It’s a mystery to me how this happened, but women in our society have somehow become segregated by age. Twenty-somethings hang out at the bars. Thirty- and forty-somethings without kiddos hang out at classier bars. Mothers of young children hang out at night watching Disney movies and Netflix cartoons with their borderline comatose spouses. Women in their fifties or beyond have typically narrowed down their friends and interests to what genuinely fulfills them, whether that’s a good romantic comedy or a night at the symphony. It’s just really very rare for women from all these different age groups to be in the same social space.
I don’t like it.
In previous generations, when people had stronger ties to their neighborhoods and/or churches, multigenerational groups of women would occur organically. It wasn’t something that had to be planned or encouraged because people had broader ties to the village around them. Nowadays the “village” feels like some kind of Camelot that people hold up as a great answer to all life’s problems, but nobody actually remembers how to be in one anymore.
But, as rare as the opportunities are, I encourage you to foster friendships with women of all ages, with and without children. Cutting any single group from my circle of friends would leave me completely off balance; I need all of them to function optimally.
I’ve been blessed with great mommy friends. It took me until Jonah was between six months and a year old to really find and build these relationships, but mothering got significantly easier when I did. Only another mother with children of a similar age can truly empathize with what you’re going through. They understand how bone-deep tired you are because they are equally as tired. They can listen to your story about your tantruming toddler in the grocery store and laugh with recognition because, yes, they have been there too, and recently. And they’re never going to ask you to meet them out at a bar at 10pm because everyone knows that you will all have been asleep for at least an hour. Mommy friends let you know that no matter how crazy your life feels most days, it’s perfectly normal for the stage you’re at. They’ll even be gracious about your toddler managing to get his diaper off and getting poop on their carpet – not that I’d know from personal experience or anything. (Sorry, Sarah.)
Dear God, Goddess, Universe, or whatever else you like to call the higher power: Thank you for the friends whom I’ve known since before becoming a mother who have chosen to stick around. Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. My sanity would be a far distant memory if it wasn’t for them. As much as I believe that you need to be open to changing and growing as a person when you become a parent, your pre-mommy friends are the people who can keep you grounded when you feel like you’re nothing but a diaper-changing, dish-washing, bathroom-scrubbing robot. They remember that you can do shots like a champ and flirt with cute guys and rock an awesome pair of red heels. They know these things about you, and when you talk to them, you know them too.
Some of your pre-mommy friends will go on to have children at the same time as you and also be mommy friends. Some of them will follow a different path. Sometimes beautiful sisters take a different path and you grow apart, and that’s the course your friendship was meant to take. But sometimes you’re blessed with the opportunity to stay close and support each other even as your lives go in separate directions. Cherish these sisters. When you are at your absolute lowest and feel physically and emotionally depleted, they have what feels like limitless compassion. When marriage and babies feel unbearably hard and you’re not sure if you can do it even one more day, you can both live vicariously through them and remember why you hated dating so much. And when dating seems endless and pointless, listening to the woes of a married mommy friend reminds women that the work doesn’t stop when you meet Mr. Right. Life continues with its ups and downs, its successes and challenges, no matter what stage you’re at. The perspective of a sister living a different part of her life is invaluable. Which leads me to . . .
Friends Who Have Been There
I don’t want to call this category Friends Who Are Older because we’re really weird about age in our culture. What I mean is: You need friends who have already been through the stages you’re currently going through because they can offer amazing wisdom and perspective. Generally speaking, having gone through a little more life than you have, there’s not too much that will freak them out any more, and they are good about staying centered and keeping you centered too. For women who are mothers, having friends with older children is awesome because 1.) They can offer the same kind of empathy as a mommy friend, but they’ll have the opportunity to listen better because they don’t have a toddler screaming in their ear, and 2.) They can remind you that the young, high-maintenance stage doesn’t last forever. Just look – their kids are completely self-sufficient and they can now sleep eight hours straight and go out to girls’ nights whenever they want to. There is hope in the world.
When my oldest son was a couple of months old, I was finally ready to get out of the house without him. I called my friend Denise, who is a mom with older daughters, and begged her to go to Magic Mike with me. I don’t have a big thing for Channing Tatum or anything, but I just needed to do something completely unmommy-like, and I knew she’d be up for it. She listened as I talked and unloaded about adjusting to life as a new mom, and she acted like it wasn’t weird for a mom with an infant to sit in a movie theater and watch men dance and take their clothes off. She knew that I just needed to escape for a few hours and not think about breastfeeding or poopy diapers. She listened with so much empathy and compassion that it was humbling. Nobody else could have offered me exactly what I needed like Denise did that night.
If we want to get back to having a “village” – a community of like-minded people who will support each other through life’s ups and downs – it requires us to reach out to women of all ages and circumstances. We can’t just sit in our comfy little Mommy corner, wearing our frayed yoga pants and frantically chugging coffee like our consciousness depends on it. We need to maintain the friendships we’ve already made and seek out new ones, both with women who are at similar stages and women who are at completely different ones. That takes some work, and it takes a lot of understanding from both parties, but I believe it would get us back to a more authentic version of what support is supposed to look like.