So I have to admit something here. For as long as I can remember, I have always struggled with maintaining friendships, and for a long time I just couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t lucky enough to be one of “those” people who had a best friend for life, or a group of friends who have stuck together since kindergarten. I chalked it up to variable factors; I grew up in a family of seven people (which meant we hung out with each other more often than with other kids), I changed churches a couple times (which meant changing youth groups, which was kind of a big deal), I changed universities several times, changed programs a few times, moved around quite a bit after highschool, worked multiple jobs, the fact that I was naturally shy, or even that I just hadn’t found the “perfect” friend yet.
When I was single, I would often “click” with someone right away in a new situation, and I would throw myself into that friendship with everything I had. Sometimes things would go great for a long time, and we would be inseparable and life was great in the little friendship bubble. But life is not static, as I soon found out; things happen and other people enter and exit through that bubble, whether you like it or not. My insecurities would surface if someone else seemed to be more important/funny/smarter/attractive/popular/etc than me. I would take a step back if I felt my friend was not investing in our friendship in the same capacity as me; why should I try so hard if they couldn’t do the same? At certain points in my life, my friendships were more like revolving doors than stable supports.
Enter marriage and babies: two particularly significant events that can change your existing friendships and how you define future ones. For this post, I want to address friendship after you become a mother. They say “it takes a village to raise a child”, but I feel that “it takes a village” to support a Mama too! Motherhood, while incredibly rewarding and full of joy, is also the most challenging, heartbreaking, frustrating, isolating and lonely job in the world. If you are a Mom reading this, chances are you have encountered that competitive and judging side of other Moms. Whether it stems from insecurity, pride, misinformation, passion, or a twisted mix of these, to be at the receiving end of a rude comment/stare/attitude makes motherhood quite bittersweet.
So how can we find (and keep!) friendships in the midst of all the diaper-changing, temper tantrums, sleepless nights and maintaining our sanity? Well, here are a few ideas:
- Join/Sign up for a Mommy class/Early Years Centre (EYC) program. This was one of the best suggestions I ever got as a first time Mom. The local EYC had a free, once-a-week Mommy session that ran for a couple hours and each week featured a different topic, such as Babyproofing, Introducing Solids, Sleep, Finding Childcare, Relationships, and many more! Moms also had a chance to vent, and most importantly, connect with other Moms! The first session I went to introduced me to almost 30 other Moms, and the flurry of phone numbers that were exchanged was amazing! A few of us decided that we needed more than a once a week get together, so we started meeting at Starbucks every Friday, and there became my highlight of the week! This group led me to develop long-term friendships with Moms who had babies the same age as mine, and I still get together with several of these Moms to this day!
- Make a committment to get together/phone/email a friend once a week. When you have a baby, or more grown up kids, life has a way of getting packed with stuff. I found as a new Mom, I was always hesitant/anxious to leave the house, for fear of disrupting the strict routine I had for her (not to mention always feeling like I needed to be constantly cleaning/being productive at home!). It became difficult to commit to anything, and I often felt chained to the house. Now that I have another baby, two years later, I have gained some perspective, and I have accepted the fact that I need to be a little more flexible in order to maintain my sanity! I made a deal with myself that if I ensure my son gets his routine morning nap(s), then I can be more relaxed about the afternoon. Now I plan afternoon dates with much more confidence and can look forward to spending time with a friend without worrying that my baby’s schedule is going to be ruined! If you are new to this, start with making a date once a week. You would be surprised at how many other Moms feel the same way!
- Multitask by exercizing with your friends. So in the first couple months with a new baby, you shouldn’t start any kind of aggressive workouts while your body recovers from your delivery. It is also pretty difficult to leave your baby to go workout, as babies often feed quite frequently and irregularly. I remember having a bit of “cabin fever” with my daughter, as it was in February, and freezing cold outside, so I barely left the house! During this stage, grab your baby carrier or stroller, call up another Mama (or friend/sibling/relative) and either go for a walk outside or go to a mall and walk around. A change of scenery does wonders for your frazzled brain and enables you to spend time with a friend. Other Moms will appreciate the company and accountability to get some light exercise! After this postpartum stage, once your baby starts sleeping for a few longer stages/develops a more regular routine, have your partner/relative babysit and grab a fitness class/gym time/run with a friend. I actually met a few great workout friends when I discovered a kickboxing class at the local community centre. Not only did I meet new people, I was also more likely to go regularly to this class when I knew my friends were there.
- Be real. This may be easier said than done when we see all the happy Facebook posts about how “fantastic” life is for all your Mama friends. Their baby has slept through the night from the day they were born, they never cry, and breastfeeding was a breeze…..meanwhile you have a baby who sleeps for a maximum for 20 minutes, you haven’t been able to get more than an hour sleep, you can’t remember the last time you showered, and you aren’t sure if that’s a poop stain or spitup on your pants. Well, my friends, no matter what any Mom tells you, they do have bad days! I always like to advise the family of my patients that this new Mama will have a meltdown; it may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but it will happen, and she may not even know why! Motherhood is a rollercoaster of emotions, and we all need to be reminded that it is okay to have a bad day! Don’t be afraid to share with your friends when you are having a difficult time; you may be surprised to find out you are not alone. Some days I am able to even laugh about how ridiculous or frustrating my kids are being when I swap stories with my friends.
These are just a few simple ideas to get you started. Mental and physical wellness are very important for us Mamas, and friendships are an essential part of our support structure. Seek out new and existing friends who encourage and inspire you; surround yourself with people who support you! And don’t forget to be a positive, encouraging friend as well; we all struggle and triumph in our journeys of motherhood, and there is probably a Mama out there who would love to hear from you!