I naively believed that becoming a parent would usher me into a new era of life that would connect me with fellow women who were parents. By becoming a parent, I'd have access to the support and love and friendship of other mothers. I just assumed we would all bond over being moms and raising children together. Because what better common denominator than children?
I was sorely disappointed when I joined mom group after mom group—an attempt to find my people, my chosen family. Motherhood was so lonely at times, especially when I had my children 14 months apart. It was as if the dirty diapers and staggered naptimes would never end.
During this time, I also distanced myself from my non-parent friends, believing they wouldn't want anything to do with me now that I was a mother. That's what I was reading and seeing depicted in the media.
I wanted fellow parents to be my friends, because there was something convenient about meeting up with someone else who has a child the same age as your own. You get adult time, and your children get playtime—with someone other than you.
It also made making friends a tiny bit easier. My first group of mom friends were the women I met while we lived in a military community. I met them right after my son was born, and I don't know what I would have done without their help. We would switch off at each other's houses practically daily. The kids would run wild while we watched TV, ate and talked.
It was then I saw how motherhood didn't have to be limited to conversations like "How was your birth?" and "When does your child take naps?" We could talk about things like postpartum depression, and how the expectations placed on women tended to be unbalanced. We could talk about sex with our husbands, sex before husbands, who we wished we could have sex with. These women helped me understand that I don't have to limit myself or my friendships just because I have kids. From our conversations, I figured out that I was and still am, a complex person whose identity extends beyond the fact that I have kids.
As I've gotten older, I've wanted to surround myself with people who are pursuing the things I'm pursuing.
When I moved away from that community to a larger city, I dove into making friends. Instead of looking for mom groups, though, I looked for groups that supported my hobbies and my interests. Instead of introducing myself with my name and saying instantly that I was a mother, I would tell people I was a photographer first, following up with the fact that I am also a mom.
It's such a simple statement, yet it made me feel confident as a person. It made me feel empowered. I wanted to cultivate friendships that weren't based off of the fact that I was a mother but about who I was as a person. It wasn't that I couldn't be friends with other parents, but if our whole friendship was built around the fact that we both had children, I don't think it would be a friendship I cared that much for.
As I've gotten older, I've wanted to surround myself with people who are pursuing the things I'm pursuing. I've lost friendships but not in the same way that I did when I was 12. Friendships don't end because one person is cooler than the other. Friendships end now because one person is heading somewhere else or because someone doesn't think the other person is healthy.
I respect that.
When I was younger, I didn't understand that sometimes you outgrow your friends or your friends outgrow you. Because of this, I've learned to uphold my friendships and love them just as they are. I've learned that like me, people are complex and I can love all those parts of them. There was the period of my life where my friendships were just mothers raising their children alongside me. Now my friendships are mothers like me, divorced and single parenting. Friendships with people who are non-monogamous like me. Friendships with people who are artists like I am. Friendships with the people who have been in my life for 10 years and have been consistent. I'm thankful for those first years, when I was introduced to women like me.
I mourned the change for months, but, like with any heartbreak, I slowly came back around and noticed how healthy this was.
I'm also thankful that I didn't limit my circle of friends to only those with kids. For awhile I really believed I could only have friendships with other parents. They understand why you cancel, why you're tired all the time, why you don't text back. Yet, I've learned that non-parents also understand these things. They are more than capable of learning about parenthood and, a lot of times, are willing to come over and drink wine instead of going to the bar—even if your kids are running around screaming about Pokémon. I've learned that these are the people I need to cling to, to hold close to my heart. These are the people loving me right where I am, loving me just as I am. I'm grateful for the friends who have been honest about how being friends with me is hard, because I can't give them all the time and attention that they might need. It's heartbreaking, but I appreciate the honesty. I appreciate that they care enough about me and our friendship to tell me those things.
I've definitely lost friends because of parenting or because of my work schedule. This year, I lost one of my closest, most dearest friendships. I wasn't able to give the time needed. But what I respected so much was my friend's ability to tell me that while she still loved me, she needed more than I could give.
It's possible I didn't lose her completely. We check in, but I'm not capable of making the space. There's something about it that made me feel the most adult—the fact that we were capable of building a friendship while I was a parent and she was not, and we showed up for each other in some major life experiences and swore our love to each other anyway. So even though I'm deep in the midst of this season of life, I love her from afar, and I know she loves me from afar. I think we will find our ways back to each other but, for now, this is good. I mourned the change for months, but, like with any heartbreak, I slowly came back around and noticed how healthy this was.
It was what adult friendships can look like. They can end but still be loving.
So now, I'm straightforward about what I'm capable of. I'm honest about how parenting makes me forgetful. I'm honest about how I'll say yes, but most likely wake up and change my mind the day of. I lay it out there, and I'm constantly amazed by the friends who take what I give and consider it more than enough. Loving me in all my complexities.