How to Make Friends at the Playground (For Moms)

School is back, and with it comes the back-to-school grind. Personally, I always look forward to this blessed event as a peace-filled time complete with interruption-free Instagram scrolling and book-reading freedom. But let’s be real. Standing among your peers as a gaggle of kids chase a soccer ball around the park, there is a great chance this momentary taste of independence could get cut short by well-intentioned parents looking to make a new friend. To be clear, friends are great. But I have a hunch you may want to have more than a zip code in common with the next person you commit to divvying up your kid-free time with. (We have so precious little time as it is!) So, before putting your eggs in another mom or dad’s happy hour or wine night bucket, take a look at my personal vetting process before heading to swim lessons tonight. You can thank me later. 

DAY ONE:
In my experience, the first day of class (or soccer, etc.) is your best opportunity to scope out parents you may want to connect with while going unnoticed. It’s usually a chaotic environment with kids coming and going, losing whatever single item is essential to that activity (You forgot your basketball for basketball practice? Seriously?) and parents are distracted. Use this to your advantage.

If you can, bring a younger sibling who isn’t likely to fall asleep and thus needs most of your attention; if you have your pick of children, bring the mobile one who is going to repel interaction rather than attract discussion. Spend 90% of your time attending to the rambunctious child and 10% scoping out other parents. Take mental notes. Observe their behavior. Are they glued to their phones? Helicopter parenting? Wearing something you’d love to borrow in the future? I’m not here to tell you how to judge people … but make a checklist that are important to you and judge away.

No siblings? Get crafty and wear sunglasses. Note: this only works indoors if you have an excuse, and it should only be used for the first day of class to scope out other parents. Otherwise, you WILL be labeled as the weirdo wearing your sunglasses indoors and you don’t need that kind of heat from the pool supervisor. (Not this year, Mike.)

Finally, I like to listen to the roster and try to guess which kids’ names belong to which parent. A lot can be said for the name a parent willingly (and excitedly) chose for their children. Take more notes. Remember other parents worth their friendship salt are most likely doing all these things to you as well. Be okay with that. Then proceed to Day Two.

DAY TWO:
Today’s your day to really decide; are you in or out? Did you find a buddy? 

If you’re in: wear an outfit you love and stand next to the mom with the enviable bangs and shoes you’ve had your eyes on. Maybe re-apply the lipstick you wore in the morning but has since come off after you ate that Bahn-Mi for lunch. Bring a book you’ve been meaning to read. Leave your phone in your pocket and proceed with caution.

If you’re out: continue as usual. Scroll through Instagram. Wear earbuds and act like you’re looking at something very important on your phone. Bring your rambunctious kid to every pick up, drop off, and PTA meeting from now until graduation.

Undecided: you need a more decisive test. If you’re feeling really curious, wear an outlandish piece of clothing and wait for someone to comment on it. Or glare at it. If you really want to throw down the gauntlet, wear something political. Be prepared to have a conversation about it, and expect it won’t always be with the people you were trying to attract.

In the end, trust your gut. A parent I recognized from after-school programming just popped up in a local Facebook group. I hadn’t pursued a friendship earlier based on intuition, and a quick glance at her account was assurance enough: nope. Not the friend for me. On the other hand, I found a school mom on Instagram after the first day of drop-off. A month in, I added her as a friend on a whim and now we text each other almost daily. 

Good luck with your own search!

Kate Sommers

You can find Kate Sommers across the internet as @forkknifespoon, where she overshares pictures of food, breve lattes (no shame), and three *pretty* adorable boys. Kate excels at cursing like a sailor, playing overly-ambitious vegetable gardens, and going to bed promptly at 10 p.m. You can find more of her ramblings at FlockOfBroads.com.

Photos: Sydnee Bickett Photography

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