Top 5 Mom Friend Problems—And How to Fix Them
Recently, I came across some old emails from my friends Lauren and Rachel, whom I met at a neighborhood newborns group seven years ago, when my son was just a few months old. The best way to describe the notes I found: A War and Peace–length chain about sleep training filled with obsessive details like, "He was asleep but not deeply asleep" and "If he takes a 20-minute nap in your arms, should you try for a crib nap or is that enough?"
What if I hadn't met these women and had only been able to share my daily highs and lows with childless friends from college who'd never heard of a WubbaNub? If you were one of the first of your friends to have a baby, adjusting to motherhood can make you feel socially isolated. We've got ways to cope with five common friendship hurdles so you can create a network that supports you.
It’s awkward to reach out to strangers.
Go where the moms are.
"If your new baby is too young for a library story hour but old enough to be out and among people, show up anyway! Scout out other new moms who might be likely friend candidates even if your babies are different ages," says Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., a professor at Northern Illinois University and a coauthor of Toxic Friendships: Knowing the Rules and Dealing With the Friends Who Break Them. In addition to the closest park, music classes are a great place to meet parents. You can sympathetically ask how they're managing, and get their number to plan an after-class coffee sometime.
Keep in mind that they need you as much as you need them.
Most of us are used to making friends in the context of being the only "new" person—say, at a job or after moving. But when you meet a newbie parent, you can bet she is also feeling vulnerable and open to friendship. Focus on giving her your attention and the pressure to impress her will lift. For Ashley Gamell, mother of a toddler and a newborn, making friends in her small town of Rhinebeck, New York, didn't turn out to be as hard as she imagined it would be. "Becoming a parent can be liberating in a way. You don't look your best and perhaps you don't have as many interesting things to say about the world at the moment, but neither do other parents, and you're all too busy and exhausted to care."
Go ahead and scroll during nighttime feedings.
When you see another mom posting about bottle brands at 3 a.m., you'll know you're not alone in the world. And take the plunge and post on the local Facebook mom group that you're looking for new mom friends. Leave comments on friends' photos too.
- RELATED: The Importance of Mom Friendships
Bubbles can instantly bring a baby (and his mom) your way at the playground.
Your pre-kids friend group feels like it’s drifting away.
Take baby steps.
Choose one "old" friend and text or call her. "Tell her you're a little overwhelmed and not even sure how to get yourself out of the house with the baby, but you'd just like to know how she's doing," suggests F. Diane Barth, a licensed clinical social worker. Keep going through your phone list, texting one person per day, and soon you'll start to feel like you're above water again.
Look for friends who are just right for right now.
Like those friends you met during college orientation, you don't need people who are exactly "your type." You just need other moms to get you through this phase. Plus, when you need a break from your main preoccupations, you can still reach out to your old friends, who will be happy to complain to you about whatever they are going through.
Have faith that you’ll come together again.
"If you keep old relationships open and easy, once an old friend becomes a new parent or is less busy with her own kids, the two of you might just be ready to amp up your friendship again," says Dr. Degges-White. I recently hung out with a few friends who have newborns. As I listened to them chat, I suddenly felt the way I had in high school when everyone discovered a band I had been into for years. "You guys had no interest in this stuff when I was going through it!" I blurted out. "Well," one said to placate me, "you were a pioneer."
You’ve found new friends, but you don’t agree with their parenting style.
Say nothing for now.
"Remember, other parents are as likely to follow your well-meaning advice as you are to follow theirs," says Dr. Degges-White. "Don't offer unsolicited feedback unless you feel their practices pose a danger to your child." If you're determined to preach your own beliefs at every turn, you might receive fewer playdate invites.
Let things play out.
"It will take time to know whether these new connections will work in the long run," says Barth. One of my neighbors believes that a restricted diet improves her child's behavior. Even if I'm skeptical of her theory, she's not imposing anything on me, so the friendship works fine. But another neighbor whose attitude toward discipline diverges from mine has been a different story. I gave this friendship a chance for a few good years, and now I know it was meant to fizzle out.
Get used to it.
Dealing with different parenting styles now is good training for later, when your kids are older and the stakes may be higher And it's a good way to teach tolerance by example.
Your new mom friends don’t mesh well with your old friends.
Let the situation solidify your identity.
Bridging the distance between friends from various periods of your life is a good exercise in clarifying your own values. It can be freeing to learn to "be yourself" no matter who is there. Try to consider any social tension as yet another gift of motherhood that will help you grow.
Keep hope alive.
"If you want to throw a party and invite your whole crew of diverse friends, go ahead and do it," says Dr. Degges-White. "When the pressure is off to 'get along' and the event is more relaxed, there might be more cross-pollination between your friends than you thought there would be."
- RELATED: Building a Mommy Support System
Decide that it’s not a problem.
My friend Melissa moved to Miami about a year after she gave birth to her daughter. Most of the people she knew in New York City, her former home, were in publishing. "Only one of my friends here is in media," she says. "The moms I've met are teachers, lawyers, stay-at-home moms—all people I probably would not have met if I were making friends at work, the way I used to. It's nice to learn about new worlds."
You’ve seen other mom squads out and about, and it feels too late to join.
Ask about life beyond babies.
"It was tricky to break into groups because the moms had all met when their children were newborns," Melissa says. "Nobody was unwelcoming per se, but they already knew each other's backstories. I was working, so I would get invited to things that started at 11 a.m. or 2:30 p.m., and I kept having to decline. When I was able to go to something, it was hard to break out of the 'we're only talking about children' rut." But once Melissa learned to ask deeper questions (about life choices or career journeys) and to bring up non-baby-related interests (such as fun things to do in her cool new city), she found she could speed up the friendship-forming timeline.
Remind yourself: This isn’t middle school.
"For many of us, trying to make new friends opens up painful wounds from childhood, when we felt as if we were on the outside of an important group and didn't have the slightest idea how to get in," says Barth. "We expect to be rejected by the group we want to join." While there might be mom cliques, most adults snub new people accidentally because of their own social awkwardness or a lack of awareness, not out of meanness. Don't assume the worst of a group just because it takes a while to break in with them.
Turn kindness into consistency.
"As kids get older and their friendships become important, your friendliness to other moms will pay off," says Dr. Degges-White. Offering to carpool or trade babysitting hours with a potential parent friend, for example, will not only make your life easier, it will let you get to know her and her child in an unforced way. Raising kids does take a village, but sometimes you have to build it yourself, one friend at a time.
Listen to Parents "That New Mom Life" podcast for expert advice on breastfeeding, the emotional highs and lows of motherhood, sleepless nights, and more!
Carlin Flora is the author of Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are.