The 5 Friends All Moms Need
By Charlotte Latvala
As a mom of three, I honestly don't think I could have made it through the long nights, never-ending diapers, and countless trips to the pediatrician's office without the pals I've met along the way. Here are the mom friends I couldn't live without -- and why you need them too.
The First 12 Months
The Role Model
This is the absolute first mom friend you need -- a buddy with some mothering miles under her belt. Her kids are a few years older than yours, so she's the go-to person for questions about teething, getting rid of the pacifier, or finding a reliable sitter. My sister-in-law Janet turned out to be my mommy mentor. A full five years older than me, she was already the mother of three by the time I had my first baby. I looked to her for guidance and reassurance -- and thankfully, she found no question too idiotic: Will the weird infant acne go away on its own? What exactly should an umbilical stump look like? Does a baby have to wear a T-shirt under every outfit? I knew I could call her at 2 a.m. with a screaming infant on my shoulder -- and she would calm me down and promise me that motherhood would get better.
Especially during those first crazy weeks with a newborn, it's nice to look up from your sleep-deprived haze and see a mom who's been through it and survived. Not only does she give you hope -- she's so relaxed and competent -- but she'll praise you, tell you that you're doing fine, and assure you that life will be okay very soon. Someday, you may outgrow the friendship, or it will morph into a relationship of equals. But for now, it's incredibly comforting to have someone strong and wise holding your hand.
You might meet this pal in Lamaze class, or in the park with your newborns tucked into strollers, where you commiserate over sleepless nights and sore nipples. Your babies are nearly the same age, so she totally gets what you're going through. Even better, you share identical parenting philosophies: you'd never let your baby cry it out at night, and you're completely against spanking. Meeting her is like meeting that first best friend on the third-grade playground -- you click instantly because you have everything in common. My coworker Debbie and I were pregnant at the same time, and our first children, both girls, were born just a few months apart. We became inseparable as our daughters reached milestones together -- we could discuss weaning, separation anxiety, or poop color for hours. I'll never forget the excited phone calls we exchanged ("She peed in the potty two times today!") when our daughters were toilet training, conversations that probably would have made anyone else roll their eyes or cringe.
The best part about having a mothering clone is that you can share this baby minutiae with her and she will never zone out with boredom. Believe me, no one else will find your infant's cute habit of sucking her toes worth 15 seconds of discussion, much less 15 minutes. Being with this soul sister is a wonderful way for both of you to let off steam and talk as long and passionately as you like about your babies. If you're lucky, you'll stick with your twin through preschool, kindergarten, and beyond. These days, Debbie and I still compare notes on our daughters -- although now we discuss training bras and Kelly Clarkson CDs instead of diapers and Gymboree classes.
The Toddler Years
The Spur-of-the-Moment Coffee Buddy
I met my friend Susan when my daughter was 18 months old; her toddler was a few months younger. Initially, I thought we were just too different to be good friends -- not only was she much more outgoing than I am, she was about 10 years younger. But despite our differences, we clicked. We brought out something funny and spontaneous in each other, and she turned out to be a lifesaver during those long winter "I-need-to-talk-to-another-adult-or-I'll-go-insane" afternoons of toddlerhood.
She was always up for meeting at Starbucks at a moment's notice or dragging the kids to the children's museum or playground. All in all, she brought a bright ray of sunshine to the occasional doldrums of motherhood. I knew it was perfectly okay to drop by her house unannounced; if she was busy, she would tell me. If she was up for an outing, she would grab her diaper bag and go.
Every mother of young children needs a Susan, a free-spirited mom who isn't daunted by the fact that it's naptime or that the last trip to the museum didn't turn out so well. She's positive and energetic, and you get a huge kick out of her. Get-togethers with this mom do not require elaborate plans a week ahead of time, and she won't care if you haven't showered yet. In the end, she may not turn out to be your absolute best friend, the confidante you share your most intimate secrets with. But she always, always makes you smile.
The Rule Breaker
As we become more experienced parents (and sometimes a bit smug in our all-knowingness), we need a mom friend who will confide some wacky, borderline-shocking thing she did with her child (let him eat cookies for breakfast, pee in the bushes, play with -- gasp! -- toy guns). Not only do we gain a sense of perspective from her, we gradually realize that parenting doesn't always have to be done exactly by the book, that a few blips off the chart here and there probably won't cause lasting damage to our children.
When I first met Lisa, her seeming inattention to what I thought were ironclad rules amazed me. She cavalierly bottlefed her baby, even microwaved the bottles! I was such a nursing devotee -- okay, snob -- that I found it hard to believe anyone wouldn't at least try breastfeeding, much less not feel guilty about not doing it. Not only that, but she let her children stay up watching SpongeBob reruns till the ungodly hour of 10 p.m. (actually, they didn't have a bedtime; they just sort of crashed when they were tired). And she sometimes even let the older ones drink Coke.
But guess what? Her three kids were the best-behaved, happiest, healthiest children I have ever encountered --and that includes children from families that got them to bed by 7:30 every night and never let a nonorganic morsel pass their lips. My friendship with Lisa broadened my horizons and let me see firsthand that things aren't always black and white in Mommy Land.
Friends After the Toddler Years
The Best Friend's Mom
As I tick through my list of friends -- Maria, Debbie, Diane, Marie, Jennifer -- it's apparent that my current social circle is largely made up of women I've met through my children; as the kids became buddies, so did the moms. At first, these women were special simply because they had a connection to my children, but I've come to rely on them more and more. Their homes are safe havens for my kids, their willingness to carpool a godsend, and their knowledge of the local school system priceless. When one of us has to work late or get a child to a soccer game on the other side of the city, we know we can count on a fellow mom to pitch in and help.
Along the way, we became friends in our own right. We were thrown together by circumstance more than by common interests. There are doctors, teachers, artists, and full-time moms among us, plus several religions, and a wide range in income. I'm not sure that we would have become friends any other way -- to be honest, our paths might not have crossed -- but I look at this group of friends as a marvelous bit of serendipity, one of the true gifts of motherhood. I'm happy to be traveling this sometimes bumpy road with them. As Winnie-the-Pooh once wisely said, "It's so much more friendly with two."
Why You Need at Least One Childless Friend
Of course you love your mom buddies, but it's still a good idea to hang onto the pals you had before kids or to make some new ones whose lives don't revolve around the playground and naptime. Here's why:
Childless pals link you to your former life. They bring out interests and passions that may have been dormant for a while; you get so used to thinking of yourself as a mom, you forget that you are also an artist, book lover, and runner.
You need a break from 24-7 kid thinking. It's easy to get so caught up in your baby's world that you don't take time for anything else. Some dishing on adult life (even if it's only Brad and Angelina gossip) can be a wonderful mental break from diaper duty and potty training.
They offer perspective. Listening to your friend discuss the trials and tribulations of the dating scene (the grass isn't always greener) may make you appreciate your life a bit more.
They admire your baby without giving advice. Childless friends tend to lavish attention on your little one without feeling the need to offer theories on sleep or feeding. Plus, it's just plain fun to watch them enjoy each other.
Charlotte Latvala, a mom of three, is a writer in Sewickley, Pennsylvania.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, June 2007.