I have no mom friends.
I'm a mom. I have friends. I have friends that are moms, and a few of them I even met because we have similarly aged children. But I don't have one friend I would ever lump into the exclusive category of "mom."
According to contemporary parenting mores, this makes me some kind of failure.
You see, it's not enough to become a mom anymore; you are also supposed to develop a social network that revolves around your new identity. In the past few years, finding the right mom friend has taken on the urgency of locking down Mr. Right. There are online social networks dedicated to matching mothers, and a popular bar in my neighborhood even recently hosted a "speed-dating" night for moms.
I get it. We need somebody who can meet at the playground, commiserate over sleep schedules, and occasionally take care of our kids. Early parenthood is a wild time and due to biology, customs, and backwards laws, moms tend to navigate this wilderness alone. In one fell swoop, both our bodies and our days are radically transformed, the latter nearly unrecognizable (and often the former too). And in the midst of this rapid change arrives a very needy and vulnerable tiny being to whom we must attend. So no, it's not a great idea to try this alone.
But it's only mom friends that I think need to be avoided — not all friends. The problem with mom friends is that they're yet another manifestation of a bad idea: that motherhood is such an all-consuming experience that it merits its own category in everything.
Motherhood is harder than it needs to be. This is partially because of the inexcusable work/life policies in the U.S., but also because of our own outsized expectations. We are living in an age when the ideal mom is a mash-up between the helicopter mom, the corporate exec, and the earth mama — and there's just not enough high-efficiency, low-emissions biofuel to go around.
Our penchant for modifying everything with "mom" isn't helping. In addition to "mom friends," we've got "mommy juice," "mommy bloggers," and even "mommy wars." I feel nostalgic for the good old days when we only had "mom jeans."
Critic Heather Havrilesky recently wrote a fantastic essay for The New York Times about her resistance to the mom-ification of everything, which she sees as resting on the assumption that just because someone chooses to be a mom they must be "all in, all the time." Exactly. The mom-ifying of everything helps create a world where these outsized expectations for moms begin to look attainable.
In an essay on the website of New York magazine, new mom Meaghan O'Connell recently wrote about her struggle with making mom friends.
Most of these women are cool individually. … Collectively, though, they are mothers. They park their goddamn strollers everywhere and they are alternately dressed like shit or way overdressed for someone who has nowhere to be at all. They're either miserable or fake happy or smug. They're lost, too, scrambling for affirmation that they're doing things the right way, that their kid is going to be okay. [New York]
O'Connell's instinct to view a group of probably nice women as a whole pinpoints exactly what it is about our mom-ified world that makes individual moms feel so alienated and confused. This includes, sometimes especially, those most longing to connect.
The problem is that when we become moms we are led to believe that there is some group project called motherhood and it is super important and it is up to all of us mothers to work on it together. Alas, internecine battles inevitably erupt, but instead of chalking it up to individual differences, tensions arise because motherhood, sacred and eternal, is at stake.
Sure, becoming a mother is joining a tradition, probably as rich and deep as any other human experience. We're creating life here. But we've reached a point where engaging with that tradition often overshadows the actual parenting of our actual kids — which happens to be truly spectacular.
Motherhood needn't be something we do with other moms. For many of us, there's a spouse or partner who can help us endure the highs and lows without any judgment or mommy juice.