When you announce you’re about to have a child, the first thing everyone wants to do (after wishing you congratulations) is give you advice. And for many people, that advice is to make “mom friends.” It’s essential, I was told, to have someone to share poop and sleep and nursing horror stories with; to know someone who was going through the same challenges I was going through at the same time. It seemed to make sense, but how would I find these elusive “mom friends”?
At the time, I didn’t know anyone else in my city who had kids or was pregnant. What city? Brooklyn.
Brooklyn: Where the moms are known for being crunchy, co-sleeping, vegan-proselytizing, compost-loving and helicopter-parenting, skinny and fashionable, Type A, hyper-achievers. All the stereotypes were extreme (as stereotypes often are) and they all made me nervous. Would I get along with Brooklyn moms? What if I couldn’t make my own organic baby food? What if I didn’t lose all my baby weight in three weeks? Would I like them? Would they like me? Was I entering motherhood or middle school?
After all, the last time I made new friends was when I moved to New York nearly 10 years earlier. All that had required was being young and stupid–drinking and talking to randoms and hanging out. But since I no longer went out or drank, I had no idea how or where I’d meet people. Was it OK to approach a stranger with a baby at the grocery store? And if so, should I do it clutching a sippy cup so it at least felt familiar?
Enter the parenting message board. There are parenting message boards for most neighborhoods in Brooklyn. And, because of the population density, “neighborhood” can mean 10 blocks. And every neighborhood has hundreds of moms, expectant moms, and new moms all posting about meeting other moms. Apparently, they all got the same advice I did: make “mom friends”!
About a month after I had my son, I decided to make contact. I hadn’t lost my baby weight (in fact, I still looked pregnant). My apartment was a mess. I didn’t know what I was doing with my son or myself, but I thought I’d give the “mom friend” thing a try. Someone posted about a new mom meet-up, so on a cold December morning, I pushed my son into a coffee shop to meet some strangers.
I thought if I was lucky, I would find someone I didn’t mind being around. I told myself that I didn’t really need to be “real” friends with these women; I just needed to find someone I could talk to if necessary. Someone to help pass the day or to allay my parenting anxieties.
I didn’t realize I was about to change my life.
That first day, there were five of us, all tentatively drinking tea or coffee, sharing the bare minimum about ourselves, unsure of how to make friends when our whole lives had just been turned upside down. After that, we started meeting once a week, trading off hosting at our apartments. It was nice to get out and surprisingly easy to talk to everyone. We shared our birthing stories (Elissa waited so long to go to the hospital she almost gave birth in the car; Allison labored for 36 hours; I had an emergency C-section at 2 in the morning). We talked about how our husbands helped or didn’t, how we were sleeping or weren’t.
Our group grew as we invited women we met at restaurants or baby classes or lectures, and shrunk as people moved away from New York, but after several months, we were a pretty solid group of seven ladies with babies. We talked and went to the park and talked and walked around the neighborhood and talked some more.
Some of us went back to work and some of us stayed home, but our friendship deepened over the past four years, as our conversations evolved from surface talk about babies into stories about ourselves, our husbands, and our marriages.
Somewhere along the way I realized that these women weren’t just my “mom friends”; they were my actual, real friends. They offered me advice when I needed it or just listened when I shared my struggles with postpartum depression. I celebrated with them about their new jobs and apartments. And I cried with them over miscarriages and an autism diagnosis.
And perhaps most surprisingly to me, I found myself falling in love with their children. I never thought of myself as a “kid person.” In general, I don’t like them. Sure, I knew I would love mine, but other people’s kids? Kids I wasn’t related to, i.e. obligated to like? Why would I put up with their grossness and their loudness? Well, when you watch a child grow from the time they’re 1 month old, you know them, and knowing them becomes loving them. I know who needed the noise of a hairdryer to fall asleep for six months. Who is the tattletale at school, who refuses to wear underwear, who slept with his parents for two years, who is obsessed with Play-Doh, and who already knows how to ice skate.
Funny enough, a couple of my friends do fit some of the stereotypes that so epitomize the “Brooklyn mom.” Shana is a neat-freak who arranges her books by color and keeps her refrigerator model-home organized. And Allison trained to be a yoga instructor; her Facebook page is littered with links about enlightenment. But they’re both funny and smart and irreverent and love me even if I have a messy apartment or am snarky instead of positive (I really should clean up and go to yoga, though).
It’s sappy, but my experience as a mom has been vastly improved by my mom friends’ knowledge, support, help, comfort, and love. So, my advice for new moms? The same that I was given. Make some mom friends! Approach the random mom at the grocery store or baby class or on the street. Look for message boards. Go meet someone. She might start out as a sounding board and as just another mom, but she might also turn into a real friend.