Are you moving to Canberra for a cushy public servant job?
Are you a trend setting hipster opening a new restaurant with milk crates to sit on and service with a mustache?
As I arrange our final farewells from Canberra and count down the days to our departure (our family are embarking on some overseas travel), it has me reflecting about how on earth I survived this cliquey, bureaucratic, magpie-ridden place called The Can for the last five years.
We moved here knowing no one.
Started brand new jobs.
Got engaged. Married. Had two kids.
All in Canberra and all with little support from family and friends who lived interstate.
We basically started again from scratch.
It hasn’t been easy, and at times it has felt isolating, but there has been one fundamental rule that has kept our heads above water.
We built around ourselves, a community.
It goes without saying that life is much harder on your own, and this is why building a community around yourself, particularly in this cliquey place, is so important. And not just for parents, for everyone.
Pre-kids in Canberra I had my work mates. I had one, maybe two, gym friends. And that was it.
This meant that every time I got together with a friend, we talked work. It got a little tedious after a while.
But the importance of expanding my community really hit home when I was the only one out of my small group of friends having a baby.
I was all alone.
It was hard at first but building a community was essential to my sanity and general well being.
So this is how I survived in Canberra as a parent.
I extended my pre-baby community
At the time I was pregnant, two other women at my workplace fell pregnant too. I hadn’t really spoken to them outside of work, but our impending first-time motherhood status meant we had a commonality. We bonded over pregnancy complaints and worries, horror birthing stories, and crazy newborn lifestyles. These two friends, I now also consider lifelong friends.
I started building my community early
During my pregnancy I started attending prenatal pilates to meet like-minded mums. And it worked. I met three ladies. One moved to Sydney (damn). The other moved to my home state (typical). And the third I now consider a lifelong friend. We even had our second babies at the same time! It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship!
I swallowed my nerves and went to a mother’s group
One of the best initiatives in Canberra are the community based Mother’s Groups available to first time mums. As I felt like my parenting ability was going to be judged at one of these groups, I deliberately put off booking myself in. This meant that when I eventually found some courage to call, my son was one of the oldest in the group.
My tardiness at booking turned out to be a blessing, however, as this group of women have turned out to be absolutely wonderful.
We later found out that we were all nervous about attending. For different reasons – the formula feeders felt like they would be judged, the breast feeders worried their babies wouldn’t latch. The older ladies felt too old, the younger ones felt too young.
Two years later we still catch up albeit sporadically, and some off us bond all over again with our second babies.
I took advantage of free community groups
There are numerous community play groups, craft groups, music groups etc that Canberra offers. I went to numerous Giggle and Wiggle groups at my local library and Learn, Giggle and Grow craft classes also within my local community. I have also spent a great deal of time at PlayUp at Old Parliament House. I met other new parents there and held play dates with my current friends.
Ask another mum on a date
This took a while to build up to. I would often go to a park simply to get some fresh air and meet parents within my local neighborhood. More often than not when I got chatting with another mum, I would leave and regret not asking if they would like to meet up.
I felt like a four year old asking if she would be my friend.
After several months of being shy, I took the plunge and asked a mum out on a date. Turns out, she wanted to get my number too and was just as nervous as me. We met up the following week at the same park. I did this on several occasions, and even although no long term friends were made from this, it helped me have something to look forward each week, and it got me out of the house.
I made an effort with visitors and new Canberrans
The thing about Canberra is that almost everyone has recently moved here. As former workmates came back from deployments or postings, or as ‘friends of friends’ moved here for new job opportunities, I made an effort to make contact with them.
Once upon a time I would have never made an effort with a ‘friend of a friend’ – I mean, I had enough friends and certainly didn’t want to risk there being any uncomfortable silences. But I was my own worst enemy.
Nowadays I invite people I barely know to play dates so I can continue to expand my community and they can start building theirs. I invite them over for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and we go on walks around the many beautiful lakes in Canberra.
Over the course of my time in Canberra I have found there are six ways that Canberran’s can break into the Canberra clique and start building a community. Some of them you will find easy, others will bring you out of your comfort zone.
This strategy of building a community is pivotal to my quality of life here in Canberra. While some of my methods didn’t create life long friendships, all of them helped me meet new people and get me out of the house.
What methods did you use to build a community around yourself as a first or second time parent?
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