After I had a baby, I was in such a state of shock that I clung to anyone experiencing a similar tornado of emotions. Enter the Mom Friends.
From a distance, Mom Friends seem like regular friends. You take walks together, exchange text messages in the middle of the night, meet for coffee. Except that unlike regular friends, you don’t need to have anything in common, as long as you’re both moms. They may laugh at your love for jam bands. They might not understand what it’s like covering fashion shows. But it’s okay, because with Mom Friends, all the foundations on which you once built friendships are irrelevant.
This doesn’t seem like a recipe for true human companionship, yet somehow it works. You’re just trying to survive in a new role that nobody understands other than them. Once you make Mom Friends, you realize how much you need them.
I never set out to have Mom Friends. I figured I already had enough friends through work, college, and even high school, some of whom happen to be moms. But friends-who-are-moms are not Mom Friends. Friends-who-are-moms are friends first. That you both have kids is slightly irrelevant. The relationship with Mom Friends, however, stems directly from your children.
I made the bulk of my Mom Friends through a baby class when my son was 6 months old. At the time, I was spending two days per week with him and working the other days, and, without my realizing it, this group became my primary source of social interaction. We all had babies the same age, and — especially in those first few long, lonely months of motherhood — we were all experiencing the same ups and downs. We did the babies’ first Halloween (attempting the kiddie parade before relegating to a bar). We celebrated birthdays, milestones, and little siblings. We endured the heinous preschool-application process.
I found something easy and pure about a friendship centered around children. It lacked gossip, competition, or any past grudges. Though the process of making Mom Friends can be stressful, once I met them, I realized my Mom Friends were all battling the same issues I was. Ask any “real friend” how she coped when her son started climbing out of his crib two years ago and she’ll most likely say, “I don’t remember.”
The first major requirement of Mom Friends is that they live in your neighborhood. My closest friend from college has a son of similar age but lives on the Upper East Side, which may as well be Los Angeles in terms of Mom Friends. By the time you make it to the train, it’s practically nap time. If someone has a cold, forget it. Mom Friends, on the other hand, live in your Zip Code and are always down to hang, even for 45 minutes.
That’s another prerequisite of being a Mom Friend. You must be available. Generally, Mom Friends don’t work, or if they do, it’s part-time or flexible. Moms with full-time jobs don’t require as consistent of a crew of Mom Friends to keep the day moving. Though they, too, can be found making weekend playground runs with Mom Friends, their need to cultivate these friendships isn’t as dire. As a freelancer, I’m a part-time, often-noncommittal Mom Friend. I pop in on a playdate when I can, and I go MIA when I’m on deadline. But Mom Friends are understanding, more so than regular friends. With Mom Friends, we are never “due for a catch-up.” It’s not personal. It’s about the kids.
In some cases, Mom Friends can transition into becoming real friends. Maybe it starts with a glass of wine, or realizing you know someone in common. Maybe you both have the same breezy approach to parenting, or to life in general. Sometimes it’s after a major scare that you come to rely on them for more than just an extra diaper or trip to the park.
Last April, I realized how much I valued my Mom Friends after my son fell down the stairs at my in-laws and split his forehead on a door hinge. The scene was something out of a horror movie, his face drenched in blood as he sobbed uncontrollably. We hightailed it to the emergency room where he received 20 stitches, both internally and externally, etched across his upper forehead.
The next morning, still traumatized, I felt the need to share what had happened with my Mom Friends — even though I didn’t tell my best friend until a week later. In exchange I received a barrage of supportive messages, offers of doctor friends’ phone numbers, referrals to cousins who are plastic surgeons, and the like. Suddenly, I felt grateful they were there, even if just via text. We were all in this mess of motherhood together. This time it was my kid. Next time, it will be one of theirs.
When I think about these Mom Friends, I often recall an old New York Times story that discusses the difficulty in making friends after 30 — that the winning combination for long-lasting friendship is time plus experience. As parents, we no longer have tons of time to invest in making new friends, nor do we have those magical shared life experiences like when we were younger. I will never backpack through nasty European hostels with my Mom Friends. I will never hold any of them as they sob over a love lost, nor will we dance barefoot on a Caribbean beach as the sun rises on a new year. But being a mother comes with its own swath of life experiences, from the ugly to the wonderful. And sharing that with other women can be special, no matter how different we may appear to be.