How to Make Meaningful Mom Friends Online
You have a kid? I have a kid. Let's be friends.
To say that the past year of COVID-related lockdowns, quarantine, and social distancing measures have left Americans—especially mothers—feeling an innate and almost debilitating sense of loneliness is a gross understatement. Motherhood was isolating before the onset of a literal plague—now, moms are more sequestered from their support systems than arguably ever before. One 2020 joint AEI COVID-19 and American Life survey found that 42% of parents report feeling isolated or lonely a few times or more per week, and 51% of mothers say they feel depressed at least a few times in a week.
If it truly does take a village to raise a family, then our villages have become *that* much harder to tap into during the era of social distancing and quarantining. Thankfully, there are still ways to make meaningful mom friends in a digital world. As the CEO and co-founder of HeyMama, a private online community for working and entrepreneurial moms, I have seen firsthand how heartfelt, reciprocated, and sustainable connections can be cultivated during a time of profound isolation and separation.
After a year living in a pandemic-dominated world, I'm hopeful that learning how to foster meaningful connections digitally will only lead to more sustainable and fulfilling friendships in the future. That's why I connected with a friendship expert to find out how moms can make friends online now and always.
Why try to make mom friends right now?
If you're a mom, I don't have to tell you how overwhelming and exhausting the last year has been. After all, we've lived it. We're still living it. A reported 35% of moms feel burnout all or most of the time, according to Motherly's State of Moms 2020 survey. So the idea of adding "find a friend" to our never-ending to-do list can feel daunting, to say the least. But Dr. Miriam Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist and friendship expert who has spent a decade studying the science of friendship, says it's more than worth it.
"Remember that feeling connected to other people, especially our friends, is not at odds with our other relationships and responsibilities," she tells HelloGiggles. "We need to remind ourselves that actually, feeling connected with the people around us has benefits across the board."
In fact, decades of research have shown significant evidence to support the theory that social support and connection can help control one's blood sugar, decrease depressive symptoms, mitigate post-traumatic stress disorder, and improve overall mental health. At a time when COVID-19 has only exacerbated the ongoing mental health crisis in this country, friendship is, arguably, more important than ever before.
"One very small but helpful change can be to shift our 'have-tos' into 'want-tos,'' Dr. Kirmayer says. "It's very easy to go to that place of, 'Okay, here are all the things on my to-do list and I have to do this today and I have to take care of that and I must be on top of everything otherwise it's too overwhelming. But the minute we can have these subtle shifts in our language and say, 'I want to' or, 'It will be helpful to' or, ''I am prioritizing this because,' that actually ends up being far more motivating because that reduces the pressure."
How do I start out finding friends and online social circles?
There are a few important questions to ask yourself before you even start looking for online mom friends and other virtual community groups.
"A really important question to ask ourselves is, 'What needs do I have right now in my life that are not necessarily being fulfilled by the connections that I have or by my existing social circles," Dr. Kirmayer explains. These needs vary, of course, depending on the person and where they're at in life, but can include: emotional needs, practical needs, or the desire to share a certain part of yourself, your identity, or your life with someone else.
Another question to ask is what types of online activities are available that can help you meet people who will meet the specific needs or needs you have identified. "[This is a] really helpful starting point for figuring out the kinds of activities and experiences and places or virtual spaces that we [want to] pursue to try to connect with somebody new," Dr. Kirmayer says. "So that's one potential helpful question to ask."
It's also vital that you're honest with yourself about your bandwidth and what you can bring to the table, since the foundation of any worthwhile and long-lasting friendship is reciprocity.
"There is no expiration date on when we can make friends and connect with people, and if this just isn't something that is possible right now, that's okay," Dr. Kirmayer notes. "Ideally, we want to be in a place where we are ready to make that commitment because it is a commitment: showing up time and time again, investing in our friendships, getting in that frequency that is so important for not just an initial connection but turning an acquaintance into a friend. The last thing I would want to do is encourage someone to put themselves in a situation where they're going to feel increasingly burnt out."
Where can I go online to find and make friends?
There are a number of online communities, apps, and virtual classes one can join, use, and take to help facilitate genuine situations in which a friendship can be cultivated. Peanut, for example, is a social networking app geared towards moms and those trying to conceive. HeyMama (shameless plug) is an online community geared towards working and entrepreneurial moms who want support in motherhood and in their careers.
There is also a slew of online cooking classes, baking classes, online dance classes, virtual playdates, Facebook groups, and other online communities that bring like-minded people together to share conversations, experiences, and everything in-between.
"I also find that especially now people are finding a lot of comfort in finding that online sense of community," Dr. Kirmayer says, "and that can be done through finding different virtual experiences."
How do I make sure my online friendships thrive?
It's important to remember that it's about quality, not quantity, when it comes to friendships. And while there's a pervasive idea that friendships should be effortless and, if they are not, something is wrong with us or they're simply not worth the time. In reality, they're investments that require continued participation by all parties involved.
"Relationships and connections of any kind don't just unfold passively," Dr. Kirmayer explains. "Friendships that are most likely to get off the ground, so to speak, are those where we are able and committed to seeing or speaking to each other on a somewhat regular basis. That can look quite different depending on the friendship in question. Sometimes that means we speak a couple of times a week, sometimes that means we speak a couple of times a month—but getting in that frequency and that regularity is what allows us to build closeness over time."
Another vital component to maintaining friendships is vulnerability. And while this certainly doesn't mean you have to open up immediately or share your deepest, darkest secrets with relative strangers, the willingness to share specific aspects of your life is an important step in maintaining a friendship long-term.
"Letting someone into our lives and engaging in this process that we call 'self-disclosure' is how we build that emotional connection and how we build that sense of emotional trust and intimacy," Dr. Kirmayer says. "And that's often what separates our friends from our acquaintances—when we're really able to talk about what's going on in our lives.
What if I fail to make or maintain a meaningful friendship online?
Just like we're told friendships should just fall into our laps, we're often told that meaningful friendships should last forever. But again, that is not a message rooted in reality.
"This is another point of personalization that we very easily jump to—that phrase of, 'Well, there's something wrong with me, I've done something wrong, and I'm a bad friend,' as opposed to normalizing the reality that friendships do end and friendships end all the time and this is one of those life experiences that so many of us are going through, yet so few people are talking about," Dr. Kirmayer explains.
If your friendship doesn't work out or doesn't last long-term, do not see it as a failure, but as a learning experience and an investment that will yield results in the future. Give yourself the grace to allow yourself to live through the myriad of friendship outcomes: some good, some bad.
Most of all, remember that regardless of the outcome, connection with other people is worth the time and energy. And so are you.