Here’s one of my great regrets of early motherhood: I wagged my mother’s group. They were a convivial bunch and super welcoming but I kind of missed the window. I skipped the weekly pram dates with our tiny newborns because, between the avalanche of well-wishers popping over to clap eyes on my weeks old son and my longing to be with him, just the two of us, I couldn’t fit them in.
This was a bad move on my part because I soon found I had no friends. No mum friends, anyway. My mother’s group (well, not really mine anymore) had a camaraderie forged by weeks on end in the park commiserating over sleep deprivation, weaning dramas, and returns to work. They had bonded over shared bath times and afternoon wines and it felt too late to join in.
I spent a lot of time alone in those early days of new motherhood, just my baby and me. Like any new mum, I was also up against it trying to negotiate the breastfeeding, sleep schedule while getting to the supermarket and keeping house. But there were times when I would have loved some company, the kind who get where you’re at.
“Our level of vulnerability is heightened when we enter motherhood”, explains Psychologist, Kirsty Levin, who founded The Parents Village to help women prepare for this daunting new life phase. “It’s a time when women are transitioning through ‘matrescence’ which shifts your whole identity – physically and cognitively. We feel vulnerable, and lost. We crave connection and support so we seek out other mothers who are in the same place”.
So what if other mothers are not so easy to find? Or not ones we gel with anyway?
When British entrepreneur Michelle Kennedy found she had no mum friends following the birth of her first child – fearing she’d “lost her identity” – she started an app to help mums meet other mums.
As the head of a tech company creating dating apps, including Bumble and Badoo, it made sense that she would seek to fill the void and so Peanut was born, helping bring some 400-thousand lonely mums together around the world.
Crucially The app – known as ‘Tinder for mums’ doesn’t just match women based on having children of the same age – although that certainly helps – but seeks out the like minded. Because, when it comes to the awkwardness of ‘hooking up’ with other mums who you have nothing in common with expect they’re mums too, we’ve all been there.
Almost as awkward as meeting a mum in the playground, taking a deep breath and asking if she’d like to see you again. I might have done that.
Which is why Peanut is such a hit. When it launched in Australia in July some 5000 women signed up in the first two weeks. While success can’t be measured by a marriage proposal (as it can for dating sites), it may well be providing a meaningful social service for women who feel they’ve lost their way.
“I felt very isolated, I wasn’t really getting out. I was going a little stir crazy”, says Carly McKenna, mother of a one year old son. “I’d say to my baby, ‘Ok, I’ve changed your nappy, we’ve done tummy time so now what are we going to do? I love talking to you but I need to talk to another adult”.
Carly is from Tasmania but moved to Melbourne with her partner and had no social network around her. She didn’t click with her mother’s group which she found quite judgmental – “The woman who ran it was anti breastfeeding and there was lots of talk about ‘how expensive is your pram?’” But she says that all changed when she discovered Peanut where she found her tribe.
“The best thing is you get to say who you are as a person before you became a mum”, she says. “I’m a ‘geeky mum’ so I’ve met other mums like me. It’s a lot like dating except it’s fine to have several on the go at once, and there’s no end”.
Geek Chic, Sleep Deprived, Fitness Fiend, Wine Time, Special Needs, LBTQ, Step Mama, Crafty. According to the Peanut algorithm, we all slot somewhere into 36 mum categories designed to unearth who we are beyond motherhood. It might be blatant stereotyping, and not leave much room for our ever evolving adaptive selves, but it’s a portal to authentic connection that is changing users’ lives.
“I’m much happier now”, says Carly who’s made two new friends on Peanut and has plans to meet up with four more. “I feel more connected, more complete as a mum. I’ve got a lot of my confidence back”.
Kirsty Levin says seeking out ‘women like us’ is vital when we all live such “fractured and disparate lives”. “It allows you to portray yourself in the most honest and open light which breaks down barriers and allows women to connect on a deeper level”.
I log on, just for the exercise, mind. I select ‘Spiritual Gangster’ (to account for my daily meditation), ‘Single Mama’ and ‘Bookworm’. Not that I do as much book-worming as I’d like these days (who has the time?) but at least it would align me with other mums who do. Within seconds I’m presented with an array of pleasant looking women with sunny smiles and kids the same age and, presumably, on my wavelength. I don’t intend to swipe up as I’m all good for mum friends now. But if my babies were younger..