Monday, June 11, 2012

5 Tips for Connecting with Other Parents

Do you have amazing connections with other parents? Do you ever wish you were able to connect more or make more friends as a parent?

Some weeks I feel like I do a great job with this... and other weeks I feel like I am stuck in my routine of errands, working out, blogging, cleaning, and doing projects, and by the end of the week feel like I've barely made a connection with another parent or friend (besides my spouse).

I definitely don't think there is anything wrong with focusing a lot of attention on your spouse and kids, but I do think that developing and maintaining friendships (outside of your family) is really important. During certain times of my life I have felt like making friends was really hard... and during others I felt like it has been easy. I think a lot of that had to do with my attitude and my willingness to put forth effort.

As I'm starting off the summer, I've been thinking about some personal summer goals I have... and one of them is to connect more with other parents and friends- new and old (I also want to read more, waste less time, and be more organized... but those are for another day)!

Last week I taught a lesson to the teenagers at church about reaching out to others. It got me thinking a lot about this topic and how I want to approach my goals this summer. Today I thought I'd share five tips with you that I'm planning to focus on this summer as I attempt to connect more with other parents and friends- new and old.

1. Invite often

This is something I think about a lot... especially when I move to a new place and am trying to make new friends. Sometimes I think other people should invite me over (if I am new) or should reach out to me. The reality is, I should be reaching out and doing the inviting and not sitting around waiting. After all, who doesn't like to be invited to something? I have been amazed at the friendships I have been able to cultivate by just extending a simple invitation- to the park, over for a playdate or a BBQ, or to go out for a girls night. There have been times when I've invited a bunch of people to an event and no one has come... and other times when way too many people have been able to come! Either way, one of the easiest ways to make connections with others is to take the first step and invite them to do something. Sometimes this means going way out of your comfort zone... which is hard, but totally rewarding. I want to do more of that this summer!

2. Offer to help

Many of my deepest friendships have developed during difficult times when people have reached out to our family to help. I truly admire friends who recognize a need and are able to step in and help without me ever needing to say anything. Someday I hope to be one of those people who has that talent. In the meantime, one way that I have developed deeper connections with friends is by offering to help in specific ways... not vague ways like saying, "Can I help with anything?," but instead saying things like, "We're going to the park this afternoon, can we pick up ____ and bring him with us?" (to a friend who just had a new baby and has a toddler or preschooler also running around). I have gained such a love for my friends (and their kids), by finding ways to help them out and serve them. I need to do that more often!

3. Ask questions

Asking questions is critical for developing relationships. I love this quote from Dale Carnegie (author of one of my favorite books, How to Win Friends and Influence People):

I think we all know this... but sometimes it is easy to become a ME monster and talk all about our kids, our spouse, our life, our plans, etc. I do that ALL the time and hate it when I catch myself doing it! Every person I meet and every friend I have is AMAZING and has incredible things to share and teach me... so I know that I need to be better about asking them questions so that I can discover more about them! Everyone likes to hang out with people who are genuinely interested in getting to know them!

4. Listen and remember details

This point ties in well with number three. If we ask questions, we need to make sure that we listen and remember details. I know there are certain people that I have the same conversation with again and again and it is because I am not paying enough attention when we talk and miss the important details... and then I end up asking the same question again the next time we talk. I feel so LAME! Right now I am especially struggling with this because of my tired pregnancy brain. I have actually started taking notes to help myself remember details about people! Have you ever done that? One of my favorite things to write down is schedules. This year I've tried to jot down schedules of my friends and their kids on my calendar so that when I plan events, I don't plan them when their kids have gymnastics or soccer or whatever. I obviously forget from time to time, but having the info written on my calendar has made connecting with my friends (and their kids) a whole lot easier because I know when they are free and am able to invite them to activities during those times. It is never fun to plan a big event only to discover that it coincides exactly with everyone's kindergarten pick up times and have no one able to come! When people remember important details about things I've shared I really feel like they care about me. I want my friends to know I care about them... so I have a feeling I will be writing a lot more notes to myself this summer!

5. Be open and inclusive

One way that I'm trying to connect more with others is by making time in my schedule for my friendships. I try and set aside time each week that is open in our schedule and try and keep it that way, or at least keep it flexible. This has allowed us to be available for last minute playdate invitations or given us time to help out a friend. I hate being one of those people who says, "call me if you need anything" and then when a friend needs something, my schedule is too busy to help them. I also like to schedule regular time into the month to spend time with my friends (without kids). There is such a different level of connection when we are not distracted or chasing kids all around the park.

I also think it is important to be inclusive. I'm not an expert at this yet, but I try and rotate the friends we have over and the people we hang out with because I love creating new relationships as well and building on the friendships I already have... instead of just hanging out with the same two friends every week. There is something incredible about a deep and intimate relationship with a friend you are very close with... but I also think that sometimes they can turn into exclusive relationships that make other people feel left out.

That being said, I do agree with the quote above about having real friends... not just a lot of "friends" on my Facebook page or in my cell phone that aren't people I really connect with.

I am always looking for new ideas and suggestions. I really want to be a better friend and I definitely feel like there are weeks when I need a lot of help. If I am a good friend, I feel like I am setting a good example for my kids to follow. One of my goals for them is to learn how to develop deep and lasting friendships. Having good friends makes life so much sweeter!

I would love your thoughts/ideas on some of these questions...

How do you successfully develop new friendships while making sure to keep the old ones?

Do you think it is good to be inclusive? Or would you prefer to have a small exclusive group of friends?

How else do you cultivate connections with other parents and friends? Do you make it a priority?

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  1. This is great advice. I'm so bad at doing the inviting! I say yes to every invite but I never plan enough to get a group together myself, and this does hurt my relationships.

  2. This post is so timely as I am struggling with the same thing. I agree that being interested generates more friends than trying to get them interested in you.

    But I have found that I am surrounded by people who are happy to invite me into their lives, but who really don't have any interest at being involved in my life. I am not sure how to balance that out, but would love to hear from your readers on that, too!

    1. Kali- that has to be very frustrating! I have definitely found myself in that position before and I am sure I have done that with friends as well. I would love to hear other suggestions on here too. In my case I usually continue to put effort into the unbalanced relationships but put even more into the ones where I feel there is a balance. That being said, it is rare that I find a relationship that is perfect and they change day to day. During some time periods some friends are just unable to be as invested in my life as I am in theirs... and then others when I am clearly less capable of being invested in theirs. I think as long as both friends are trying, those are the relationships to continue to foster. I think we should surround ourselves with friends who buoy us up though... so if a friend is constantly making you feel bad or down or not important enough to put time into, maybe it is time for new friends.

  3. I like this advice, I'm sharing this one, and I struggle with it myself!

  4. Great post Kristina! I literally JUST told my husband last night about #1. I said, "I think for the past 4 (FOUR!!!) years I've felt like "I'm new here. People should approach me." and I FINALLY realized "I'm not new anymore and if you want to make more friends, then put yourself out there and make them!" Great advice. :) I also like the part about not just saying "How can i Help?" but saying "I'm bringing pizza over tonight. What time would work best?" So right!

    1. You and me both! I have to remind myself about that every time I move... and then again once I get comfortable with friends and need to get out of my bubble and make new ones. I think moving teaches you a lot about how new people feel and reminds you to include others and reach other more once you are settled.

  5. This is a great post - I moved 120m away from home when my son was 6months old so everyone I know is a parent. I really went out of my way to talk to anyone who had a child, and then kept trying with the ones who I had chemistry with.

  6. This is great - I'm having so many problems at the moment with just this. We are fairly new to the area where we live, most of the people that I have met have been friends for years or all live on the same street and we live around a 15 min walk away. I have struggled for the last 18 months and out of the friendship group that I had no one has offered to help, seen that I needed to help and even when I reached out and said I was struggling instead of providing support they ditched me.

    After this I have had a period of laying low and sticking with the couple of friends that I have made and that have stuck with me - now I'm reaching out again and making connections - I'm trying different groups, talking to my neighbours - chatting to the mum that I see at the park every time we go - it's only about how she's doing (she has a new born and a 2 and a half year old) but it's making connections and this week I found out her name.

    I think I tried to connect with an established friendship group and because of my location and not being from the area I didn't "fit" the mould. Now is the time to try something else and move on. It's hard

    I find being a mum the most rewarding and hectic thing I have ever done and despite never being alone also sometimes the most lonely.

    1. I completely agree with you. Being a mom can be lonely despite being surrounded by little happy spirits all the time! :) I love that you are trying out different groups and have realized that maybe you need to move on from one that is making you sad... even though it is hard. Having friends who don't recognize your needs or offer to help can be challenging. It definitely makes you more aware not to be like that! When I am needing a change I love to take a new class to meet new people, volunteer to help out for a local function, or just devote more time to my family and being a good friend to the already great friends that I do have (even if they live far away). Keep me posted on how things are going. I wish I lived close by!! I'd come watch your kids, take you out for a girls night, and have loads of fun with you!

  7. This is a great post. I was just reading that maintaining friendships is the biggest predictor of happiness in adults. Knowing that and actively cultivating your own friendships are two very different things, however. I once struck up a conversation with another mom who I had not previously approached because she seemed standoffish. That particular day, our two kids were the only ones playing at a sandbox at the park, so I begun a conversation with her, starting with just the basics, "How old is your child? Do you guys come to this playground frequently..." and was surprised at how well we hit it off. I have since realized that she was hesitant to reach out to people whom she doesn't already know. I now try to reach out to other parents with the perspective that it may not be that they are unwilling to talk to me, but rather that they are also struggling with what to say.

    1. Carolyn- Perfect advice! You just never know how other people are feeling! This is such a great reason why we should always we reach out and try to go out of our comfort zones. I wish I was better at it sometimes!

  8. Thank you so much for this post. It really hits home to me and you gave really wonderful advice! I'm a stay at home mom 2boys 7 months & 3 yrs. We've lived in our town for 3 years now and love the town but I still have not made any friends here. I'm in MOPS, playgroups, church etc. I'm around a lot of Moms I would say are acquaintances with but are not close friends. I'm more quite than others but have reached out to a lot other moms and approached them to get together. We always say "we should get together sometime." then nothing is done. It seems I'm always the one that makes the first approach. I will call and try to arrange a time for us to get together but it never works out. Its hard too b/c we have one car and my husband does not work at 9-5 job. He works evenings and weekends and sometimes we make plans but will have to cancel last minute. Its such a struggle. I'm still trying to stay positive. We just joined a country club hoping to meet some other moms but still I haven't.

  9. Thank you for this! I really needed it! I have many of the same goals this summer and, boy, is it hard to keep up sometimes. I hate catching myself ranting about all my interests when I originally asked something of someone else. I have to stop and remind myself the best way to really get to know someone is to listen without intent to speak. If you start thinking of that great story you need to tell, you're not listening to the important details. Thank you for having the perspective to talk about this. It is important and people need to know.

  10. wow. given my latest crisis, this is right on the nose. i'm working on a few of these. the others will keep me going in the right direction. thanks so much Kristina!

  11. Great article. I recently read a book about making quality friends MWF seeking BFF my review can be found at: ) It was really great. Even thoguh the author doesn't have kids and it sounds like most of us do, the concepts of putting in time and effort along with immediate follow up are good takeaways. I love inviting people over so if you are ever in the Upstate NY area, send me an email and I will invite you for breakfast and coffee!

  12. Hi Kristina,

    Found this article when searching for resources for families to make friends. We're including a link to it in tomorrow's article about building new friendships when others break up. Love that quote from Dale Carnegie you included.

    - Rhonda Franz
    Managing Editor,

    1. Thanks for including it Rhonda. I'll stop by tomorrow and check out your article.

  13. I live in New Zealand, but I am not a native to that country, It is really hard to develop friendships beyond the "hello" stage here. I invite always, but never get invited to anything and generally no one wants to do what I am asking, which can range from a play at the park, coffee, shopping or meals out. I try all the points you raised, the only thing I need to do now is move to the US where I have always found people to be ultra friendly and approachable!

  14. Just the "read" I needed! Thanks. It was refreshing for me to read that other Mom's struggle with building friendships, sometimes I feel as if I'm the only loner!
    I would love to build more friendship and set some time aside for it. The times I have set have been canceled due to hubby obligations or it is just too hard/expensive to hire a babysitter. Anyway, thanks for the post, it has given me new hope!


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