This Fear Is Keeping Me From Making Real Friends

by Sally Shepherd

What happened? When did the art of conversation and friendship wither up and die under the weight of fear and offence? When did we begin censoring our own interactions? When did we put limitations on our relationships?

Are people more judgmental these days, or are we more easily offended? Both of these things, I’d guess.

There are more articles online these days titled along the lines of ‘Stop Saying These Five Things’ and ‘What Not to Say to a … pregnant/new mom/working mom/whatever mom’ (yes, it’s almost always us moms, right?) than articles about Kim Kardashian’s backside, and that’s saying something (full disclosure, I haven’t done the maths; that might not be true, but my point remains).

We can’t say anything anymore. Nor do we want to hear anything anymore. Everything is a dig. Everything has a hidden meaning. But actually… what if it doesn’t? What if it’s (gasp!) just people making conversation, so we don’t all do life alone, unoffended but frightfully lonely and bored, making conversations with our artwork, like Anna from Frozen?

What do I mean?

Stay-at-home moms can’t say they enjoy staying home, because if they do, working moms feel personally attacked, like the stay at home moms are rubbing it in their face. But they can’t say they struggle with any aspect of staying home, because “you chose this,” “I wish I had that luxury” and “I do all you do plus work 40 hours a week.”

Breastfeeding moms can’t be proud of their accomplishments, or wonder at their own bodies, because then they are formula bashing, and formula-feeding moms can’t mention formula because “breast is best.” Any parenting topic can become rife with controversy: discipline, feeding methods, sleep training, co-sleeping, even potty-training, for the love of sticker charts.

I, a working, day-care using, formula-feeding, bed-sharing, only-child-having mom sometimes wonder what parts of my parenting journey to share and what to keep under my hat. I feel like I would just blurt everything out if someone asked, desperate for solidarity, but it’s rare that anyone does. I am curious about other people’s journeys, because I like people and their stories (and yes, sometimes because I often wonder if we’re “normal”), but many times I don’t ask my questions, for fear of offending. Then I wonder why new mom friends are hard to make.

Once you become a mom, do you also become a judgmental so-and-so, or an oversensitive whatever? Or both?

Is this even a real thing? Or is it a social media driven fear that doesn’t really exist (outside of our smart phones anyway) but has projected into our daily real-lives, eliciting fear when there need be none?

What is it about parenthood that leads to this complete and utter schism between women? Is it because it is so personal? Perhaps we are so anxious about doing the “right” thing that we are constantly seeking approval for our decisions, and if others parent differently to us then that is (in our eyes) them saying we’re doing it wrong? So we must browbeat others into thinking our way, in a fruitless battle to validate our own path?

If someone agrees with us, do we get an automatic A+ in parenting?

I don’t know.

What I do know, is that I’m tired. Tired of thinking three steps ahead in every conversation and wondering how to navigate the “getting to know you” part of making a new friend without alienating my new “maybe friend.” I’m tired of not knowing whether asking a question about someone’s life is offensive, or merely caring, and whether that question was listed on one of those “five things not to say” lists this week or not. Is it rude to ask, or not to ask? I can’t remember anymore.

I’m tired of awkward silences as we tread water around the shallow end of the pool, never quite getting into the deep end of real friendship. I’m tired of fear between women. Isn’t there enough fear out there without being afraid of each other?

Does parenting really need to be a battleground?

I’m tired in general, you guys. We all need a village, but the fear of offense is creating a barrier between me and my potential fellow villagers.

To be clear, I’m not talking about speaking up when someone says something truly offensive or hurtful, or when you or someone else is in physical danger (obviously). What I’m referring to are insignificant differences in parenting styles.

Let’s all just get to know each other in real ways. I’m sure we’re all mature enough to navigate all of the wonderful awkwardness that comes with this, without censoring each conversation.

To quote my three-year-old’s favorite Paw Patrol character (oh gosh no, what are you going to think that my three-year-old gets non-educational screen time: no wait — put that fear aside, lady): “Let’s dive in!” to real, deep-end friendship.