Along with my husband, our new baby and old dog, I moved to Bristol from the outskirts of London in September 2013. The city is no stranger to me, I lived here until I was about four and have made regular trips back since, including my hen do, organized in part by Francesca herself. However, I was a stranger to the city of Bristol. And stranger still, I wasn’t just me anymore. I was me, plus one little baby.
This isn’t a post about how to move house with a baby. My one tip for that would be do whatever you can to get removers who pack and unpack. This is a post about moving at an awkward time.
We decided to take the chance to move here, to the South West, where we’d always hoped to make our family home. With a laid back vibe and a blend of urban and country activities, which I was personally craving, Bristol seemed like the sort of place I might be able to meet more friends. The question, however, was how?
I was a bit nervous. When you have a new baby, it’s easy. You just roll up at any old ‘bumps and babies’ session and there’ll always be somebody to anxiously compare breastfeeding and night time stresses with. Let’s be honest, you’ll pretty much do that with anybody who’s in the same boat in those first weeks, regardless of whether you actually like them or not. But like work colleagues who become friends after months of bonding over early shared moments (hello again Francesca!) motherhood spawns a few friendship gems once you go deeper than what nipple cream worked for you. In fact, that’s another amusing side effect of motherhood – you’d rather talk about your knockers with a stranger than what’s going on in Eastenders. With the move, I wanted to put down some deeper friendship tracks. Yes, I was looking for people who wanted to talk about Danny Dyer’s impact on Albert Square, not just people wanting to ask me what first weaning food I recommend.
Here are my top few tips for settling into a new place for anybody thinking of making a move with pre-school kids:
Try the obvious first - My area of Bristol is blessed with an excellent duo of Baby Cafes (Bubbahub and The Hungry Caterpillar), so this was the first place I headed. I was really glad I did. Not only are these sort of places intimate enough to talk to strangers easily, they also both run classes which appeal to parents as well as children. Consequently, I joined a ‘bring your own baby’ choir, and we sing every week while the kids play on the floor. And we talk about actual stuff!
But, don’t just go for the sake of it - I tried a local ‘church hall style’ playgroup several times, but had less success. All the kids were slightly older than mine, the parents much less friendly and if I’m honest, I came away more lonely than when I went in because I felt a bit excluded as it seemed so well established. But I shrugged it off. After all, you don’t keep going back to a crap restaurant, so why persevere with a drab playgroup?
Take what you liked and re-create it your way - I had been set quite a high standard when it comes to paid for classes by the brilliant Gymboree in Surbiton which really inspired me to keep singing and creative play top of my list when it came to activities when we moved. But, for a cheaper alternative, I’ve been all over the local library rhymetime sessions, as in case you didn’t know, they are almost always free.
Explore on foot – get out there with your buggy and find the parks, the swings, the little cafes that are friendly. Go at nap time and school run time, and stop other mums who will be out at that hour and ask them a question – you never know, you might make a new friend. We have a toy shop near us that has been ace for chatting to people, for example.
Get a babysitter – if you’re cool with leaving your kids for an evening, that is. With no family in the area we have turned to an excellent agency, which has provided us with access to a monthly slice of Bristol nightlife or an evening with new friends. It’s not just about making ‘mum mates’. I’ve managed to sneak a couple of cinema trips in with the women I’ve met, where our kids didn’t really get a mention!
Don’t fill all your weekends with visitors – I learned this when I lived in New York, way before kids. If you have people to stay every weekend, you never have a chance to live your real life. Find a balance, experience things for yourselves as a family first, and then invite the world to see it with you.
Give it time – in the short time we’ve been here, we’ve already been introduced to friends of friends, who have become our friends too. And be brave, and honest, saying ‘I’m new here, can you help?’ is really not so hard. When you compare it to negotiating an epidural from a midwife, for example…
Thanks to Francesca for asking me to write this post. She’s living proof, over several years, that close friends remain close, however many miles, and kids, get in your way.