Making friends with other parents can be a strange, often terrible, and unfortunately necessary—and, at least at first, you’re basically looking around for other people who seem a lot like you, because that’s the easiest thing to do. But that’s okay, as long as you’re not a total fascist about it.
I’ve written about this delicate art before, and it’s a particularly tough nut to crack. Yes, in the interest of diversity and broadmindedness, parents should try to make friends with as many types of people as possible. I recommend accepting every playdate you’ve been asked on. But in the exhausting early months of parenting, that’s easier said than done, and it’s far easier to look for friends who are like you in approach.
Such is my takeaway from this “Open Letter From a Former Mean Mom” at Yahoo!, where Anna Davies writes about her early days as an insecure parent and how she handled it by snarking on and sometimes purposely excluding other mothers who weren’t like her. She writes:
You may have heard us gossiping over coffees this morning as you walked in, wearing your new baby in a carrier, your eyes oversized and desperately scanning the busy café for any sort of potential adult interaction. But instead of inviting you to sit down, I averted my gaze.
“She wore a fedora to the mom meetup.” I ignored you as I shifted my daughter from one yoga pant-clad knee to the other, commenting on a new mom we’d just met.
“Seriously. It’s like a mom I met last week who wore heels. In the park. Did she get lost on the way to the club?” My friend grinned back at me, her own 3-month-old daughter sitting on her lap. Both of us were makeup-free, exhausted, and wearing clothes we’d slept in the night before. We looked the same, like capital M Moms.
The echo chamber was a little stifling and Davies found that it reinforced her ideas of what a mother should look like—just like her. She somehow dodged judging them for their actual parenting choices, but she felt especially hostile to women who made any effort with their appearance, as if caring enough to plan an outfit indicated that they were somehow shallow and uninvested in motherhood. She writes:
Messy topknots and ripped jeans were, to me, a sign that we could be friends. Because I was insecure in my new role as a mom, I fell right back into my adolescent mentality for making friends: Establish a clique, then don’t let anyone else in. The additional scrutiny on appearance was also all about me. Postpartum, I didn’t love the way I looked — I missed having time to blow-dry my hair and get manicures. And although just a few weeks after delivery I weighed the same as I did prior to pregnancy, I wasn’t fit. I felt guilty that I cared about my appearance when I should be focused on my infant, so instead, I took my insecurities out on women who looked the way I wished I did.
Obviously, it’s shitty to judge people for how they look; it’s shitty to exclude other mothers who you ostensibly ought to feel the most compassion for, all because you are too insecure to accept that there’s another way to go about things.
But I admire Davies for admitting this, and she cannot be the only one out there. Underneath that hostility is a difficult truth about her self-esteem, and it takes real work to uncover that and own up to it. And I can relate to her postpartum feelings—not just the ones that involve feeling out of touch with your body and not being able to make much effort, because I felt like an ashen blob, but also bewilderment toward women who aren’t struggling in the same ways. I didn’t hate them, but I couldn’t relate.
In those early days I wasn’t looking for fellow slobs per se, but it’s unlikely I’d have befriended a Fit Mom, only because I would not have imagined that we’d be in the same headspace—and that’s okay. I needed friends who were like me, who I got along with. “Seems chill” and “isn’t trying too hard” were traits that were right up my alley, because I couldn’t make much effort.
I think Davies’ takeaway to stop snarking and not judge other mothers is sound and incredibly important—it was a fruitless way to self-protect, and there’s no need to dismiss the lifestyle choices of others. But at the same time, I want to tell her to give herself a break. The early days of parenting are fraught. You want to surround yourself with women who seem to approach motherhood like you do, which is fine. You have limited resources, and you’ll rely on visual cues and vibes to feel this out: the same style, the same diaper bag.
But the more you get the hang of your own parenting style, the more confident you’ll feel, which means you can begin to open up to new, more exploratory types of parent friendships. At a certain point, you’ll begin to feel less threatened by moms who do things differently than you.
In fact, I kind of want to be friends with a Fit Mom—not because that’s who I am, but because I’m curious about what her playdate snacks are.
Image via Bravo/Odd Mom Out.