Wednesday, March 24

friendships AC

I'm in that world now where whether you do or don't have children affects who you are friends with. As well as the age of the child, their sex, their personalities, their sleep patterns and health. Whether they attend school, or certain after-school activities. Their pastimes.

Suddenly you find yourself friends with someone for no other reason than because she happens to have a child that is roughly the same age as yours. Or because her child's schedule fits around your child's nap.

Perhaps someone you never would have been friends with, because your worlds never collided, suddenly is a best buddy because her child has the same energy levels as yours and you're both desperate for their energy-releasing playdate.

You find yourself avoiding someone you actually like because her child is violent or always ill.

Finally you (a non-spanking calm parent with a sensitive child) find someone you like, who has 'nice' kids... and during a get-together she freaks out, starts screaming bloody murder, and spanks her kids.

What about the person you click with and that you feel that you could really have a great time together? But she hasn't got kids and views you as a mama first. So you're last on the list for margaritas.

Or the lovely mamas who want to talk about nothing but mamahood, when you'd rather discuss the meaning of life.

Perhaps you find someone who does want to have a glass of wine with you but doesn't understand that you don't do babysitters, or that your focus is family get-togethers.

With a child at school, you end up friends with the woman who looks as dissheveled as you when dropping her child off. Feeling that there's a kindred spirit.... or at least someone who won't judge your parental disorganisation.

 The New Yorker

There's a scene in Desperate Housewives (yes, fine, I watched a couple of seasons), where two mothers break up a fight between their sets of twins. Both apologise for their own children's behaviour, as they are both aware of what terrors their children are. They're accustomed to the other parent shouting at them to control their kids.
There's a spark of recognition. One tentatively asks the other for a playdate, and they agree. There is immense relief. They never followed the story line. But I could imagine a friendship blossoming under these very simple but profoundly important conditions - thet they each happen to have violent boisterous boys.

There's also online friendships of course. Ones made initially because you both have mama blogs and children around the same age, or same health condition, or same psychological issues.

What about the friendships before having kids? Some become stronger and some melt away because of having or not having kids. Or seeing a different side to your friend in their parenting style.

We, as parents, tend to, I believe, gravitate towards families, as opposed to singles or couples. And those families with similar parenting styles and values as our own. But we don't always have that luxury to pick and choose. Sometimes you have to make the best of what is around you. Including how others view you and who your children are.

What about if you're not particularly sociable but feel pressure to make friends with other adults for the sake of your child?

Me? I live in Montenegro, amongst a tiny English-speaking expat community. We have been so fortunate to have found expats are own age, and with small children. It means that children's parties actually have other children there. It means there is at least some understanding about obligations and child-related needs. It means general moral support as parents.

However, it's not all smooth sailing. We are all very different people. Our parenting styles can differ poles apart. Our personal needs, goals, and socialising styles differ. Boy children tend to seek each other out. We have a girl. The Wildflower's nap and general sleep is shambolic, and almost always clashes with social events or we get up too late to take strolls with others. Or we're simply too tired for anything involving other people.

Ironically, me, a non-natural mother, is probably seen as the most mumsy around here.

On the other hand. The Wildflower's late nights mean we can socialise when others with kids must go home. Her ability to speak and get on with adults means we can go many more places. Her love of reading means we can sometimes navigate a coffee at a cafe, something that most with kids don't bother trying. Our cultural background, where family is first, means our attitude is very relaxed about going places with her - not feeling we have to find a babysitter.

Of course, as our kids get older it changes quite a bit, I think. We feel less responsible for finding friends for our children, or working friendships around Family, and thus can make our own friends too.

My ideal situation? Well, since you ask. It would be something like this.
A small group of mothers with mindful parenting styles, with children of varying ages who got on well together. Who were pleased as punch to get together with all our kids and discuss life, art, philosophy, and the many merits of chai, as our kids played happily around us.

But an ideal isn't always what we, our soul 'we', truly needs. We're in the situation we're in for a reason. We fight it or we learn from it. I've certainly learnt a LOT, especially this last month. I'm happier for it.

So what's your situation?

AC = After Children


  1. completely agree with everything you've put. Absolutely spot on. And I think I've found myself in many of the situations you describe. I know for sure when I first had my first child, I was the only one amongst my friends to have a baby; it lead to many big changes, as I couldn't, and no longer wished to do the wild night out at a drop of a hat type affairs; some friendships perished, some have still endured but on a different basis to previously. I filled the big void by befriending any mama, and have had some interesting experiences. I feel truly blessed to have stumbled across a wonderful, fabulous group of mamas as part of our toddler group who, well, really are just as you describe in your final paragraph - we have many interests in common, mamahood and how we choose to raise our children, but also life, art, food, environmental issues and such like, so we are not exclusively discussing our children, and we do gather, allow the children to play and savour each others company. So, I guess, I would conclude by saying if anyone is despairing of ever finding the right circle, they are out there, you just need to keep an open mind and keep searching (it's taken me 6 years, but now, I don't know what I'd do without them).

  2. boy, hit the nail right on the head! lucky for me, our daughter was always 'mellow' and loved reading at an early age - we could take practically anywhere. we were the first among our circle of friends to have children but we continue going to Tuesday night get-togethers; in fact, several of the couples we knew who had said they couldn't see themselves wanting to be parents, changed their minds - i like to believe it had something to do with our awesome daughter. she is now 13 and many of those adults who thought she was the coolest kid ever are now her 'friends' on facebook, etc. it was difficult at times for some of our friends [and my siblings] to understand that the 11pm concert on wednesday night was not happening for us! i find it hard to 'make friends' with other parents because for our children's sake - but i may have to for our son's sake. he is in 4th grade now and has aspergers syndrome which really impacts his social skills. we now realize we have to find a friend for him and help him nourish that.
    thanks again for sharing and listening,

  3. My situation? Since you ask... crying inside to have to leave all the friends here who really, really know me (and still love me!) and return to some place where I'm someone who everyone thinks they know and where EVERYONE's a mum (tho some of the babies are furry ones) except me. X

  4. Love this post! Have thought a lot about this myself since becoming a parent. Some of my friendships have changed drastically since becoming a parent, and some have run their course completely. The latter has a lot to do with being an older parent too I think- our parenting journey is only just beginning while a lot of people our age (ahem, Alan's age lol) have kids who are leaving home. Our priorities are completly different to theirs. For me, as the main carer, new friendships have been based a lot around the age of our kids and relative likemindedness. And yes, that means I have certainly made friends with people I wouldn't have considered friends before we had children.

    Children are not the only thing that make you become friends with somebody you may not have considered friendship material before though. As an expat I know I have in the past formed friendships solely on the basis of nationality too (even though I couldn't wait to move away from the darn country in question!).

  5. Boy can I relate to this. It is such a blessing when I find a mom I like with kids my own like. Last year when my elder daughter was in preschool, she befriended a triplet her age, and of course I have twins 19 months younger, and in both cases it was 2 girls and a boy. And the triplets were Leo Suns while mine are all Leo moons. And the mom is easygoing and slightly frazzled, so I never felt judged. It was great, we would just go to a playground and chat while the kids let it all out. We didn't have a ton in common, but we enjoyed each other's company. Sadly, her kids go to another school for kindergarten, so we see them less.

    Now, I have a mixture - most of the kids my kids have befriended have moms much younger than me, and we don't quite click - we would never hang out if our kids didn't play. So I feel like I am playing a certain role for my kids sake. It's not terrible, I just view it as part of being a mom, but it's not ideal either. One mom has really gone out of her way to befriend me, and both my daughter and I love her daughter, but she definitely is pretty conventional in her beliefs and lifestyle - is she knew about my teaching and blog etc., I think it would be quite 'out there' for her taste. But maybe I am underestimating her, time will tell...

    Now the real holy grail is a couple with kids we like!!!

  6. HaHa ... there is so much truth in this post! I love the way you so honestly describe "mamas" situation!
    So much revolves around naptimes and parenting styles, etc. these days. Who ever would've thought that we'd dictate our lives this way ?!? Lol ...

  7. During the first 6 months of Michael's life I was desperate for like-minded parent friends. I thought that joining the ranks of motherhood would put me into the "mama club" with my friends who were mothers, but I soon discovered that I felt totally alienated by our differing parenting styles. It took me a long time, but I finally have made enough friends to feel my needs are mostly met. I have my online friends, and friends I've made at a parenting group and a diaperfreebaby group, all with enough in common to feel comfortable and supported. I made friends with a couple of the neighborhood mamas, one who is very like-minded to me and another who is a gentle mama that I can along with. I have lots of family around...siblings with young children, but most I do not connect with very well in the parenting sphere, I try to connect with them in other ways. Same with my friends from church. So, I take what I can get. It frustrates me sometimes that I can't have a friend that I have more in common with, but then if I did, I might be limiting myself. Being friends with people who are different from me allow me to develop tolerance and also help me to learn about things I might not have otherwise. Having a big 'variety' of friends can be limiting, too, though. Like not having time for all of them, only getting together once or twice a month, sometimes less. I crave deeper connections than that. But maybe if I just keep meeting more people, I'll eventually find a special friend.

    I feel bad, though, that my son has so many cousins nearby and we hardly ever see them. :(

  8. This is so completely true! Something you don't know yet is that you will be going through exactly the same thing with homeschooling. You will make friends with other people simply because they follow the same educational style as you ... but your children won't get along. Or you will befriend people who are also interested in doing science workshops ... but they have different educational views as you and it becomes taut ... Or you will end up with a certain group of friends because they meet for picnics on the only day you are free for Socialisation, and it is only weeks later that you realise they are not your type of person at all and in the meanwhile your tribe are meeting miles away when you have to be elsewhere ... Or you will desperately hook up with people simply because they have girls your own dd's age but they are Catholic so you have to hide your deep spiritual beliefs from them ...


    I am finding that the whole complex tangle of it is starting to ease as my dd gets older. She is finding her own friends and I get to stay on the sidelines. That Mummy season is passing, and although I loved it with all my heart I love too that I am now becoming Mum and can have more freedom to make appropriate friends for me.

  9. By the way, I don't know what I would do without my online friends. They have saved my sanity more than once. Especially my virtual sisters. The funny thing is, like you said, it has been the same with online friendships - drawn to people because they are in the same place as me, or have the same philosophy. And as my ideas have changed over the years, so have my friendships. All my online friends used to be "gifted parents". Then "Charlotte Mason" homeschoolers. Then unschoolers. I still have many Christian friends from my religious exploration days. But having found true friends who transcend all those descriptors, who are soul friends, that has been the greatest gift of all.

  10. Great post. I must say you are very lucky to find an expat community in your age range. We are also expat, but find most others living here in Costa Rica don't have six year olds :) But they do have grandkids, so we can connect on that page. I have always struggled with this one as it is hard for me to just outright talk to people. Our homeschool groups have always been pretty conservative and my children had a hard time getting along there. Again thanks for this post.

  11. Posting this for Sarah at Unprocessed Family who was having trouble commenting so enailed me.

    I was surprised at how strongly I reacted when one of my mama friends, who I really liked, smacked one of her kids. It was an instant and irrevocable end to our friendship. It wasn't at all like the time I
    slowly drew away from a friend who I connected with more than I have with anyone in a long time because her boys were behaving inappropriately with my girls and she refused to address the issue. In that case, I was so sad to have to pull away. I tried to maintain a
    relationship with *her* without our children being together - her children's behavior was becoming dangerous for my children - but that was not ok with her. When I saw the other friend smack her child, it
    changed my opinion of the mother too much for me to want to be around her anymore - she hit her child, for heaven's sake.

    So I've found that that's my personal line. Clear abuse to a child is not something I can be around, even if it's labeled 'discipline'.

    As for the rest - timing of naps, energy levels of children, tolerance of others for children - they all play into any relationships I have with other mamas (and many other people in my life).

    I have a sister who I adore and is a close friend. Our parenting styles are *very* different. So ... we simply try to interact without our children around. This means that we can only interact when my husband is around to take care of our children since we have yet to do 'babysitters' and she gets frustrated because she's quite relaxed when it comes to others taking care of her children.

    Different parenting styles certainly do affect relationships in my life.

  12. Julie - Single friends rarely come in the understanding form in regards to mamhood. I know that I was pretty selfish when |I was single, wanting to do, well, the single life thing and find those friends who could match me. But I never led another mother astray, nor did I feel bitter or begrudge my parenting friends. I guess I did neglect them somewhat, but I would have to say it was likely mutual. With them wanting other mothers.
    Your situation now is just wonderful. I can't even imagine such a community because I've never even had that as a single person! Although I came close before I lfet UK, typical!
    But having it as a mother is super special - because of our deep needs as people and parents, and the need for our children. Enjoy EVERY second of it.

    mary - Finding other parents who can understand your situation, with a son with aspergers, is particularly special. A friend back in UK, her son has aspergers and finding other parents in the same boat gave her a lot of support. But that wasn't easy for her, finding them that is.

    Den - ah, a different issue altogether. It's always difficult to leave loving family or friends. Or be the only childless person amongst parents.

    Carin - It's not always easy to find a fit when your children's ages differ so greatly. One really great thing over here, is that it's very family orientated and everyone loves children. Like, even say a 12 yr-old boy would stop and say hello to my toddler. It's very sweet.

    Lisa - ugh, the Great Family who Dares to Move Away (or go to a different school) syndrome.
    And yes, that's another one, the age difference of the mamas. We're lucky to have a couple of families we get on really well with and socialise with, that is, all the adults get on and have similar cultural understandings, and the kids get on. But they have boisterous boys and tend to get together for playdates for their sakes.

    It may not be ideal for us here, but we're damn fortunate considering we've come to another country without knowing anyone. To find parents our age, with kids of similar age, and who speak English is pretty darn amazing when you think about it.

  13. Erin - I know! There was a time friendships were dictated by who you sat next to at school, who liked the same band as you, who you met in the Principals office for disciplining, who did similar art as you at university..... But who had a kid the same age as yours!?

    Lisa C - I totally agree about making friends like this is a great way to discover new people, new lifestyles, practice tolerance.... ANd I love making friends with people I wouldn't ever had considered would be friend material.
    But I also crave deep connections, so I would always like such a friend with a kid who got on with mine.

    sarah - oh yes, homeschooling is another of the countless situations. I'm not sure it'll affect us quite like that, simply b/c nobody homeschools here! But there might be friendships made with, for example, parents/kids who take the same activity, like tennis lessons.
    It's interesting what you describe. One could be excused for thinking that finding other HSing families would be wonderful. But yeah, they're just people like everyone else and have differing views or educational styles, and so on. I did think for a time about how great it would be to have a HSing community here, but it could easily be as unsuited to us as any other group of people.

    Roblynn - yes! We often say how amazing it has been. Yes, being shy or similar can make making friends for our kids quite an anxious activity.
    You're in Costa Rica?! It's on our list. Put the kettle on!

  14. Holy crap. What a great post. I have so much to share but am so damn tired. One thing caught my eye that I had to respond to immediately. Den, where the heck are you going????

  15. I can completely relate to this post as well. We moved across the country to Newfoundland a year and a half ago and I'm happy to say that I'm currently fulfilled by my friendships here, mostly because a good friend of mine moved here six months ago. Her husband is also great friends of my husband and mine, so we see them both as a couple and I see her one on one for discussions about yoga, energy work, manifestations, etc. We have sacred circles together and do body work exchanges as well. It's great! They are childless and my son loves them as they have energy to play with him! I've found others with kids to have occasional playdates with, and Moses has made some good friends. One of his best friends, we met at the beach. :-)

  16. Maybe I've missed other posts, but I find it interesting that you refer to yourself as a "non-natural mother" who seems more mumsy. I feel that way so often.

    I lost all of my pre-motherhood friends. They were done with the baby game years ago...and seem a little scared that they might catch something from me!

    I've finally decided to be ok with this. I'm going to do my own thing. Get Z out and about, and maybe in a group activity, at least every other day, and connect when I can with others. No expectations. :)

  17. It has taken me a long time to find good friends since having children. We do have parenting in common, but I try to think of conversation topics that get into other areas. I really do want people to get to know just "Kelly" not so and so's mom. I'm happy to have found a wonderfully supportive and interesting blogging community of friends.

  18. I think I've been really lucky: I have managed to find some mama friends who have similar styles to me. Actually, our similar parenting styles are probably why we are friends, as you point out in your post. I enjoy meeting other mothers but I admit that if we didn't have children we would probably not have a lot to say to each other!

    Do you find you develop a bit of a sixth sense about people's parenting styles? In large groups of mums, I gravitate towards the dishevelled looking ones, who tend to be the mothers who err on the side of "natural".

  19. I'm so new to all of this - being a mommy, trying to find new friends. My husband and I have been "loners" for most of our 16 years together. Sure, we had friends that we saw occasionally, but mostly we spent our free time together. We live in the upper midwest of the US and my baby came during a cold season here when most activities are indoors. Now that it is warming up, I find myself yearning to be outside with my daughter and I find myself wanting some other mother-friends. Our friends that did have children now have older teen children. So, noone our age around having kids. I guess I need to find some groups and break out of my shell, move a bit away from my tendency to do it alone.

    I loved this post. It gave me suggestions of who to look for and who not to shy away from. Now that it is warmer, I hope to connect with others living in my great neighborhood!

  20. Yep, all of what you wrote is so true about the struggles with managing our social needs once we become mothers.

    I'm finding, now that Lucas is 3 1/2, that I'm very selective about my time and our time, and who it's spent with. Since I've always been honest about who I am as a mother, I scared away all the conventional moms years ago, leaving behind those few with compatible perspectives. Yet, even among these now good friends, I'm limiting our play dates and gatherings with the intention of simplifying our life and schedule. I don't feel the need to have something planned with other kids most days. I want him to have breaks between the challenge of navigating young relationships, so he can just relax and do his own thing. My friends understand.

    I think it all comes down to two things: knowing yourself and being honest about who you are so you can attract like-minded people and forget about the rest, and then consciously deciding what you're willing to give your precious time and attention to.


  21. Been a busy past few days. So much in this post to process. I was very fortunate to find a wonderful, supportive community of expats when we lived in Montenegro. We all seemed to "get each other" and obviously had the same challenge of adjusting to a very different culture. Moms, non-Moms, Moms of much older kids, etc.

    Here in Sweden, it's been an uphill battle trying to find and make friends. The only expats, it seems, are from the Middle East and although we've been introduced at parties by some dear friends of ours, to other Swedes, things never go further than the party location. And then there's the little man's preschool. After almost a year, the parents are finally starting to warm up to the "American girl" (and I'm Canadian!)

    I've managed to secure 2 playdates with a little girl and her Mom in my class. But her and I have very little in common. With three small children and a Swedish husband, she still manages to run marathons and win cross-country skiing competitions while studying to be a Montessori school teacher in her spare time...But in this case, it truly is all about the kids and I've accepted that. And she also happens to be a nice person and a great Mom.

    Then there's a neighbour I discovered recently that I worked with years ago! She has really opened herself and her life up to me and "taken me in" so to speak. She's loads of fun and has a daughter my son's age so almost perfect!

    I've made amazing friends on a beach, my BFF has remained a constant throughout my entire life and well, some come, so go and some will always remain. Then there is this wonderful online community where we all meet and connect.

    I sometimes feel like the "odd Mom out" on Mon's blog as I'm not/was not a clothdiaperer/babywearer/breastfeeder(though I did manage for a couple of months)/antivaccinator/babyfoodmaker/cosleeper(though he climbs into bed with us everyday at 5am now)/homeschooler/stayathome kind of Mama. Some of the above was due to ignorance and others were conscious choices I've made. Even though I am none of these things, I am a Mom and a Mom who enjoys reading about the lives of different Moms in a non-judgemental and encouraging environment.

    Thank God for the blogosphere and Thank God for Mon's blog and the not-so-unlikely friend I have found in her :-)

  22. i agree with your ideal. having experienced it, it's awesome. but even within that there was no "best friend" family - the kind you could hang out anywhere with and your spouses and children love each other as much as the mamas do. maybe perfection just doesn't exist. maybe that's not a bad thing.

  23. I'm very late to this, but I just found myself nodding through all that you've written here. I think I have found myself in each and every scenario you have described above. It's all so very familiar to me.

    It's very tricky at times isn't it? an ever-shifting ground of tentative relationships, negotiating, and sadly, at times needing to withdraw. Like you I got a huge shock one day when a very gentle woman I was getting to know, who I could really connect with intellectually started screaming and spanking her girls - really out there stuff. And I couldn't contain my horror. My girl was very frightened around her too, (she was actually shaking) and I just couldn't do it anymore. Which sounds judgmental - she obviously needed some support, but knowing her, I doubt she would have accepted any to be honest.

    And your ideal scenario? I'll second that one, but as you have said, we learn so much from not having it that way.

  24. I think I am rapidly reaching the point where I can't rationalise any difference between the judgement I use when forming relationships with other parents (normally mothers) and that which I use when managing the other relationships I have in my life.

    If I am not fully at ease with another person's values, attitudes, or behaviour, then I just cannot spend time with them and feel that I have remained true to myself. And if that is the case, I don't want to involve my children. For me, the benefit of socialisation is outweighed by the cost of stress/disquiet/frustration/horror that can ensue (at times). Not sure what I would do if someone started spanking their child in front of me, but that falls into the "horror" category!

    I have been grappling with this issue for a couple of years now, because I am conscious that as my children grow, they are likely to want to spend time with a wider circle of children - and adults too. Over the past few months I have become more discerning about the parent friendships I nurture, and more resourceful about ways in which I might meet decent, kind people with children of their own. So far, it's working well and I am happier than I have been in a looooong time - but thank goodness we have the internet!

  25. It has been so great to read the replies. Thanks so much for sharing everyone.

    It seems inevitable that our life circumstances will affect who we choose as friends. But parenthood is unique in that we're choosing with someone else in mind. And that can lead to many... erm... interesting developments. :


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