I’ve recently realized something about friendship. Grownup, mom-friend, real-life friendship isn’t always about seeing each other and spending time together or doing enjoyable things together.
That sounds ridiculous. That sounds like the exact opposite of what friendship is.
But it’s true.
As I thought about my friendships, the thing I treasure most is the freedom my dearest friends afford me: the freedom to be my own individual, extremely imperfect self and not have to worry that they’ll “break up” with me over it.
Friendships before kids are plentiful. I remember having my happy hour group, my coworkers, my Junior League friends, my fellow college alumni friends, our couples friends. I could have lunch with a different friend every day of the week, invite people over for basketball game-watching and themed parties, and sample different excellent restaurants around the city for double dates on the weekends.
I think I, along with many other new parents, didn’t realize how much parenthood can push those relationships to the back burner.
When I became a mother, I felt my world shift drastically to a new normal.
I discovered that you can’t really finish writing a book during maternity leave. In fact, you can’t really finish reading a book at some points during maternity leave.
I discovered that breastfeeding is incomprehensibly exhausting, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
I discovered that going back to work and pumping in between meetings means no time for those catch-up lunches with friends. Instead, the better part of the year is spent wolfing down whatever you managed to scrounge up at home or whatever junk food you can find in the vending machine.
I discovered that even if you’ve considered your husband one of your best friends, that relationship takes a hit. In fact, I read a study that said it’s more stressful to have a new kid in your family than it is to have your partner die. (Sheesh.)
I discovered that when you have a new baby, you don’t always want to go to happy hour, even if you could, because ALL. THE. MOM. GUILT. that comes from going to work and missing your baby all day and then rushing home to soak up their baby smell and baby smile (oh, and in case you forgot, you also still have to breastfeed them).
So all those times and in all those ways that friendship enriched your life before kids, I discovered that you kind of see them go up in smoke.
Sounds depressing, right? And also not at all relevant to our topic… Instead of The Freedom of Friendship, it sounds more like The Intolerable Captivity of Parenthood.
But wait…there’s more.
It’s in these times, the trenches and gullies and valleys of parenthood, that your friendships deepen and ripen.
It’s doesn’t happen while drinking rosé or margaritas and smashing each other with cascarones and laughing hysterically (although sometimes it does).
After parenthood, friendships take on a life of their own, and there’s a freedom that comes with them.
You see it in the friend with whom you can send and receive the perfect Mean Girls gifs to describe your current situation.
You see it in the friend who responds to your rookie baby questions or gives you her tips on napping and weaning. You see it in conversations with friends that turn into opportunities to recount the grisly details of your labor without embarrassment, because you’ve all been there.
You see it in the friend who gives you lactation cookies because she knows you can use them and doesn’t want you to stress about making them or buying them yourself.
You see it in the friend who just happens to be your actual sister, who’s there to FaceTime and simultaneously Marie Kondo your kitchen even though you’re technically hundreds of miles apart.
You see it in the friends who don’t mind coming to your house when it’s a wreck, who actually walk in and chat with you and hold your baby and distract you from the dozens of little stressors and tensions that build up when you’re managing a toddler, new baby, job, and household—or even better, the friend who comes in with a new toy basket from Target and nonchalantly tidies up while making you laugh.
You see it in the meal trains from people who know you and love you, and from people who don’t know you well but want to pay it forward because they’re in the mom sisterhood and remember how wonderful it was when someone else gave them that freedom.
You see it in the friend who’s there when your second kid is born, who shows up and says she’s taking your older child to a trampoline park so your big kid can feel special and burn up her energy and you can play with the baby and maybe even rest.
The freedom is that these friends love you for you—that’s it.
They aren’t there to judge how many days you’ve been wearing the same nursing tank or how disgusting and crusty your table is.
They come around to bring you Bird Bakery and give you an added dose of sanity. They’re there to let you pile everybody’s kids into one car and take a road trip just because it’s fun to be able to talk in the car with the kids contained (and they’ll even drive you around for hours afterward when the kids fall asleep in their car seats, because it’s just that much fun to chat).
And they let you do these things for them too.
They don’t feel in your debt when you bring over pizza and wine for their birthday, or when you watch their kids so they can go to a last-minute job interview, or when you leave stickers on the door for their kid who’s been under the weather. It’s just what you do. You’re mom friends.
These friendships aren’t defined by quantity. They’re based on quality. You may see each other one night a month, if that, but that one night is the one that you have circled on your calendar and marked in your phone and that you’re not going to miss, come hell, high water, and little fishies.
The freedom of mom friendship is the freedom to just not care, to simply be there for each other. There’s no keeping score in these precious, post-child friendships, because they are about helping each other survive and stay centered and sane.
You know you might not have ever found these people if it weren’t for your kids, but you delight in knowing they’ll be in your life for many years to come.
With all the pre-baby predictions and prophecies, you’d think that someone would have thrown in this unexpected perk of parenthood. But, probably like most of those other dire warnings and tall tales, you really would just need to live through it to believe it.