As one of the first of my friends to have a baby, I was eager to meet other moms, only to read in all the parenting blogs that making mom-friends is like DATING. Oh boy, I thought – that has never been my strong suit – but I reckoned I had better give it a try anyway, because motherhood can be a lonely business.
In a square, stuffy room in the back of a library, my baby boy and I joined a messy circle of moms – many of us newbies – with a few dads and grandparents sprinkled in. Our babies sat in our laps or crawled or wobbled away to explore their surroundings and steal other kids’ toys. Books were read, music was played, and babies boogied down. We returned the next day, and the day after that. Soon, it was part of our every day routine and clearly benefitted us both. For me, it was a chance to connect with other moms – even if just by shared glances, snippets of conversation, mutual confessions, and resonating statements. This mere half-hour activity left me feeling refreshed, understood, and part of something. Isn’t that what friendship is for? But could I consider these women real friends? After a few months had passed, we still hardly ever socialized outside of story-time.
I began to understand why the process is likened to dating; making parent-friends requires some persistence and effort. Not only do we have our own schedules to work around and our own friendship chemistry to consider – we also worry: Will the babies get along? Will they try to bite each other? Will that be embarrassing? Will their naptimes be in synch? It wasn’t easy making plans with the moms I’d met, but before long, I realized it didn’t really matter– we’d get there, in time (maybe). For now, our conversations – no matter how brief – were like that first sip of coffee in the morning. Our connections – albeit different from my previous, effortless sisterhoods – were meaningful, and such a relief. Humans crave connection; we grow, cope, thrive, and heal through positive, mutual relationships. We look to each other for the answer to that fundamental question: am I okay?
For parents, the stakes feel high. Raising another person is the best and hardest job we’ve ever had. The media is exploding with reasons why we’re doing it wrong. As mothers, we can relate, and commiserate. As friends, we build each other up. Making and maintaining these bonds, I’ve discovered, is as crucial as reading to my child. It has to be a priority. The better my state of mind, the better mother I am. And I also set an example. My parents always modeled fantastic friendships. They had couple friends and individual friendships, and they valued and nurtured both. My mom used to walk every evening with her best gal-pal, round and round the neighborhood, as the sun turned rosy and a sliver of moon appeared. How boring, I thought, as a kid. But nowadays, that’s a highlight of my week – walking and talking with a friend and our kids, the squish of our sneakers against the pavement, limbs cutting through the cool fall air – nowhere to be but there.
Those times are rare with little ones (and I wouldn’t have it any other way). Between mealtimes that result in more food on the floor than in my child’s mouth, bath-times that leave me more soaked than my son, and bedtime routines that seldom lead to sleep, I’ve learned to get creative about how I keep in touch with even my closest friends, and I’ve come to rely heavily upon my smartphone, as it’s far more feasible to text than call. Connecting through a device isn’t as personal, of course, but that’s not always a bad thing. We tend to shed some inhibitions when communicating through screens. I felt less shy, for example, about reaching out to acquaintances – other mothers I knew, who have since become good friends – for breastfeeding help, describing my issues at length. Not once did I think twice about discussing my “rock hard boobs” – all that mattered was the wisdom shared, the validation from other women that I was not alone. As it turns out, when it comes to mom matters, there is almost no such thing as TMI – birth stories, postpartum woes, breastfeeding tales, bodily changes – the gruesome, graphic details don’t faze my friends or me in the slightest; it’s simply grist for the mill.
I think we all long to find our “tribe”, and I’m glad to be finding mine, forming ongoing connections with funny and kind souls that have “mini-me”’s of their own. I’m still learning to be more flexible, to put forth more effort, to accept my new limitations, and embrace the new depths of my friendships, old and new. The best part of it is, my son has also found some buddies, and they don’t even try to bite each other.