I recently spent a night out with some of my girlfriends that consisted of pizza followed by some quality time at a coffee shop where you can also play pool. (This isn’t as strange as it may sound, given where I live.) These are friends I’ve had for ten years, give or take, and despite our busy lives and the fact that two of the six of us now have kids, we try to hang out every few months.
There were some complications to planning this outing, however, because I am 7.5 months pregnant and feeling both tired and whale-like. When we started our email conversation about possible activities, I had to shoot a bunch
of stuff down because I physically cannot do it right now (i.e., roller skating, going to an hour-long standing-room-only play, hanging out at a bar where I would be super jealous of everyone else’s delicious stiff drinks).
Amidst all of the discussion, I started to feel a bit irritated that most of them didn’t seem to understand the limitations of late pregnancy. And then I took a step back and realized that a few short years ago, I was the one who didn’t understand. I remembered that what I should focus on was the fact that they wanted to include me enough that, in the end, they had me pick the activity so I’d have fun and be comfortable, too.
This got me thinking about the nature of my female friendships and how most of them have changed since the spawning has begun (or not, as the case may be). I find that I can now divide my friends into two categories: mom friends and mom’s friends. I have just a small handful of friends who fit into both categories — that is, they were mom’s friends before becoming mom friends — but for the most part, my friends are one or the other.
It’s not that what I’m looking for in a friend has changed, but once you add a kid to the mix, it’s basically like inventing a second (or third, fourth, etc.) personality to contend with in the relationship. A similar sense of humor is still as important for mom friends as for mom’s friends, but the ability to go with the flow is a vital addition to the friendship equation these days.
I will admit to being a bit close-minded about the cultivation of mom friends initially, which I think is really due to the fact that transitioning into motherhood was quite difficult for me. What I’ve come to realize is that both kinds of friends are crucial. The fact is that both pregnancy and raising a kid are things that can’t be fully understood until you’re in the situation itself. In the same way that I used to call one particular friend for dating advice and another friend for career advice, I need to have one friend I can talk to about freelancing as a mom and another I can call for advice on kids’ crafting projects. Contrary to what I thought when my son was born, it does matter that you have some friends with kids, because no matter how well-meaning and understanding your childfree friends are, there are some things they just aren’t going to get on a gut level because they haven’t been there. This isn’t a dig at those friends — it’s just reality.
However, those awesome friends? I need them now more than ever. They are one of the tangible links to my life as me, just me, before my big picture included a kid or a house or a spouse, or even a job in some cases. Our shared memories remind me of who I still am beneath all of these crazy adult responsibilities I’ve taken on. And these women will be around when my kids are grown and gone, and we’ll be planning our retirements together.
I’m not saying that I’ve remained close with everyone I was friends with pre-baby. A few of them were not as interested in sticking around as others, but I’ve been lucky enough to keep most of them. I think that in general, keeping mom’s friends who were really friends to begin with is not that complicated. It basically boils down to not talking about baby poop all the time. I know that I’m possibly in the minority in that I find baby poop simultaneously boring and disgusting, but really, if I don’t want to discuss it, I can’t expect my childfree friends to care.
This sums up my approach to hanging on to these friends: don’t make everything about your kid. Make time to see them without the kid in tow, and make sure you talk about things other than your kid. That being said, I’m not interested in maintaining a friendship with someone who visibly checks out of the conversation if I take fifteen minutes to tell her what’s happening in my three-year-old’s life. His life may be filled with smaller things, but it’s still important.
I’ve had more trouble connecting with mom friends, but what I’ve found is that if I can imagine being friends with the woman (not necessarily BFFs, but better than acquaintances) without having kids, I’m happy being mom friends. This assumes a couple of things: one of which is that we talk about things other than our kids sometimes, and the other is that we have compatible enough parenting styles that I’m not horrified by how she relates to her kids.
My other big realization, which I know goes against some of the advice floating around out there, is that you should not treat finding mom friends like you treat(ed) dating. I understand why people say that (nerves, how to find each other, how to approach without seeming needy), but honestly, I believe that is over-thinking it. It gives too much importance to the innocuous act of setting up a play date. And if you take it that seriously, it’s hard not to be offended if your hang-out time gets repeatedly canceled because someone’s kid gets the flu and then she gets sick and then her baby gets sick and you don’t get to see each other for two months (yes, this has happened to me). If a date had ever done that, it would’ve been the end; if a mom friend does it, I shrug it off and we try again later.
Doing these things has allowed me to slowly build up a network of mom friends I truly like and relate to. And while I recognize that I will likely not be friends with all of these women twenty years down the line, that’s okay. We can still have fun together with our kids now, and there is nothing wrong with that. And if ever a day comes when I do need to talk about baby poop, they will be ready to hear it when I call.