Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Mom friends

Your friends and aquaintances tend to evolve as you age, but there is never a more dramatic shift in the make-up of your social circle than when you become a mom.

Friendships are often formed out of convenience - when you're in high school and university, it's your classmates and teammates, when you're older it's co-workers. You pick the people who you have a few things in common with, who you can laugh with, who you're attracted to out of the pool of available people in your neighbourhood, in your class, on your team. As you get older, the pool of people seems to shrink - by the time you're thirty, you're pretty much not going to make a lot of new friends - there are a lot fewer opportunities to meet new people, and you're really not looking for any new relationships (who has the time?); by that time you've also whittled down the list of existing friends - some drop out of the rotation entirely as you grow apart, some become twice-a-year coffee dates, some turn into couple friends if your spouses hit it off, and some are lifelong besties.

And then, suddenly, you become a mom and everything is turned upside-down. If your existing friends are moms or soon-to-be-moms too, you're lucky - you've got the foundation of friendship already there and a whole new level of commonalities to bond over, you have people you trust to talk to about this whole new world you've suddenly entered, people who can actually relate to your frustration over lack of sleep, stretch marks, saggy boobs, teething pains, temper tantrums and calls from the principal; people who are understand your joy over baby giggles, first steps, soccer tournaments and snuggles and report cards full of A's.

I didn't have that - I became a mom many years before any of my girlfriends and had to muddle through on my own. And, because I had kids and my life and schedule and responsibilities were so dramatically different from theirs, I lost touch with a lot of my friends for a while. Busy with my first baby at an age when my girlfriends were just getting started in their careers and planning their weddings it became very easy for months and months to just slip away before we even realized that we hadn't spoken in half a year, let alone met for a coffee or drinks. Married to a man I had increasingly less and less in common with, stranded in the town he moved us to an hour away from anyone I knew, raising my baby with a partner uninterested in parenting - I felt very alone. I got so much joy out of being a mom and wouldn't change anything that has happened in my life for the world - but I felt very isolated, often going days on end without a single conversation with another adult other than the check-out woman at the grocery store.

By the time my second son was born, when my oldest was only a year and a half, I was very alone and making mental preparations to begin a new life without the boys' father. It was then that I made my first mom friends, and realized what a difference that could make.

The neighbourhood we lived in was a very family-friendly neighbourhood, filled with young children, commuter dads and stay-at-home or work-at-home moms. I became friends with two neighbour moms. Both had boys the exact same age as my oldest son, which is how we met - and is the only thing we had in common. One was eight years older than me, one was twelve years older. They grew up in very different neighbourhoods and in different times than me with memories of parties and proms in the 70's and 80's and they were in different stages of their lives, looking toward retirement and paying off their mortgage while we were just entering that world; but our boys were the same age, and for that reason alone we became friends. We started having play date / coffee dates, and it opened up a whole new world to me.

For the first time in a couple of long, lonely, just-me-and-my-boys years I discovered that there were other women in the world who could relate to everything I was going through as a mom. Who actually cared about the silly little details and minutia of a mom-and-baby day as much as I did. Who could offer me advice and ideas and resources for mommying. And who could chat and laugh with me as a person in my own right, as a grown woman with opinions of my own and a life of my own. I had virtually nothing in common with these women other than our children's ages and would under no circumstances otherwise have made friends with them at all; but during those years living in isolation in that town in the middle of nowhere these two women became my closest girlfriends and were my salvation not just as a mom but as a human being.

It's as a result of these friendships that I was able to get through the emotional disaster of starting a new life with my kids when I left the boys' father when my second child was just one year old. I relied heavily on their unconditional mom-support. And it was during this time that I figured out which of my old friends were important enough to me to make an effort to keep, regardless of whether they were moms yet or not - those friends that loved and supported me no matter what, when one week I'd say something expecting their support and say the exact opposite the next time we spoke, when I was hemorrhaging emotion all over the place and terrified about a future I'd never imagined for myself.

I make more of an effort now with those old friends then during my first years as a mom - I try, anyway. It doesn't matter if they're moms yet or not. It's impossible to live a balanced life without a good girlfriend or two, even if your lives seem to be in polar opposite places right now, even if you only manage to get together for a coffee every couple of months or meet for Christmas cocktails once a year - those weekly phone dates and quick messages back and forth keep you connected to your adult self, the non-mom you who likes to giggle and reminisce about university or watch cheesy eighties movies with a bottle of cheap wine or discuss celebrity gossip, the one who still remembers leisurely afternoons of shopping and boozy evenings at the bar and wearing properly put-together, fashionable clothes without spit-up stains.

These friends are in our lives for a reason - we may have come together because we grew up down the street from one another, because our parents were friends when we were kids, because our lockers were next to one another in high school, because we lived in the same university residence, because our respective boyfriends were buddies from back in the day. But something else has kept us together, and it's that something that we not only value in each other, but need from each other. Our lifelong friendships with our girlfriends are a part of what makes us who we are, and though it's very easy to let them slide when things change and our lives get in the way it's so important not to let them slip away entirely.

Mom friendships are completely different. I have noticed over the last few years - at first during the years that I was raising my boys alone and learning to live my life on my own but just as much over the last few years as the kids get older and I'm no longer on my own - how much being a mom influences the people we meet and the relationships we develop.

The people I see and speak to on a daily basis are not my close girlfriends. They are neighbourhood moms who are out in the park at the same time as us every day, moms I see in the schoolyard every morning and afternoon, moms I sit with two or three times a week during soccer practices, moms who are on the parent council at school with me, and moms of my boys' best friends. I know these women, I like these women, I speak to them every day, I know what's going on in their lives with work and husbands and their kids' sports. I know more about them and their lives than I do about most of my closest girlfriends. And yet I wouldn't call most of them friends. I don't call them to chit-chat in the evening. We don't get together socially with our families. These are mom friends, and I'm pretty sure once their relevance to my life has passed, we will all move on from one another.

But for now, these are the people who are in my life. These are the people I see and speak to and, for all intents and purposes, are my circle at the moment. We rely on one another for parenting ideas and advice and reassurance; we discuss teething and teachers, share mommy blog posts and clothing or grocery sales, forward fun community activity and field trip finds, lament lack of sleep and picky eaters, laugh about goofy things our husbands have done and our failing attempts at getting our bodies back in shape. I have exchanged phone numbers with a few of them, but I don't know if I'd classify any as real friends - or at least as lasting friends. They are temporary friends - lovely women who I'm so glad to have in my life and are invaluable resources in making me a better mom and a well-rounded human being, but who I feel fairly certain won't be in my life once we no longer have kids in the same school or on the same team. My girlfriends, though I may only see or speak to some of them every couple of weeks or even months, are friends for life.

For me, mom friends and girlfriends are two very different things. My girlfriends are friends who share my life; my mom friends are acquaintances who share my experiences in this particular time in my life. But they are all important people in my life - at least for right now.

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