When you’re a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), public play/meet-up groups are a God-send. They let your child interact with peers and new toys, and they might occasionally mean the difference between A. sobbing in an exhausted heap while your little darling pours baby powder on you, and B. (intermittently) sitting with a cup of coffee and exchanging actual grown-up words with actual grown-up people.
Maybe you’ll even make a new mommy friend!
The problem with public play groups, though, is that the conversations can sort of suck. Not only are your interlocutors all as tired as you, but every sentence will get interrupted at least three times so that one of you can kiss a boo-boo, change a diaper, accompany a potty dash, answer a (series of random) question(s), or mediate a dispute over a plastic zebra while you both try to defer to the other one’s kid (“No, no, it’s fine. She needs to learn to share.”).
Plus, you’re as likely as not to have little in common aside from having recently procreated. So how do you find your new mommy friend? What do grown ups talk about again? Where do you even begin?
As a public play group veteran, I would guess that the single most common way to start chatting with a strange parent is: “How old is he/she?” It’s the Mommy Group equivalent of “You come here often?” It also might be the most unavoidably natural segue from gazing silently at someone else’s kid to actually interacting with that kid’s parent.
Maybe because that’s in fact probably what you’re wondering. (New-parent brains commonly begin automatically assessing the ages of random small children.) Or maybe you’re just grasping for more specific kid-related topics to discuss, and age can tell you a lot about that parent’s day-to-day.
Whatever the reason, don’t worry if you find yourself starting a lot of conversations this way. But do try to next advance the thread toward something potentially interesting to the person you’re talking to rather than pivoting immediately to a comparison with your own child at that age. (That’s harder than it sounds, because if you’re like me, this new age-guessing mechanism proceeds involuntarily to correlate your baby’s developmental data with that of other babies.)
Anyway, here are some alternative…
Mommy Group Pick-up Lines
1. I’m getting a refill. You want a coffee or tea?
That’s right: the mommy group version of “Can I buy you a drink?” Only much more appealing than the latter normally is. Chances are, this person would very much like a coffee/tea. And if she has one already, she doesn’t remember where she set it. And even if she does, it’s cold by now.
2. Her shoes are so cute!
Or some such child compliment. Look for details, especially if they require parental effort. Prepare a follow-up question or comment: “Is it handmade?”, “How do you get her to sit still while you braid her hair? I use Tom & Jerry.“, “Kudos on the matching socks! I’m starting to think my baby eats hers.”
Of course, you can also remark on some behavioral attribute, like “My she’s a good eater!” or “Look how well he’s cruising! He’ll be walking soon.” As long as you’re ok with potentially setting off anxiety mines or comparative banter. Maybe this mom is concerned about her daughter’s appetite and how quickly she’s mounting the growth chart. Or maybe you’ll now get to hear about how her son ranks in the 97th percentile in terms of gross motor skills.
3. Hey, what’s your favorite playground/ local kid-friendly outing?
This way, even if there’s no chemistry, you might get useful tips about what to do with your kiddos on non-playgroup days. Plus this one is rich with potential tangents, like “Oh, do you live near that park? Good slides.”, or “I’ve been meaning to get the kids to Train World! Is it fun?” (Oh, it is, by the way. If you’re ever in Brussels with (or without) your kids, go.) And if the two of you hit it off, you can always suggest meeting up sometime at the playground or kids’ destination in question.
4. Pssst. I brought some c-double o-k-i-e-s. They’re in the tin by the coffee maker if you want one. I’ll spot you.
Food sharing always builds community. It’s certainly not required for play groups, but it’s nice. Just don’t just leave baked goods openly within reach/ view of kids. You never know who’s allergic or intolerant to what, or whose appetite for broccoli-quinoa bites and fresh-cut carrot sticks will be spoiled.
On that note, it’s also nice to bring extra broccoli-quinoa bites and fresh-cut carrot sticks (or kiddie cheesy poofs and animal crackers) to offer to the kids staring at your kids while they eat. Just ask their moms or pops first, not second.
5. Anyone know where I can get a good baby carrier/ rocking chair/ random mommy item?
Like with #3, you might learn something useful, especially if it’s not just an excuse to speak. It’s usually safe to compare notes on hypothetical parenting gear, but be smart, observe details, and pose your questions accordingly. (Don’t, for example, ask a bottle-feeding momma about breast pumps.)
Look, I know. Not exactly the most riveting conversation starters. But trust me, during the play group years, you’re not going to have “read any good books lately” or seen that recent Coen brothers film or tried the new Italian bistro down the street. So aside from the weather and how much you’d like a nap right now, kid talk is a solid launching pad. And as much as you think you’d like to talk about something besides babies, chances are babies are what you’re most likely to have semi-coherent thoughts on right now. And that’s ok, because unlike your childless friends, these people feel the same way.
The best news is: here no one will judge you if you just want to sit quietly in a corner blankly staring into space.
Either way, good luck!