You’ve probably heard the term mom dating. It refers to the delicate dance we all do as we try to form lasting and meaningful relationships with other moms. In other words, the people that, along with our actual co-parent, will help us raise our kids and, hopefully, keep us sane in the process.
For me, there was a time that mom dating was as easy as striking up a conversation in the hallway outside of the preschool. Or chatting in the lobby while waiting for a dance class to end. Play dates would get scheduled and mornings at the park would be planned. All the moms would sit in a huddle talking about life, kids, and marriage, with one of us occasionally breaking from the pack to pick someone up from a fall off the swing or to remove unidentified objects from a child’s mouth. And it didn’t necessarily have to be our own child. But for the most part, it was easy to come together over the bond of having little kids that desperately needed to be taken to the park – or anywhere that wasn’t our own home.
In my earliest years of motherhood, the days when I ran the daily marathon that was trying to keep three kids under the age of six fed, clothed, and relatively out of harm’s way, my rules of friendship were simple:
- Can you tie your own shoes?
- Are you potty-trained?
- Can you speak in relatively intelligible sentences?
If the answer was yes to at least two out of the three, then cool. We could be friends.
These were the days when I mom-dated like a middle schooler. Or as a friend of mine used to say, “summer camp dating,” i.e., you choose from the limited selection available, even if they weren’t someone you would date in another time or space.
Now I have to admit, I was lucky. Kind of like the people we all know that actually married, and stayed married to, their high school sweetheart, I have made a few select friends over the years that not only passed the initial test but who have become life partners.
But now that I’m older, or more importantly, my kids are older, I find that my rules for friendships have changed. I still need a shoulder to cry on at times, and sure, I need advice on occasion, but I’ve gotten a lot pickier about who fills that role. In fact, anymore, I have to fight a nearly constant longing to be alone in my house with nothing but Netflix and a glass of wine to keep me company.
I’ve reflected on this change, and in between worrying that I am, in fact, destined to become the neighborhood’s crazy cat lady, I also wonder if perhaps, just maybe, I’m simply in a different place as a mother and as a person. Regardless, of the reasons, my needs have changed.
The funny thing about friendship is that when we make friends, especially when we’re younger, it never occurs to us that this person may or may not remain in our lives forever. As kids, we wear our designated half of the “Best Friends Forever” necklace set—and we mean it. Because we have been through stuff together. Like that time that boy broke up with you. Or that time I was so mad at my parents. Like, STUFF. Serious stuff. Then, of course, we graduate high school and drift in our own separate directions. We might get together on occasion, only to find out that we have become entirely different people altogether, no longer held by the common bonds of the place we grew up. It’s at this point that you start to realize that friends, like hairstyles (I’m looking at you 7th-grade bangs), have a time and a place.
The real shift has come as I’ve helped my kids navigate friendships of their own. My primary job as a mom is to be critical of everyone and everything that my kids come into contact with. Ok, that’s not really my primary job, but I like to think it’s fairly important. And I definitely have a set of clear, if not written in stone, rules about the kinds of people I want my kids to be around. So why not have the same rules for myself?
As moms, it’s not enough to just have kids in common. After all, free time is precious these days. We have to make the most of it. We also need very specific things from the people that make up our community. As our kids grow and our lives change, it’s ok to stop and re-evaluate from time to time. Some people may stay close and some may drift away. But as long as we make sure that we know our needs and we’re getting them met, then we are going to find those friends that make the whole world brighter.
With that in mind, I’ve come up with five simple rules that help me in my ongoing foray into the world of mom dating:
1. Leave the drama to the kids.
I have three daughters. All we do is drama. All of the drama. All of the time. So please know that I cannot do it with you, too. I am a good listener and I am always happy to give advice. But when it comes to gossip or social politics, I’m out.
2. You can’t be offended if I say “no” sometimes.
It’s easy to assume that just because we run our house a certain way, that it’s the right way. Maybe it’s right for us, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for anyone else on the planet. We all prioritize things differently. I need you to understand that I’ve got a lot going on and it’s a delicate house of cards I’m building over here. So don’t take it personally when I just can’t. Or won’t. If that means that we don’t get to hang out that often, know that I’ll take quality over quantity any day of the week. But that day might have to be in three weeks.
3. I have to like you…and not just because we have kids the same age.
Yeah, I know that sounds really simplistic. But we’re not always compatible with everyone we meet. It’s nothing personal, nor is it an indictment of character. It’s simple chemistry. Younger children tend to play with other kids, no questions asked — which means we can pick the parents we like and throw the kids together without a second thought. But as kids get older and begin to pick their own friends, being friends with other parents just because the kids like each other can feel like an obligation. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years feeling obligated to hang out with people for whatever reason. Sometimes because our kids were friends, sometimes because of circumstance, and sometimes just because I didn’t know how to say no or set boundaries. But we’re grown-ups. We get to choose. And we don’t have to feel guilty for not being on the same page with everyone.
4. You can’t be afraid to just keep calling.
These days, being my friend means talking to my voicemail more than you talk to me. And I’m sorry, I truly am. I’m not great at listening to messages. And I frequently text back in my head—just not my phone. Another favorite trick is to type a message and forget to hit send. It’s just who I am. I am not trying to cop out, and there are basic rules of social etiquette and politeness that I try to follow, but I’m not on my phone that much. And I’m crazy busy most days. If you haven’t heard from me, please don’t be offended and don’t hesitate to keep calling or texting. I promise I’m not ignoring you and eventually, I will get back to you.
5. We have to share at least the same basic parenting values.
We don’t have to have the same religious or political views. In fact, we don’t even have to talk about those things. But when it comes to raising kids, it’s going to be important that our moral compasses are at least pointing in vaguely the same direction. I’m going to want advice sometimes, and hope to be able to offer it to you. But if it comes out judgey or sounding like criticism, one of us is going to get our defenses up. No need for that. So let’s start with common ground and be a support for one another.
I have been lucky throughout my life to have amazing friends—both before and after becoming a mom. I have learned the hard way that it does, in fact, “take a village.” And I am grateful for the village that I have found. But as I continue to try to teach my kids to navigate their way to healthy relationships, I see more and more how important it is that I lead by example.
Quality friendships are so important to our overall happiness, health, and well-being, not to mention our sanity. But we have to be able to identify our needs and make sure they’re being met. We don’t have to be friends with everyone and we don’t have to feel guilty about being picky. Friends will come and go, some will fill a need at a time, then slowly drift out of our lives. Others will stand the test of time and be with us until the end. But however those friendships ebb and flow, we need to surround ourselves with people who make us the best version of ourselves, just as we hope to do the same for them.