Everything changes once you add a child to your life. Everything. Your body changes, your relationships change, your priorities shift. Our new series, This Changes Everything, explores the beautiful, messy, surprising juxtaposition of what once was and what now is becoming. Parenthood – this changes everything.
Finding friends has always been a matter of location for me. As a kid I was friends with the kids in my class, neighbors or the kids of my parents’ friends. As an adult, my buddies have been those who lived in the same town or who I met through work or church. Before kids came along, I had friends of all ages and stages of life that were available for going out to dinner, hanging out on weekends and impromptu movies. We could enjoy long talks about life, tell inappropriate jokes and sip our cocktails until the wee hours.
Once kids came into the picture, the face of friendship changed. We knew several couples who had their first child around the same time that we did, so we felt a special kinship with these folks and could lean on each other for feedback about the Holy Trinity of baby knowledge: eating, sleeping and pooping. The first few times we were able to go out with friends after our first child was born, it was like wild animals being set free from captivity, slugging down wine and staying out as late as possible because we knew we weren’t going to get any sleep once we got home. On the surface, our nights out with friends looked the same as they had before; dinner, drinks and loud laughter.
But if you looked carefully, you could see the subtle changes in how the night out looked different than it had before kids. I would check my phone every few minutes to see if my mom/babysitter had sent any pictures or if she had found the pacifier I’d left on the dresser. I would show the pictures of the baby to my husband then suddenly everyone at the table was showing pictures and talking parenthood. We began reporting on what percentile our little ones had measured in at their checkups and who had turned to formula when breastfeeding just wasn’t working. The men swapped horror stories about messy diaper changes and tips on proper car seat installation. The ladies talked about sleep training and how our bodies had changed. “It’s like I’m wearing a fanny pack full of pudding!” said one friend and we all giggled and rolled our eyes in commiseration.
Now I’ve become closer with friends who have children around the same age as my own, not only because our kids like to play together, but because we are in a similar place in life. There are times when we can’t get together because of a sick child or a spouse’s work schedule. If we are able to successfully plan a girl’s night out, everyone understands that the night will probably have to end relatively early or that someone might not be able to attend at the last minute because the sitter fell through. Life with kids is challenging and unpredictable. Other parents get it.
Last spring, after the birth of my second child, I made the decision to quit my part-time job and stay home full-time with my girls. My job required a great deal of hours worked on weekends and evenings, and it became difficult to find the child care that I needed and to find a good balance of family time and work time. I was delighted to have the opportunity to stay home and be with my girls every day. For the first few weeks I just wanted to stay home every day, because I could. I didn’t have to be anywhere at any particular time or set an alarm. I took off my watch with no plans to wear it again until my children were grown. But the isolation began the take its toll on me and the girls, and we realized the need for some daytime companions who could get us out of the house and allow us some human contact outside of the immediate family. I reached out to the other stay-at-home moms I knew and we began having regular playdates where the kids could entertain each other and the adults could enjoy some real conversation that wasn’t about kittens, Chuck E. Cheese’s or Elsa. Through those friends I made more friends and once again, the circle of friendship was widened.
On the flip side, I’ve realized that not every person who has kids around the same age as mine are meant to be my bosom buddies. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out and it’s important to be able to recognize that so you can cut your losses and move on. Finding new friends as an adult can be daunting and uncomfortable. But also exciting and filled with opportunity. It’s just like dating except instead of being judged on your cup size, you‘re judged on the size of your SUV. It’s also of critical importance to me that my friends appreciate wearing active wear on a daily basis, regardless of whether or not they actually workout. Everyone has their unique criteria for friendship and when you find someone who fits the bill, it’s like hittin’ the jackpot, baby!
Though my husband and kids are my number one priority, I also need my friends more than ever. They help me in critical ways like telling me if I need to go back to the brighter blond highlights or that I should live my dreams and have that second sangria swirl at Abuelo’s. But they also help me to see when I’m being too hard on myself or they give me ideas on how to survive when my three year-old acts like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. They bring dinner when we are sick and they stay with my kid when I’m running late to pick her up from ballet. They check in on me if we haven’t talked in a while and I can feel the love whether they live down the street or hundreds of miles away.
My wish for all motherkind is that they will find their group of coffee chugging, yoga pant wearing, mediocre housekeeping, potty-mouth mamas who won’t judge you for putting ice in your wine, just like I have.