I had an easier time hooking up with my husband than I do making mama friends. With my husband, there was some small talk leading to a date. Some dates led to, you know. And the rest is history. But mama friends are different. Mama friends require finesse and time, arranged playdates, and certain passwords (“You look good today!” and “You do what you have to”). On top of this, there are two other people involved. Two people who are, by nature, unpredictable savages. But for all this, making mom friends is a kind of dating. A messy, complicated, brutal kind of lady-dating. Here’s how to play the game:
1. Identify your prey. A potential mom friend could be anyone who’s pushed a baby from her vagina, had one cut out of her, or obtained a child by other means; however, the most likely candidates have several characteristics. Most importantly, her kid should be around the same age as (one of) your kid(s). As a new mom, the field will seem narrowed to babies within two months of your own because babies are so different. Don’t be fooled. They’re all the same in six months, so peg that as your potential age range. Your kids should also like each other, or at least play well without killing each other. Ignore standard toddler beatings unless they show a serious kid vendetta. Finally, the other mom should seem like a person you wouldn’t mind spending time with, probably while wracked with exhaustion and probably on a playground.
2. Approach your victim. You’ve at least spoken to her to ascertain she’s neither a psychopath nor an obsessive germaphobe. Ask her the standard mom questions: If she has a baby, ask about her labor and how feeding’s going. If she has bigger kids, commiserate about picky eaters and learning to bike ride. Keep it general. If she goes on a rant about lactivism or bike helmets, politely excuse yourself. This step is just to weed out the obvious crazies.
3. Get down and dirty, with a story, that is. Drop some bombs and see how she reacts. Tell a story about how your kid bit another kid and the other mom absolutely freaked out. Talk about poop. Make it freaky, but keep it kid-related (though new moms have more leeway and can work in stories about their perineum, bleeding and cracked nipples). If she thinks you’re weird, she’s delusional and probably not worth your time. A good potential mom friend will match you story for story.
4. Make a playdate. This playdate should be public (you’re not besties yet!) and offer you the chance to ignore your children and talk. The park is a good option, as is an open gymnasium or a mall playground. Let your kids loose. Talk to her about whatever (poop, dirty dishes, Shakira) and ascertain some commonalities such as messy houses and a love of ’90s music. But while you’re talking, watch her parent. Does she run right over when Junior squalls? Does she let him beat other children? Does she hover over him at all times? Whatever her style, it needs to jive with your parenting. It’s hard to maintain a long-term friendship when you’re busy judging each other’s differences.
5. After a few public playdates, you can step it up. Invite her over, or go over to her house. These two events should happen within a week or two of each other, if only so you each have to go through the hell of deep cleaning. Make this a mama-date: Plop her down in the living room, and let the kids destroy the bedrooms while you talk. The talk should be natural, easy and fun. This is the time to ascertain the biggies: religion, politics, vaccinations. It’s also the time to decide if you can be friends with someone who radically disagrees with you on abortion, but who also loves Sublime stoner-rock, or whether or not you’re cool having Junior around her unvaccinated hellions. It’s expected that you will feed her and her kid while they’re at your house. Pasta is a safe bet, and don’t forget the juice boxes. See whether or not she helps clean up (or at least offers) before leaving. Ideally, she starts loading the dishwasher before you can say anything.
6. CRISIS! All has gone well so far. You playdate back and forth. Your kids like each other. You know each other’s birth stories, preferred sexual positions and political leanings. But you need a real crisis to cement a mama friendship. You get sick, and she comes over to take your kids. She gets sick, and you not only parent for her, but also clean her bathroom. You take her kids when her oldest breaks his arm. You have a baby, and she not only brings food, she also cleans the bathroom (cleaning someone’s bathroom is a true sign of love). Her mother-in-law’s coming over, and you help scrub down her house. The crisis has to be sudden and probably messy in nature, and you’ve got to respond without hesitation. Spraying bleach on your grout is like the engagement ring of mama friendship. Once you’ve got it, it’s forever.
7. Maintain it. Mama friendship is like a marriage: You have to work on it. Make time for playdates and moms’ nights out, even when you’re slammed. If your kids end up in different schools or don’t play on the same teams, you’ll have to work extra hard. But remember: This is the woman who scrubbed your grout. You’re forever bound by bleach and babies.
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