Folks, I’m grown. So when I say “new” mom friends, I don’t mean a woman of a certain (much younger than me) age with an infant attached to her somewhere. If it’s me talking, I mean a woman with a few wrinkles and some gray hair she’s still diligently covering every six to eight weeks. She’s seen some shit, survived it, and tells her stories with lots of salty language and zero fucks given at this point. These are my people.
And for what it’s worth, “friends” when I was a new mother was a pretty nonexistent phenomena as I sleepwalked through those early days fueled by a quiet desperation and cheap, cheap coffee. I’m talking about grown-ass women who make a conscious choice to hang out with me. On purpose, even. (I know. There’s no accounting for some people’s tastes, right?)
I get a kick out of other moms and try my best to be friendly-ish, but in the past, that’s typically where it stays — sorta casual nods in passing at afternoon pickup. Not even an Instagram followback or a friend request is guaranteed after a random conversation about teachers in common or expired inspection sticker woes.
Consider me eternally friend-zoned in the acquaintances-only bleachers in this mom friend minefield. For a few years now, I have had my BFF Jackie and that was enough for me. I was good. I was unknown, new to town, and sort of a mystery to most of these firmly established mom groups.
I was totally okay with the status quo too. I don’t need weekend invites because, honestly, I’m hard to impress and pretty much reluctant to offer anything so much as one iota of real feelings or engagement at this point. I’m gun-shy. I’m overtired and crabby most days. I’m not good at impressing new people anymore, and my small-talk game is outdated and utter shit at this point.
The mom friend commitment phobe in me is really happy in this comfort zone, and I’m perfectly happy trying to politely disengage from the conversation before you ask my last name, where I work, or what year I graduated from the local high school.
It’s not you. It’s me, I swear.
I just don’t have a lot of space in my life for more emotional attachments beyond the five energy-sucking vampires I currently share a house with. Four of them I can’t get rid of until there’s a college acceptance letter on the table and some serious life skills training, and the fifth would require lawyers and parenting plans and it turns out it’s all way easier to just stick to the devil(s) you know instead of trying to invite new hot messes to your life. Plus, I’m actually really attached to them all, so there’s that.
I say all this, guys, and the hilarious thing is that earlier in the spring, ol’ Jax and I somehow fell in with a new, bonafide tribe of mom friends who haven’t yet seen through me enough to block me on all social media. Joke’s on them, though, amiright?
It’s a blessing having a solid crew of strong women you can rely on when you need them most or when you really just need someone (or five someones) to keep you company when you’re hiding in the staff bathroom trying to drop a deuce the size of a beer can or when you left your damn wallet across state lines and you need someone to grab your kid from practice so you don’t have to hide from cops while you’re riding dirty. (Both scenarios are equally likely to occur and having backup and support in both instances, in my experience, is vital to mental health.)
You can imagine that for someone like me, a weird sort of antisocial extrovert with serious anxiety and odd hang-ups about things like clowns and all manner of ocean fish (just the smell, not the filet itself), dating one new mom friend would be a challenge. But four at once? It was like inheriting my own girl-gang-lady-harem-sister-sorority all at once, and every day since has been a struggle to balance between doing everything I can not to fuck it all up and staying awake in the wee hours of the morning convinced that I already have.
Lucky for me, I learned early(ish) on that if you follow a couple hard-and-fast rules, you might just be all right and not be the reason nobody wants to hang out on a night you’re actually free.
1. Keep the Mystery Alive
This applies to both in-person get-togethers and that intimidating no man’s land known as the group chat. As in romantic relationships, the less your new friends know about how gross, anxious, petty, or utterly annoying you are, the better. Try to draw that shit out as long as possible if you can.
Case in point: Because I was a pro fighter 10 damn years ago, my new crew seems to be under the impression that I’m pretty badass. (Did you hear me snort my coffee there?) Instead of correcting them and pointing out that, in fact, I’m the biggest wimp on the planet, I just sorta send out that innocuous “thumbs up” emoji and hover nervously by the keyboard until the conversation moves on.
If they understood that I’m terrified of needles, Tums, Velcro, decaf tea, opening biscuit cans, and sticks that loosely resemble snakes, I’m sure their opinion of just how badass I really am would wither. My stock would tumble because without that identity in the group, what am I? The writer who hasn’t written her own book in almost a year? Who ghostwrites werewolf smut for European publishers? No thanks! I like that badass persona, even if it’s fake as fuck, and I work like a motherfucker to keep it.
2. Don’t Be Needy
Dear god, I’m ashamed to admit how much attention I really need. I need the fact that I’m a pretty, pretty princess to be reinforced constantly. Constantly. The thing is, though, that in a girl gang like the one we have, everybody needs their turn to be bolstered, complimented, encouraged, and congratulated.
Maybe it’s the veritable only-ish child in me that fucking needs to be acknowledged every few minutes, and it’s been a real learning experience to give the attention instead of always seeking it. I’m a Leo. What can I say? I was raised to believe the world is a stage and I’m the biggest fucking star in the galaxy.
I’ve grown in the last few months, understanding that everyone needs a chance to shine, but it hasn’t been easy, people. Also, I’m pretty sure Jackie is totally relieved that she doesn’t have to remind me how pretty and talented I am every two hours like the old days when it was just the two of us. #WinWin
3. Prep Your Children (And Yourself)
Your kids are part of this package deal, so you might as well prepare yourself for the jaw-dropping, humiliating moments that are sure to happen when your kid breaks a new mom friend’s toilet at an all-hands dinner and s’mores party. Tell them ahead of time that your kid hovers on the potty like some sort of weird bathroom gargoyle while he takes a dump, and sometimes (okay, most times) those monster dumps don’t go down the pipes without one hell of a fight and a few good splashes of Clorox. Offer to bring a plug-in with their favorite scent to try to undo some of the damage.
You should also prepare your new friends for the inevitable moment that your kids and their kids might mesh like a hangover and a side of chorizo or a “Make America Great Again” hat at a Bernie rally. There might be moon sand involved, and when all is said and done, there might be some of this horrendous stuff in cracks and crevices in both said children and new mom friend’s home. Apologize profusely and try to surreptitiously clean that shit up real quick — like when nobody is looking, shoving that awful, grainy, soggy substance in your pockets, in your kids’ pockets, and in the planter on the nearby shelf to mitigate some of the damage. (Threaten your child’s very existence if they ever pull that shit again when everyone is out of earshot too.)
Kids are a natural curveball in mom relationships — especially shaky, fledgling new alliances where we all think we (and our kids) have to constantly be on our best behavior.
It’s all completely unrealistic, mind you, but we have these expectations that our children are going to behave like little golden buddhas at mass gatherings, except, folks, we’re dealing with pint-sized Napoleons who run rough-shod over their own territories (my house) so why wouldn’t they act like little land-grabbing masochists when exposed to new faces, new foods, and new toys?
So, what I’m saying here is be you. Only a little less you in those first few weeks so that you don’t scare your new friends away before they get the chance to know and love the real, real you (Korean pop references and relentless Von Miller GIFs and all).
Oh, and try to find a girl gang whose members have as many neurotic hang-ups and crappy kids as you — a little common ground goes a long way here.