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Professional networking doesn’t have to stop the minute you become a parent. In fact, having a child can actually open the door to meeting and making even more connections than before. Whether you’re chatting with another parent at the park or making small talk in the daycare doorway, having a child can be your “in” to opening the lines of communication with other working parents. 

When I first became a mom, I found it daunting to even think about making new friends or professional connections. I barely had time to sleep, let alone build my network. But as my daughter got older, and I was no longer quite as sleep-deprived, I realized having a child with you in social settings actually helps break down the barriers of entry. It’s like having a small wing person with you to make those initial conversations slightly less awkward. I’m not saying there won’t be uncomfortable exchanges at times, but I personally find it more comforting to approach others when I have my tiny, talkative toddler with me.  

And just like with anything, chatting with other parents takes some getting used to. You may encounter some cold shoulders and brush-offs along the way. And while it may seem like just another thing to add to your already busy to-do list, forging new relationships as an adult can lead to networking and friendship opportunities down the road – for you and your child. 

The more I thought about my approach to networking as a working parent, the more I realized it’s very similar to the process of dating. Just like dating, you need to put yourself out there to meet new people and then weed through a lot of non-matches before you meet the One… who can help propel your career forward. 

And since I’ve managed to somewhat successfully make a few new connections as a busy, working mom of a 3-year-old toddler, I’m more than happy to share a few of my secrets. 

Coffee shop canoodling 

With free wifi and caffeinated beverages, coffee shops attract working parents … who probably aren’t there to chat with you if they are there working. But try bringing your child with you to a coffee shop on a weekend morning when people are a little more relaxed. 

The first time I brought my toddler to my favorite cafe, I was surprised at how many more people I met because I had her with me. After we sat down in the kid zone in the corner, other younger kids started playing in the same area and all of us parents inevitably started talking. Not necessarily willingly at first but the kids forced it upon us, for better or for worse. I quickly realized I was in the same industry as one of the other moms and we made a future coffee date to chat about career opportunities. 

Little encounters like this can lead to bigger moments down the line. You never know when someone you meet at a coffee shop, restaurant or the grocery store may have a job lead or connection you may not have previously considered.  

Pick someone up at pickup (in a non-creepy way)

Morning dropoff at daycare or preschool is typically rushed and chaotic, but come afternoon pickup time, most parents are done with work for the day and a lot more friendly. I’ve found that just extending a smile and “Hi, I’m _____’s mom!” goes a long way. And that opens the door to future conversations and park playdate invites. 

Through my friendships with a few of the parents from my daughter’s daycare class, I’ve been invited to book clubs and happy hours, which naturally leads to job talk and networking opportunities. Just through daycare alone, I’ve met parents from all walks of life, from artists, professors and attorneys to surgeons, marketing directors and news anchors. You don’t have to think of networking as only connecting with others in your exact field; in my experience, I’ve found that talking to parents with drastically different jobs than mine helped give me a diverse perspective on handling work situations. 

Slide into their DMs (or whatever LinkedIn messages are called) 

Don’t be afraid to ask someone out … for coffee via LinkedIn. Use the search function to find people in similar industries, or someone that works for a brand or company that interests you, and see if they are up for grabbing a coffee or doing a zoom chat to talk more about their background in that field. Most people are happy to help, and honored that you considered them. You may get a few unanswered messages but don’t think of it as rejection since they don’t even know you. 

You can also do this at your current place of employment. I worked with an eager, fresh-out-of-college woman who had no fear when it came to setting up meet-and-greet meetings with some of the top executives at the company. When I saw her eating lunch with the CMO one day, I thought wow, she really went for it, and it worked. They were laughing and chatting away. Don’t let titles or levels get in the way of forging a relationship with someone you admire. 

Stretch your connections 

Gyms, yoga studios and fitness classes are also a great way to meet other working parents and make new professional connections. Everyone there is working toward a common goal and there’s a positive “we’re in it together” mentality that can easily transition into networking opportunities. And if all else fails, you’re still getting a great workout in. 

And speaking of working out, my last bit of advice is to not worktoo hardat networking. Do not stress if you’re not doing it enough, or at all. You’re already incredibly busy as a working parent and the last thing you need to do is take on another stressful task. So, try to work it into your existing routine and start small by just smiling to someone new at daycare or school dropoff. That parent is probably feeling as overwhelmed as you are, and one small gesture can make a world of difference.