friendships in motherhood

On Building Friendships Through Motherhood.

*Image above via The Daily Edited featuring their pouches with shadow lettering.

In some ways, motherhood has placed unanticipated pressure on many of my friendships with girlfriends. Especially in the early days of caring for a newborn, I was surprised by how little “down time” I had to answer emails and texts — and even when I did have “down time” while nursing or while the baby was napping, I found myself strangely disinclined to communicate, even with friends who already had babies and therefore “got it.” I didn’t figure out the source of this standoffishness until months later, when I realized that though I might have technically had the time to write or call during those portions of the day, I often just wanted to sit and “be” without giving any more of myself than I had to. Motherhood can feel that way, especially in the early days: depleting. Sometimes I still experience a stab of that emotion nowadays, even though I am well out of newborn territory. There are afternoons where I find myself bristling and in desperate need of not only closing the door to my bedroom but stepping into the cool of my bathroom and shutting that door, too, so I can stand in isolation with no one grabbing at my skirt or whining for milk or asking anything of me for a full minute. Just last Sunday, I went into my bedroom to change clothes, Hill hot on my heels, and somehow, ten minutes later, I was still standing in my undergarments in the middle of my bedroom. In the intervening time, I had cleaned a spill, changed Emory out of her clothing, chased Tilly out of the bathroom trash, consoled Hill from two separate injuries, and scolded him for slamming my closet door shut at least four or five times. It’s not always that way, of course, and often I can find the humor in it, but that afternoon, after a long day spent indoors thanks to inclement weather, I tilted my head back and stared at the ceiling and thought how much I wanted just two minutes unimpeded by the demands of my two young children.

It’s ironic, though, that often when I have wanted to retreat the most, to draw myself inwards after a draining day of motherhood, I find my relationships with my girlfriends the most fulfilling. My friend Steph has an uncanny ability to send me a motherhood meme or a “Just thinking of you” text just when I’m at the point of exasperation and I glance at it and something inside relaxes. I am not alone! I will get through this! She was sitting with me through my pregnancy, my c-section recovery, all of my nursing woes, and every last tantrum besides. We don’t often have the luxury of the long-form conversations I used to tie to meaningful friendships with women, but her check-ins and her shrugging, I-totally-get-it acceptance of my occasional day-late responses give me life. We are offering one another what we have at the moment — short snippets of encouragement and camaraderie — and it is enough. As it turns out, friendship is not always big overtures and long heart-to-hearts. Sometimes it’s tiny, consistently-offered “thumbs up” emojis. I’m lucky to have three sisters and a handful of friends like her who honor a similar style of pop-in motherhood support and there is nothing like the unexpected “how’s it going?” text that arrives, no strings attached, when you are in the weeds. It is an invitation to vent or an opportunity to reflect or sometimes just the knowing head nod you need to keep going. The point is: I feel seen by these women just when motherhood seems to be hard at work eroding my sense of self.

Motherhood has also, however, occasionally put strain on friendships because it has exposed differences that feel either temporarily or permanently irreconcilable. I have been surprised by the fact that these differences tend not to be related to lifestyle or life-stage (i.e., whether or not my friends have children, whether or not they work outside the home, etc.) or even to parenting style, but to what I can only categorize as underlying values. As an example, I have found it much, much more difficult to maintain friendships with friends who insist that there is only one way to do a certain thing in the realm of parenting (or life in general) than with friends who have chosen to not have children but are in general open-minded, tinkering people. I had a situation where a friend of mine — hilarious, vivacious, a joy to be around — sat next to me one afternoon and probed as to why I had made a particular decision for my daughter, insisting that there was a better option. I look back on this exchange, and the urgent texts from her that followed, and the several similar interactions that cropped up in the months following, and I trust her intentions to be pure: she wanted the best for me and for my daughter. But the chasm between my live-and-let-live outlook and her importuning one gaped open. Meanwhile, I maintain several close friendships with women who are highly devoted to particular parenting decisions (I specifically remember many close friends endorsing Moms on Call and night nurses as a general proposition), but who are still encouraging and supportive when I have gone in a different direction. I am fumbling through my words here (is it really “underlying values?” or something else?), but what I mean to say is this: in this heavy-on-the-vine season of life, I find my strongest female friendships are based on gentleness and compassion more than anything else. Perhaps this has always been true of friendship, in every season of life, but motherhood has forced me to say no to relationships that fray rather than fill, no matter how much fun or interesting those women are to be around in the meantime.

So cheers today to all my mom friends (and I consider so many of you Magpie readers among this group) — the ones who say “don’t worry about it” after witnessing a colossal meltdown at the playground, the ones who check in with only the barest expectation of a timely response, the ones who answer texts about baby throw-up without batting an eye, the ones who send snarky motherhood memes when you need to read them, the ones who stand next to you in the drop-off line and nod knowingly in the face of naughty toddler behavior, the ones who just sit with you, shoulder to shoulder, saying: “I’ve been there.”

Post-Scripts.

+On female friendships and the things that matter.

+Ten years after her death, I miss my girlfriend.

+All of these would make great gifts for a girlfriend — as would the items on this list.

+On letting go of friendships.

Shopping Break.

+Super clever storage solution for spray bottles. (Check the reviews!)

+These tiny backpacks come in such great colors — adorable for toddlers.

+Very into this unfussy tank for summer.

+Adorable picnic basket.

+An easy, under-$50 everyday sweater in the perfect shade of blue.

+These pull-on linen blend shorts could be super chic with a striped or white button-down and layered gold jewelry.

+This top is so pretty.

+I straight up love this skirt.

+Just ordered this little dress for mini.

+I adore this beadboard bed.

+It’s been a minute since I mentioned this electric foot file. You need it.

+Still getting a ton of wear out of this striped funnel-neck sweatshirt (currently on sale!) I like it with white jeans and olive green pants, and often layer it over another striped tee.

+People absolutely rave about these throw blankets.

+Double-sided hamper in hyacinth.

+This striped pinboard would be attractive in a boy’s room.

+CHIC floral midi dress for $49.

+OMG, these robes!

8 Comments

  1. Hi Jen – great question! I think they’re both traits and skills — for some people, they are innate. For others, they can be cultivated. I love that we can learn from each other, don’t you? xo H

    1. Yes!! 🙂 I do think I have learned to be more open-minded with age. I hope to continue this growth!

      xx

  2. I have someone in my life who sounds like your friend. Always pushing her “right” way (one thing I know for sure: there is never one “right” way when it comes to motherhood), and offering her opinion when she is not asked. I have spent some time being bothered by certain comments she has made, but ultimately have come to the conclusion that her way is more about her than me. She’s insecure (for what it’s worth, I think she’s a wonderful mother!) and is trying to convince herself that her choices are sound via trying to convince me. I definitely still find myself bothered when she makes these kinds of comments, but it helps to frame it this way to bring myself back down to earth (deep breaths.) I really strive to be a comforting sounding board for my friends and sisters, thank you for the reminder. May we all find the confidence buried deep within when it comes to the many decisions required of mothering. XO

    1. Hi M – So wise, and so well-observed. One of my biggest learnings this year has been realizing that often the way people behave/respond has very little to do with me, even if I am involved in a particular interaction, and everything to do with what is going on the other person. It can be hard to maintain a sense of detachment or perspective when it feels I am the target of their frustration, vulnerability, insecurity, etc., but it is so true.

      Cheers to this, too: “May we all find the confidence buried deep within when it comes to the many decisions required of mothering.”

      xxxxx

  3. Thank you for sharing this, it’s helpful to hear your perspective on this topic. Your words are a balm to me as I navigate the ebbing and flowing of various friendships through motherhood. Though it’s difficult to discern the way forward in many instances, for me personally, I find myself gradually withdrawing from those friendships that “fray.” Nonetheless, I constantly second guess whether that is is fact the right approach. … All that to say, I am right there with you, wiping up spills in my undergarments and all!

    1. Hi Danielle – Thank you so much for chiming in here. So reassuring to hear I’m not alone, both in witnessing the “fraying” of relationships, and in having mixed feelings over how to proceed. Right there with you, mama! 🙂

      xx

  4. I have found over the years that while alignment of values is important in friendships, so too is some degree of open-mindedness and GRACE. Having weathered mothering of littles, a divorce, remarriage and blending of families, and now grandmotherhood (!) my most enduring female friendships are full of grace. Wishing you a grace-filled day, Jen… xo H

    1. Hi Heidi – Thanks for chiming in. You know, when I think on my most valued friendships, I agree — a lot of grace in them. I guess grace and open-mindedness are not so much values as traits? Skills? How would you characterize those aspects? Whatever they are, I certainly prioritize them in my relationships.

      xxx

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