I recently got to visit a really good friend who moved away to a new city. We first met in San Francisco when we were in our mid-twenties, both new to town, ready and willing to make friends. Now, she lives in a suburb outside of Chicago with her husband and two young kids, works full time, and also works hard to build a network of friends like she had here with our group.
And it’s hard.
She and her husband joined the Newcomer’s Club in their town, she’s hosted a few families for dinner, she smiles and makes small talk at the community pool and at the kids’ classes on the weekends, but she’s not making traction as quickly as she’d like, and it boils down to a few common truths about friendship at this stage of life.
1. There are more personalities to match up.
When you’re single, you search for people that you like. When you’re a couple, you look for other couples both you and your partner want to spend time with (which is often not easy). And when you’re a family, you have to do all of that and make sure your kids and their kids get along.
Carryover friendships from other stages of life don’t have to meet the same requirements, but when it comes to new friends, nothing will kill a family friendship faster than constantly having to mediate the children. You don’t have to share the exact same parenting style as your new friends, but your approaches need to mesh to avoid tension down the road.
2. Everyone’s busy.
My girlfriend’s discovered that many of the families they’ve met moved out of Chicago and into the ‘burbs to be closer to their families, which means they already have a network of people with whom they socialize. And even if that isn’t the issue, time for friends is limited mostly to weekends. Saturdays and Sundays fill up quickly with obligations and commitments for everyone, so even if making new friends is high on your and your potential friend’s priority lists, the momentum of the friendship can still stall.
And it’s not easier for stay at home moms like me. I found it tricky to meet up with other SAHMs because lining up nap schedules, older children’s school schedules, kids’ activities, and our partners’ schedules left surprisingly little time to get together. And, inevitably, when we did set a date, one of our kids would get sick.
3. Work isn’t as social as it used to be.
The old saying, “It’s lonely at the top,” is true. The older we get and the higher we go in our careers, the fewer people we have to connect with at work. For my girlfriend, she leads a team of nearly twenty people. She’s a boss, which alters the dynamic between her and many of the people at her firm, not to mention the fact that very few of her coworkers are at the same stage of life as she is—nothing kills your chances of grabbing a happy hour drink like the need to beat traffic to pick up your kid from daycare.
So take heart in knowing it’s not just you. Connecting with other moms, other couples, or other families is hard, and until those friendships take off, here’s what you need to know.
Grade school will open up your social network.
I can’t promise that you’ll meet your best friend at the first PTA meeting, but older kids open up a world of socializing that you just don’t have when they’re younger. They can participate in team sports, which means you’ll see the same parents week after week on the sidelines of games. There will be opportunities to get involved with the school. There will be moms’ night outs and dads’ night outs with the fellow parents in your kids’ class or grade (and if there isn’t, start one). There will be camping trips, field trips, fundraising events, birthday parties, and all sorts of opportunities to spend time with parents of similarly-aged kids.
The obstacles to making friends will still be there but knowing that your kids will all be spending the next six to thirteen years together in school levels the playing field again. Everyone has a vested interest in connecting with the families their kids will spend time with in the future.
In the meantime, make any friend you can.
You may dream of having a family to invite over for a barbecue on the weekend, but until that happens, nurture and appreciate any kind of friendship you find—a woman in your workout class, a coworker and their spouse, whatever. It’s hard to find the secret sauce that makes entire families get along with each other, so change your goal. If you’re feeling lonely and isolated, then nurturing any kind of new connection is worth it. Eventually, your kids will want to hang out without you, so they don’t have to dictate your entire social life now!
Did you find it hard to make friends after kids? Leave your advice in the comments.