I grew up in a really tight-knit community. Neighbors looked out for each other. When we got out of school, adults watched whatever kids wandered into their houses. If they were going to get groceries, they’d call a neighbor and ask, “Can I pick you up some bread or milk?” Sometimes they just bought extra because they knew somebody was going to need it.
I haven’t found anything like that in my adult life, and I long for it. Surely part of my longing is for something that existed when I was a child, that interdependence of community, but I also think a lot of it has to do with the isolation of motherhood.
I know a lot of moms who struggle to find community. They had a community before they had kids, but when they became mothers, things changed. Perhaps some of their friends weren’t ready for the new dynamics. Friends without kids might not understand why you have to be home at 6 o’clock to get your little one in bed or why you’ve got to schedule the day around naptime. And that’s fine. Friendships evolve.
I also think most moms want a community experiencing the same life events as they are. My ideal community, and what I think we really need, is a combination of people who’ve known us forever and people who are in the thick of it with us – the ones who can immediately understand just how earth-shattering molar eruption can be.
But a parent community can be a bit elusive. Social engagements, sure. When you have kids, there will be plenty of playdates and get-togethers. But are your new mom friends the ones you’d reach out to if your marriage is on the rocks and you’re having a really hard time? While you may not have developed intimacy with your new friends, some of your old friendships might not be as strong as they once were. So what can you do?
We did a Facebook Live and an interview earlier this year with Shasta Nelson, a friendship expert. She described how relationships are a triangle. The bottom of the triangle is positivity. The two sides, which have to be equal, are consistency and vulnerability.
It’s difficult to make friends as an adult, parent or not. Nothing can replicate that time in life when you were able to focus on making friendships. In high school and college, your social group is the focus of your life; the relationships you make are deep. You have all sides of the triangle; you’ve got the positivity of youth, you’ve got the consistency of having the same class schedule or being roommates, and you’ve got the vulnerability that naturally arises during those formative years.
When you’re a parent, you can show up consistently for playdates, Mommy and Me, or yoga, and get that positivity, but if there’s no shared vulnerability, then you can’t create that intimate friendship you’re seeking. Maybe central to the difficulty so many moms experience trying to create community is the fact that if we have – or project that we have – everything together, then real connections don’t form.
We expect ourselves to have it all together, to handle this mothering thing on our own. If community is created by actually needing help, by revealing vulnerabilities, but you’re programmed to think you need to go it on your own, can you truly create community?
Independence aside, when socializing with new mom friends, you’re often so busy parenting or talking about issues like teething, sleeping through the night, or four-year-old fits that you don’t have the space to be vulnerable. You’re not alone with your new friend; you’re with your kids. There are things you don’t want to say in front of them, and what you’re able to share is often fragmented because you’re saving your toddler from the electrical outlet or preventing her from pulling on the drapes. Unless you make forging meaningful relationships a priority, they probably won’t develop. But your efforts also have to be reciprocated.
I was just talking to a woman who was saying that she thinks her friendship offerings were reciprocated in Seattle and not Southern California because Seattle’s weather forces people indoors while Californians have so many options. So in her Seattle experience, there was a lot of hanging out in someone’s house because of the weather, while in Southern California, there are so many other things to do because the weather’s generally great. Now I don’t know if that was just her experience – and maybe it resonated with me only because I live in Southern California – but I do think there’s some truth to the idea that too many choices will inhibit friendship development.
Whatever the reason, it can be hard for moms to create the community that came so easily when they were young adults. Yet there are so many studies – and more all the time – showing that friendship and connectedness are leading indicators of and contributors to overall health. The need for friendship is not just for fun, it’s for health; our brains are wired for social interaction.
So I have a proposition, or really a challenge. What do you say we all agree to take care of ourselves and make building community a priority? And I don’t mean phone, text, email, or online friendships, which are of course amazing and essential (social media interaction is a critical feature of the amazing Kindred Bravely community). But for moms, there’s really something to be said for friendships in the flesh, having people close enough that you could actually go out for brunch or dinner with them – friends you can see in person when times are really tough or when you just want to have a night out. We all need that within our city or town.
So how do we do it? I frankly didn’t know, so I solicited advice from our team and our social media outlets. I asked moms how we can make community part of our lives. I asked them where they formed meaningful and reciprocal connections. I asked them how they made these connections thrive. If we know we have to have those three sides of the triangle, the positivity, the consistency, and the vulnerability, what are some actual, real ways these women made that happen?
I made myself vulnerable and asked for help. Below are some ideas that my virtual community shared. I’m so grateful that they were willing to show me their hearts after I showed them mine. I’d love to hear how you’ve built your community. Please comment below with your ideas!
On Facebook, Jennifer Hammons mentioned that she loves going to concerts. She will buy an extra ticket and invite another mom. As she said, “I look at it as a way to bless my friends and fellow moms.”
Margaret Francisco Gedeon said, “All of my closest friends are from church, but what makes it possible is leaving the need to appear perfect behind. I long ago decided that it would serve everyone better if I did not stress about the house if we had people over, and I would show up to playdates as we were. I’d do a quick check to make sure no undies were left out, that couches were available to sit on, and that’s about it. Playdates elsewhere sometimes came with a snack to share, but sometimes not. The key is not to let ideal get in the way of reality and connecting with people you probably have more in common with than you think.”
On Instagram, @rachelhblanke said, “…You have to be willing to be vulnerable and talk through your highs and lows of being a mom (and a wife or partner) to build relationships.”
Some other thoughts from Kindred Bravely Instagram followers:
- “Have couples over for a meal. There’s something about being around a table with food! Every now and then, a sweet connection is made!” @angie_b_zachary
- “I'll be honest - I think we are ALL right back in the same awkward ‘first day of high school’ phase as adults, especially moms. We have no idea know how to just be like, ‘Hey, I like your style, we should hang out.’ We just say things like, ‘We have got to get our kids together,’ or ‘We really should have coffee one of these days,’ but we just don't. I am a nurse, so I have a small circle of moms who actually are able to meet up on the rare occasion, but I think it's really just because we contact each other often. When we go to the zoo or the children's museum, I always text my mom friends and just give them a heads-up that we're doing something, and occasionally we get to meet up. The long and the short of wrangling in mom friends, for me, is keeping in contact, even when they forget to answer or take days to answer. Further, not sweating it when I don't hear back for a few days. I've yet to find that they don't want to answer, but they or their kids have either lost their phone or they actually think they've answered my message, and the next time I text, they realize they didn't respond.” @stephaniewhitmanrn
- “I’m a total introvert and it’s challenging for me to make friends. At 7 weeks postpartum I met the most amazing new friend while taking a baby and me Pilates class. My advice is to go do something you’re interested in for self-care (class, hobby, etc.), and if you feel a connection with someone, be brave and reach out! I am SO beyond grateful I did, and I have the most wonderful, supportive friend now.” @yogivida
- “Two of my best mom friends started as strangers in a park. Our kids were similar ages so we started talking, exchanged numbers, and consistently pursued each other by inviting our families into our messy, real, and at times chaotic lives of rearing small kids. We do weekly dinners together, weekly playdates, we celebrate each other and show up at the hospital when there’s sickness. We’ve entered into each other’s lives to act more like a tribe than just an acquaintance. You need support in this season. Don’t go it alone! Offer help and allow yourself to be helped.” @cupof_jo
- Local chapters of mom/parent groups:
- Prenatal and baby and me yoga or Pilates
- Stroller Strides/Fit4Mom classes
- A walking, running, or hiking group (you can even start one!)
- Peanut app
- Birthing and other prenatal classes like CenteringPregnancy
- Places of worship/religious communities
- Hospital or other community-based baby and toddler groups
- Breastfeeding support groups, including your local La Leche League
- Storytimes or other baby classes at your local library
- Parent/mommy and me, music, or "gym" classes