Standing Alone at a Birthday Party (Don’t Do It!)

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I recently attended a birthday party for one of my son’s classmates. Since our kids are only turning four this year, the parents generally stick around the party.

Because we are all working parents with our kids in daycare, I have not gotten to know many of these parents. We hurriedly rush through drop off and pick up, focused on getting in and out versus chatting with each other. I can tell you which face corresponds with which kid that is on a similar schedule to me, but that’s about it.

I arrived at the party and sent Austin off to play with the kids. His departure left me feeling immediately naked. While there were several groups of moms standing around chatting, I could not bring myself to approach anyone. As I looked around, I would periodically make eye contact with someone, but no one seemed to encourage approach. Everyone seemed engrossed where they were.

The longer I stood alone, the more I circled in my mind. I grumbled at myself for not being able to attend more of the parties earlier in the year. I decided all of the moms already know each other. I decided that our daycare is full of cliques and that no one wants to talk to the single mom. Yeah, I made all of these assumptions in the first three minutes.

I fidgeted with my bag, my phone, and moved my son’s belongings around from pile to pile. I stared at the clock.

I made myself miserable for over an hour.

While helping our kids get settled with cake, another mom started talking to me. She was one of the women that seemed so in sync with the other parents earlier in the party.

One of the first things out of her mouth? How she doesn’t really know anyone. We connected about work schedules, about school and daycare, and the isolation we feel as working parents, and about birthdates and when to start kindergarten. We discussed our struggle getting our kids interested in doing homework – and why do they have homework at three? When are we supposed to get homework done?

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Feeling encouraged by that conversation, it was easier to push myself to take the first step with other moms throughout the afternoon. I met some people with whom I really got along, and a few with whom I missed the mark … and I survived all of it.

Meeting other moms is scary – in a lot of ways, it is like dating all over again. But at this party, I constructed the barriers for myself, and I was responsible for the isolation I was experiencing. Many of the other parents there were in the same situation as me, just trying to find a place to land and not feel awkward while standing alongside the party.

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I have made these promises to myself for the next school event:

  • I will not judge someone simply for not smiling. It does not necessarily mean that they are unfriendly. People are shy, distracted, and quite frankly, thinking about things other than making sure I feel welcome.
  • I will not stand on my own for more than five minutes. Our kids are together all day at school – there are plenty of ice breakers.
  • I will not feel badly if I do not make a connection with someone. Not everyone I meet has to be my best friend.

I will still be nervous walking into these events, but there is only an upside to putting myself out there.

What about you? Do you find it easy to meet new parents? What are your tips?

What do you think?

Standing Alone at a Birthday Party (Don’t Do It!)

Tracy Jensen is a writer, marketer, mother, fundraiser, marathoner, and music lover. A working, single mom of two kids ages six and five, she is notorious for doing things the hard way. In addition to writing for EverydayFamily, she survives suburban exile by blogging about life’s foibles at It Builds Character. She can be found at night ignoring the dishes and playing on Twitter. ... More

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7 comments

  1. Profile photo of Ron Ron says:

    Nice article.

  2. Profile photo of Lindsay Lindsay says:

    Being a stay-at-home mom means I don’t talk to anyone else beside my 9 month old. I’m trying to get out more and find things where she can play with other kids and I can learn to break out of my shell and talk to other moms, such as the library. This article makes me wonder how I act and seem to other parents. I’m not generally shy, but being a new mom does make me nervous to be around other parents that always seem to know what they are doing more than me. I will make a point to be more approachable and to approach those parents that seem to have these jitters in the future. Great article!!

    • Profile photo of Megan KlayEditor Megan Klay says:

      While other parents may seem like they have it together, everyone has their struggles! If they aren’t worrying/nervous now, then they’ve definitely been there. Good luck!

  3. Profile photo of Cody Cody says:

    I loved how you described meeting new moms is like dating but honestly I found a husband faster than I made friends! I lived in our area for almost 2 years and my son was 3 months before I found a group. I desperately looked on craigslist and tried to join local Facebook groups but wow these moms were judgy and worse than some of the girls I went to highschool with. I finally found a decent group that I see now and then but I still find I spend a lot of time alone with my son. At least as a working mom you get to be out with other people but it’s really hard when you have no interaction with the outside world.

  4. Profile photo of nancyk nancyk says:

    So true! I find myself hiding behind my children all the time. They can take the pressure off of any situation, so when they are off doing their own thing and we are left to our own devices it can be scary. I’ve done the same thing – fiddled with my phone and tried to appear very busy. The bad part is that by appearing “so busy” I made myself less approachable. The next time I am in this situation I will just try to embrace it. Maybe I’ll make a new friend, too.

  5. Profile photo of pumpkin pumpkin says:

    little man is almost 1 now, and thankfully a ton of my other friends have kids so we usually get together for playdates… when i had him in swim class, a friend and i signed our kids up together so we knew we would have someone to chat with…

    but after reading this article the grim reality is that this will not always be the case… there are age gaps, school district differences, and im the “almost stay at home mom” (i wait tables 4 nights a week so i can stay with my kid all day) and most of my other friends do work dayjobs

    thank you for sharing this, like i said this never even really crossed my mind… thankfully im pretty good at talking to complete strangers, but that doesnt mean i like it XD

  6. Profile photo of Candice Candice says:

    I need to read this every time I am about to walk into one of those situations. I’m just like you, and probably worse because I’m standing alone AND probably not smiling at others because I think if they approach me, I won’t have anything interesting to say to them…ugh. Such an introvert.

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