Part of the relief of marrying someone (and wanting to be with them for as long as you can imagine), is that you don’t have a first date ever again. Then you have kids, and your social circles morph a little. While I have kept my child-free friends, I needed the validation from parents who shared in the mom journey. Through a neighborhood baby group, and my kids’ preschools, I met women I thought would make good friends. To test that theory, though, we had to set up the dreaded “Mom First Date,” usually at the height of that stage where nothing fits, sometime after the fourth trimester but before you can fit comfortably into pre-pregnancy clothes. The process of planning mom dates has been one of the more challenging aspects of motherhood (that didn’t involve teething, of course).
Making mom friends is tough, but if you are committed to finding that pal to team up with at the playground to "shoo" the big kids away from the toddler area, you have to put in the time and effort to go on these mom dates. The first ones are always a doozy, in my opinion, and I always felt proposing we meet for coffee was a loaded question. Maybe she was staying away from caffeine as part of her postpartum wellness routine. And having a drink at a bar just seemed too, well, serious. Plus, that scenario would require me to pump and dump and I just couldn’t deal.
This Actually Isn’t About Your Kids
Ask a dog-owner. Do they really care if their pet wants to hang out with another animal? No. It’s all about that animal’s owner and if they’re chill when you’re both at the dog park. My first baby play date was in a group, when my daughter was about 5 months old. She didn’t even acknowledge there were other human children there; all she cared about were the tassels on the throw rug where I had placed her. She was intrigued.
It was really about how I felt about the other moms there. Could I talk to them? Did they just want to listen to themselves? Would they make me feel lame with their superior breastfeeding skills, nursing one-handed while they stirred a pot of paella with the other? I was so afraid of being liked that when my baby rolled over and smacked her head on a bare stretch of the wooden floor, I was the one who apologized. I should have been livid that there was a hard surface so close to my child’s tender skull.
I soon learned group baby dates were not for me. Speed dating moms was not my style.
She Is Just As Nervous As You Are
Striking out on my own to hang out with a particular mom after a group meet-up was nerve-wracking. Am I cool enough? What even makes me “cool” as a mom? I just had to remember what I used to tell myself when I was dating as a singleton years ago: the other person is just as concerned about making a solid first impression as I am (and fear of failure is the great equalizer).
Just Be Yourself…
I have learned, from plenty of bad romantic dates, that lying, pretending I’m someone I’m not, and feigning interest in things just to appear “good girlfriend material” has the opposite effect. Not only was that false behavior anything but sustainable (tell me again why I declared tequila bars were “totally my thing?”), but I risked having someone fall into “like” with a person who simply wasn’t me.
…Except Wash (At Least) The Front Of Your Hair
Be real, but not that real. We all have two seconds to check a reflective surface to make sure we don’t have food in our teeth. Or dried spit-up (the baby’s, or anyone else’s) in obvious places.
You Will Judge…
Isn’t judgment an inherent part of dating? How can I decide if I like someone if I can’t size them up according to some impossible set of standards?
The good news about mom dates, I’ve found, is that it’s pretty hard to hide your true self. Kids are the worst, in that they are the best for pointing out your shortcomings. In one hour with a mom and her kid, I can decide if her temperament, listening skills, and political leanings jive with mine, based strictly on how she handles a child who has just vomited in public. Freaked out moms need not apply. I want a mom friend who keeps cool while her child blows chunks, but who also doesn’t engage in any gaslighting behavior, such as blaming the french fries for being “too crunchy” for a toddler’s delicate innards.
…And Be Judged
Likewise, I expect to be judged for all the reasons I’m scrutinizing the candidate across from me, vying for the position of Mom Soulmate. If she doesn’t like my position on naps (anything under two hours sets the stage for a toddler’s evening meltdown, I believe), maybe we’re just not right for each other.
Although, I do think it’s helpful to talk with moms with different parenting styles, as long as we don’t preach that our way is the best way for anyone but ourselves.
Don’t Show Off Your Mad Mom Skillz
Be friendly to her kid, but not to the point where her child is begging to go home with you at the end of the get-together because you had better snacks. Bring the better snacks, of course, because if you’re ever going to let your kid play at her house you need her to understand what your expectations are in terms of nutrition and unbleached flour consumption. But don’t get in her face about it. Just casually leave your diaper bag open enough for her to sneak a peek at your name brand organic package of apple cinnamon puffs, even if that bag is 3 weeks old and restocked with mass produced rainbow colored fish crackers.
(Pro tip: this is only for expert passive-aggressive types, so don’t try the above move if you’re actually a level-headed, nice person.)
Don’t Automatically Assume She Expects You To Be "The Best"
When I met a mom this past summer, getting together for the first time because our kids were camp buddies who desperately wanted a weekend play date, I am not sure I made the best impression. I was exhausted and we let the kids play way past lunchtime, so my son and I were hangry. That weakened my defenses and I let my 6 year old make some poor food choices (steak and potatoes at 3 p.m. with a giant milkshake before a 45 minute trip home, with no access to a bathroom). I deserved to be judged.
But when I got home, I saw she added me as a Facebook friend and offered to host a future play date. I didn’t have to be amazing to be her friend. I just had to demonstrate basic safety awareness, apparently. Neither of our kids left the playdate bloodied so I passed the test.
She Will Be Too Tired To Talk Smack About You
I’ve left many mom dates, with or without kids, feeling energized. It’s usually so much effort to plan an outing that I don’t want to do it. Canceling plans is so tempting. However, when I don’t, I am so glad I made it out.
Socializing with other moms feeds me in ways that motherhood and work and marriage don’t. And even when I didn’t have an amazing time, when my husband asks how my night was, I am way too exhausted to bitch about anyone.
Leave Her Wanting More
You know how you are hanging with someone new and in just 12 seconds you discover you have finally found “your people,” because the conversation just flows so easily and she laughs at all the right times and you find her commentary to be the perfect balance of “Oprah get-it-girl” and “Gossip Girl snark” that you just don’t want the good time to end, and you actually can’t make it stop, because you fear if you take even the shortest break, she’ll check her watch, decide she has to be somewhere, anywhere, other than this place with you. Maybe you’ve been misinterpreting her sisterly simpatico for politeness so you worry that she would never even consider you anything more than an acquaintance so you start throwing out salacious bits of your storied past — the time you peed yourself the first time attempting a work out two months postpartum, the fact that you haven’t changed your sheets since before your baby was born, the number of nights you and your partner tried to conceive on that first cycle — and the next thing you know, you have told her every last disgusting detail about your sex life and journey into motherhood and, though it was all because you wanted to show her how honest and welcoming you are of all women’s truths, all you succeeded in doing was freaking her the f*ck out. Now your toddler, whom you’ve been ignoring to try to woo your new potential mom friend, is under the table, sucking on a straw that may have just been used to stir an espresso but is most definitely caked in coffeehouse dirt so Potential Mom BFF is gonna go now, byeeee.
At least save the sex stories for the second date.