by Courtney Drake-McDonough
Whether you have an infant or have been a mom for years, the mothering years are no time to skimp on friends. The Mayo Clinic says friendships have many benefits:
- They increase your sense of belonging and purpose
- Boost your happiness and reduce stress
- Improve self-confidence and self-worth
- Help you cope with traumas
Despite the benefits of friendships, making and maintaining them can be a challenge when you are raising kids and managing a household, among other things. We spoke to several Colorado moms about their friendship challenges and got expert advice on how to overcome those challenges.
Challenge: Plenty of “friends-lite” but few deep friendships
Gloria DuBois, mom of a two-year-old and a four-year-old, is friendly with a lot of other moms she has met through her kids’ school, their activities, and in the neighborhood.
“Since I know a lot of different people, I’m usually running around from circle to circle and don’t have time to make really good one-on-one connections with moms,” says DuBois. “Going from ‘mom friend’ to ‘bestie’ is tough because moms just don’t have the time to hang out with another mom, creating that friendship without kids interrupting.”
Friendly Advice: Dr. Jan Yager, friendship coach, sociologist, and author of multiple books on friendship including Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How It Shapes Our Lives divides friendships into three categories: casual, close, and best. “There’s no rule that everyone has to have all three types of friends, but each type has its unique benefits and challenges,” she says.
Yager says people get out of a friendship what they put in. “You can’t force a close or best friendship,” she says, but if the effort isn’t made “they won’t get the strong, deep feeling of being loved and liked that they will with a close or best friend.”
Building closer friendships takes time. In Yager’s research it takes, on average, three years from when you meet until you are tried-and-true friends, standing various tests. “If a close or best friends needs you, you’d better be there for her,” she says.
Dawn Webber, whose kids are eight and nine, says she has “tiers” of friends, ranging from those with whom she’s friendly but doesn’t socialize with, to those she only sees a few times a year. But when it comes to her small circle of close friends, she says she works to invest in those relationships.
Babs Randle Symonds, the mother of two teens, works to maintain her close friendships, including recently going on a Las Vegas trip with her closest friends from childhood. “I’m super sentimental about the friends I’ve had through the years,” she says. Symonds also has casual friendships with other moms through her kids’ various schools and sports activities.
Challenge: Insecurity about putting yourself out there
In Charli Anderson’s neighborhood, there’s a club that meets to let moms and toddlers get to know each other and play. “The first one I went to, I debated all morning whether or not I should go,” she says, worried that she and her one-year-old daughter wouldn’t connect with the other moms and kids. “I walked past the house several times trying to build the courage to knock on the door and put myself out there to make mommy friends. I felt like a teenager again going to a new high school, but I finally pushed away my immature teenager thoughts.”
Friendly Advice: Everyone feels some insecurity meeting new people, worrying about whether or not you will be accepted or rejected, so the best advice is to take it slow. “Remind yourself that you’re a likable person and that you’ve developed friendships in the past and you will again,” says Yager. She also suggests finding shared activities such as volunteering together at your child’s school or planning a class party for a low-pressure way to let a natural bond form.
Anderson was glad she put aside her fears, because she met amazing mothers and new playmates for her daughter. “I learned that every mom there felt exactly how I did,” she says.
“We talked about parenthood, issues our kids were having, and what we were like before having kids. I realized I wasn’t alone.”
Challenge: Everyone’s overwhelmed
Ashriel Lutz, mother of daughters ages two, five, and eight, began to feel isolated after her second daughter was born. “It was so hard to get out of the house and most of my friends had second babies around the same time so we were all overwhelmed,” she says.
Friendly Advice: Everyone’s busy, but dedicating time to friendships is an investment in you, increasing happiness, and reducing stress. Yager says one of the easiest ways to incorporate friendships into a busy daily life is by including the friend in what you have to do, like shopping. If your kids get along, go to the park or bowling together or to the movies. Even if it’s getting together only occasionally, you’re still making the effort to stay connected.
Challenge: Your friends are in a different stage of life
Staying connected can be rough when your friends are single, don’t have children, or have children who are at different ages than yours. Anderson has tried to maintain her friendships from before she became a mom, but sometimes has to cancel plans because her husband has to work late or the baby is teething and cranky. “It’s a big friendship burner for those who don’t have kids,” she says. “We’re all in different stages of our lives, and when we get together it’s fantastic but it isn’t as frequent anymore. You want to keep those friendships going but you are also in a new stage of life and you need that parent community too.”
Friendly Advice: “You have permission to let go of a friendship that isn’t working for you anymore,” says Yager. “It’s OK if you see a friend less often.” Friendships may also naturally change or fade.
It can be hard to find friendships, so if there’s reason to maintain the friendship, even if it’s to talk to each other only occasionally, Yager says that’s OK. “Rather than dwell on what your friendship has changed to, enjoy what you can still share with each other.”
Abby Elise Wilson, mom of a 10-month-old daughter, discovered her old friends welcomed her bringing her daughter along when she needed to. “I was worried about my friends not wanting to hang out with me because I have a baby, but they all love my little girl and are pretty much her ‘aunts’,” she says.
Courtney Drake-McDonough is a Denver-based writer and editor with four children. She writes for magazines, newspapers, and the web, and occasionally just for herself.