Two of our eight children still lived at home when we made the biggest transition our family had ever experienced — a move from the suburbs of Los Angeles to a small town in central Arizona. Lizzy would soon begin seventh grade, and Rachel would enter her senior year of high school. We had a lot to look forward to: three acres in the country, gardening, riding lessons and kayaking in the local lakes.
But all the joy we shared looking at photos of the new house and Internet tours of the area dissolved in tears when it came time for our kids to let their friends know about the move. Anguish and agony followed. We arranged for future visits to the old hometown and their friends' visits to our new home. Rachel would attend proms at both her old and new high schools. We compensated where we could, but the loss weighed heavily.
Our children needed the comfort of new friends, but the town we were moving to was so small, most of the kids there had known each other since kindergarten. We knew it might be tough for our children to break into those established friendships. We also didn't have much time. School would start soon. No child wants to experience an all-alone-at-lunch moment in a new school. I had to act fast!
Here are the strategies I used to help our daughters find friends:
Join a church family. Before moving, I searched online for churches and conducted phone interviews with youth pastors. We moved in on a Tuesday, and on Wednesday, the girls attended youth group. Finding new friends may take awhile in the older age groups, where kids are self-conscious and cliques are common, but combine kids with fun activities, and friendships will follow.
Meet the neighbors. In the old days, neighbors arrived with warm muffins as soon as the moving truck left. It's not that way anymore. No one came calling, so we decided to be proactive. We had fun baking and delivering cookies to each neighbor. They were genuinely delighted to meet us. Though none of our neighbors was the same age as our girls, Rachel and Lizzy found some steady baby-sitting jobs this way.
Get the lay of the land. We explored the neighborhood on foot and the area by car. We discovered tourist spots, hiking trails, parks, equestrian centers and stores galore. We visited museums, restaurants and the new schools. We also met many wonderful folks who filled us in on information about the town.
Shop for friends. At local yard sales, we found not only bargains but also friendly people who answered our questions about local churches, which parks were best for what activities and whether the kids liked their schools.
Get involved in sports. Rachel and Lizzy both competed on local softball teams, which created a natural entrance into the town's social scene. A summer recreation league can help a child not only find friends, but also strengthen social skills such as teamwork, taking turns and graceful losing. Joining the Y will also open up a world of fun and new friends.
Be friendly. The girls stretched themselves to be outgoing with strangers. This paid off for Lizzy while she was attending a back-to-school event at her junior high. Another mom and daughter were processing Lizzy's papers when they noticed she was from California. Lizzy struck up a conversation with the girl and invited her to our house, and they’ve been BFF (best friends forever) since.
Pray. We prayed for new friendships every day, and we saw God's hand in how their friendships developed. Our daughters met their friends primarily by making themselves available for divine appointments that God tucked into their everyday lives. Today, they enjoy old friends and new. Prayer truly works.