How Friendships Change After Motherhood
Does having children influence the friendships formed before and after becoming a mother? Bryony Sutherland finds out:
You’ve probably noticed by now: children are truly miraculous creatures when it comes to socialising. As a singleton you may spend years mingling with colleagues and a few close friends, but once you start procreating, the social scene opens up far wider than you ever expected.
Suddenly you have deep-seated things in common with that stranger you’ve just passed, pushing a buggy and bending down to blow kisses at her baby. Taking a stroll through the park, it’s ridiculously easy to strike up conversation with other moms out feeding the ducks with their toddlers, or standing around the climbing frame, marvelling at their youngsters’ unexpected feats of bravery. Starting playgroup, nursery, then school, your world unfolds into a previously unimagined network of potential friendship. Whether you like it or not, you’ve officially joined ‘a club’.
Even moving to the other side of the planet is easier when you have young children – you meet people by default at playgroups, at the school gates, at the local shopping centre. Such is the network of motherhood that everyone recognises and celebrates the need to have someone to a) understand exactly what you’re going through, b) share the load when it comes to playdates and lifts to birthday parties, and c) rely on in case of emergency.
Having a child issues you a passport to untold coffee mornings, playdates, girly lunches and shopping sprees. One of the many joys of parenthood is the happy discovery that you don’t have to do everything on your own – trips to the park can become shared experiences with like-minded moms, fears and traumas can be shared over a cuppa, the adventure of starting school can be done with friends.
It’s also worth mentioning how appealing it can be to reinvent yourself in a new social circle, shrugging off dusty ghosts from your past and embracing a new maternal personality.
So we’ve established it’s easy to make friends once you have a tangible, dribbling mini facsimile of you in tow. What you then need to consider is how these friendships can change – and they will – as your children grow. And just as important, how will your existing friendships alter now there’s more than the two of you to consider?
I believe it’s important to stay true to yourself. Just because the moms you know all dress in a certain way or use a particular brand of organic baby food doesn’t mean you should too. Instead, make an effort to discover those personalities with whom you share more than your kids in common. Remember who you were before your little ones took over your universe, and gravitate towards those with similar interests and sense of humour.
Accept that while you may now have around 50 new acquaintances, the likelihood is that your close, real ‘mom friends’ probably only number three or four – make the effort to see them and develop those relationships rather than spreading yourself too thinly around the playground.
As your children get older, you and your friends may naturally begin to drift apart. Full-time moms return to work, families move away. Parents start to notice the boy-girl divide around the age of six, and you may find yourself in a different social circle as your child chooses new playmates. Soon enough, school choices loom large in playground chatter, and no matter how discreet you are, you will be judged over the decisions you make for your child. And then there are those mothers who are unable to separate spats between your respective offspring from their grown-up counterparts. It’s frustrating, but the best thing to do is accept the situation and move on.
It’s so very important too to keep up with the relationships you forged before kids came on the scene. Cherish these vintage friendships as they allow you to step out of your domestic duties for a little while and recall the person you once were and still are, underneath the layers of soiled nappies, laundry and homework deadlines.
At all times respect that childless or childfree friends should never be expected to listen to incessant tales of your kids – unless specifically requested, save that for your ‘mom friends’ – and indulge other, fun sides of your personality. It’s wonderful to return to your brood, thoroughly refreshed and rejuvenated from a date with an old, dear friend.
For further reading, parenting expert Liz Fraser deals brilliantly with how friendships evolve over the course of motherhood in The Yummy Mummy’s Family Handbook – I highly recommend it for a thoroughly entertaining and well-rounded overview of this potentially prickly subject.
Above all, choose your friends wisely and be prepared to put some effort in – the best ones will still be there many years after your children have flown the nest.