Before I was a mum, I honestly didn’t get it. I had friends with children, and I’ve always adored other people’s kids in a way that a lot of non-parents don’t. But there were times when their devotion to their children just didn’t make that much sense to me and I simply couldn’t relate to their lifestyle.
I remember once sitting on the edge of the couch at a low-key girls’ night and feeling a pang of confusion when one of the women disappeared to the bathroom for 40 minutes. We could hear her singing and upon her return to the living room she explained that her 3-year-old had needed some lullabies to get to sleep. At the time, I thought it was sweet but a little odd. Couldn’t her husband have handled it so Mum could have one night out of freedom? Now that I’m a mum myself, I wish I could go back and squeeze a little empathy into my former self. Now I understand the compulsion to drop anything and do what we can for our kids, even if it’s 40 minutes of lullabies over the phone.
These days, I see the same in my well-meaning friends who do not have children. They’re all great people, and I know they love my daughter. But there’s a difference, there just is.
In the several months since having a baby, I’ve realised that hanging out with friends who have kids is just easier. They “get it” in a way that my non-mum friends don’t. Don’t get me wrong — I love my non-mum friends deeply. But there’s a level of ease and understanding that comes with the friendship between two women who have children.
We can text each other at the last minute and cancel a plan. No explanation is needed because we all know how hard it is to get out the door, and even if one mum is in the zombie-like newborn stage and the other is dealing with a cranky toddler, we each come to the friendship with an overarching brand of empathy. As a mum there could always be a reason you won’t be able to show up, and we aren’t offended when it hits someone else’s home. Plus, we know we’ll get the same empathy in return. When I need to cancel on my friends who aren’t parents though, my excuses always feel lame and insubstantial.
Getting dressed to hang out with my mum friends is not complicated. Sometimes, I have time to shower and pull on skinny jeans and a shirt that is actually somewhat trend-driven, with shoes that don’t look as comfortable as they feel. And then there are times when we are running late and I have breast milk on my somewhat trend-driven shirt. On those days, I wear hole-ridden leggings and whatever top is easy to breastfeed in, whatever shoes are by the front door. I don’t worry that my friend will be judging my outfit. But getting dressed to meet up with non-mum friends is a stressful disaster. My mind is consumed by an attempt to look like the fashion-forward chick I used to be when we met — the chick they still are. I know she’s still buried inside me somewhere, but my child doesn’t always make it easy to let her out.
Once we get there, the expectations are looser with my mum friends. We might be planning to finger paint or try out sensory play with a tray full of water and some colourful rubber toys. But if the entire hangout is spent pushing prams back and forth to keep the kids asleep while we gossip, that’s fine, too. Getting together for lunch is sometimes a smashing success, with kids who eat and play quietly in our laps or at our feet while we can catch up over a few much-needed bites of real food. Sometimes it ends in one mum laying out cash for her friend while the other heads back to her car on foot to scrounge around for a missing wallet and a spare nappy, sneaking bites of her toddler’s cheese sticks the whole way.
If my daughter comes along to meet up with my friends who don’t have kids, I find myself constantly apologising. She’s actually a very good baby, but all babies make noise. And messes. The restaurant always feels just a bit too fancy, or the people nearby are making too much noise to let her sleep and I find myself exasperated, without a partner who gets it.
And then there’s the conversation. I love talking to my mum friends. Again, it’s easy. Yes, we discuss fashion, husbands, finances and everything else that comes to mind. But hovering just at the surface of a mum-to-mum friendship is an invisible layer filled with understanding and an unspoken truth — our kids are at the top. It doesn’t need to be explained. We care about so many other things, but being mothers is our most important role.
This doesn’t mean I don’t care about what my other friends are wearing to an upcoming wedding, or that I don’t want to hear all about their promotions or relationships. I do! But I can feel the subtle shift when the topic of my daughter comes up. They think she’s wonderful, and they love that I’m a mum, but they aren’t there and they don’t get it. They want me to be the old me, and a part of me still is. I love to go have fun and listen to music that’s inappropriate for children and do things that do not involve non-toxic plastic and organic produce.
But no matter what is going on, and how much I care about the conversation or activity at hand, my daughter is the biggest piece of me and she’s right there in my heart and mind, all of the time. It’s nice to have some friends who feel that way about their kids, too. This doesn’t make these friendships more important than my others, but it sure does make them easier.
More help for beautiful friendships:
- 15 friendship lessons I want to teach my daughter
- 4 tips for fostering first friendships
- Do my childless friends hate me now that I’m a mum?