Inside: A simple formula can help you make family friends. Because life within community can be less lonely and exponentially more fun.
“I wish I could fluff you up in the dryer.”
Those words were spoken by my best friend years ago, whenever I was feeling sad.
So when a package of dryer sheets travelled across the country and arrived on my doorstep, the unspoken message was clear.
I care. I understand. I’m here if you need me.
Friendships, whether with individuals or entire families, are essential for life’s journey. We know that. So we celebrate when those friendships are in place.
But ache when they are not.
Even hearing the expression “find your people” can rattle our insecurity and intensify loneliness. We see images of families camping together or cheering at hockey games in a cluster of solidarity.
And we may wonder where our people are.
- Maybe we have tried to build family friendships but the children didn’t get along.
- Perhaps the wives became fast friends, but the husbands had little in common.
- Or we feel lucky if our kids’ socks match and the milk isn’t expired, so hanging out with another family feels impossible.
And isn’t it is easy to settle into introverted patterns? Avoiding eye contact during soccer practice. Leaving church right after the closing prayer. Using earbuds at the gym.
But even a slight pivot can open up an unexpected family friendship.
Since my husband is in full-time ministry we often find ourselves in new communities, beginning again and pushing through loneliness.
We have discovered a simple formula to help us connect with others. One that has been tried and tested over many seasons of our lives.
Before I share the simple steps, let’s remember finding our community doesn’t happen overnight. But these steps will point you in the right direction and lead you to the results your heart longs for.
Step 1: Start with people
Being a Mom of little ones can make it easier to find our people. Sandboxes, playgrounds and local playgroups such as MOPS are pick up places for new friends. But this stage can also be trickier because you can’t. even. finish. a. sentence. So there’s that.
If you are past the sandbox stage, look around with a focus on finding people to connect with. That Mom with lots of kids at the swim meet. Neighbors. The family you run behind at the Late-to-School-Again Walk of Shame.
Chances are you already know amazing people but you may not yet realize they could be ‘your people’.
One shared adventure may move you towards a friendship.
At the very least, it will be one shared adventure.
Finding other parents to do life with takes time, and perhaps a few false starts, but the payoffs are worth the effort.
During a bumpy patch as parents of teens, my husband and I knew we needed to connect with parents one step further in the journey. What we wanted to do was hunker down and hide.
Yet we have learned our natural tendencies are often wrong. So we nudged each other to take a step towards building our community.
We knew the perfect family to stalk.
Their boys are a few years older and always laugh together. The five of them sit shoulder-to-shoulder in church and no one yells, “He’s breathing my air.” They are so kind to each other, you wouldn’t think they could possibly be related. We needed to know their secret.
We are blessed to be part of a family-centered community of faith. Helping build up other families is what we do.
I mustered the courage to approach this potential mentor-family. Like a middle schooler asking for a dance, I tried, “Hey. Can we spend time with your family? We could use some laughter amongst our gang.”
Knowing it would be easier to have Forced Family Fun on their turf, I ventured one step further. “Can we come over to your house next week if we bring all the food?”
Desperation, thy name is Mom.
Because this family is the real deal, they said ‘yes’ and welcomed us with open arms.
This small step sparked an amazing friendship between us. Months later, facing a hard announcement at church, we had people to turn to this time.
I sent them an urgent text.
Me: S.O.S. Need to do something with the boys tomorrow after church. Got family plans?
Them: No plans.
Since they have an unpredictable dog, and I didn’t have time to prepare a buffet for ten people, we did the next best thing.
Them: Picnic and a hike?
Which brings us to the next step in finding our people…selecting a destination.
Step 2: Pick a place
We chose a park next to a hiking trail. No admission fees. No equipment required. Easy.
When life feels tough, easy is a welcome companion.
All our people climbed, swung and spun. Faces forgot to frown as our gaggles of boys traversed climbers and twirled brothers at breakneck speeds. And not a single bone was broken.
[virtual high five, Boymoms?]
Children ranging from 6 to 22 played Grounders and it was as adorable as it sounds.
Especially when one of my boys was It and had his eyes closed tightly. Convinced he caught his youngest brother, he touched his sweet face…only to hear snickers. This kid, in fact, was the only person we did not know at the entire playground. Stranger danger.
We were the very definition of a village. A loud, crazy, blur of a village.
With 7 boys between us, it was just fine that everyone’s underwear peeked out as they hung upside down. We considered renaming the boys by their labels.
“Calvin, Reebok, Puma and Tommy – lunch is served.” Rolls off the tongue, right?
Unplugged children and teenagers for an entire afternoon. Happy sigh. And we even hiked long enough to walk off the two-bite brownies.
Together, we redeemed what could have been a hard, lonely day. We threw our goofiness together and created something beautiful. And followed the formula.
We learned some important lessons that day:
- Grown-ups also need to twirl at the park.
- Community makes hard news easier to bear.
- Messy vehicles can be a jackpot for sweatshirts and blankets for chilly children.
What place will you try next? Your backyard, a local pool or shooting hoops in the neighbourhood. Find a spot and simply be together.
Step 3: Keep the menu simple
The best part of the hiking day? The ‘catered’ meal. Meaning we picked up two chicken dinners, salads and paper plates from the grocery store on the way to the park. Done.
While it may offend Martha Stewart that there was no tablecloth (honestly – we carved the chicken with plastic knives), it worked perfectly.
Menu planning should not get in the way of spontaneous invitations.
To my husband’s dismay, I once fed a new friend, and the six children between us, Kraft Dinner and hot dogs. Powdered cheese on noodles as a first impression is the very definition of vulnerable. But bless her gracious heart, we are still friends 12 years later.
Food can easily become a roadblock to opening our home.
Kicking perfectionism to the curb, one young mom began Messy House Playdates where hosts were not allowed to clean before guests arrived. She shares the profound results, “Women opened up more deeply than ever…It was as if seeing the messes was what actually brought us together.”
I challenge you to invite someone over for coffee and muffins this week. With crumbs still under the table from the day before.
So what’s the formula for finding family friends?
Here’s my entire formula for launching friendships:
SOME·ONE + SOME·WHERE + SOME FOOD = MOVING TOWARDS YOUR PEOPLE
Basic but profound. Nike makes millions from <Just Do It> so clearly simple works.
Ready for your next step?
We never know where our first step will lead.
One simple ask led to our entire family winning the friendship lottery. Beginning with one shared meal. One year later, our boys are hanging upside down at the park together.
Soon after, my Mother’s Day picture was photobombed by this same bunch:
To avoid any confusion, all the pale and pasty kids belong to me and my hubby is the not-tipping man.
You will know you have found your people when you can cry on their shoulder and also spray pop out of your nose from hysterical laughter.
Crying and spraying. Both are essential.
It is my sincere prayer for every reader that you find photobombing, park swinging friends.
And the God who created us to live in community wants this for you as well. Invite Him into your sacred search and give the simple formula a test drive.
If you need people but live far away, let’s do a virtual park date. We’ll bring the chicken.