I Might Actually Be Here to Make Friends: Finding Parent Friends by Julie Vick, author, Babies Don’t Make Small Talk (So Why Should I?) (Book Excerpt)

Excerpted from Babies Don’t Make Small Talk (So Why Should I?). Copyright (c) 2021 by Julie Vick. Used with permission of the publisher, The Countryman Press, a division of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.


While I’m not the type of person who needs a ton of friends, I do appreciate having a small group of people I can connect with. Some good friends of mine became parents around the same time I did, and it was and is helpful to have them to talk to and commiserate with. But I also found that it was useful to make new connections with parents in my neighborhood or at my children’s daycare. It was nice to have some friends I knew I could talk to at the local park or daycare family picnic. Since I tend to be quiet, making new friends can be a challenge for me. But I know that introverts also often make good friends—​we are good listeners, are thoughtful, and always understand if you aren’t up for eating at that hip new restaurant because it is just too loud.

Making new parent friends can mean striking up conversations with strangers, something that I’ve always been extremely bad at doing. But I have come to realize that not all interactions with strangers are bad. If I were sitting on a plane and trying to finish a really engaging book and a stranger interrupted me to ask about what I do for a living, that would be frustrating. But if I find that that person does something similar to me or has a similar taste in books, then I’m more open to engaging with them. Studies have also found that talking with strangers can make people happier, and I have had positive spontaneous interactions with strangers. So I’ve tried to be more open to talking with strangers, at least when I’m feeling up to it.

Some movies about moms make it look easy to have some sort of mom squad. Or at least I think that’s what these mom movies feature; I haven’t actually had time to watch any of them because I have kids. But in reality, making parent friends can be tough if you have trouble striking up conversations or if you have a look in public that reads to other people like, “That person does not want to talk” when in reality it is just saying, “That person wouldn’t mind talking about shared interests but does not exactly know how to go about it.” In some parenting spaces, it also feels like the world has already divided up into friend groups, and it can seem like a return to high school when you’re trying to find the right group to fit in with. So here are some tips:

It’s okay to avoid certain groups: You are probably not going to become best friends with all the other parents. If they seem to be a version of the mean girl from high school reincarnate, then they probably are a version of that mean girl, but just as a mom now.

Prepare topics: In the book Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come, author Jessica Pan spends a year trying to challenge herself to do things she finds difficult as a shy introvert. She consults with experts during her journey, and one revelation I got from that book is that extroverted people sometimes do a lot of planning before social events. They think about how to connect people at a dinner party based on shared interests, or they prepare a few stories of their own ahead of time that they can use during the event. So, taking some time to prepare something to say to other parents at a preschool mixer isn’t weird but an actual legitimate strategy. The book also talks about how it’s better to get beyond surface level chitchat to meaningful conversations. So next time you find yourself standing next to a parent at the end of a Baby and Me class, maybe try opening with, “What’s your current parenting rage level on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Talk to people who aren’t talking to other people: It’s intimidating to approach a group of people who are already chatting, but it’s easier to talk with someone who is standing on their own pretending to read a book on their phone. This may seem obvious to some, but it took me about 30 years to figure out.

Volunteer for a position: If you have to attend an event where you don’t know a lot of people, volunteer to be the one to take tickets or serve ice cream. This will give you something to do other than standing awkwardly in the corner staring at the clock.

Don’t fall for MLM scams: You might get a random email from someone you sort of knew in high school who wants to have coffee to catch up. What to do? Proceed with caution. There is an 80 percent chance they are just trying to sell you nail polish strips.

Missed Connections for Introverted Parents

Saw you at the Baby Gym Halloween party. I appreciated how you had ironically dressed your bald baby as Lex Luthor. My child was the one carrying the baby taco costume because he refused to wear it. Do you want to be friends?

Briefly spoke to you at the grocery store. Your child was having a meltdown because he couldn’t ride the penny horse my daughter was on, and when I suggested your child could ride on the empty horse next to mine, my daughter had a meltdown. We both laughed hysterically for a while and then fled the store. Maybe we can meet up at the penny horse again next Saturday?

You were wearing a Bon Iver shirt at the breastfeeding class that meets on Wednesdays. I was wearing a white shirt covered in coffee that I spilled on myself on the way into class. We sometimes smiled at each other while in line to weigh our babies. Do you want to meet up and discuss infant weight gain and lactation cookie recipes?

I’ve been watching your posts on the anonymous parenting discussion board for over a year. You are always so measured and wise and are good at using humor to diffuse situations in a non-dismissive way. Do you live near me? Do you want to get together? Are you even a real person?

I saw you on the local mom’s group Zoom meetup last Saturday and noticed some books on your bookshelf that I’ve also read and enjoyed. Do you want to form a book group?

Our eyes met very briefly from time to time across the room in our baby dance class. We both shared the pained expression of people who felt they needed to get out of the house but are beginning to regret signing up for a class that forces us to dance the funky monkey in a room with a large walled mirror. Do you want to meet up sometime at a venue that does not have oversized mirrors?

Saw you leaving the lactation room at work while I was entering, but I don’t think we’ve ever met. Do you want to meet up after pumping next week to discuss work and form a committee to lobby for an on-​site daycare?

I got your number at the park last week because our kids got along well. I appreciated that you were brave enough to let your child have juice with high fructose corn syrup in in a public setting. My child was the one eating a cookie at 9 a.m. I want to send you a text, but I wasn’t sure if you really wanted to hear from me or not. I have started several texts, but they all sounded weird. If you do want to connect, can you just be the first one to send the text?

You were the other family with a screaming baby on the flight from Chicago to Washington, DC, last Tuesday. We stood behind you during family boarding time and joked that we were relieved there was another baby on the plane. We chose a seat near you and shared the glares of other passengers as they walked past our area searching for the farthest possible seat from us. Would you be interested in emailing me an itinerary of all the future flights you plan to take in the next year so we can book the same ones?

I was the one who walked into the library story time a little late last Tuesday and accidentally slammed the door. When everyone turned to look at me, I just turned around and walked back out. Does anyone that was there enjoy meeting in small groups and Bon Iver? If so, send me a text.

Finding the Virtual Village:​ Surviving Parenting Discussion Groups 

While I’m not the type of person who will probably ever be comfortable telling a funny story to a group of people at a party, I do find it infinitely easier to tell a joke on Twitter. For me, talking via the internet is easier than talking to someone’s actual face, so I’ve found the virtual villages that exist around parenting to be helpful. I do enjoy meeting up IRL one-​on-​one with other parents or in small groups, but I’ve also found comfort in finding the right virtual groups to connect with. For me, that has included some parenting writer groups and other general parenting groups. For you, perhaps it will be a group of parenting knitters or parents who share a phobia of creepy dolls. If you are looking for a group:

Find the right group: some people seem to live for creating drama on social media, and groups that always devolve into a lot of fighting are probably not ideal. But finding a smaller group of people via a shared connection can offer you a lot of support and comic relief. Spending a little time lurking in a group before deciding it’s for you is a solid plan.

Groups change over time: When I had my first child, I spent way too much time scrolling popular online baby forums. It helped me manage my overthinking, and it was comforting to connect with a group of people who were going through the same major life change. But after my baby was born, I spent less and less time on them and found other groups to connect with. For a while it was a group of local moms with kids the same age, and then as the kids got older that group died down too. Online parenting groups are like jeans—​your tastes in them will inevitably change.

Convert online relationships to real ones: I’ve met a number of other writers via virtual groups that eventually led to real-​life meetings at conferences or for coffee if they lived in my vicinity. Interacting in discussion groups based on our interests gave us common ground to start from. Yes, I got nervous before meeting them IRL, but I knew we already had a lot of common ground for topics to discuss, so I didn’t even have to prepare discussion notes ahead of time.

Julie Vick, a lifelong introvert, is a parent of two young children. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Parents, and elsewhere. An English instructor at the University of Colorado Denver, Vick lives near Boulder, Colorado.