At the end of a first date, Jamie Kolnick, a business owner in Manhattan, didn’t want it to end. She walked her new companion home to keep talking. “I’d invite you in, but it’s a mess,” her date said.
Except the two weren’t on just any date. The afternoon was what Ms. Kolnick calls “a mom date,” and a meetup between their 1-year-olds. The women matched on Peanut, an app designed for like-minded mothers to connect.
On the app, users can swipe up to wave and swipe down to move to the next “mama.” If two users wave, it’s a match.
Katie Cox, a mother of two young children who works in marketing in Dallas, said this gamelike quality was part of the reason she joined. “I never had the chance to experience any fun dating apps, so I wanted to check it out,” she said.
Similar to Tinder, Peanut users log in with their Facebook accounts, and a geolocation tool allows them to connect with mothers nearby. The free app uses an algorithm to match mothers with similar interests — users can choose from cheeky badges like “Fitness Fiend,” “Wine Time” and “Music Is My Medicine” — and experiences, whether it’s having a child with special needs or being a single mother. It also syncs with the calendar on a smartphone for easy scheduling.
“I like that it doesn’t take a lot of brain work,” Ms. Cox said. “I can just sit there and flip through while I’m making lunch.” She explained that although she has plenty of friends in Dallas, most of them have older children. Peanut has helped her connect — and make fast friends — with mothers in her neighborhood in the same situation.
The app is the brainchild of Michelle Kennedy, a London entrepreneur who was integral to the start of the dating app Bumble (she named it) and a former executive of the highly successful Badoo, Europe’s version of OkCupid. Ms. Kennedy, 34, created the app when she was a new mother and discovered she couldn’t find mothers with similar interests to connect with.
“From an emotional perspective, I felt quite isolated, and I don’t think that’s a very comfortable thing to say,” Ms. Kennedy said.
She decided to fix that by creating a digital space where women could form meaningful relationships while balancing the new, and often transformational, act of parenting.
“When it’s 2 a.m., you’re feeding and your baby has been up for an hour, there are very few people who understand how scary and lonely that can be,” Ms. Kennedy said. “But a mama who is on Peanut and using it at the exact same time, she gets it.” She added that it’s the kind of interaction you can’t get by simply making friends with a neighbor, or even another mother from day care.
Peanut, of course, is no substitute for meeting beyond a screen, and Ms. Kennedy said the app was created for people to meet in real life. But she noted that society had changed, that we no longer live with family and friends nearby. “They say it takes a village,” she said. “We are helping you to find the village. What could be wrong with that?”
Well, for Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, parent-focused apps conjure unsettling images. Dr. Turkle has spent more than 30 years interviewing hundreds of children and parents (and has written two acclaimed books) as research into our relationship with technology.
“I’m not saying that being a mom doesn’t have some lonely times when adult companionship would be welcome.” she said. “But right now the pendulum has swung away from finding companionship with your child.”
She described scenes of mothers texting while pushing their baby’s stroller, and others too occupied with their phones to recognize that their child was trying to get their attention. She encourages mothers to check in with their children to be sure that they aren’t feeling isolated.
The child psychological researcher Yalda Uhls, the author “Media Moms & Digital Dads,” has similar advice. “You have to make it clear to children that you are going to put away the device and be there with them,” Dr. Uhls said. She also questions why Peanut is only for mothers. What about fathers? Caretakers? Grandparents? “It feels a bit gendered,” she said.
The question of fathers resonates with Meghan Springmeyer, who works in marketing and is the mother of a 2-year-old. She recently moved from New York to Raleigh, N.C., and used Peanut to find a new community in a place where she didn’t “know a soul.” She said her husband was a little jealous that she kept making new friends.
“I think he is starting to feel a little left out,” Ms. Springmeyer said. “That could be Peanut Round 2: Peanut for dudes.”