Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

Meeting Other Moms: Lessons of Meetup.com

by Kristen Suzanne in family, home school, kamea, Kristen Suzanne

I’m not much of a social butterfly, though I pretend to be one sometimes (because deep down I wish I were more extroverted). But I’m a mom now, and, well, Kamea needs more human interaction than just from her parents, right? Add homeschooling to the equation and the pressure increases to expose her to people and situations so she doesn’t grow up to be a hermit.

Therefore, the hunt to do more with others began for us.

Kamea learning science. Homeschool.

Kamea learning science. Homeschool.

To start, it seemed like a good idea to enroll Kamea is various classes where she could learn skills, enjoy herself, experience new activities, and meet other kiddos. I put her in classes like music, gymnastics, dance, swim, etc, but I learned that in those structured environments it’s kind of difficult to really meet and get to know the other kids. Not to mention it’s hard to strike up a conversation with other parents who usually have their noses in their smart phones. Err… not that I would ever do this myself.

So, I did what I always do when I’m trying to figure something out… I went to the internet. It works for most things, including introducing me to my husband years ago (thanks, eharmony!), so why not see if I can learn how to make more friends for us with it?

Enter: Meetup.com

Meetup.com a way to meet others.

For those who don’t already know, Meetup.com is a pretty nifty site where you can set up a free account, click on your interests whether they’re camping, paleo foods, fitness, nature, coffee, reading, french films, bowling, homeschooling, moms, basket weaving, or anything… then put in the number of miles you’re willing to travel for meeting others with similar interests, and, voila(!), you see groups of people for those interests you selected. You submit a request to join whichever groups look promising, wait to be notified if you’ve been accepted, and then go meet up with some like-minded peeps. Pretty brilliant, huh? Well, yeah it is, and I’ve learned a few things as I navigated the process.

My overall experience with using Meetup.com to find other people with whom I have something in common has been pretty satisfactory. It’s designed to introduce you to others, so take comfort in knowing that everyone on there is trying to meet other people… versus say… going to the park with your little one and wondering if you should strike up some conversation with other parents… also always immersed in their phones’ virtual worlds.

When you join a group from Meetup.com and then go to an event, everyone is going to meet each other, and have a similar interest, so it makes it a lot easier. Interestingly, however, I learned on more than a few occasions that just because people are meeting up from a Meetup.com event doesn’t mean you’ll all end up meeting up. For example, there are times people listed events but when I arrived I had no idea where the group was or how to find them. So here’s a pointer: Via the website, be sure to ask exactly where the group will be meeting or what they’re planning to wear so you can spot them (and give them a clue as to how to spot you). I had these visions that I’d show up at the park or museum and there’d be a group of people with a big neon MEETUP poster or sign like a driver waiting to pick you up at the airport. Nope. (Note to Meetup event organizers: Bring a sign.)

I’ve also learned that not all of the groups are as fitting as you might think. In my effort to meet other moms ‘n kids (so both Kamea and I can make friends — community is one of THE most important factors for longevity), I’ve had success, but not every time. A couple of the meetup groups I joined were simply groups of “moms,” with no additional qualifiers. Meaning all we have in common is parenthood. While that’s a lot more than nothing, sometimes it’s just not enough.

I remember going to one meetup at someone’s house where the moms gathered with their little ones. It seemed sweet enough until I realized that I was probably the oldest mom. Ok, not such a big deal as I might be older, but I’m wiser too, eh? Huh, well, two of the moms were chatting next to me relaying a story of how (gasp!) they knew a woman who was trying to get pregnant at… 40 years of age! “OhMerGersh! I, like, cannot imagine, what is she thinking?!” Oy.  The horror. Here I am, approaching 40 one of these years in the near future, and err, well I’m open to getting pregnant at 40. Listening to this conversation and then looking around at all the bushy-tailed, bright-eyed young moms who didn’t need concealer under their eyes, because they don’t have circles under their eyes because, like, they’re so young. Well, maybe this group wasn’t ideal for me. But wait, I’m being selfish, aye? Maybe Kamea could still make friends? Yeah, maybe, but I gotta go on these playdates so it’d be nice if we were both really enjoying ourselves.

And then you can probably guess what’s coming… there’s the whole food thing. Which always rears its head because, in our country, kids + snacks go hand-in-hand at all times. What?… Me finicky? … Let’s just say that I know that my family doesn’t eat what a lot of families do. Frankly, I don’t mind sharing that with other moms so they can stop offering their goldfish crackers or “blue” flavored HFCS not-juice to my girl. Now, socially speaking, derailing the poison train isn’t my favorite thing to do. It can offend people and I appreciate that. I could always play it off (i.e.,  lie) like Kamea’s got some food allergy but aside from the dishonesty part, deep down, a part of me wants other moms, shoveling McDonald’s and goldfish crackers into their kids’ mouths, to see that, no, not all kids eat shit.

I returned home from a few meetup events with a heavy heart. Here I was, actually making an effort to meet people, and it seemed easy enough… yet I felt like I was striking out. After all, I want to enjoy the experience and I want Kamea to have fun with some like-minded people. That’s not to say we must have everything in common, but healthy lifestyle is very important to me so, in my ideal dreamworld, we’d be hanging out with others who shared some of the same values. Oh, I don’t know…. maybe something like a bunch of moms sitting around the kitchen table clanking bone broth filled mugs, sharing stories of home births, while our kids played with wood toys together. Is that too much to ask? Probably.

The way things were going, I had just about resigned myself to the to the fact that I probably wouldn’t be rushing out to tons of events. But I didn’t give up. In fact, on the advice of my good friend, Joanna, I was just about to start my own Meetup.com group, titled something like “RealFood Moms” or “Healthy Living Moms” or “My Kid Doesn’t Eat McDonalds Moms.” But, just before I took the plunge on creating my own group, I went to a park date through one of the Meetup.com groups for Homeschooling that I had joined long ago. Even though I hadn’t been to any of this group’s events yet (most are for kids older than Kamea), I had still followed the group’s activities to get homeschooling ideas for future reference. But for this event, it turned out that some of the homeschooling moms in the group were starting park play dates for kids of any age. Huh. Moms + Homeschooling = a group that I have more than one thing in common. And we all know that things like homeschooling often correlate with other stuff I’m into. I thought this might have potential. Indeed it did!

Kamea wearing her princess dress with new friends.

Kamea wearing her princess dress with new friends.

I remember that first park play date as fondly as I do my first date with my husband. I had been starving for some social connection and so I was totally gaga for these other parents with whom, it turned out, I had TONS in common. Like freaky bizarre random but apparently not-random things in common. We all talked and talked and talked, effortlessly, for hours. I went home with a glow and a renewed sense of hope. I counted on two hands the number of moms I met and couldn’t wait to see again. I had found my tribe!

Since that park meetup, my family’s life has been seriously enriched. I’ve now been to many other events with the same group. It’s not always the same people attending since the group is huge (over 200 members), but it’s still awesome and we continue to grow our circle of friends. Phew! What a relief. I’m sure we don’t have everything in common (there might be some Fox News viewers in there and that’s OK, I think…), but we usually have at least a couple of important things in common, which is a great start, and much more than I found I had in common with plain vanilla “mom” groups.

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