I was never one of those women with a throng of long-standing girlfriends. You know the ones I mean. The type who vacation together. Who have annual holiday traditions or progressive dinners. Who have been through most of life together because maybe they all grew up in the same town or went to high school in the same place. And no, this isn’t some cool girl narrative I’m winding my way toward because I always thought my lack of a decades-old, female friend group was some type of personal failing.
I was envious of those groups. I watched them closely, from a distance, wondering what was wrong with me. Sure, I’d had friends in grade school but my family moved a couple of times, creating distance from girls I’d bonded with as I pivoted to the next set of faces.
I bonded with college roommates, but after we threw our caps in the air, tucked our diplomas under our arms, and drove away from campus, something called life started happening. We still chat and text. We’ve made a handful of trips over the last 15 or so years to visit one another in various states across the country. But why wasn’t I able to maintain deep connections with the groups of women who zigged and zagged across the pathways of my life?
After I got married, I didn’t feel quite so compelled to pin myself down to a group of women.
After all, my husband was usually the person I wanted to spend my free time with. We were young, newly married, and both working long hours to develop our careers. Social activities revolved around other couples or groups. And we had a fantastic group! We made summer trips to a lake house, spending long days tubing or simply lazing around the dock. We ventured to the mountains in the winter together for ski vacations where daytime runs down the slopes slipped right into late nights of board games, dance parties, and too many cocktails. And I thought I had finally cracked the code—a group! All of this time I had put so much emphasis on my friendships being female that I had failed to simply see the joy in the camaraderie of a group.
And can I tell you a secret? I was wrong.
Because now I’m a mother and in this season of my life, on this unpredictable, uncontrollable, utterly nonsensical rollercoaster ride I’ve stepped into, a group of other mothers is an essential piece of my ability to live life fully.
It wasn’t always something I was comfortable with. Because being vulnerable? Asking for (gulp) help? That made me uncomfortable, down to my bones. But giving and receiving help is an essential ingredient of the glue that bonds mothers. Or at least it has been for me.
There is the element of enjoying each other, of course.
The women I want to drink wine with and complain to and share good news amongst. But then there is the rest of it. The whole big deal of it. The women who come to my rescue, unasked, when my life feels like it’s being held together by a single shred of tattered fabric. Who fold my kid right into their own brood so I have space to breathe again when I’m drowning. Who take my hand and squeeze it during a quiet moment of reflection. Who calmly listen to me unravel and unearth frustrations from inside of myself I didn’t even know were there until they are coming out of my mouth and into the ears of a most trusted soul.
Being a part of this group has forced me to feel exposed. Comfortable with being uncomfortable. I used to think that not needing anything from anybody was a sign of strength. A virtue. That I would rather be crushed under the weight of my troubles than ask someone to help me carry the load.
But truthfully? I’ve discovered a boldness in showing your hand, cards on the table. A refreshing unburdening that comes with honesty and openness. Good morning, I’m not okay, how are you? And I can see more clearly how letting other people see your house messy, your hair ratty, your clothes stained, and your children in disarray isn’t bad. It doesn’t make you someone with a life that isn’t together and it’s not embarrassing. It won’t kill you to let somebody see the fissures in your space or even yourself because none of this is about any of that. It makes you human. It makes you a real person.
It’s part of letting others into your life fully. A real living, breathing life in all of its rage and glory.
Over the last few years, I have slowly and quietly amassed this cohort of friends in motherhood, and let me assure you, it did not come when I finally had it together. It did not come when my hands were manicured and my hair was blown out. It did not come when my home was well-appointed and my floors were clean. It did not come when I was cooking elaborate meals and spending all of my spare time in edifying volunteer gigs. It did not come because my car was free of cracker crumbs and my handbag was new and my laughter was light.
It came when I was cut off at the knees. It came when I was bent to nearly breaking. It came during a period in my life when I was probably the messiest inside and out that I’ve ever been. My father was diagnosed with ALS, quickly declined, and died. I grappled with canyon-deep, razor-sharp, new grief. I watched my preschooler struggle with confusion about life and death, showing new signs of burgeoning anxiety. I did my best to support my mother and then grieved anew, wrestling complicated emotions wild with unpredictability when she remarried. Our family decided to uproot itself and undertake the arduous task of moving into a new home just in time for our son to begin kindergarten. A global pandemic happened somewhere in the midst of it all.
All of these things created an environment so unstable and so far outside of my control as a mother to my son, as a daughter to my parents, as a wife, a friend, and as a human being that I had no choice but to let the women trying to help me simply help. I surrendered to the quiet, beckoning call of a village.
And so, when they offered meals and care when my dad passed, I accepted. When they learned about my complicated feelings about my mother’s new relationship, I let them see me cry and fume and relent. When we moved and had an empty fridge, I let them bring flowers and groceries.
I let them and I let them and I let them.
It may have taken me 37 years, but I think I finally understand the secret to gaining entrance into what feels like a sacred, ancient community of women helping other women. Mothers communing and pushing their shared boulders up that steep hill we face together. When they ask to be your friend? When they ask to show you care and kindness? When they offer to carry you at your worst and celebrate you at your best? Let them.