Just a few generations ago in this country, becoming a mother was considered a family affair (it’s still that way in many cultures). Relatives lived close to one another, with grandmothers, mothers, aunts and older sisters sharing wisdom about pregnancy, birth and child-rearing with new moms. In the past few generations, the family structure in the Western world has changed dramatically. More and more, families are spread across the country and beyond, and people are working longer hours. That means that not only is it harder for moms to find potential friends, but it’s harder to carve out time in your life to maintain friendships. And not having an adequate social system isn’t just about having somebody to gab with over coffee. It’s about practical, real-life support (swapping child-care, keeping an eye on each other’s kids at the park, bringing meals to a new mom), sharing resources (which doctors have the best bedside manner? Which school fits your family’s needs? Do you really need that fancy double jogger?), and advice (when it comes to sleep, feeding, discipline, etc; what’s worked for other moms?)
It’s not surprising, then, that isolation has been connected to prenatal, postpartum, and persisting depression and other mood disorders, and can even have an effect on a child’s behavior, social skills and intelligence levels. We need daily, in-real-life support, ladies, and if we can’t get it from grandmas and sisters and aunts and mothers, we need to find it in our communities from other moms.
I know I know. You don’t have time. Or you hate talking to people you don’t know. I understand. Even though I’m naturally pretty extroverted, I absolutely hate, hate, hate making small talk. But after a miserable year spent as a stay-at-home mom without many friends nearby, I realized I’d have to get over myself and do it, because I’m only happy when I have an outside social life (and as much as I love blogs and Twitter, that doesn’t count. I need to be able to sit and chat with somebody in person while we watch the kids play, or have some real life company while I make dinner or do the dishes once in a while.)
To be clear, you don’t need to be the life of the party with invitations pouring in, a full calendar and a little black book stuffed with the names of other mommies you met at this playgroup or that book club. We don’t all need huge circles of friends. Some of us just aren’t joiners, and that goes especially for “clubs” that revolve around finger-plays and songs about barnyard animals. But even if your circle is small, you need that circle, and you need it to be filled with people you trust and can count on. Think about these questions:
o If something major happened—marital trouble, sticky issue at work—who could you confide in?
o If you were feeling stir-crazy and wanted to run out for a cup of coffee—with or without kids—who could you call?
o If you had an emergency child-care issue, who could you ask for help?
o If your baby has a fever and you need advice on when to call the pediatrician, who would you ask?
o If your little one took her first step and you wanted to crow (and of course, you’d already told her dad!) who would you call?
If you don’t have an answer for any of them, it’s possible your social life could use a little rounding out. And if your answer is the same person every time, you could probably use an alternate. You know, just in case your current friend is incapacitated or unable to perform her duties.
But if making friends were that easy, we wouldn’t hear so much about moms and isolation. The question is: how?
I’ll cover that in my next post, “Making Friends 101”. But I’m curious. Do you think you have enough friends? What, to you, is the hardest part of making friends with other mothers? If you don’t have enough friends, do you think you’d be happier if you did?