That's What Friends Are For
I once heard someone say, "There's no one lonelier than a new mom." Then I lived it. After my husband, David, and I pinched pennies for four years so I could stay home, our first daughter was born. It should have been my "happily ever after," but four months later, I found myself lonely, isolated, uncertain of my parenting ability, and starved for adult companionship. Don't get me wrong. I loved Haley, loved David, and felt blessed to be able to stay home and take care of them. But nothing, not David's encouragement, not my mountain of parenting books, not the advice from my older sisters, not lunch and phone calls with the gang back at the office, could alleviate my overwhelming feelings of isolation and insecurity. I began praying for a way to stay home with Haley without feeling so alone. My prayers were answered the day a friend told me about The Parenting Center, a local nonprofit group providing moms with education, support, and—most importantly for me—a place to hang out and meet other moms.
The next day when the doors opened, I was there. Walking into the center, I felt shy for the first time in years. In my sales job I was confident and assertive. As a mom I felt incompetent and inadequate. Then we started talking. We talked about our deliveries, our recoveries, our sleepless nights, breastfeeding problems, even our mothers-in-law. We laughed about finally getting the baby to sleep only to jump up a dozen times to check her breathing, about putting a drop of baby shampoo in our own eye to make sure it was really tear-free, about dozing off in traffic jams because we were so sleep deprived. When I showed them how I'd only manicured one hand before Haley started crying and I never got back to the other one, another mom rolled up her pants to show us how she'd only shaved one leg. I wasn't alone any more. As much as Haley depended on me, I began to depend on my new mom friends for reassurance, encouragement, and support.
Unstring Your Bow
In ancient times when warriors fought with bow and arrow, they found the best way to strengthen their bow was to "unstring" it each night and let it relax so it would be stronger the next morning. It's the same with moms. "Nothing in life is more consuming than being a mom," explains Leslie Parrott, author of If Ever You Needed Friends, It's Now (Zondervan).
"[Mothering] depletes, expends, and burns up more time and energy than any other human activity, often leaving a mom's life out of balance. But friends, perhaps more than anything else, have a way of balancing the scales. Nobody can empathize with being a mom like another mother," Parrott continues. "The sheer understanding that comes from being around women who know what your life is like provides unspeakable comfort and support."
Consider the time you spend with your girlfriends your way of unstringing your mommy bow so you can bounce back stronger and with more to offer your family.
"I compare it to the safety address flight attendants deliver before commercial airline flights," explains author and lecturer Stacie Maslyn. "There's a reason they instruct passengers traveling with small children 'in case of a sudden decrease in cabin pressure, first secure your own oxygen mask. Then secure the mask of the child sitting next to you.' If the adult helps the child first and passes out before getting her own mask on, she isn't of use to herself or the child."
What a great illustration of motherhood. As mothers our instinct is to give, give, give until we have nothing left. But if you give all you have without putting anything back, everybody loses. Being with another person who understands where you're coming from is one of the best ways I know to recharge that mommy battery so we're refreshed and ready for anything our kids dish out.
What Did Jesus Do?
The Bible is full of examples of godly friendships. Jesus loved his disciples and called them his friends. He loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus and took solace in the time he was able to spend with them. If the Lord needed the support and encouragement of his friends while he was on earth, then why wouldn't we need it today?
In Luke when Jesus sent the disciples to spread the gospel message, he didn't send them alone. He sent them in twos to support each other. Clearly God never meant for Christian moms to go it alone either.
Meeting and Greeting
Three kids later, the women I met as a new mom at The Parenting Center are still some of my best friends. We've formed bonds in the trenches of motherhood that will last a lifetime. In the past 14 years, we've seen each other through deaths, illness, divorce, unemployment, remarriage, relocation, adoption, and the birth of literally dozens of babies. Our support and shared faith was often the glue that held our families together. I've made some other golden friendships along the way, mostly with the parents of my kids' friends from church, school, and the ball field.
One of the biggest helps has been hooking up with a mom who's a step or two ahead of me (with kids just older than mine) who can help me anticipate the challenges and keep my kids' stages in perspective. One of the greatest joys has been being that mom for someone else. At times just saying or hearing the words, "You're a good mom," can make all the difference in someone's day.
What do you do if you've been the lone ranger for so long that you truly don't have any mom friends with whom to unwind? "You'll have to be intentional about finding them," says Elisa Morgan, President Emerita of MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International. "You might have to shop for friends, but they're out there. Look around at the soccer field, the gym, day care, or the office. Approach moms you see pushing strollers in your neighborhood or who have photos of their kids on their desk at work. Strike up conversations until you find someone you click with. Kids are a natural ice-breaker. Let them lead you to moms you can relate to."
Stay-at-home mom Elizabeth Burdick of Derry, New Hampshire, met moms at the playground, a baby gym class, and through her local MOMS Club. "The trick is finding someone you like and whose kids are compatible with yours," Elizabeth explains. "The women I met at MOMS are so supportive. When I had my third baby they brought me meals for two weeks and understood what it's like being home with a new little one the way my friends without kids simply couldn't."
Another way you might meet moms is to call the hospital where you delivered and ask for a list of the parents from your childbirth class. Contact one or two and plan a play date. Call the library and ask about daily story times for moms and babies. Contact your YWCA for a list of classes other moms with young kids might take. There are numerous websites like christian-mommies.com where parents can meet and chat. Many offer regional message boards where you can connect with moms in your own area.
Lisa Jernigan and Patty Wyatt started a program four years ago called Girlfriends Unlimited with the sole purpose of bringing women together in friendship. "We wanted to make it fun, no pressure, no agenda except to connect and spend time with each other. As moms we are like pitchers. We pour ourselves into our marriage, our children, our jobs, our church work. If we keep pouring and pouring without being replenished, it won't take long before the pitcher runs dry. Being with girlfriends is a great way to fill your pitcher."
Once you find some moms you connect with, how do you squeeze them into your already overworked schedule? It may not be easy, but there are ways to make it happen. Lynnell Mickelsen kills two birds with one stone by taking early morning or late evening walks with other moms in her neighborhood. "We walk before the kids get up or after they're in bed. Sometimes we have a lot to talk about. Other days it's just good to get out, exercise, and be with someone who understands where I'm coming from."
Dessa Patton of Southaven, Mississippi, says there are days when the best she can manage is a phone call with a mom friend, but just hearing the voice of someone who'll sympathize, not try to offer advice, is priceless. "I also have a friend who seems to know when I'm going to have a lousy day. I'll go to the mailbox and there will be a card from her when I need it most."
Other moms hold a craft night where each one brings an independent craft to work on while enjoying time together. You might plan a getaway weekend without kids and with rules like no makeup, no hair spray, no cooking, and no cleaning. Or organize a Moms in Touch group at your church where you meet with other moms and pray for the teachers, students, and workers at your child's school.
Recharge Your Battery
Extensive studies have shown that people who spend time with friends live longer and have more energy and vitality. Please don't feel like taking time away from your family to connect with other moms is a selfish indulgence. It's actually a win/win situation for you and your family.
"No child wants a mom who's living for him alone," says Elisa Morgan. "No husband wants a wife whose entire existence is the kids. When a mom spends time investing in herself and building herself up the way friendships can, her husband is often reminded why he fell in love with her in the first place. Your children see you modeling friendship and see that you are an entire person above and beyond just being their mom."
We need friends who will hold us accountable, friends who aren't afraid to tell us what we need to hear, even when it's not what we want to hear. If you don't already have friends like that, ask God to send you some. Ask him to open your eyes to see the women at work, at church, at the playground, and in your neighborhood he's just waiting to bless you with.
Mimi Greenwood Knight, a freelance writer, lives with her family in Louisiana.
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That's What Friends Are For
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