Molly Whitehead-Jones on the apps saving mums from isolation
Smartphones are a lifeline for mums; whether you’re dealing with the 3 am feed, pinned under a napping baby or simply don’t feel up to going out that day, a couple of swipes through Instagram at least help you feel somehow connected with the outside world.
But now, a new breed of apps is giving us a whole other avenue to explore: they’re designed to lend mothers a hand when it comes to meeting much-longed-for pals. It means we no longer need to rely on chance playgroup encounters or a random Facebook page to find our mama tribe – we can proactively go hunting for suitable mum mates instead.
Simply sign up, complete a profile, and then start scrolling for a ‘match’ – pretty much just as you would with a dating app, except that, here, a smiley family profile shot’s likely to go over much better than a pouty selfie.
'Mush’ - one of the first of this kind to come onto the market - allows you to search based on a variety of filters (age, baby’s age, distance from you, etc.); ‘Mummy Social’ lets you arrange and/or sign up for local social events. And ‘Peanut’, arguably the edgiest of the apps, gets you to scroll through images Tinder-style, ‘waving’ or rejecting based primarily on their picture and three primary interests (amongst the decidedly-unmumsy-sounding categories you can select for yourself are 'Spiritual Gangster', 'Fashion Killa' and 'Powered by caffeine').
92% of British mums feel lonely, with 54% saying they’ve felt more so since having a family
“I often hear people talk about how it ‘takes a village’ to raise a child, and yet we can't always find our village anymore,” says Michelle Kennedy, co-founder and CEO of Peanut. “We move around for work, for lifestyle choices, and we don't always live next door to our family or our best friend. Sometimes, that mobility means you need to form friendships and communities all over again, and technology can make that a little easier.
“Peanut was born from my own struggle to meet other like-minded mums. My girlfriends weren’t at the stage in their lives where they were having children yet and even if some of my wider friendship group were, we all lived in different parts of the city. I suppose what I felt most prominently, which isn’t particularly comfortable for a 30-something woman to admit, is that even though I had lots of friends, I felt quite isolated.”
Truth is that Michelle’s feelings of lonesomeness are being echoed all over. A study conducted by The British Red Cross and the Co-op last year highlighted early motherhood as one of the loneliest possible times in women’s lives; research from Channelmum has revealed that 92% of British mums feel lonely, with 54% saying they’ve felt more so since having a family. And, unsettlingly, the biggest source of this isolation comes from “cliquey and bitchy” baby and toddler groups – the very endeavours that are supposed to help us forge new friendships – which 51% revealed they feel excluded from.
Indeed, it seems to be an issue that affects even the unlikeliest candidates: when discussing the subject with the team behind Mush earlier this month, the Duchess of Cambridge said: “It is lonely at times. You do feel quite isolated. But actually, so many other mothers are going through exactly what you're going through. But it's being brave enough to reach out.”
“Peanut was born from my own struggle to meet other like-minded mums."
The fact is that it’s less nerve-wracking to dole out a barrage of virtual ‘waves’ than risk a wave across the playground. But how do women really feel about turning to an app to make mates?
“Mush saved my sanity,” says Lauren from Prestwich. “I found I had little in common with the mums at classes and groups other than we all had kids. But through the app, I’ve met a handful of women my age with babies the same age and who I have lots in common with. You’re bound to meet people you don’t click with on there too, but isn’t that life?”
But not everyone’s so enamoured. “They’re not for me,” says Sarah from Didsbury. “There are other mums everywhere you go so I don’t really see the point of going online, plus isn’t there a danger that you’ll just spend ages messaging and never actually meet up with anyone in real life? Much better to go down to the park or the local soft play and just chat to the people there.”
Still, the apps are proving phenomenally popular – Mush now has over 100,000 members, and, despite being only a couple of months old, Peanut’s trended in the App store several times. Now Buump , created by Manchester mama Rebecca Bishop, is shifting things up a gear by enabling you to make your brand-new mummy friends online before you’ve even popped out your kiddo.
Given that we’re a generation who’d rather go out and create our own opportunities than sit back and wait for fate to deliver them to us, the rise of mum mate apps is really no surprise. We turn to our smartphones to provide the solution to everything from our lack of evening meal options to our lack of mindfulness. So why shouldn’t we make use of the same technology so many of us readily rely on to find a life partner to help us find a lifelong buddy?
“Reaching out to someone online as a new mum isn’t a new phenomenon,” notes Rebecca. “Discussion forum platforms have existed for a long time, but this is now being taken a step further. Turning online also means connecting on your terms. Just having children the same age isn’t necessarily the basis for a meaningful friendship; you need a connection which runs deeper because whilst you meet as mums, you’ll connect as the women you are.”
Me? I’m definitely swiping right.