I want to tell you a story about the importance of making friends as a mother. It happened almost five years ago but the memory is still fresh in my heart.
As I pushed the huge red stroller through the narrow streets of Delft, I had plenty of questions floating around in my mind. The most prominent of them was Why am I even doing this? Due to an insane turn of fate, I was on my way to see a woman I’d never met before. I didn’t even know how she looked like.
Everyone needs a tribe
In normal circumstances, such a situation would be inconceivable to me. I’m shy, socially awkward and heavily introverted. Visiting a person I didn’t know went against each and every one of my instincts. But I knew that, if I wanted to survive parenting two kids in a foreign country, that this was necessary. I had learned this truth in the hardest way possible.
For a while, I was happy with the few friends I had made through language classes and my daughter’s daycare. I thought that this was enough. I told myself that I was doing fine and even started believing it myself.
Then I had a rather traumatic encounter with a woman I had nick-named The Witch. She saw me from the window of her house when my eldest daughter had a temper tantrum, and tried to “help” by calling the police. Luckily, all ended well. The police arrived but after realizing this is not a case of child abuse, left quickly- and so did The Witch. However, this situation left me traumatized and afraid.
This was the moment I knew I couldn’t do it alone. What I really needed was a network of friends, a tribe to belong to.
I signed up for the closest play date possible, packed both girls into their double stroller and went.
Random thoughts on the way
The walk wasn’t a pleasant one. I shuddered slightly when my mind brought up the memory of The Witch. My toddler was screaming, my baby was crying. Many times I wanted to turn around and go home, back to being fine on the surface and miserable inside. Instead, I put one foot in front of the other and went on. I made myself go because I knew that this was necessary.
Of course, I asked myself even more questions as I walked. For example, What will I say? This was a tricky one. I was scared I would arrive at the door and wouldn’t be able to make a single sound because of my nervousness. Usually, I like coming in prepared, knowing what to say but was not a usual situation. This was an emergency.
And what about the cake? Desperate to make a good impression on the hostess, I had baked the only thing I could manage under duress: banana bread. It’s simple and delicious and usually everyone loves it. But I worried anyway. The hostess was American and what would you think of someone who tried to make a dish from your country and failed miserably? What if she didn’t like it? What if the banana bread wasn’t perfect and the host was offended?
The culture shock of motherhood
I was so tired. It took me a while to adjust to a life in a new country, even with a few years of living abroad under my belt. And when I finally thought I had everything figured out, I had another baby. That experience was like moving abroad all over again. But this time I was somewhat smarter because I had learned the hard way that in a place you don’t belong in, you need people to belong with.
I contacted expat organisations in my city and started going to their playdates. They took place in the moms’ homes, with the hosts changing every week. I was desperate for connection, support and yes, information.
My first playgroup was hosted by an American woman called L. I didn’t know that at that time but our kids would hit it off really well and later share kibbeling (fried morsels of flaky soft white fish). I would be very sad to see her leave and go back to the US. Of course I didn’t know all of this or I would have flown over to Lisa’s place in a second.
With a little help from banana bread
Flying wasn’t an option though, so I walked there, anxious, scared and traumatized. I had no idea what to say or what to bring. I didn’t know anything except that this woman held the key to a magical group of other women who would have my back. No one told me that it would be necessary. But with every fibre of my being, I knew that this was my life jacket.
In the end, I shouldn’t have worried. I ringed the bell and L, a very kind-looking woman with a no-nonsense attitude opened the door and smiled. I looked at her, smiled back and said the first thing that came to my mind.
“Hi”, I said. “I’m Olga. I brought banana bread.” And just like that, I was in. Inside was a wonderful group of women who told me their stories and listened to mine with compassion and understanding. Later, we met at cafes, events, playgroups and moms’ night outs. One of them even helped me get a job as a trainer in intercultural communication.
Don’t hesitate and just do it.
The banana bread was gone when I left L.’s house. But the friendships it helped foster will last for a lifetime.
If you want to make friends as a new mom (and especially when you live abroad), don’t hesitate and just do it. All you need is a place to meet people, some courage, and possibly, a new baby or at least a child. And the banana bread wouldn’t hurt either.
Recipe for the friend-making banana bread coming up next week!