File under the things no one told you about being a mom: Finding new friends is hard. But many moms are building their village with the help of websites and apps.

Among the litany of indignities in the transfer of parenting knowledge, little is said about what might be one of the most difficult parts of the whole process: making friends as a mom.

The scorched-earth effect of having kids on one’s social life is perhaps comparable only to going to college in a new, far-away town, which is why making mom friends when your first child is a baby is perhaps the easiest — you’re both going through an intense, new, shared experience that can facilitate bonding. However, unlike in college, mom friendships are a little more complicated than sharing a major or favorite band. You have to consider your kids’ ages. Your and the other moms’ ages. Geographic location. Work. Personal interests. The kids’ interests and temperaments. Parenting styles. Attitudes toward health care and vaccines. Religion. The list goes on and on. And what if some of your kids get along, but others don’t? And what if your partner can’t stand her partner? We all want to feel supported in our parenting journey, and a mom’s choices that are different from our own — homeschooling, breast/bottle-feeding, sleep training, vaccinations, discipline, screen time limits or lack of — can feel like a judgment, whether it’s intended to or not.

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Many moms have made lifelong friends in their hospital birthing classes or new-mom groups, but others emerge years later from the rubble of their former lives, blinking in the sunlight, multiple kids in tow and with no one to ask if that rash is normal, meet up with at the play café or commiserate with over a glass (or three) of wine. Others moved to a new town with not-quite-school-aged kids, or just had their bestie move away to another state.

There’s always making friends the organic way, via repeated, unplanned encounters outside a controlled environment — this way you can see in real time what moms are not choosing to show you on Instagram — but for others, especially those whose kids aren’t yet in school, technological intervention is needed.

From specialty mom-friend-matchmaking apps like Peanut to Reddit, Instagram and even shopping sites, read on for what Internet hacks have — and haven’t — worked for Portland-area e-moms when it comes to finding their platonic soul mates.

Group Hug

Even as Mark Zuckerberg is probably selling your personal photos right now for another stretch of private beach in Hawaii, Facebook remains, for better or for worse, an extremely convenient way to stay in touch with friends and family back home and keep up on on local news and recommendations.

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With the Portland area chock-full of groups, from the general Portland Mamas (now with more than 20,000 members) to specialty-focus groups like Portland Autism Moms and Portland-area Working Moms, the likelihood is high for winnowing out a kindred spirit or two.

Portland mom Rachel Dolkas (who also happens to be one of the founders of Portland Mamas) met her bestie, Lea Barozzi, after Barozzi commented on a post saying her son had been admitted into one of PPS’s focus-option schools. “I was eager to connect with other families who would be attending kindergarten with us the following fall,” Dolkas explained. “I messaged her and we began excitedly trading information and discussing the school and our kids. We made plans to get our boys together before the start of school. The kids hit it off, and so did we. We did a family dinner and our husbands also got along well. We signed our kids up for classes and camps together throughout the year and hosted play dates at each other’s houses. Our boys are in third grade now and we are still the best of friends.” Her advice for lonely moms? Be brave — if you find someone you think you might connect with, don’t hesitate: “Sometimes you have to be bold and reach out across the relative anonymity of Facebook groups, but it’s worth it to create connections that could last a lifetime.”

The OG Online Meet-up

BabyCenter, Circle of Moms, The Bump, Mamapedia — odds are you ended up on one of these during your first pregnancy to see if you were dying or had just lost your mucus plug. Not only are they a font of useful, searchable information (sample post: “Help for dealing with a mother-in-law who knows everything”), they can provide much-needed camaraderie at all hours with women who had babies around the same time. In fact, many moms find that meeting friends on an online message board can be just as good as — if not better than, for scheduling purposes — a face-to-face meeting.

Jaime Davis of Milwaukie, whose daughter was born in 2016, is one such mom. In fact, she finds she feels closer to some of her message-board friends than those she knows in real life. The clincher, she says, was having people with whom to compare notes in the middle of the night, or talk to at any time during the long, sequestered months of flu season with a newborn.

“Everyone is all around the globe, so there was always someone online, even during 3 am newborn feeds,” she said of her group of online friends, whom she originally met on Reddit’s r/babybumps. “I think it really helped everyone to feel less alone. I still haven’t physically met my two best friends in the group, but we chat almost daily.”

The friendships didn’t happen overnight, she conceded — she began visiting Reddit when she was six months pregnant, and her participation ramped up over time once she felt safe with the group’s supportive vibe. Eventually, a faction of the women broke off into their own Facebook group, which facilitated even more sharing of information.

“I think one of the first moments I realized this group of women were my real friends was when we did a holiday card exchange last December and there were so many personal messages and inside jokes written on all the cards I sent and received from others,” she said. “The group has been such a great resource for getting advice on parenting, brainstorming how to handle all the changes kids go through, and how to balance being a mom and a person. Through all that sharing with one another, we became real friends.”

Moms Who Shop Together

As anyone who’s waited in line at Just Between Friends on a Saturday can attest, nothing brings moms together quite like a good sale on kids’ clothes. Turns out, it can even foster potentially lifelong friendships.

Tigard mom Stephanie Veal met her mom BFFs through Babysteals.com, a Zulily-esque shopping site stocking everything from bibs to scrapbooking supplies.

“About eight years ago, Babysteals.com was having their annual birthday sale,” she explains. “For a week or so, random and awesome steals would pop up. An acquaintance had said she would watch the Babysteals page and alert anyone who wanted to be alerted when something popped up. Quite a few ladies accepted the help, and a group message was started through Facebook … we were all still talking long after birthday week had ended, so we decided to form a Facebook group.”

Though the women are spread out throughout the United States, Veal feels — like Davis — that the distance has done nothing to diminish her perception of support and friendship.

“I know when their babies and anniversaries are, all their kids and pets. I know what their houses look like and how many weird bugs live where they live,” Veal says. “We have seen babies born, family deaths and crises, deployments and just everyday life. We have called each other’s cell phones when they were lost, done virtual baby showers, and do a Christmas gift exchange every year. Two are local to me, and two have traveled to my area and we have met up. One from New Jersey met up with my family while we were both at Disney World. I am happy to count them all as very close friends — maybe closer than my real-life friends.”

#nofilter Friends

Though it may sometimes feel like it exists solely to make you feel bad about your dress size and summer vacation choices (or lack thereof), turns out Instagram has potential for making mom friends.

The popular photo-sharing app became something of an unexpected life preserver for Milwaukie’s Sarah Miller, who lost her daughter, Clara, unexpectedly at birth several years ago.

“I didn’t know what to do. I was still in shock,” Miller explains of how she eventually ended up meeting her friends on Instagram. “I don’t remember if it was a resource given to me or if I just went online, but I found Faces of Loss, the website for people who have lost babies or miscarried to tell their stories. I came across a woman whose story sounded [similar] to mine, so I reached out to her. She told me there was a big [infant-loss] community on Instagram. People felt safe to post photos of their babies, and you end up following people based on their comments, things you can relate to.”

She eventually met a group of the women in Chicago last September and they spent the weekend together. “I think I was a little apprehensive,” Miller admitted. “Just because you like each other online doesn’t mean you’re going to like each other in person. But it was … it was just incredible.”

Miller’s advice to women going through something outside the mainstream parenting experience, such as infant loss, is not to discount online friendships when it comes to connecting with other moms.

“I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but social media has been positively invaluable. I didn’t know anyone [in real life] who had gone through this, and every aspect of your life is changed … your relationships with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors. Even going to the grocery store and seeing pregnant women or women with babies is crushing,” she said. “So being able to talk to these women and tell them what I’m feeling — anger, utter despair, triggers — and hearing that it is not uncommon but is, in fact, totally normal, really is comforting.”

Parent Playdates

For some moms, as intimate and flexible as online friendships can be, nothing can replace the feeling of being able to meet up at the playground or catch a Red Yarn concert together with your toddlers.

Though she had her Reddit confidants, Davis, who’s originally from Southern California, knew she eventually needed to get out of the house.

“I’m an introverted extrovert, so I was worried about [meeting people in real-life],” she says, “but I was worried that I would fall into postpartum depression from the isolation of having a newborn. So I made a leap of faith.”

She joined a meetup.com group for Portland transplants, and immediately felt welcomed.

“The other women were all so normal and chill,” she says.”It felt so good to get out of the house and hang out with other people that weren’t my family and weren’t only interested in my baby.”

She says it was particularly easy to feel comfortable around the other women because they had an additional shared experience in addition to being parents: being new to Portland.

“I had been feeling like I lost my personhood when my daughter was born, and meeting the lovely new-to-Portland moms helped me feel like a person again. From that first meeting, I’ve been on a ton of playdates, park adventures and clothing swaps with the other ladies, and I feel like I’ve made a couple good friends that I plan to keep for a long while.”

Swipe Up

If you like the idea of an app to meet like-minded friends but are more at the “playground and chat” stage of life instead of Netflix-and-chill, you’re in luck, because there is no shortage of programs designed specifically for moms. Hello Mamas, MomCo and Smile Mom are a few, but Peanut — the “app for mothers who missed out on Tinder,” according to a New York Times quote on its website — is the Big Kahuna, with perhaps the largest reach locally. A couple of Portland moms had told me off the record of their successes with Peanut, so I decided to try it for myself, as I had recently moved from Portland to the suburbs and was struggling to find like-minded friends.

I downloaded the app and created a profile. Women are encouraged to include photos of their entire families, along with themselves demonstrating activities they enjoy. (Which, during my stint, seemed largely limited to Snapchat filters and novelty Christmas sweaters.)

Like Tinder — at least, I can only assume, as I too am a “mother who missed out on Tinder” — one can scroll through photos and swipe, in this case up, on profiles that pique their interest. To help jazz up the process, Peanut allows women to choose three out of a series of shorthand tags such as “hot mess,” “spiritual gangster,” “wine time” or “sleep deprived.”

Because I had just moved, I included a photo of my son and myself amid the sprawling pumpkin patch in our old yard. I chose “neighborhood newbie,” “routine queen” and “wine time” as my tags. I thought about complete strangers looking at the photo of me in my old college sweatshirt, or zooming in to see what our house looked like in the background, and felt strangely vulnerable and uncomfortable.

Three days later I received a “sticker.” It was a cartoon rainbow with “Hi” in a cheery font. I was unsure how to proceed, and suddenly felt elderly. Was this like the “Poke” feature on Facebook? I waited a few hours and replied. After a quick perusal of the sticker giver’s page, I quickly noticed we had absolutely nothing in common, and our kids weren’t even close in age. I would not have swiped up, but this person took a risk in sending me a sticker, so I replied, “Hi, I like your daughter’s hat!” Small talk ensued over the course of a couple of days, until she came clean as to why she had sent me a sticker: She thought the photo of me in the pumpkin patch was at a local, garden-based preschool she was considering, and wanted to gather information on it. Why not just come out and ask in the first place? I wondered. Who has time for this? I have since deleted my account and decided to stick to meeting people the old-fashioned way: at the park. Wish me luck.

Kat Merck
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