Earlier this week I wrote a post about how I found my Mommy Tribe and how important it was for me to have one. I thought I'd write a follow-up post about what it's been like to build and maintain those relationships. First off, lets just say that these relationships are just like all other human relationships. They aren't perfect, but if you put in the effort you'll generally be rewarded.
There are four basic social interactions I typically have with my Mommy Tribe; Formal Groups, Informal Groups, One on One, and Online. Each has their benefits and limitations, and each has been an important component for me.
Formal Groups are things like La Leche League and Diaper Free Babies meetings or a local library story time. Typically you can find them online, or advertised where they take place. You can expect to meet folks with the obvious common interest, and, that often means children of a close age. Expect someone to act as a leader and there to be formal time followed by more casual interactions. If you're cruising for other, like-minded parents, this is a great way to meet and, you already have something in common. A great next step is to exchange e-mails or at least full names to hook up online, often on social networking sites.
Often times you'll transition from the formal group to an Informal Group. This would be the group headed out for coffee after the meeting, or the play date at the playground Tuesday morning. This is where the temptation is often to lapse into high school mode. Suddenly there's the question of who is invited and who isn't. There's the awkwardness of trying to initiate conversation with a group you've just discovered. Here's my tip. Be friendly. Say "hi" and if you're the one inviting, be obvious about inviting everyone within ear shot. (If, for example, you're just trying to set up a private play date at your house, a more discreet e-mail or online invite may be the way to go.)
If you'd like to kick it up a notch to the One on One parent dating, it's best to get to know someone in the above situations first. Sure, everyone loves a "Bestie" but it is more awkward to put some hard work into a relationship and realize you just don't "click." I'm a huge extrovert so I don't think twice about approaching just about anyone, particularly in obvious parent centric settings like story time or the park. My fear is becoming the Mom in this video.
The video purports to by why the author doesn't have any "Mom Friends." I disagree with that basic premise. Not all Mom's are in a super competition or are trying to constantly convert you. Hopefully, it makes you laugh a little and not take yourself so seriously. Sure, I'm crispy, if not all the way "crunchy" but there's a fine line between sharing what you know when someone asks and lecturing someone on how you think things SHOULD be. (That's what blogs like this are for right?) The above video is about the quickest way to become what I like to call THAT Mom. The kind everyone politely acknowledges at the formal meeting, but who is mysteriously missing from most online and informal group interactions. (I realize this could also be a dude, I've tried to be fairly gender neutral, so, in the spirit of fairness, it's wise to also not be THAT dude or THAT Grandparent, or THAT Dad, or THAT anyone).
While I'm on the topic of scaring the other parents away, here's my suggestion of topics to avoid on first dates, and when you're just getting to know a new parent. The same way bringing up your exes or delving into highly political or religious topics right off the bat are generally a bad idea when on a romantic date, there are hot button topics I wouldn't jump into right away. Some of them I didn't even know existed before I was a Mom.
1. Cloth vs. Disposables (Unless they ask, you're not going to convert them right there).
2. Vaccinations (You would not believe how upset folks on both sides of this get and, again, unless you've got some in your bag that you're planning to sell and use right there, probably not important RIGHT THIS SECOND).
3. Discipline (Sure, you should prevent someone from beating a child, but this is often a deeply complicated issue that's tied to a value system not easily changed.)
4. Food Allergies, Starting Solids, Organics, etc. (You never know where this will go, folks will swear you're nuts, or poisoning your children, or your annoyance with peanut restrictions will be directed at the poor Dad who's been to ER six times in the last year).
5. Formula/Breast Feeding/Supplementing (See my last post, this is a hot mess topic).
6. TV/Early Education (This again tends to be a value based judgement call. You might be neglecting and stunting your child by not showing them the all important Mac Your Bebe smArt DVD, or your giving your child ADHD by letting them know screens exist, or, well, you get the idea).
7. Pacifiers/Thumb Sucking (Seriously, this is one of the most judgemental topics I've ever heard that I would have never believed).
8. Car Seats (Brands, which way to face and when, who inspects them and how often).
9. Family Planning (I have no idea why this is so common a topic, but, again, it's personal and often tied to values and religious beliefs. Plus, do we really want to talk about sex using silly euphemisms in front of our children? Really?).
10. The Evils of Anything (plastic, clothing, dinosaurs, salt...)
Sure, these are all important to raising your child, and you'll probably want to find like-minded folks who share your values, but these are often also issues about which people, and parents in particular, feel very strongly. So, when first meeting and getting to know folks, stick to the stuff at hand, and try to keep it positive. No one likes to be around a Debbie Downer... unless she's REALLY funny.
Finally, there's the world of online interaction. My big tip is to remember that not everyone cares about everything you do... unless you're me. Just kidding. Seriously though, while it's fine to share and post and comment to your heart's content, don't be offended or sad if someone didn't see everything you did, or isn't up to date on your blog, or didn't give you feedback on the new sweater Jr. was wearing. We're talking about crazy busy parents who often use the online world as a vent and escape hatch. Just like the rest of life, be the pal you'd want to have. Do comment on their posts or give the virtual ((hugs)), but don't get all crazy stalker. (See THAT Mom above).
So, summing it all up: it's totally way too much like dating, but in a bizarre high school like world. There will be people you like, and people you don't. That's ok, but try to be nice, or at least tolerant, to everyone. Be prepared to say sorry when you hurt someone's feelings, and be ready to stand up for what you believe in. You're likely to get some great friends and have a lot of fun along the way.
P.S. Since Jax is still a bit young to play much yet at play dates, I'll post again when he's more involved in the active process.