When I had a child seven years ago, I had an expectation that I would make a new group of parent friends. Specifically — because I was looking at things through an unnecessarily gendered lens, but also because mothers still end up being the default parent in so many ways — I thought I’d make a bunch of new mom friends. I had some vague ideas about meeting them while walking around my neighbourhood or at breastfeeding support groups ... or something, I guess.
The reality is, I didn’t. For the most part, I’ve kept the same friends I had pre-kids. Some are moms, some aren’t. I have joined several online parenting groups that I find helpful in terms of advice and connection, and I’m certainly friendly with a lot of the parents at my kids’ schools. But I’ve never made that cohesive collection of mom friends I’d imagined or read was so important.
Ultimately, it works for me. I love the friends I have and find it challenging enough to keep in touch with even them, particularly during COVID. But sometimes I do wonder if I’m missing out on an important lifeline — if other moms who have a ready “village” of fellow parent pals feel less worn out than I do. And I totally admit to feeling pangs of FOMO when I see acquaintances post photos of themselves with their group of mom friends.
Here’s what experts say about whether mom friends are really necessary, and how to strengthen those relationships if that’s important to you — even during a pandemic.
Yes, parent friends can be really helpful
Friendship is, in general, an important-if-overlooked aspect of overall well-being. Having a sense of belonging can decrease the risk of depression, for example. Friends can help minimise feelings of stress.
And many experts really do believe there’s a specific benefit to having dedicated mom friends, though that’s a hypothesis that’s difficult to capture in any kind of research.
There is something about a connection rooted in mutual understanding that is powerful, even if your particular circumstances (like your family makeup, your financial situation, whether you work, etc.) are quite different.
“I often work with clients that are the first in their friend group to have a child. This can create a great sense of distance, loneliness and isolation as the new parents may feel they can no longer relate to their childless friends. Throw in a pandemic, where socialising is even more fraught, and all the feelings are magnified,” Olivia Bergeron, a New York City-based clinical social worker who founded Mommy Groove Therapy & Parent Coaching, told HuffPost.
“But other parents get it,” Bergeron said. “They know that a night out, for example, when you have young children is invaluable and tricky to pull off.”
“For parents that feel bad about not already having a community, there is no timeline.”
Some evidence suggests that having friends while your children are young confers benefits to them, too. A 2019 study found that 2-year-olds whose moms had what they considered to be strong social support performed better on cognitive tests.
The “why” isn’t totally clear — and, crucially, the study did not focus specifically on friendships between mothers. But the researchers believe their findings have to do with the fact that women who felt supported by their friends were able to share some of the stress of parenting very young kids. That lessened their mental health load, which in turn trickled down to their kids.
But remember: It can take years to find your people
Personally, I am boggled by how other mothers connect with each other during the postpartum period. I was so exhausted and confused when I had my first (quite colicky) baby, that I couldn’t even begin to wrap my brain around the idea of joining a new parents group. By the time I had my second, I was too busy chasing my toddler around to do much of anything at all.
Of course, many parents do manage to connect with other new parents during that stage, availing themselves of support groups and get-togethers. But experts say it’s perfectly normal to emerge from the baby and toddler years without a new group of friends.
“For parents that feel bad about not already having a community, there is no timeline,” said Bergeron. “You can meet parents at day cares or at school if your kids are a bit older. Reach out to make those connections when you have the energy and time, always in short supply for parents!”
If you’re looking for new mom friends, be realistic about your schedule
Parenting young children is gruelling, even in non-pandemic times. And during COVID, so many moms are struggling to keep their friendships intact. “None of us have enough time,” one 38-year-old mom of two previously told HuffPost. “For me, my downtime is 9 at night.”
So work with the time you’ve got. If you’re a working mom, schedule a time during your break when you can connect with a “lunch bunch” of other parents, said Melanie Ross Mills, a therapist and friendship expert. (Lunch bunches are sometimes used in school settings when small groups of children and teachers gather together to chat and engage in social-emotional learning.)
Mills noted that in addition to offering really important “support, wisdom, empathy, compassion, and love,” other moms can offer practical help that’s invaluable and unique. “This is where [moms] learn about what’s ‘really’ going on at school or how to navigate a challenging teacher or that they’re not alone in their postpartum,” Mills said.
Courting new friends in adulthood can feel awkward. It certainly might not feel natural to try and gather a group of women to discuss motherhood in the middle of the day. So here is another friendship-making tip that’s useful to have in mind: Assume that people already like you.
As psychologist and University of Maryland professor Marisa G. Franco told WBUR in a 2021 story about making new buddies: “We all have this tendency to think we’re more likely to be rejected than we actually are.”
At the end of the day, all that matters is that you have some support
All that said, it is of course OK if you don’t have a close group of mom friends, or really, any close mom friends at all. You are not an anomaly. Research suggests that women, in particular, tend to have weaker attachments with friends right after their kids are born until they’re at least five-ish. Again, throw in a pandemic that has left so many pregnant women feeling lonely and detached from friends and bonding rituals like baby showers, and it can all feel really difficult.
Experts say what matters is that you feel supported, in whatever form that takes. Remember the seasons in life. Making mom friends might simply not be a priority — or a possibility — right now, and that’s fine. There will be time to find your village down the road if and when you need it.