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Family 1st: Creating connections in a new city

Courtney Larkin is one of the most connected mothers in the Fredericton area, but it didn’t happen by chance or by birth. Courtney and her husband, Jonathan, moved to the area from Halifax in 2017.

“I was four months pregnant and I didn’t know anyone,” recalls Courtney. “Most of the friends I made were through my spouse’s job, and everybody was nice, but I just didn’t have all the connections I was used to after living in Halifax for my whole life. I was craving that sense of community.”

She came with some worries about finding a support and social network of her own.

“I had been given the impression that it might be hard to make friends,” she recalls. “When I was telling people in Halifax I was moving, it was that rumour mill of ‘You know, it’s much smaller than Halifax, they probably already know each other, they’re not looking for new friends, you’ll just be at home with the baby.’ And I was nervous about that, but I found it’s completely different.”

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Courtney Larkin moved to the Fredericton region when she was four months pregnant. She worried about finding friends, but quickly found ways to feel connected to the community. (Photo by Emily Palmer Photography)

The couple’s son, Reid, was born in October, and Courtney found herself dealing with a newborn and an intense case of carpal tunnel syndrome in both arms, as well as a desire to find that sense of community, even if she had to build it herself.

“After the holidays and the New Year, I gathered a group and said, ‘Okay, let’s try to shake off these winter blues.’ I just wanted to do something, to make connections. I had been an event planner, so I thought, well, maybe I could plan an event, kind of like a networking thing but it would be very casual. You don’t have to be a CEO, you don’t have to buy a membership, you don’t have to be a mom.”

And so, Happy Hour Club Fredericton was born. Courtney says she would have been happy with two dozen people at the first event, but it quickly turned into a sellout event with nearly 75 women attending. After a full year of events in Fredericton, Courtney expanded to include Moncton and Saint John.

A social gathering the size of Happy Hour Club might still feel intimidating to some, and the events are spread out, but Courtney shares other ways parents can work to create connections in the community.

“I’ve always found that people who’ve lived here a little while love sharing all the great things to do,” says Courtney. “For me, it was going into small shops because the people are there, they’re working, they’re happy to have a customer come in and just ask ‘What should I be doing?’ People gave me so much advice! Then I would go on social media and follow those stores, see some of the people in the area who might have a lot of followers, see what they’re posting, what they got up to on the weekend, and just saying, ‘Okay, I’m going to go too’.”

The idea that Fredericton residents already have close-knit social circles that a newcomer can’t break into has proven false for Courtney. “I know Fredericton has a lot of people who didn’t grow up here. We have posting season and new families coming to Oromocto, lots of families moving here. What I found from putting myself out there and making these connections is that most people aren’t from here. Once I found that, I realized I’m not alone.”

“I think the number one thing I keep hearing from so many moms is that they’re a little bit anxious about taking that first step to get out there,” says Courtney, noting that’s especially the case with moms with young babies or a “wild toddler” like her 18-month-old son. “What I’ve been learning, is you’re going to have good days and bad days. So many people feel, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll inconvenience [the shop owner] or my kid’s going to have a meltdown.’ Everybody’s kid has meltdowns. It’s just part of the reality. It’s good to get out and feel those connections, make those connections. It’s not easy, but it’s fantastic.”

Courtney also credits her newfound feelings of connection to the Fredericton area to the wonderful network of female-owned and female-run businesses in the region. She is the creator of Luna Baby Pillow, a popular feeding pillow that she created after becoming “angry” with the models available to her. The Luna Baby Pillow is now carried in several Fredericton area children’s stores and available online, with plans for expansion after this summer.

To follow Courtney’s advice of finding local parents to follow on social media, look for her businesses @lunababypillow and @hhcfredericton, @hhcmoncton, and @hhcsaintjohn on Instagram and Facebook!

A version of this article originally appeared in Family 1st/Famille en premier, a free, bilingual quarterly parenting magazine published by Brunswick News, with Pickle Planet Moncton’s Jenna Morton as Contributing Editor.

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