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Oct 29 / Caro

How to Make Friends In the Playground

Working in any branch of frontline healthcare brings you in to contact with a huge variety of people. Thankfully most of them are lovely, polite and straightforward to communicate with. But there are plenty of “difficult patients” too; the kind that won’t listen, or that want to tell you their irrelevant life story; The demanding and downright rude; The drama queens. I seem to attract more than my fair share of “difficult” dental patients and it’s not gone unnoticed by my colleagues.

My manager gave me a rueful smile a few days ago when she commented that the only way I’d stop getting quite so many of them in my surgery if if I were to stop making them like me. “And that’s not going to happen” she laughed.

She was winding me up. But it was also a massive compliment. The truth of the matter is that one of my huge strengths in my profession is communicating with people on their level and making them like and trust me. As a result one of my biggest daily challenges is that too many people want to see me and I just can’t keep up. I suppose you could say that I’m popular.

Outside of my professional arena, however, things are a bit different. I’ve never, ever been one of the “popular” kids. Although I might not seem conventionally shy, I’m plagued by a deep lack of confidence in meeting new people. Despite liking myself, I tend to assume that other people won’t, which probably in itself doesn’t help, but at the ripe old age of thirty-three I still have no idea how to translate an acquaintance in to a friend, even when I really want to.

This, of course, is why work is different. There, I know how to make people like me, and I have confidence in myself and my skills. But more importantly, I’m not investing anything personally in these relationships. I don’t want them to be friendships and I don’t care whether I like the person back or not. Perhaps it’s easy there because it doesn’t actually matter so much.

I don’t want to give the impressions that I don’t have friends. Of course I do. I have some wonderful people in my life who I know that I can depend on to be there for me, and who I will always be there for in return. These are friendships which mostly date back years and are tested and true.

What I seem to be increasingly hopeless at the older I get is making new friends, which matters, so I am discovering, when you are a (relatively) new mother. New motherhood obviously turns your world upside down and it can be a confusing and indeed isolating time. I’m not sure many people would dispute the value of “mum friends”, who’ve been there too, to help them get through it. Yet despite the fact that I often see the same faces over and over at toddler groups, at the swimming pool, at nursery pick up and at the playground, and despite the fact that I smile, that I interact and that I even initiate conversation, I’ve never been able to cultivate any of these chance meetings as friendships.

It may, of course, be nothing to do with me. It is far more likely that these mums are simply just as clueless and just as shy. Or maybe they simply don’t need any more mum friends in their hectic lives. But I can’t help but wonder why this doesn’t seem to be the case for other people. My closest friend throughout my university years was the sort of girl who could strike up a friendship in the bus queue. Walking across a crowded bar was always a challenge because she knew everyone and everyone wanted to stop and chat. I always wondered how she did it, but even our years of friendship haven’t taught me the secret. And now, my closest mum friend (met through an ante natal group) is similar – she is the one who has collected a string of new friends from the toddler groups she has attended and a simple coffee always results in her bumping in to someone who wants to arrange their own coffee date soon.

So I can’t help but feel that I’m doing it wrong.

Even online I struggle to make the friends that everyone else seems to celebrate having made through social networks and the like “without having ever met in person.”

In my deepest crises of confidence, I tend to assume that I must be unlikeable. Or perhaps embarrassing. Odd. Too intense. Too quiet. Or maybe talk too much with too many opinions. At other times I just wonder if I seem too comfortable in myself and as if I don’t really need anything more.

Inside, though, I worry. I’m already aware that my lack of friendships is limiting the number of relationships that Thomas is forming with other children outside of nursery. And whilst that won’t be a problem just yet, I wonder whether this will affect Thomas in future – if my inability to form friendships with the class mums at school will stop him being invited for play dates. And how on earth will I go about arranging things like birthday parties?

I watch children playing in the playground and the ease of their friendships. Young ones, like Thomas, who are content to simply play alongside one another, and are unequivocally happy just to see again the toddlers they see most often, but have no expectations and no real emotional attachments. I see the older children who form friendships as quickly as they exchange names, and all because they have a shared love of the same colour, or they ride the same type of scooter.

I see the easy interactions of children and look at the other adults around me, wondering just when it all got so complicated.

Frosty football game

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6 Comments

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  1. Carie / Oct 31 2013

    Oh that rings so true for me too! My closest Mummy friends are all met through NCT or colleagues for work, and it was only when Elma started nursery that I realised that she doesn’t have many friends her own age, mostly just the little siblings of our NCT group babies because although I took her to a couple of baby groups we didn’t really make friends.

    Kitty on the other hand can run up to another child and say “I’m three, I’m Kitty” and have a firm friend right up until one of us has to go home – maybe I need to take a leaf out of her book.

    • Caro / Oct 31 2013

      I’m glad I’m not alone!

      I worry that having a second child (if we ever manage it) will be even more isolating. Partly for the reasons you say – I possibly won’t go to so many groups and definitely won’t do NCT again. But also because many of my existing mum friends are already having second babies and I feel like I’m going to find myself at a very different stage.

      I probably need to stop over thinking it all – and I suspect that is the secret of pre-schoolers!

  2. Jennifer / Nov 5 2013

    It’s really difficult to make the jump from someone that you exchange a few words with at baby group every week to something a bit closer. There are three of us mums that have been seeing each other most weeks for about four years – I finally plucked up the courage a few weeks back to ask if they fancied going out for a meal one evening and one of them nearly fell off her seat with eagerness! We had a great night out and are planning to make it a regular thing, we should have done it much sooner! I probably use social media too much, but I find that if you can add someone as a friend on Facebook then it makes building a friendship easier because you can get to know them a bit more. Sometimes it’s difficult to track people down though! I also have a friend from my NCT group who seems to have loads of friends. I think that she just has the confidence to make the first step with making arrangements with people, whereas I always have the fear of being turned down or imposing on people.

    • Caro / Nov 5 2013

      You’re probably right about making the first move. I always assume that the person I’m asking to join me for coffee or whatever will probably think “erm… Why would I want to do that?” I have nothing to base that on other than having always found it hard to initiate friendships so seeing it as quite a difficult task. That and being a bit afraid of the rejection I suppose. as I’ve already said, I probably need to stop over thinking it!

      I do find social media difficult too. I don’t use Facebook that much at the moment, and struggle balancing privacy and sharing on there in a way that I’m comfortable with. Sometimes I feel like I can’t even achieve online connections in the way others do. I still find Twitter very hard. I’ve been blogging on and off for eight years, but I’ve yet to achieve anything much out of any of my blogs and much of the time I feel like I’m talking to myself or a very tiny handful of people (this blog has over 260 entries, but only a few thousand lifetime page views and less than 100 comments) which makes it a lonely experience and fuels my feelings a bit.

      Some things I have to work on, I suppose! Thanks for your comment though.

  3. Chloe / Nov 5 2013

    I feel much the same, especially the looking at other mums and thinking “Well, how did YOU manage to make the leap from acquaintances to group of friends, etc”. I’ve also never found it easy to “make friends”, my closest friends will probably always be the ones I’ve had the longest – since school.

    As a mum it’s a bit difficult – not only do you have the constant obstacle of children diverting your attention and energy, but sharing the ‘mum’ title does not automatically mean you will get on with someone either. In my 3 years of parenting, I have made two “mum friends”, the rest I can only class as acquaintances.

    I do think it’s one of those things where everyone feels they are in the same boat, though. Trust me, you are not alone, and if Britmums is anything to go by, I thought you did a great job of being sociable and introducing yourself to people – much braver than me!

    • Caro / Nov 5 2013

      Thank you Chloe 🙂 Although I enjoyed Britmums, I found the level of effort very exhausting, but I’m glad that I obviously didn’t come across as some kind of odd ball! I find meeting people through blogging tough though because I’m not very good at blogging! As I said above, I still find Twitter difficult and I simply don’t put in the level of effort required to really make something of my blog. When. I go to blog related events, I then feel shy because no one recognises me from my blog or Twitter etc. So even in those kind of situations I feel like everyone knows each other better than I do!

      We probably are all in the same boat, some are just stringer paddlers than others. I need to stop over thinking things, stop making assumptions that other people have this wonderfully easy time of making friends, and stop caring quite so much what people think of me! And of course you’re right that having children in common isn’t necessarily the key to a successful friendship anyway.

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