Baby / Life Lessons from Overseas / Thoughts

Trying to Find my Tribe-Making Friends with a kid in an adults-only world

Will splash table_MG_1195October 04, 2012
Will is also shocked at the lack of Will-friendly social outlets here…ok fine, actually he finds the crows just out of the frame mildly befuddling

One of the hardest things to me about living overseas is trying to find “a tribe:” a group of people with whom I share relatable interests and a similar thirst for adventure.  Trying to put this group of people together before they leave town for good–or we do–only makes the search for friends feel more urgent.

Sometime I feel like the Embassy newsletters should post personals ads for people to match up with their best chances for best-buddy-ness.  Mine would read:   Wanted: girlfriends who like trying new restaurants, exploring cultural sites, and talking food, photography, current events, books, India issues, work and a little bit of Mamahood.  Should be willing and ready to travel around town with kids in tow.  Parenthood is optional.  “Game for anything-ness” is mandatory. 

Amidst the people who hate India so much that they try their darndest never to see it, and the non-working people who love the 24/7 on call childcare so much that they never see their kids, I know there must be other people like me–people who both love India and who generally love spending time with their kids whenever their work schedule allows.  It’s just sometimes hard to find them.

For reasons I do not yet fully understand, most organized, non-school-related, social activities here in Delhi are surprisingly adults-only–both at night and during the day.  It’s not just that they are events meant primarily for adults–it’s that those of us who cluelessly bring our kids often face a great deal of social pressure to never ever make that kind of mistake again.

Which is really sad.  Most moms who work outside the home don’t want to have to get a babysitter every time they want to socialize after being away from their kids all day.  Most moms who stay home don’t know where to go to meet other moms who also stay home and instead rely on random run-ins with people at the commissary and on the street to insert a little bit of adult conversation into their days.

I don’t understand why this happens.  I’m a mom, yes.  As long as I’m not working, I generally want to be spending time with my son, yes.  I do not want to send him to playgroup or music class with a nanny when I am around to take him myself.

But that doesn’t mean I’m “just” a mom.  I’m also a person who likes good food, good conversations and exploring new places.  I’m interested in what is going on in the city and country we live in.  I want to go to museums and cultural events in any way possible with Will in tow (and perhaps, occasionally, not).  I want to go to brunches and dinner parties and I like talking about things that have nothing to do with my kid–current events, food, even just where to go for a weekend trip in Northern India.

But am I so crazy for wanting the option of doing these things without having to leave my kid at home with a nanny?  I’m not an extremist, I don’t think kids should accompany their parents to every single place or event.  I’m all about awesome, affordable childcare for working parents, for the occasional special event, or even simply for a weekly date night or lunch date with girlfriends.  Still, most days, I’d rather have my conversations interrupted by a diaper change or a toddler meltdown than have to leave Will at home every time I want to socialize.

I think I cannot be the only one, nor is this a problem for people with very young children only.  On the Enclave grounds, all of the daytime loneliness and isolation tends to come to a head as the fiery heat of the sun wanes in the late afternoon and the school day ends.  From about 4:30pm to 6pm, the sidewalks and green spaces comes alive with kids on scooters, Mamas with babies, Mamas with babies all grown up and riding scooters, dog walkers and worker bees coming home after a long day at the office.

We all stroll slowly around the grounds together, people splitting off and joining up here and there, to go home and start dinner or go pick up so-and-so from school.  We follow the random patterns of toddlers toddling and first graders wielding light sabers until darkness falls or daddy comes home from work–usually around the same time, lately.

Talking to these women, so many of them say how lonely they feel, how they wish there were baby activities and playgroups where they could meet other parents.  They talk about how cooped up they feel, how frustrated they feel that so many of the cultural, social and dining activities here are just not conducive to participation from people with kids in tow.  Many of them have school-age kids who are old enough to get something out of exploring, but perhaps still too young to stay out very late or for very long.

And I wonder, why are we settling for this?  Why, in a city full of cultural organizations willing and eager to share their skills, are we not organizing our own showings of classical dance and music and other shows in front of a kid-friendly audience and at a more kid-friendly time of day?  Why aren’t we throwing open our doors to one another to have our own happy hours and brunches and dinner parties in which kids are welcomed to run in and out and babies can be taken upstairs to nurse and toddlers can have meltdowns without anyone freaking out about it?   Why aren’t we organizing monthly “Ladies Night Out” for us to leave the kids at home with Dad for a night in exchange for a “Guy’s Night Out” once in a while?

I’m hoping to work part-time here doing some freelancing mostly from home, but I’m beginning to think I could easily make a second part-time job here as well out of simply organizing things to do for those of us too kid-bound to socialize and explore via the traditional adults-only Delhi channels.

How are you doing making friends where you are?  Do you feel helped or hindered in your quest to find friends by the social norms in the place you live? Are you the ring leader in charge of making things happen?

Will splash table_MG_1190October 04, 2012
yay for options!


37 thoughts on “Trying to Find my Tribe-Making Friends with a kid in an adults-only world

  1. It bums me out to hear this about Delhi. I’m like you, I enjoy being around other adults and I also enjoy being around my kids. If you start up a group like that I will totally be a member!

    • It’s not a “there is no one to hang out with here!” place luckily, just not so easy to figure out who to hang out with sort of place. There are so so many people here on the compound and many more beyond it and without a sort of message board of people saying “I’m organizing this” or regular kid-friendly events, it’s just a bit tough to figure out how to reach people. But people here are very nice and I bet in just a few months we’ll have a good group of people together!

  2. Dani, Sometimes is really is all about who is CLO there at the embassy. In Manila we had a childless CLO and the kids Halloween party that year was a disaster. When we had a Mother as a CLO things were great. I have to say I’m not a big CLO function kind of gal. I really prefer planning things among a small ground of parent friends to do with out kids. I think it sounds like you need to plan and see how it goes. Even if it’s as simple as a kid friendly brunch every Saturday morning that rotates among homes! That would be fun. Good luck!

    • Oh and I mean to say with OUR kids, not without. My husband and I like to be with out kids too. Luckily the other families do too. It’s not common for families to have their nannies around for activities which is such a refreshing change from Manila, which was a lot like you are describing it in Delhi. Everyone brought along their nannies or left the kids at home with them. How in the world are kids supposed to learn about anything at home all the time?!

      • I’ve heard Manila is a lot like Delhi in a lot of ways. I agree. Kids learn so much being taken out around town! I mean, some days, it makes sense to keep them at home and sometimes its really good to get out for some adults-only time. But I can’t imagine leaving Will at home every time I want to see something or someone around town!

    • the CLO does matter. We have some very nice CLO’s but it’s a big place and I think they have so, so much to do besides organize events? I’m not much of a CLO-sponsored person either but it’s useful for getting to meet people the first time so you can get numbers/emails etc. Right now, I’m not sure how to find people without broadcasting to the big Embassy-wide newsletter, which works I guess! I love brunch. That’s our plan for next weekend I think! (Having my husband’s parents here also makes things a bit different–not as much time to socialize you know?)

  3. Hmm, this is discouraging. I always assumed things would be better at a bigger post. I guess not necessarily.

    But I’d say try your best to break out of the American expat community. That’s one of the benefits of being at a place with a big expat community, I’d imagine. There must be others. I found soooo many expats in my onward assignment just by googling for bloggers. Are there communities outside the compound you could tap into? Particularly nonprofit types who (stereotype warning) may be more into the idea of exploring.

    Here’s hoping! Keep us posted.

    • I love me some nonprofit people–I was one! 🙂 Definitely trying to find my non-embassy crowd but I’m still at a loss for how to find them you know? In Chengdu it was a small place so we met everyone quickly. Here there are so many places to hang out and be that it’s almost harder to find people because you aren’t quite sure which place to look! We’ll get there though, I like the idea of googling bloggers, that is soo brilliant!

  4. Oh I so wish we were at the same post! This time around I have mustered the energy, social courage, and initiative to start a monthly ladies outing – no kids but it’s my way of mixing embassy, NGO, SAHM’s and working-moms, who have kids or don’t, that I can gather into one setting), and because I wanted more culture for my kids, I went and met with the deputy director of the Lao National School of Music and Dance to arrange for a toddler classical traditional dance class on weekends, and I’ve opened it up as well to non-embassy folks to sign their kids up. It is important for me to broaden my circle beyond the embassy (even though it’s great) just because it makes it much more interesting and I am more likely to find like-minded friends that way, too. I’m also lucky that we have two children-friendly cafes here where SAHM’s flock to that I met while my kids were on school break. And they turned out to be not ‘just’ SAHM’s and have backgrounds and interests very simpatico with my own. Sorry if I sound like I’m bragging, just trying to answer your question that I am trying to be the ring leader. Not sure how much more I’ll be able to do IF I find work, but for now it has given me a nice start and outlet. You seem to know what you want so I am sure that you WILL find it. In the mean time, keep doing what you’re doing bc for us who can’t be with you, we sure love that you share your adventurous spirit! 😉

    • I love the idea of a toddler classical dance class on teh weekends! That’s the kind of thing I need to start setting up, even if Will is too little. We have an expat baby yahoo group but, as I said on Facebook, it is so bizarre. There are no playgroups? They don’t let you in unless you have 2 referrals and it’s mostly people just looking for ayahs and drivers? Soo weird. But apparently that is “the” Delhi expat baby group. Oh well. I love to hear about what you are doing, it’s inspiring not bragging! Hearing about all of the cool stuff people do helps to get me motivated! Definitely would love to find me some non-profit-y/want to work at some point Mamas. This is a topic for a whole other post, but as much as I love being home with Will, I can’t shake the notion that I should still be doing some kind of work to keep my resume from turning into a black hole. At this point, I don’t need a pay check or an office or 40 hours a week, but just a little something, some freelancing to keep me going/make me borderline employable when I go back to work for real at some point down the road. How is your work search going? I have my fingers crossed!

      • I don’t think it’s ever too soon to expose different things to kids, so even if the toddler dance turns out to be a run-around-free-for-all then at least they will be doing it with a Lao teacher listening to Lao music. I will ask the school to bring in some of their young students to play the instruments inside the class so the younger kids can see different types of traditional instruments, too. There are some parents who are so concerned about the class ‘program’ and what will their child will be able to do and how will the instructor will discipline the kids if they get out of hand etc. that it might take all the fun and exposure benefit out of it if the parents’ attitudes don’t change.

        And I know how you feel about keeping up your resume. I’ve been out of the work scene since before G started with State bc I didn’t want to be overseas when G got called into A-100. We prioritize being together which I think is important in our life-style, especially when starting something new. Not sure if the gap matters much or not, but I’m finding that the exigency of how most NGO programs operate might take that out of consideration for experienced, capable people like you who are already on the ground. There are also ways to bridge that resume gap. I add FSI language training and take on-line certifications when I can. In the end though, I am OVER THE MOON that I got to spend all of our children’s first two years together before they started daycare when we all were at FSI. I still appreciate the flexibility I have to take care of them during these times of transition, sickness, and whatever else life throws at toddlers. It’s important to be together. For a capable person like you, your career is sure to move forward when you and the family are ready.

      • I think your philosophy on the dance class sounds spot on, hopefully the other parents don’t take the fun out of it. I am trying to balance my worries about work with the knowledge that, in 5 or 6 years, I’ll be so darn grateful I had this time-jobs be damned. Being with Will is really fun and honestly I’ve gotten much better at time-management, delegation, communication and patience as a mom than I ever did as an employee! 🙂

      • I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. It’s hysterical and poignant and so well written! Love, love love. Thanks for sharing it with me. I think, if it’s ok with WMB guidelines you should try to have it published elsewhere as well, it’s just so very well-written.

      • Wow, thank you for such kind words Dani. I know HuffPost Parents have been publishing some WMB posts. Good idea!

  5. If you build it, they will come! Start your own playgroup or moms’ coffee. I’ve taken the initiative here and I hope to do our first real gathering soon. We went from a post of 3 or 4 kids to over 10 in the last year. We also have a good expat moms’ group that is completely separate from the Consulate community and it’s been great for meeting other families, including women who are from here or have lived here a lot longer so know where to find stuff. Google or search on Facebook for other expat groups.

    • Oooh can’t wait to hear how your first playgroup goes!! We had a great gruop of expat Mamas in Chengdu but, as I said to some other commenters, the big Delhi baby group that everyone talks about joining isn’t really a group so much as a yahoo group. I can’t even figure out how to join a playgroup through them and no one else seems to know either! So strange. Guess I’ll just have to start my own!

  6. Also, a non-Consulate expat group has been good in helping me find friends for my husband. He works at the Consulate all day; he wants to socialize with other people every once in a while.

  7. Is there an International Women’s Club or similar group? The playgroups arranged through the one here was a total lifeline when I arrived, and the moms would gravitate to occasional ladies’ nights out too so we could occasionally finish our sentences 🙂

    Also, as a 2-year-CLO (just finished the job this summer!) I’ll recommend enlisting your CLO’s aid, they are there not necessarily to do everything but to facilitate events so, for example, your CLO could send you the email list of folks with preschool age kids (or whatever) so you can figure who to invite to the first gathering you organize.

    • There is an intl women’s club and an expat babies yahoo group, neither of which seem to sponsor parent-led playgroups right now but I’m still doing my research. Since so many people leave Delhi in the summer, I think sometimes it takes awhile for things to get started again in the fall. I loved my non-embassy group in Chengdu and I’ll definitely email the CLO re: little kids. They are a bit privy with email addresses here but maybe if I plead my case they’ll part with their list! 🙂

  8. Hi, I’m Ana Gaby, I would like to answer your ad looking for a friend, I’m available hahaha
    I know exactly how you feel. I started several playgroups and it’s awesome. The kids play, moms chat and if in the mood we go out on during the evenings to get a drink. You will find your tribe in no time!

    • hehhe thanks Ana!! I’m definitely going to see if the CLO will part with a list of toddler parent names…the only trouble will be how to subtly make sure people know it’s a playgroup for parents not ayahs!

      • It’s funny how the ayah thing is so different within the same country. I see it more with Indians bringing the ayah or sending her with the kids. (They bring the ayah to Gymboree to take the kid’s shoes off, then she sits around doing nothing for an hour while the parent goes to the class with the kid. And the ayah puts the shoes on again afterward.) I don’t know too many expats who do that here, except for circumstances where having an extra adult around comes in handy.

      • I blame the Europeans! 🙂 I’m mostly kidding, but some families are just much more hands-off than the Americans and since they socialize at our American club, I think some of their habits rub off a little bit 🙂 That is soo funny about the shoes! To me it sounds like almost more work to have two people there than it would be to just put the shoes on myself. I agree, there are definitely circumstances for having an ayah around and honestly even just being at home, it’s nice having someone else in the house to grab Will while I’m pulling something out of the oven or to watch him for the 30 seconds it takes for me to take something outside or even longer for a work meeting or something–but some people do take it a little too far here.

      • Ha, we have the exact same ayah or suss situation here…. I always specified no nannies please ;). And that usually worked! You don’t have to be subtle just send the invitation specifying this is a playgroup for moms and dads.

      • Thanks Ana, that sounds good! I put in my ad in the newsletter a “parent-led” group for “parents wanting..” so hopefully that does the trick!

      • Ohh and Stephanie, it’s like that in Indonesia, too. THey bring them to gymboree to get them ready but sit outside waiting. I have seen a few expats do it but it’s mostly expats who have been here for a long time. Oh well, I will still be the mom that puts the baby on the floor and prays he doesn’t run away while I put my socks on!

      • The shoes thing is just so funny to me. I guess if I had multiple kids I could see how having an extra pair of hands would be perhaps useful, but for one?

      • Haha, not a mean mommy at all! I make Will feed himself even though he much prefers when I just spoon everything into his mouth for him! 🙂

  9. I can’t REALLY relate to this exactly since I don’t have a child, but I can definitely relate to the where-do-I-fit-in conundrum. I know it will just take time but I am impatient! I remember you said before that it was hard to find a place to fit in at your last post as a childless married couple. Luckily we are at a pretty large post with lots of options, but I think childless married couples are still in the minority (compared to singles — there is a huge social scene for young-ish single people here, which is great since they are very inclusive — and married couples with children). Good luck! I like the idea that someone suggested of just starting your own group and setting your own guidelines. I’m sure you will figure it out.

    • Oh yes, that whole childless married couple thing. When you find your tribe it’s amazing because it’s people just like you who want to (and have time to) have dinner parties and trivia games and all sorts of fun things that don’t yet involve childcare but no longer involve scanning the bar for your potential mate. It just takes a little while to find those people and I think many times they just aren’t part of hte Embassy/Consulate crowd. For us, we found that group through meeting another childless Consulate couple who introduced us to the Hash and a whole group of other childless couples. It’s not as easy a group to find as the singles or the families but it’s usually there! Sounds like you guys are doing a great job and seekign it out too!

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  11. Oh, geez, what a timely post! I’m wrestling with similar problems here in Freetown. I love my job. I love my kid. And I really like my colleagues. But the three don’t always mix well (and I know that sometimes other folks want to have adult conversations without a toddler constantly demanding my attention too).

    I’ve found it really hard to get kid-friendly activities going in a country where nannies are so cheap and so prevelant. Why *would* you bring your kid along when you could leave her at home with another woman? ARGH! Another expat (non-Embassy) has started a playgroup (for mothers, not nannies). We meet every two to four weeks, and it’s magical. We’ve also worked hard to host family friendly events at our own house, and others seem to have taken the hint.

    I love the classical music idea. There’s a music academy here, and I’m going to check it out this weekend. Maybe they can host a once-a-week toddler class!

    • It’s so hard to strike a balance between family and work and then, I think, harder still to find other people who’se chosen version of balance matches your own closely enough to make socializing and friendship possible. So glad you have a play group and I’m looking forward to starting one here. Isn’t Dee’s classical music/dance idea wonderful? I hope it works out for you in Freetown as well!

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