome who wanted to chat to someone who’d been there. Ten months after Daniel was born, Amy came into my life with her wonderful little boy Finn. She’s a yoga instructor and came to my house to do post natal session with me after my younger son was born. When Finn was in PICU I dropped off food supplies to her. She calls at our house with a bag full of food and makes herself at home in my kitchen making a lunch for us all to share. Wonderful!

So, what would I say to the mum who feels on the margins and hasn’t found her ‘tribe’? Well, have a look around the places you already go and interests you already have and see if there are any other mums there. Your crochet class, gym, book club, church, online group. If you’ve already got a shared interest it makes the friendship easier to establish and keeps the conversation fresh.

If you can’t find friends there, why not start a group like my friend did? Have a coffee morning, it doesn’t have to be every week, for mums in your area. Ask in an online local group if there are any mums in your area who share some of your hobbies or interests. I’ve seen a few mums do this in the past and have made great friends out of it.

I wasn’t looking for mum friends. I didn’t really want them. But it turns out I needed them. And my life is far richer for having these wonderful women in my life.

Nicola Woods lives in Belfast, with her husband and two boys, aged 2 and 5, with another baby on the way.

Her eldest son has Down Syndrome. She is a qualified accountant but for now is a stay-at-home mother and serial coffee drinker.

Nicola enjoys playing the piano, reading, and writing lists and blogs at www.happyisherhome.com

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