Winter Isn’t Over Yet

I really had to work hard not to put a sad face emoticon in that headline.

If you live in Chicagoland, then you probably woke up Monday morning, looked out the window, and felt your heart sink. I mean, you heard that it was going to snow, but you didn’t think it would snow that much. And, after several days of spring-like weather and outdoor fun at the park and the zoo, what do you do with a young child when you’ve spent a long winter exhausting all your indoor play options?

You read my piece, 10 Unexpected Places to Take a Toddler on a Cold or Rainy Day, over at Pick Any Two, one of my favorite mom blogs out there!

How to Make Mom Friends

Being a new mom can be lonely. Literally one minute you’re not a mom and the next you have this living thing that you have to feed and care for and keep alive — all while your hormones fluctuate wildly and the number of hours you sleep plummets. Then, a few weeks after your baby is born, your partner heads back to work, family members clear out, and you’re left alone in your home for eight-hour stretches at a time (or more) with a tiny creature who communicates by screaming.

It’s time to make mom friends.

How to make mom friends: Seven practical tips from BTDT moms to help you move past your comfort zone, strike up conversations and get to know other moms.

Here’s the great news: Becoming a mom is a rare point in our adult lives when people who are otherwise settled are ready and willing (and maybe a little desperate) to make new connections. All new moms need mom friends, and nothing bonds two sleep-deprived women faster than an intense discussion about feeding schedules and birth stories.

And yet, it can be hard to figure out how to make mom friends and daunting to push past your social comfort zone. But it’s worth the effort — mom friends help us stay sane and balanced during the ups and downs of raising children. They give you an outlet to discuss everything from swaddling to potty training to preschool and beyond. They say, “You’re a good mom,” when you need to hear it most. And they pass along wisdom and tips for making life more manageable (or they hang out with you in the chaos).

How to Make Mom Friends: 7 Practical Tips from Moms

To put together these “how to make mom friends” tips, I reached out to some IRL mom friends as well as a few of my favorite mom bloggers. I asked them how they make mom friends — in different stages of parenthood, when they’ve made a major move, or just when they feel like they need to expand their network. Several moms likened it to dating. A few of us had good conversations about the importance of connecting with other moms as a way to start to feel part of a larger community. I have also included my own thoughts and experiences. So whether you’re a brand new mom or you have older children, here are a few tips on how to make mom friends.

Tip 1: Join a group.

Groups for moms are readily available — online, offline and (likely) in your neighborhood.

If you’re pregnant or have a young child and are looking to connect online, Babycenter and The Bump are good places to start. They have online groups dedicated to every stage of pregnancy and early parenthood, as well as local groups.

My number one tip for making mom friends is to join groups! Online groups work especially well. I joined due date groups for both of my kids while pregnant. While the groups are online, there are several local moms that I have since met and established offline relationships with as well. These groups are a great source of support through pregnancy and all of your baby’s milestones and they are always available 24/7! I also join local Meetup groups in my neighborhood, which are great for getting out of the house, having play dates for my kids, and meeting other mom friends!”

Jen of Breastfeeding Needs

You can also find local mom groups on Facebook. Several communities set up private Facebook groups where you can ask for advice, sell or buy baby items, and get to know other moms in your area. Informal, on-the-fly playdates often arise from these groups. Consider posting that you’re heading to the neighborhood park once other moms have a sense of who you are. You might end up with a companion or two.

Meetup is a hotbed of moms groups. Many cities and neighborhoods have active Meetup.com groups for moms with young kids. Can’t find one in your neighborhood? Most groups welcome moms from surrounding areas, so check out nearby towns to see if there’s an active group. These groups host tons of activities, playdates, and even moms nights outs, and people will expect and be open to newbies showing up.

Some communities have larger groups and forums separate of Facebook or Meetup.com. For example, Chicago has the Neighborhood Parents Network, which includes online forums, events, resources, and more. Bump Club and Beyond is active in a handful of cities. Google or ask around to find out if there’s a local group you should be aware of.

If an already-tight-knit local moms group feels intimidating, how about checking out a group that coincides with another interest of yours? That will give you obvious common ground with other moms as well as an activity to focus on while you get comfortable.

I’ve met friends through Fit4Mom. Fit4Mom has Stroller Strides classes (a stroller fitness program) that caters primarily to moms who stay at home, but they also have moms-only fitness classes in the evenings and on weekends, and they host playdates and moms nights out. Mommy and me yoga or infant massage classes are options for moms with babies under six months. Or perhaps you’ve found a passion for (or just want to learn more about) a specific parenting topic. Babywearing International has chapters in several states, and so does La Leche League.

Don’t forget, your hospital likely has a group for new moms (and often has a lactation consultant attend them, so you can ask your breastfeeding questions, too). If you can’t find information online, call — hospital websites can be cumbersome. And if the hospital where you gave birth doesn’t have a group, check others nearby — they likely don’t require you to be a patient.

Join a group where you will meet other moms. My hospital had a postnatal class I went to for four weeks after my baby was born, and that’s where I met a few of my closest mom friends. And don’t be afraid to stalk them on Facebook. I did that with a woman I thought would be a good friend after I only met her once. It felt so strange, but she was grateful I looked her up and sharing on Facebook together really helped us solidify our friendship. I felt awkward for a few minutes as I searched her name initially, but it paid off sooooo much in creating a now close, dear mommy friend.”

Jennifer of A Splendid Messy Life

Tip 2: Put yourself out there.

This is easier said than done — I realize that. But I look at this in two ways: 1) You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by making the first move with another mom; and 2) Your desire to make mom friends is not unique. I don’t mean that to sound harsh, but if you’re looking to make friends, chances are that the mom you see at the park or Target or music class is wanting to connect as well and feels similarly shy about reaching out. She’ll likely appreciate you striking up a conversation, asking for her number, or suggesting you connect via Facebook.

Two of my good mom friends have moved across the country with their young children. Understanding that you have to push past your comfort zone if you want to meet people becomes even more critical if you’re new in town.

After moving to Tucson a year ago and knowing no one, I was on a serious hunt for friends. Not just for me, but my daughter, too. And after being a reporter for 10 plus years, I have no problem starting conversations with strangers — whether they like it or not. I honestly remember getting gas one day and thinking “that woman’s daughter looks about Ellie’s age. Maybe I should follow her and see if she lives near me.” Hello crazy stalker lady! Ultimately, I have found the best way to make mom friends is by enrolling your child in some sort of activity. I’ve met some really wonderful ladies through Ellie’s school and her gymnastics class. All the moms instantly have something in common — we’re all dealing with the joys and horrors of raising a 3-year-old. Ellie’s teacher was really wonderful and helped make an introduction to a mom she thought I’d hit it off with, and we totally did. So don’t fear a little match-making. And the gymnastics class has the added benefit of being hands-off for moms, so we get in some quality chat time while waving to our kiddos through the glass windows.

Gena, Mommy Sanest contributor and freelance journalist

Be more assertive than you might normally be. We lived in three different places before my daughter was 18 months old. By that time I’d figured out that a casual meeting at the park or library could turn into a friend, especially if you have similar-aged children and live nearby. But you have to capitalize on the situation. Three months after I’d moved to our current home, I was walking my dog with my daughter and we happened across a family sitting outside their house. Their daughter looked to be about the same age, so I stopped to talk to them. It turned out there was only a one month age difference and we lived less than a half mile away. We exchanged numbers and we’ve now had several play dates. I’m not sure I would have run into her again by chance (soon after that the weather turned cold), so it was important that we exchanged numbers at that first meeting. I’m not that aggressive by nature, so it’s taken me a little out of my comfort zone to ask for someone’s number after one meeting. It feels a little like dating!

— Mom to a two-year-old daughter

Here’s another great example: My sister and her husband took a pretty big risk putting themselves out there when they threw my nephew’s second birthday. They’re also relatively new in town, and they decided to invite everyone from our daycare to the birthday party. We go to a home daycare with about 10 kids who are all close in age. I think it was incredibly courageous on their part — it can be nerve racking and I’m sure they worried about the other parents thinking it was weird or not wanting to come (we all worry about this stuff!). Three-quarters of the daycare showed up, and it ended up being a great opportunity to finally formally meet and talk with parents who we had previously only seen in passing. If you’re willing to put the invitation out there, people often will accept.

But you don’t have to be new in town, and striking up conversations with other moms can be casual. Tune into what’s going on around you — you’ll likely notice moms with similarly-aged children seem eager to chat. Have an easy, go-to opening line. When I see a mom whose child is close in age to my daughter, I ask, “How old is your little one?” It’s a good line because it can easily lead to a conversation or just be an off-handed question with a quick answer, but it gives you a chance to see if the other mom is interested in chatting.

I treat finding mommy friends similar to how I sought out my husband. Being open to talking with others when out and about and observing if we had any initial similar traits (a good sense of humor, laid back style of parenting, positive outlook). Oh and the best FREE places to make new mommy friends are the park and library!

Amanda of Queen of the Land of Twigs n’ Berries (a local blog for Chicago-area moms)

Don’t be afraid to approach a fellow mom and ask to exchange numbers! This would be mostly from the stay-at-home mom perspective, but also as a new mom — without work, school, etc., it becomes really hard to be in scenarios where you’re introduced to someone. One of my closest friends right now I met at the grocery store. She had a baby the same age, and thank goodness we approached each other and agreed to exchange numbers.

Nikki of MBA SAHM

Finally, when I went back to work full time after having my daughter, I felt like the opportunity to meet and bond with other new moms was slipping away. With the added pressures of balancing work with raising a baby and maintaining a household, it seemed impossible to make these new relationships a priority. But, I knew that I wanted to strengthen my network of moms who could empathize with my situation. And knowing that time is always at a premium for parents of young children, I decided to make an effort to seek out other new moms at my workplace.

Striking up conversations with other moms at work isn’t typically too far outside of most people’s comfort zones. But when these chats turned into longer conversations, they’d often end with a passing suggestion of lunch. I used to write these offers off as a polite way to exit a pleasant conversation, but I decided to start making good on them. Once I got over the initial hesitation of sending a follow-up email, I became more proactive with my invitations. I ended up with a few regular lunch dates, women I could commiserate with about work and motherhood, and some new allies at my company.

Tip 3: Go where moms go.

Some moms don’t feel comfortable actively seeking out friends or making the first move, but just going where other moms go will often naturally lead to meeting new people, even if your kids are the ones who initially make the connection.

My number one tip for making mommy friends is to go to the park. As a playground regular, you will start to see familiar faces and gradually get to know other families. And as you begin to teach your child how to interact other kids (Hi, what’s your name? Nice to meet you!) — you will end up modeling this behavior for your child, too, as you chat with caregivers. If you remember, bring along an extra set of sand toys or bubbles to share.

Jennifer of Flying Pinwheel Designs (adorable birthday party print-ables)

You’ll inevitably be surrounded by other moms and kiddos at the park, the library, indoor play cafes, and the zoo. You can also sign up your kiddo up for classes (think music, gymnastics, dance, soccer) where you’re guaranteed to be in the same place at the same time with moms of similar-aged children.

Tip 4: Don’t discount Facebook or your current circle of friends.

I was talking to one of my closest friends about her experience making mom friends. Our group of friends from the city has dispersed in every direction around Chicagoland, but we were very lucky that several of our pre-kid friends had children around the same time we did.

Even though we don’t live in the same ‘hood anymore, this has been a tremendous support system — nearly every one of us has had a friend on a similar pregnancy and birth timeline, and we’ve had the mamas who went before us there to provide wisdom and reassurance. Even though it’s nice (and necessary) to have mom friends in close proximity, text messages, Google chats, and phone calls from mom friends you’ve known since before you were a mom are worthwhile too.

Your Facebook network is another great resource when you want to make mom friends. My friend pointed out that she recently reconnected with an old friend when they realized (via Facebook, of course) that they were both pregnant with similar due dates — they suddenly had new common ground after having lost touch for a few years and are now in regular contact. When my sister moved to Illinois, it turned out that one of her Facebook friends, a contact from high school in Ohio, lived 10 minutes away from her new home. Not only that, she has a little boy the same age as my nephew. Finally (last Facebook example, I promise), with the help of Facebook, I realized that one of the women in my Fit4Mom Body Back class knew a very good friend of mine from college. This added connection gave us even more to talk about when we were first getting to know each other.

Tip 5: Keep in touch with the pregnant ladies you meet when you’re a mom-to-be.

When you’re pregnant with first child, you likely have something that you won’t have once that kid gets here: Time. Time to do things like go to prenatal yoga and birth classes and cloth diapering workshops (or whatever), where you’ll meet other moms-to-be.

Get their numbers. Friend them on Facebook. Keep in touch. I met one of my neighborhood mom friends at a prenatal yoga class, and I know plenty of women who put together moms groups with the women they met in birth classes. Even if you’re only going to a couple of hospital classes (rather than a longer-term class dedicated to a particular birthing method, like the Bradley Method or other natural birth class), if you find out a mom-to-be lives nearby, get her information. Send her a text after you both give birth to see how she’s doing, and see if she’s up for sitting around and feeding babies together.

Tip 6: It really is kind of like dating…

And just like you didn’t marry every potential partner you had dinner with, you’re not going to be best friends forever with every mom.

That’s OK. Some of these connections might end up being causal friends (or friends of convenience for a period of time), others might just be acquaintances. But if you’re lucky (and you probably will be), one or two or a maybe even a handful will become friends for the long haul.

All of these connections have value. If you’re putting down roots in a new neighborhood or want to feel more connected to a community, it’s great to know names and recognize friendly faces and be able to say hello at the local farmers market. Keep in mind, people connect differently at different points in their lives — the mom you didn’t click with at the park might become your ally during some PTO drama 10 years from now.

You never know, and it’s worth keeping an open mind, which brings me to…

Tip 7: Let go of preconceived notions.

Two people actually gave me tips that spoke to this idea of not having preconceived notions about other moms, and it really struck a cord with me. Here’s why: When you’re a parent, you have to make choices all the time. And when you’re a new mom, every single choice feels like a major, earth-shattering, sink-or-swim, screw-my-child-up-for-life or raise-a-well-adjusted-kid decision — and moreover, some people (I’m looking at you, Internet) would have us believe that whatever choices you make, you are in direct opposition to parents who are making different choices. It truly doesn’t have to be like this. We’re all in this together, trying to do the best for our kids, our families, and ourselves. Remind yourself when you start to fall down the rabbit hole of self-doubt and judgment (they go hand and hand, and it will happen) that there are lots of right choices — they just aren’t all right for you.

Share a bottle of wine. I’m only half-joking, but the best thing you can do is let your guard down. We moved to a new neighborhood almost two years ago when our son was about 10 months old. It took me a while to make friends because I commute into the city every day, and many of the moms in our neighborhood, who have kids the same age, stay at home. It took me a little while to let my guard down because I assumed the stay-at-home moms judged me for dropping my son off at daycare every day and working. It’s only recently that I started to realize we’re all in the same boat. We all have similar worries, frustrations. We’re moms. So share a bottle of wine, swap stories, laugh, and you’ll start to make a new friend in no time.

— Mom of a toddler

I think that for any mom, it is important to be open to the parenting styles of other moms. Moms can learn a lot from well, moms! Yes it’s nice to surround yourself with moms who are similar, but if you’re a mom, you know that every child is different, making every mom different. I believe that if you go into a relationship open-minded, you are going to get more out of it.

Jules of One Ruud Mom

Do you have other tips on how to make mom friends? Do you find connecting with other moms to be easy, or do you struggle to push past your comfort zone?

A Visit to Little Beans Cafe in Evanston

It’s relatively well-established that I love toddler-friendly playspaces. My two-year-old easily entertains herself and there’s usually coffee and free wi-fi for me — win-win!

Unfortunately, in the suburbs of Chicago, playspaces and play cafes are few and far between, so when my family was invited to check out the new Little Beans Cafe in Evanston before it opened to the public, we of course said yes.

Put Little Beans Cafe in Evanston on your toddler's bucket list: There's so much to see and do including a huge play space, a cafe, a "ninja-style" obstacle course, a karaoke room, a gym, and more!

This is the second location for Little Beans Cafe — the location in the city has been open for several years, but since we live in the suburbs, we’ve never actually been, so I had no idea what to expect from Little Beans Evanston. What we saw blew us away.

First of all, the playspace is HUGE. Emme was immediately off and playing. Cafe tables are set up around the parameter of playspace where parents can sip coffee while their little one explores. Want to guess where I was hanging out?

Little Beans Cafe in Evanston

Emme surveys the playspace.

Little Beans Cafe in Evanston

The General Store was Em’s favorite part.

Little Beans Cafe in Evanston

There’s a great tot-sized climbing structure, which was a big hit with Emme as well.

The space also has a separate section for crawlers and a room for babies that includes comfortable chairs for nursing mamas. Always a plus.

But wait! There’s more!

Little Beans Cafe in Evanston has way more, including a “ninja-style” obstacle course perfect for older kids. We couldn’t resist letting Emme give some of the equipment a try (with her daddy close by).

Little Beans Cafe in Evanston

Daddy helping Em across a climbing net. In the background you can see the zip line that hovers above a pit filled with foam cubes. Yes. I said a zip line.

Little Beans Cafe in Evanston

Little Beans Cafe in Evanston

Emme bounces across the bosu balls.

Little Beans Cafe in Evanston

Opposite the obstacle course area is a half-court gymnasium complete with basketball hoop. There’s also an arts and crafts room, a few multipurpose spaces, and a karaoke room <— A karaoke room!

Little Beans Cafe in Evanston opened to the public last week and is a great location for Chicago-area families in northern and Northshore suburbs — a must-do for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and even older kids.

Toddler To-do List: Fall Wrap Up

Fall doesn’t technically end until December 20, but our toddler to-do list included mostly seasonal activities. So now that we’ve officially kicked off the holidays, it’s probably time to revisit our list.

Time flies when you’re having toddler fun, amirite?

ToddlerToDoEND

Go to a football game. We took Emme to a Northwestern football game in early September. Here Emme is enjoying a snack in the stands and sporting her new hat. That’s my husband’s leg. He’s a runner.

Check out a local fall festival. Again, we crossed this one off the list early and attended Oktoberfest in Berwyn. But it rained on and off, so we cut our time at the festival short. We talked about going to another one, but never did.

Visit a farm with animals and a pumpkin patch. Did I mentioned how much I loved the Green Meadows Farm in Wisconsin?

goats

Go on a hayride. Done.

hayride

Splash at an indoor water park. We basically had the waterpark at Timber Ridge Lodge in Lake Geneva to ourselves. And we’ve already booked our trip for next year.

water

Decorate a pumpkin. We did this. I don’t have evidence of it.

Go to the zoo. We did end up going to Boo at the Zoo at Brookfield Zoo, but it was not a great day for the toddler, and we didn’t stay long. Maybe we’ll try again next year.

Dress up for Halloween and trick-or-treat. Yep. And yep.

halloween2

Have a dance party or two. Sometime in October, Emme became obsessed with Taylor Swift. We listened (and danced to) Shake it Off about 10 times a night for a week. What I learned is that I do not hate Taylor Swift.

Explore a new playground. We did actually make it to a new playground for a playdate in Western Springs.

Take fall photos. Nope. Not this year. At least nothing fancy.

Visit an art museum. Turns out you can take a toddler to the Art Institute of Chicago.

still life

Visit a children’s museum. We took Emme to Kohl Children’s Museum in Glenview.

Kohl

Learn about Thanksgiving. With Gena’s help and my mom’s book selections, we crossed this one off the list, though I’m not sure she “got it.” She told me “Happy Birthday” on Thanksgiving. Close enough.

10 Unexpected Places to Take a Toddler on a Cold or Rainy Day

I don’t think any of us are ready to hunker down for winter yet, but here we are in early November with temperatures in the 40s and a polar vortex headed toward Chicago. As the parent of a toddler, the threat of an early and long winter seems particularly soul crushing — fewer places to take a toddler means being stuck indoors with a constant force of energy — which can be detrimental to parent’s mental health.

Unexpected Places to Take a Toddler on a cold or rainy day

So when the weather gets rough, the tough have to get creative. Whether it’s Sunday afternoon or Thursday morning, here are some ideas of places to take a toddler on a rainy or cold day when you’ve exhausted your patience, ideas, and resources.

10 Unexpected Places to Take a Toddler on a Rainy or Cold Day*

*With bonus ideas for those of you in the western suburbs of Chicago

1. The Library
This is an obvious one, right? Keep in mind, even if it’s not story time, most libraries have moved beyond shushing and have interactive children’s sections with toys, blocks, computer games, and, of course, books.

2. The Local Mall
A lot of indoor malls have dedicated play areas. In the Chicago western suburbs, North Riverside Park Mall is close to our home and has two toddler-friendly play areas as well as a kiddie train and other rides. The play areas are free, but the train and rides cost money, FYI.

3. Ikea
The children’s section at Ikea is set up to entertain the little ones. We took our daughter to the Bolingbrook Ikea a few months ago to look at big girl beds, and while she had no interest in the beds, she couldn’t get enough of the toys that were available for her to test out. She also liked exploring the staged children’s rooms with their toddler-sized furniture.

4. Aquariums and Pet Stores
I’m a big fan of hands-off parenting, and an aquarium or pet store requires me to be a bit more vigilant than I prefer. But you got to do what you got to do sometimes, and Emme loves to look at fish. There’s an Aquarium Adventure store in the same shopping center as Ikea in Bolingbrook. Just be careful with any loose animals, and stay away from places where people can bring their own dogs, like Petsmart or Petco. Stick with fish and other cage-bound pets like lizards, hamsters, and guinea pigs.

5. Indoor McDonald’s Playplaces
Look, I’m not super excited about getting my toddler hooked on Big Macs, but I can’t deny that sometimes a McDonald’s Playplace is a literal lifesaver. The McDonald’s on Ogden Avenue in Lyons has a decent Playplace with an eating area that is separate from the rest of the restaurant.

6. Local YMCAs, Rec Centers, or Gyms
Most gyms, YMCAs, and park district recreation centers offer a free or relatively cheap hour or two of babysitting in a daycare-like setting for parents who are working out. If you’re a member, I highly recommend you take advantage of this perk. Other centers have spaces you can use for burning toddler energy even if there’s not a specific program going on. If it’s a slow time of day, ask your local YMCA or rec center if you can take your child into the gymnasium or an unused studio or on the indoor track to run around. Also check open swim times.

7. Greenhouse or Conservatory
Conservatories and greenhouses are great options when little ones who love dirt and plants can’t go outside. Oak Park’s Conservatory has pretty extensive visiting hours and is even open on some holidays.

8. Indoor Playspaces and Playgrounds
Have I mentioned my love for indoor playspaces? I take my toddler to Peekaboo Playroom in Oak Park all the time. Unlike businesses that provide indoor inflatables, these spaces tend to cater specifically to the toddler and preschool set. There’s tons of age-appropriate fun to be had, and your two-year-old won’t be demanding to get into a bouncey house with 14 other kids twice his age. While Peekaboo Playroom is my go-to, I’ve put together a Pinterest board of playspaces in Chicago and the surrounding areas, so you can find one near you.

Chicagoland Indoor Playplaces for Littles

9. Museums
Children’s museums are always a great option, though they tend to be a bit more crazed and crowded than indoor playspaces. We like the DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville (currently closed until April 2015 due to water damage) as well as Wonderworks in Oak Park. But think outside the children’s museum box: We’ve taken our two-year-old to the Art Institute of Chicago many times, and there are plenty of other museums with sections that cater to little ones.

10. Local Toy Stores
I know… You may end up having to buy something you didn’t intend on buying, but many toy stores, especially smaller stores that are trying to compete with the Toys R’ Us-es of the world, have created interactive play spaces where kiddos can sample the goods in order to lure more customers. Some stores, like Geppetto’s Toy Box in Oak Park, even offer events.

*Chicago Western Suburbs Bonus* Hamill Family Play Zoo
We’re members of the Brookfield Zoo, and it has been one of the best investments we’ve made — not only in the summer when going to the zoo is practically mandatory, but in the winter. The Hamill Family Play Zoo is an indoor child’s area that offers interactive learning, crafts, and other fun. It’s open every day from 10am until a half hour before the zoo closes. You can even go on Sunday afternoons, and it’s never crowded on the weekends in the winter (which blows my mind).

Are there other places to take a toddler when it’s rainy or cold and you can’t handle staying in the house one second longer? Share them in the comments.