Finding mom friends is kind of like dating. You put yourself out there and boldly set forth into a land of relational awkwardness—and not everyone is going to like you. It’s a simple, albeit brutal, reality. I, for example, know I am not everyone’s favorite cup of dark roast coffee. Many “momlationships” will never extend past chitchat at the bus stop.
But some—the mighty few—will make it through, and it is for those brave few that we soldier on through a land of relational awkwardness.
Trolling for Mom Friends
You’ve been there, right? You try to make small talk with other moms during your children’s shared activities (like music class or swimming lessons). This stage is all about making a connection. If you toss out a movie quote or tell a cute story about your kid, you’re hoping for at least a polite smile and a courtesy laugh.
If you bother to put down your Kindle and attempt an actual conversation, you’re hoping the other mom will exchange a few interesting details. And if your kids seem to be getting along in swimming/dance/karate lessons, then even better. So at the end of the activity, casually ask her about a playdate.
If your new potential mom-friend says yes, you plan to meet on neutral territory (like the park). Location is critical for a good “mom date.” You want a place that sets you up for the highest probability for entertaining and engaging your children. Otherwise, you’re stuck climbing through plastic tunnels with your kid on your back while the other mom mentally breaks up with you from her comfortable seat on the bench.
You try to make your children think this is all about them and their social development, even though, really, you’re just desperate for adult conversation. I like to tell my daughter, “Mommy’s playing with her friend. You go play with your friend. Isn’t it so fun that everyone has a friend to play with?” (My daughter then looks at me like, Mom. I see what you’re doing. Don’t you know I’m the only friend you’ll ever need?! My answer, “Just let me talk to this girl for a little bit so she doesn’t feel left out.”)
The park playdate goes well, so it’s time for things to get a bit more intimate: a playdate at your house. This is where things get real—in your home, where dirty dishes and forgotten pee-pee jammies are probably lying in a corner. This is when you start to figure out if you can trust the other person with your life. Will she judge your house? Will she judge your parenting style? If you have an opinion about something bigger than “Which kind of hot dogs should I buy?” how will she respond?
Bottom line, do you feel safe with her? And does she feel safe with you?
Eventually you deepen the momlationship—somehow you arrive at a fairytale wonderland of friendship. This is where you ditch the kids and go out with your friend just because you like each other. Girls’ night out! (Or morning out.) Just . . . out, with your friend, for actual adult conversation. It’s the end of the rainbow, the land of unicorns and rolling around in gold doubloons and bright, bright sunshine.
Women Aren’t As Scary as We Think
How do you get there? How can you get there without alienating other moms and spending your life in friendless purgatory? How do we moms move from feeling isolated, frazzled, and perhaps a bit shy to lifelong friendship with other moms?
Developing solid friendships with other moms is about developing trust in a few key areas:
Trusting your new friend to accept you as a woman and a mom
Trusting her ability to share and keep a secret
Trusting that she’ll be there when you need her, and that she’ll check in and not leave you when you’re drowning (both metaphorically, in mom-stress, and literally, in diapers and baby food jars)
Trusting that she isn’t going to judge your parenting style and tell everyone that you’re awful behind your back
We live in a dicey time to be moms. Every week there’s a new mommy war brewing on the Internet, making us feel guilty and defensive about anything and everything, from nursing to yoga pants. It’s a cruel world out there. But it doesn’t have to be. Women are not as scary as we think they are, or as they seem to be on social media.
When we stop being scary and scared of each other, we can develop beautiful, lifelong friendships. (Remember my first point, though. Not everyone is going to like you. Don’t worry about those women. Let’s find your people.)
When we meet other moms around town, at our kids’ practices and rehearsals, they can look so . . . together. So perfect. Sometimes another mom’s ability to achieve hair and makeup greatness in time for the preschool car line in the morning leaves me waffling between giving her a standing ovation and fighting the urge to throw a dirty diaper at her windshield and drive away (I mean, I would never.).
What we see on the outside of a mom, on the outside of a home, is just that. The outside. But there are layers inside, and the truth is, so many of us are messy and cracked. We’re just afraid to talk about it. So no matter how much that mom looks like she has it together, she might need a friend more than anyone.
You cannot judge another mama by her perfectly applied eyeliner.
One thing that often derails our friendships early on is our inability to give and receive opinions in a mutually beneficial and respectful way. In our world of judging and feeling judged about all the choices we make for our kids, we can often rush to judgment or feel misunderstood. We need to learn to listen well and offer respect, even if our friend is coming from a totally different perspective.
Figure out how to listen without offering your counterpoint right away. We all have opinions on everything all the time, and good friends figure out how and when to share them over the course of a relationship. We also figure out how to have the discernment to recognize when to hold back an opinion altogether if it’s not necessary. We are often so unsure of our own choices that our insecurity leads to defensiveness and extreme judging. Seek to understand first, and speak later (Proverbs 18:13).
As our kids learn to play together, we need to discover how to play together too—whatever that looks like for you. I work jigsaw puzzles with one friend (yeah, we’re nerds) and shop for groceries with another. I have another friend with whom I text silly jokes back and forth with, and I talk about books we’re reading with another.
As we develop relationships and learn to trust each other, we learn to love each other for our personalities and quirks, and not just our shared life stage. We peel back the parenting styles and find the women underneath. Trust me, you may start with sippy cups, but that will grow into snort laughs and jazz hands and stories of childhood and struggles and triumphs. Moms can meld. And we are better together.
Melanie Dale is the author of Women Are Scary: The Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding Mom Friends (Zondervan, March 2015). When she isn’t driving a minivan, she blogs about motherhood, orphan care, and adoption at Unexpected.org.