How to Find Mommy Friends
At one time, 10 at night was the time you hit the town, instead of hitting the sheets. And 3 in the morning was when the bars closed and you feared nursing a hangover, instead of nursing a hungry infant. Ah, the difference one positive pregnancy test and a lifetime of love can make.
If you're like many new young moms, you're among the first of your friends to have children. This life change can be awkward terrain to navigate. While your friends are still living the carefree life, you're carefully nurturing this incredible life you've been blessed with. And when you pick up the phone to call a friend, it can be hard to find someone with whom to trade breastfeeding tips instead of barhopping anecdotes.
To be honest, there's nothing like the empathetic ear and helpful sounding board that a fellow mom provides. So how can new moms branch out and find other mommy friends while still maintaining friendships with their single or childless friends?
In Search of Mommy Friends
By the end of the summer, Jen Singer felt cut off from the world. "Pushing my baby around in the stroller, pointing out the trees, the deer and the 'pretty red Porsche in that driveway' was getting old," says the creator of MommaSaid.net and author of the Stop Second-Guessing Yourself parenting book series (HCI, 2009). "But none of my immediate neighbors had babies, and I was the first among my friends to give birth."
Singer found herself in new and lonely territory. For this young mom, the answer was joining a Playorama class and local mother's group. Then she made a big effort to set up play dates. "The class was supposed to be for the baby, but really, it was so I could get out and talk to grownups," she says. "There, I made friends with a woman from another town who had a baby my son's age. We stuck together until preschool started and took us our separate ways. Until then, though, our friendship got me through the early years of motherhood."
Singer credits the mother's group for hooking her up with some seasoned moms who could give her tips on all things baby. "Eventually, I met other moms with kids my own kids' age, and they are still my friends today," she says. "You've got to be able to talk to people who are going through the same thing you are, or who've just recently been through it. Otherwise, motherhood can feel very isolating; you think you're the only one who feels like you do. It's reassuring to know that, say, you're not the only one to deal with separation anxiety or food allergies and such."
"Everyone has an opinion of what it's like to have kids, or how your life will be with kids, but you don't know it until you're actually a mom," says Sara Fisher, a Chicago mom of one with another on the way, and founder of SelfMadeMom.net. "When you have friends who are in the same boat as you, who've had kids the same time, you can relate on a whole different level than if your mom tells you how she raised you back in the 1970s. You need something current and something more tangible, and friends can give that to you."
Fisher was lucky because she knew people through the grapevine who were having kids around the same time she had her son. "We connected and took a baby class together," she says. "Through those classes and going to the park, gym, etc., I met other moms. But it wasn't easy. Finding mom friends is a lot like dating, blind dating even. You have to be a little bold and willing to put yourself out there in potentially uncomfortable situations."
The Importance of Mommy Friends
Psychiatrists and psychologists have long heralded the importance of friendships in an individual's emotional well-being. And for a young mom traversing the world of motherhood, such relationships are absolutely critical.
"Having friends to rely upon for trust, support and advice are essential at every stage of a woman's life," says Dr. Irene S. Levine, author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend (Overlook Press, 2009) and a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. "A growing body of research suggests that close friendships enhance a woman's health and emotional well-being. Having a network of close friends is associated with lower blood pressure, decreased heart rate, lower cholesterol levels and decreased risk of depression."
Dr. Deborah Roth Ledley, a licensed psychologist, author of Becoming a Calm Mom: How to Manage Stress and Enjoy the First Year of Motherhood (APA, 2009) and founder of the TheCalmMom.com, agrees it's essential for new moms to make friends with other moms. There are three reasons why: "First, no one, not even your husband, quite understands what you're going through like fellow moms. As such, you'll find that fellow new moms will become your greatest sources of support and your greatest metric of what's 'normal' in terms of the 'real' reactions moms have to motherhood."
"Second, we can learn a great deal from fellow new moms from the little details of parenting, to effective ways to resolve problems with spouses and other family members," Ledley continues. "Lastly, spending time with fellow moms and their babies is fun. It can be very refreshing to break up your day by meeting up with someone for a walk or a get-together at someone's home."
Dr. Levine admits that never in her life was she as busy or as tired as when she gave birth to her son. "I barely had time to shower," she says. "Babies demand so much time and attention. New moms have far less time and may be so tethered to their home and their new responsibilities that friendships fall to the wayside. Yet, mom friends are vitally important. They provide role models to women so they can become better mothers, reduce stress and anxiety, provide support both practical and emotional and give women a chance to interact with other adults so they feel better about themselves."
But where can you meet these comrades in arms if none of your old friends are on the baby bandwagon? It can feel so isolating to be adrift among acquaintances who are at a drastically different stage in life.
Dr. Ledley suggests simply striking up conversations. "Once you have a new baby, you'll find that you see other new moms and babies everywhere; walking around your neighborhood, at the grocery store, at the pediatrician's office," she says. "So start chatting! Once in a while you might meet someone who thinks you're quite odd to be talking to a complete stranger. Yet, in my experience, most moms are happy for the brief adult conversation and, in fact, some of these casual interactions can evolve into friendships."
She also recommends visiting places where moms hang out, including breastfeeding support groups, neighborhood moms' clubs, baby gym or music classes or exercise programs designed for new moms with babies in tow. "Also, try using social networking sites," she says. "Social networking sites for new moms are burgeoning. These are a great way to find fellow moms in your area."
Dr. Levine agrees that children are natural conversation starters that help you meet new people. "Get out of the house and take your child to the park, for a walk, to the grocery store or to Gymboree or a Mommy and Me group," she says. "When you meet another mother with a child of a similar age, you already have something in common and a lot to talk about. For moms who're more housebound, technology provides opportunities to meet new people online or to resurrect friendships from the past. Online friendships can't substitute for sharing face-time with friends but they do provide glue to cement bonds during times when you can't get together."
Dr. Levine cautions that it's important to pursue your own interests and to be a person that other people want to befriend. "Try to make your life broader than being a mommy alone," she says. "Whether it's participating in a book club, Pilates class, or cooking class or joining a civic, political, volunteer or religious group, each of these situations offers opportunities to meet like-minded individuals who share your interests."
"And recognize that close friendships don't just happen overnight," says Dr. Levine. "After you meet a potential friend, nurture the relationship so it becomes more intimate. This requires time. Schedule a girl's night out one evening a week. If you can't get out of the house, plan a 'Girls' Night In' with videos and popcorn. The important thing is to create rituals that will bring you together with mommy friends."
Make New Friends but Keep the Old
Still, Dr. Ledley says, be sure to nurture your old friendships. "No one knows you better than your oldest and dearest friends," she says. "Don't fall into the trap of losing touch because Baby is so all-encompassing. Nothing is more refreshing to a new mom than a night out with an old friend. Yes, it is fine to talk about Baby, but make sure to also talk about what's happening in your friend's life and what's happening in the wider world. Having a conversation that extends beyond poopy diapers and sore nipples puts you back in touch with who you were before becoming a mother."
It's advice Singer swears by. "You have to remember that you are still you, just more tired and probably wearing spit-up on your shirt right now," she says. "When you hang out with people who have no kids, it's OK to mention your children a little bit, but you need to focus on other things, like the news and movies that aren't animated with talking chipmunks. If you feel you have nothing to say, reminisce. Everyone loves a funny story from back in the day."
In general, Dr. Levine says, the more you have in common with someone, the greater the likelihood your friendship will "stick." That's why so many best friends have a shared history or lifestyle. Babies change your lifestyle and can alter your friendships; in particular with those who are single or childless.
"It changes the delicate balance between two friends," Dr. Levine says. "Even starting as early as pregnancy, mothers fall in love with their babies and form an impenetrable attachment. So you may be more distracted, leaving less time and emotions for a very close female friendship. You may continually talk about your child and your friend may be bored silly with the conversation. You have less free time because you put family first. Combined, these factors may make the childless friend feel like she's been knocked down a notch, and in reality, she has been!"
So your childless friends may feel a sense of loss because your relationship has changed. And it's not unheard of for some friends to start to distance themselves. It's natural that they'll still stick to their old routines, their old lifestyles. In the meantime, while you're blissfully bowled over by Baby, you're out of the loop, absent from the parties and the old hangouts.
Dr. Levine recommends recognizing this change and working around it. "It may require adapting the friendship to the changed situation," she says. "You may need to talk on the phone when the baby is sleeping. You may need to plan girls' nights out when a spouse or relative can provide childcare. The time you spend together may need to be scheduled in advance and may have to consist of getting things done. For example, set up a routine appointment to have your nails manicured and hair cut on the same days to maintain continuity in your relationship and have face-time with one another."
"If the friendship is important, you need to renegotiate your friendship so it works for both of you," she continues. "You need to recognize that this is a phase of life and roles may reverse at a later time. Flexibility and open communication are key."
Singer couldn't agree more. "As your kids get older and more independent, you'll be able to focus more on yourself and your friendships," she says. "In the meantime, put in the effort to keep the friendship fires burning, even if it just means commenting on your friends' Facebook pages now and then."