How To Conquer The Eternal Struggle Of Making (& Maintaining) Mom Friends

It seems like it would be the simplest thing in the world: You and your friends, all close in age, begin having kids around the same time. How great! You’ll meet up in the park with your strollers in tow, swap bottle-washing tips, and set up nanny shares. Staying friends will be a breeze because you’re all going through this wild time together. And think of all the new mom friends you’ll make — at Mommy & Me classes, at your child’s school functions, on the sidelines at soccer games. Having, keeping, and making friends as a parent should be easy-peasy.

Except that reality often looks very different. Even if your existing friends live close by and are able to make the time, there’s simply no guarantee that friends, whether those you’ve had for years or the ones you long to make, will be a staple in your life as a parent.

Oh, you’ll meet people, don’t get me wrong: the neighbors with kids close to yours in age, the PTA crowd, the parents of the kids with whom your kid has playdates. Will you hit it off with any of them, though? Hard to say.

But even if you do, making friendship happen as a mom is anything but straightforward. For one thing, you’re exhausted all the time. (One study estimates that adult sleep doesn’t normalize until six years into parenthood.) For another, when your life gets sucked into the vortex of childrearing, old friendships can fall away — and the task of making and nurturing new ones can feel like adding more work to your already overflowing pile of obligations.

But here’s the thing. Not maintaining or making friendships can be detrimental to your health. Friendship staves off depression, lowers your blood pressure, makes difficult tasks seem easier, and literally helps you live longer. In fact, not having high-quality platonic relationships in your life presents a higher risk of premature death than smoking 20 cigarettes a day. The point? Having a rich social network of supportive friends isn’t a fun extra in life; it’s a necessity.

It often takes an internal nudge — pushing past your desire to remain couchbound, your occasional social anxiety, your fear of rejection, or your irritation with always initiating a hangout. However, it can be done. Here are a few pointers.

Wait until the time is right.

Listen, if you’re still counting the length of your child’s life in weeks, not months, and seeing friends is the last thing on your mind, that’s fine for now. Don’t pressure yourself. We often hear nagging warnings that we need to build a network of fellow moms who “get it,” who can support us when things are scary and weird.

I remember that pushy advice sending me frantically to the Peanut app within weeks of my kid’s birth, where I connected with a perfectly nice lady across town who asked me to come hang at a group event held at the café where they filmed You’ve Got Mail. I stared at her message, imagining a loud room, shouting my name to be heard over the din, and I just… closed the app forever. (Sorry, nice lady.)

In other words, if it’s too soon, it’s OK to not care about this yet. For a long while after I became a mom, hanging out with people just wasn’t a priority. If you feel the same, then give it time.

Stop looking exclusively for “mom” friends.

Back to that pushy guidance all moms seem to receive: You HAVE to have mom friends; you HAVE to have people who understand what you’re going through. Maybe that’s a little true; lord knows I texted plenty of mine with 2 a.m. questions about gas bubbles and such.

However, mom friends don’t need to be your only friends. The point of this whole friend thing, after all, is to occasionally airlift yourself (mentally, I mean) out of mom life so you can remember that you’re a human being as well as someone’s parent — and your childless college roommate and childless cousin and childless coworker are all capable of helping you do just that.

Think beyond your partner.

Your partner can’t also be your only friend. I’m sorry, I wish they could.

What many moms need, whether they realize it or not, is a dose of the external — a glimpse beyond that tiny universe populated entirely by the people who live under their roof. That place, however lovely, invariably gets to be confining. It’s not a place where you get to shrug off obligations and just exist, which is a big part of having friendships when you’re a parent.

So, while it may seem easiest to schedule a date night and call your socializing done, it’s not the same.

Shrug off rejection.

Once, I bought this glorious piece of art from a local maker in town who seemed, on Instagram, to be extremely cool. She was quippy and stylish and also a mom, and after I’d arranged for my commission to be delivered, I asked if she’d ever like to come drink wine on my backyard swing sometime. Sure! she said. She just had to get through this long birthday season first. The next three weeks were packed. Those weeks came and went, then more weeks, then more, and finally, I understood: It had all been a gentle “no thanks.”

I shrugged and moved on, because who cares? For every person who doesn’t have room for me in their life, a bunch more will. The takeaway here is that volume is key. Some of the folks you meet will become pals. Many won’t.

Bust through seeming failures to gel.

If you don’t feel much connection with a new friend at first, try again if they’re willing. I can’t count how many friendships I’ve had in which the first hangout felt a little stiff and stilted, but after the third coffee date, we were snort-laughing like schoolgirls.

Sometimes, it takes a little while to come together, and that’s fine. (Note: This adage does not apply to people who give you the ick straight away. If someone is a jerk or a bigot or something equally objectionable, cut and run.)

Don’t discount digital hangs.

Recently, I had a dinner planned with one of my oldest friends. I have a six-year-old; she has a four-year-old. Surprise, surprise: By the time the date rolled around, one of us was sick. One of us is always sick because both of us have small children. So, instead, we hopped on Zoom and caught up anyway, runny nose and all. There was no breadbasket or industrial chic ambiance, but there was still a much-needed dose of support and commiseration.

Deepen connections that already exist.

Last year, amid a mild friendship rut — why have half my friends moved to Durham, North Carolina, in the last few years?! Does the town emit some kind of siren song? — I had a brainstorm. I was thinking how lucky my husband is to have a vast array of friendships he’s maintained since childhood when it occurred to me that all those friends have wives! Wives I’ve had pleasant but surface-level conversations with at various barbecues and birthdays.

Why hadn’t I taken these acquaintanceships to the next level? Here were a dozen women I genuinely liked and admired, and it had never occurred to me to put myself out there and ask if they’d like to hang sometime.

So, I started with the person I’d felt the strongest connection to. A week later, we spent four hours drinking rosé at a wine bar, talking not about surface things but real things. Now we text about our kids and our lives, and at those barbecues and birthdays, I have a friend to see, not just a partner with whom to make small talk.

Once I had this epiphany, I saw just how many other would-be friends there were around me: the neighbor I chat with each morning, the former colleague who lives in my town, the friend of a friend who bought a house nearby, the woman who waits alongside me for her son at the school bus stop each day.

The point is that there are almost certainly future-friends sprinkled throughout your life, too, and if you haven’t considered expanding these relationships, you owe it to yourself to explore what’s possible. What can it hurt? If you’re longing for more friendship in your life — and the extraordinary influence it can have on your health and happiness — you have plenty to gain by trying.

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