Fact: Mamas are not always very nice to each other and I wish that we, the stronger sex, could join our forces more often than we do. It might be hard to do when you vehemently disagree with someone, but when I polled a few fellow moms for this piece, hearing them share some of the ways in which they’ve been excluded, victimized and disappointed by their own “friends,” made me think that maybe we should establish a working agreement within our own ranks. Without further ado, here are 10 guidelines to consider when cultivating friendships that truly “honor thy mother(hood friendships).”
1. Be honest. This post could probably start and end with this little reminder since most friendship rifts could be prevented if we were honest with each other. Honest about our capacity for friendship, honest about what we need in a relationship, honest about our feelings. This also means being honest with yourself. Not every mom you meet will be your best friend, and that’s okay. You don’t need to be cruel if you think a friendship won’t work out, but a little honesty can go a long way. (And in case that thought makes you uncomfortable, here’s a line you can use: “Thanks for including me in your invite! I’m overcommitted right now, but really appreciate the offer.”)
2. Trust is a two-way street. You want a good friend? Be a good friend. As I’ve grown older (oh, so much older) I’ve realized that I can sometimes expect the worst. Building up walls and lowering expectations is certainly a way to avoid getting hurt, but it’s limiting and prevents me from forming what might actually be a great relationship. That said, one of the issues a friend shared with me was how her mom frenemy would often repeat things she’d told her in confidence. Things like a pregnancy announcement! We learn this as children, but it bears repeating, trust is a two-way street. To get it, you must earn it and demonstrate it.
3. Always communicate. So, if you’re keeping track, you’re probably noticing a theme — connecting your thoughts and feelings. But all of that won’t matter if you don’t share them with the women who are meant to have your back. If you’re hurt, tell someone directly. One friend shared that she often finds herself in a vent session where several moms are discussing other women who aren’t there. We all know that’s not productive and even if you feel wronged by someone, they won’t have a chance to make things right if they don’t know.
4. Make time. One of my issues with mom friends is simply that I don’t have a lot of time to create these relationships, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. As a strong introvert, it can feel impossible for me to be social at the end of a long day. Canceled plans are my favorite plans. But since I’ve taken the leap recently, I’ve found a new friend who I can tell will be in my life forever. Bonus? Our daughters are also great friends! Because I went outside my comfort zone to go on a few playdates, I’m now energized by our time together.
5. Respect boundaries. Okay, so you’ve found a mom friend who shares many of your same parenting philosophies and then her kid bites yours. What do you do? I’m a Mama Bear with the best of them and have been known to tell off a rough and inappropriate pre-teen boy on the playground a time or two, but if I’m in a situation where the other mom wants to handle something differently, I have to be okay with respecting that boundary. I’ve found that this same practice has helped improve my parenting relationship with my husband. We’re not always going to do everything the same, and that has to be okay.This ComMOMdment also pertains to respecting the boundaries of your mom friends’ children. My friends recounted numerous times where their friends would compare the very arbitrary milestones the Internet has us cataloging with each other. If we step back, I think most mothers do this because they’re looking to assuage some insecurity they have about another area of their child’s development, but — if we’re honest — it’s not a productive way to spend your time as a mother or a friend.
6. Lend a hand. “Allie, you mean to tell me that even though I work full-time, have four kids of my own, run a small business, etc., etc. I’m supposed to help some other fool of a woman who went and had herself a baby?” Um, yeah, yeah you are. A great yoga instructor I had used to say, “If you want something, give it away.” Helping another mom is the best way to demonstrate that you think she’s valuable, and open up the option to have her helping you back. I’ll never forget when one of my dearest mom friends ordered my family dinner the night of our daughter’s third birthday party. We’d spent all day organizing and hosting an event and I was clearly exhausted. We came home to a warm pizza and, frankly, I’ve never felt so understood. It’s the little things!
7. Have patience. We’re moms. Short on sleep, time and patience. But the more patience we exhibit, the easier our lives will be. This is obviously true for our relationships with our family, too. We know, inherently, where to draw the line between being taken advantage of and having a little grace, so let’s walk it together. Sometimes a mom friend will be late, sometimes she’ll be overbooked and can’t spend time with you, but if you communicate honestly (see what I did there?) then you trust your relationship will get back on track.
8. Create a safe space. Be clear about the fact that you are an inclusive, respectful kind of person and you’ll create a space where people feel safe to bring their children and their energy. Instead of berating someone who isn’t there for some parenting choice, choose to talk about something else entirely. (May I suggest The Real Housewives franchise? Those b**ches have enough crazy for all of us combined.) Even though I’m relatively confident in the choices I make for my children, the last thing I need is for someone to question that. Unless you are a licensed healthcare or psychiatric professional — or unless I actually asked your opinion — mind ya damn business.
9. Take risks. When I was a brand new mom in Chicago, fresh off of a corporate life filled with mostly non-parents, I was desperate to make a friend and attended my fair share of “Mom & Me” type events. Ironically, my best mom friend didn’t come from any of those outings (though they helped fill a void), it came from striking up a conversation with another clearly-new mom at our neighborhood Starbucks. We had our first date over a bottle of Sancerre (baby girls in tow) at the local wine bar and developed a wonderful relationship. (Miss you, Angie and Chloe!) All that to say, don’t be afraid to try something new. If your new mom friend is worth having, she’ll be thrilled that you connected. If not, hopefully she’s at least honest about it.
10. Just listen. “Don’t take a side, just listen. Don’t push her away and act like she’s crazy, just listen. Realize it’s not about you.” This is a direct quote from a friend and it hit home. When you’ve had tenuous moments in a relationship, how often has it been about you and how often has it really been about something the other person wants, needs or isn’t getting? Sometimes our friends just need us to listen without offering any advice. So, hey, talk to me. I have a 3-year-old, I’m very good at listening to even mildly coherent monologues.
I know that we all already know these things in our hearts, but through the bleary, sleep-deprived, anxiety-ridden, lightning-fast years and molasses-slow days of motherhood, we might not always be our best selves. Whether we want more mom friends or are hoping to strengthen the bonds we already have, let’s also remember that we’re setting an example for our own children. We conceive life, we grow it, we bear it and we keep it going. Let’s show everyone how strong we can be together: whether we breastfeed or opt for bottles; co-sleep or not; work outside the home or inside the home; and regardless of who we vote for or how much gluten we eat. (A lot.) We can end these mommy wars once and for all!