As I sat with the other moms in the hallway, waiting for our little ones to awaken from their naps, my palms were actually sweating. The other moms sat chatting, happily. They all knew each other, they all liked each other. The kids played together, the moms exchanged anecdotes and advice. This was where you found out why your little one had bad breath (who knew post-nasal drip could cause that?), got the scoop on the best babysitters and schools, found blessed reassurance that your child’s behavior really wasn’t pathological. Here it was, right in front of me: the Mommy Network, the Holy Grail of advice and play dates and hand-me-downs, and sanity -- and I didn’t have one.
Trust me, I saw the irony here. I’m supposed to be an expert on social networks; I had spent the last two decades studying them, and I sat there feeling totally inept.
Suddenly clairvoyant, I could see my daughter’s future. She would be 21, roaming the streets in rags, in perpetual therapy -- or jail -- because she’d never had a play date.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t have a network. I had a wonderful professional network. And, until we had a child, that was enough. Our colleagues were also wonderful friends, our world was really complete. But once our baby arrived, our networking needs -- like everything else in our lives -- changed dramatically.
Suddenly, I really understood why many professional women are intimidated when they step into the Chamber of Commerce for the first time. Whether you’re a fledgling entrepreneur who is trying to craft a professional network or a new mom trying to connect with others, the process is the same. You’re uncomfortable, you’re sure you won’t fit in, you’re certain you look foolish. It’s junior high, all over again.
What do you do? It doesn’t matter whether the venue is the boardroom or the sandbox, the process is the same: You jump in and figure out how to swim. In other words, you adapt the skills you have to the new environment.
Heeding my own advice, I began by taking stock. I knew how to talk to people. I knew how to build relationships. I understood the give-and-take of networking. And I knew what needed to be done: I needed to use those proficiencies to build a new sector in my network, one that would support my new role as a mom.
And so I launched my networking initiative. The first step was to listen carefully to who these moms were, what they did, what they were all about. As I did so, I searched for common ground. The first, most obvious commonality was the children. Gradually, other connections emerged. As the conversations grew, we discussed many of the same things I talked about with my colleagues: the latest restaurant hot spots, where to find the best deals on wine, the endless battle with weight. I didn’t click with everyone -- but then, it isn’t junior high, and you can’t expect to connect with everyone.