Why Motherhood Is The Loneliest Profession
When I became pregnant, I had so many preconceived notions regarding motherhood. Some were pretty accurate, and others were way off base. But possibly the biggest incorrect assumption that I made was that I would be drowning in mommy friends.
Looking back ten years into this gig, I now realize how naïve of a sentiment that was. I am not sure why I thought it would happen. I think part of it stems from my childhood, when I did not have many friends growing up. I was very bright and an independent thinker, but socially awkward, and somewhat emotionally immature. When the thinking part of your brain operates ten years above your age level and the feeling part of your brain operates ten years below, it results in a complicated childhood. I did not have many peers with which to share my experiences. Even when I reached college, and the playing field was leveled somewhat, I still carried remnants of that social awkwardness that made it difficult to have, for the most part, more than superficial relationships.
I always figured that the key to having great friendships was “common ground”, so to speak; I therefore assumed that since the common ground would be “motherhood” it would be a magical gateway into a world of deep friendships. Instead, I have found it to be a generally lonely place, even lonelier at times than the isolating periods during adolescence.
My first foray into the world happened shortly after my daughter was born. Desperate to get us out of the house, and eager to start grabbing some of the mommy friendship pie, my husband and I signed her up for Gymboree when she was less than a year old. It basically entailed us sitting in a circle, babies on our laps, singing saccharine songs and batting at bubbles, but I was willing to overlook that if it meant meeting some great couples. It was here where I first learned of the empty promises of “yeah, let’s get together sometime!” (A word of advice for the less socially advanced: if someone tells you “let’s get together sometime”, but can’t give you a specific time or date, they are not really interested. They are just blowing you off).
It was also here that I began noticing the battle lines of motherhood being drawn: formula feeders versus breast feeders, natural childbirth advocates versus medical childbirth proponents, sleep trainers versus kangaroo care, organic feeders versus non-organic feeders, technological proponents versus screen-time avoiders, etc. The list went on and on. Interestingly, for the most part, dads didn’t care about this. They nodded and went along in agreement with their wives, but between you and me, I don’t think they gave a rat’s behind. Needless to say, we met some nice people, but didn’t come away with any tried and true friends.
I was still cautiously optimistic by the time my daughter went to preschool at age two. However, because the preschool was also part of a private school that went up to fifth grade, I found the battle lines were even more hardened. It was no longer a loose collective of like-minded thinkers, but rather specific cliques of mothers who had already formed alliances in the aforementioned activities like Gymboree and had soldiered on together in groups like the Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Widening the gap was one of the largest distinctions in motherhood: the stay at home mothers (SAHM) versus the working outside the home mothers (WOHM). Parent organizations in school have a very distinct hierarchy and generally rank WOHM on the bottom. This, I believe, became one of the largest reasons for my inability to find more mommy friends. Since my daughter’s birth, for the most part I have been on the middle of this divide, working part-time as an independent contractor to earn income and keep up my skills. But as a result, I am on neither “side”; I don’t have the time or ability to fully immerse and commiserate with my full-time mom colleagues, and I don’t have the time or ability to be a full-time presence at my kids’ schools.
It was also at this time I learned of another distinction. There are stay at home mothers, who I truly admire and respect. I know a few, and they spend their day hard at work, shuttling kids between activities, cleaning and cooking, running errands, and selflessly volunteering countless hours for the benefit of their children. Then, there is a wholly separate group of non-career mothers I encountered that I term “stay at gym moms” (SAGM). These are mothers who don’t work full-time outside of the home, but have a nanny (or two), and spend most of their waking hours at the gym, spa, nail salon, and other self-centered interests keeping themselves in tip top shape. I found them to be the greatest naysayers of WOHM, putting them down for their inability to be present at every class party, trip and photo-op, yet they have absolutely no clue what actual work (inside the home and/or out) actually looks like.
But ignoring the SAGM for a moment, the problem with the rest of mothers, regardless of where they work, is that they are so damn busy. Most of them just don’t have time for another friend and another relationship to maintain. When my daughter was three, I asked a mother in her class that I liked to hang out for coffee. She bluntly told me that between her family and her close friends, she didn’t have time for another friend. I was stung at the time, but now I actually admire her honesty and quite frankly prefer it to the hollow “let’s get together sometime” response.
I also found in my daughter’s nursery school years another hurdle to mommy friendships: spouses and kids. When we were single gals long ago, the only person you really needed to be concerned about in your friendship was the other woman. This is not true when you are married with kids, particularly in today’s highly scheduled society of planned playdates and monitored meetings. Today’s parenting atmosphere basically guarantees that at some point in your mommy friendship, the dads and the kids will be hanging out together. This means that you now have at least four (more if you have siblings) other people that you need to get along for the friendship to work. As you can guess, this doesn’t always happen, and it decreases the odds of forming a good mommy friendship right of out of the gate.
Even if you manage to make it through all of these hurdles, the first thing I learned as my oldest weaved her way through preschool and elementary school was that circumstances change and affect these tenuous relationships. The delicate balance of kids and parents becomes out of sync if one couple begins having marital problems, or another couple has more kids but the first couple is done procreating. In the latter category, what tends to happen is that each time you have a kid, it resets your family dynamic. You are re-entrenched in the baby phase, limiting your ability to go places and narrowing your choices for activities that younger siblings can do as well. If your mommy friend has closed up the baby shop, she often has no interest, time, or patience for these infant-driven outings anymore, unintentionally creating a rift that is hard to bridge.
Even if no one’s circumstances change, I found that your kids do. The children they once played with as toddlers may no longer be their cohorts in kindergarten and beyond. At this point, the parents drift apart, pulled towards the direction of new friends and schools. While I have thankfully managed to keep a few couples from my daughter’s preschool years, I found most of the women I knew during that period want nothing to do with me now. In fact, my daughter has no recollection of those playmates whatsoever. I was so acutely aware of this transition that when my middle son hit preschool I really didn’t bother to try even making any friends save for one couple. I knew that it was just a layover and a fruitless effort that I didn’t have time for given a newborn and my daughter’s pre-tween issues. I have even less connection to my youngest son’s daycare mates, although to be fair he is only seventeen months. I love my son’s daycare provider and hope that we stay in touch when he moves over to preschool. But only time will tell if she and I will be able to keep that friendship alight.
I think the best solution would be to find another woman who has absolutely no connection to my kids or the schools that they attend. Bonus points would be awarded if their kids were older and absolutely nowhere near mine in age. But the problem is finding such a woman. It’s not like I have the time to hang out in non-kid centered events, like book clubs or cooking classes. Sometimes I wish they had a non-sexual dating website for women.
I do get around enough to know that I am not the only woman that feels this way. Instead of creating a tribe of motherhood, our society has managed to create a battleground of loosely and tenuously formed alliances based on our parenting choices. We harshly judge differences and are quick to point out parenting mistakes. But I think the truth is that underneath our bravado, we are all insecure. We put up our strong mommy front, but have no confidence on the inside and are ever fearful of being found out. Perhaps the best we can do to make this journey a little less lonely is to practice compassion. So the next time you are out and about, put down your mommy shield and sword. If you see another mom having a tough day, give her a nod and a reassuring smile. Who knows, maybe it could be the start of a great friendship.
I am mediocre mom!
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