You met in college.
You met at work.
You met while riding bikes in the cul de sac.
It’s “that friend.” The person that gets you. The one that understands where you’re coming from and accepts you for who you are during a specific time in your life.
The bond you create over your shared experience is something that withstands the test of time. They’re the friendships that you fall into but they sustain you through the ups and downs of life.
Once you start to settle in your life, your career, and your romantic relationship, your friendship circles tend to get smaller. It makes sense that as responsibilities of adulthood start to grow, cultivating friendships isn’t as effortless as it once was.
But here’s the thing, you need friendship. Friendship is a core pillar of mental health. And as with any ‘self-care’ practice, it takes work.
When I became a mom, I was the first person in my friend group to have a baby. As expected, my friend group circled around me. They were there to support me. They brought food, they helped clean the house, they held my daughter so I could take a shower or nap or eat. All the good things that friends do. However, there was a piece missing. The shared experience.
I get why there’s a phenomenon of female friends all having kids at the same time. You need your tribe to continue to grow through shared experience. However, parenthood is not something you can force on people. And at the time, my tribe was not ready to embark on the parenthood journey in tandem with me.
The feeling of isolation without mom friends came in quick and stuck around.
There are people who effortlessly make connections with people anywhere they go. I’m not one of those people. I find my people, I hold them close, and I struggle to wander outside of that. But motherhood forced me to expand beyond. For the sake of my mental health, I needed to step outside of my comfort zone.
Looking back, those early days of maternity leave actually made fostering motherhood friendship relatively easy. Most communities have organizations that help new moms connect. There are meet-ups and classes and coordinated park playdates. And you have the luxury of the time just to explore your new motherhood status. I found a mom and we clicked. It was fantastic. I had found “that friend” in the mom category and slowly but surely the feeling of isolation crept away over shared coffees, long walks, and late-night texts.
But life changes and I found myself living in a new city with a 5-year-old and no tribe outside of my immediate family. My interactions with other parents were reduced to drop-offs and pick-ups at school—which every parent knows is not conducive to forming bonds and relationships with other adults.
Once again, I found myself having to creep outside of my comfort zone. However, this time, the support system that existed when I had an infant was no longer there. It became abundantly clear I would need to do the legwork myself.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: Meeting other parents and making friends as an adult is W.O.R.K.
If you thought after you got married and had a kid you’d be done with dating, you were wrong. Family friend dating is like regular dating on steroids. It’s not just about a 1 to 1 connection. The entire family needs to jive. If the kids and the spouses don’t click, the reality of you getting to invest time in getting to know each other and build a bond is next to zero.
It’s not just you on the market, it’s your whole family. So that means, you have to concoct ways for everyone to hang out. Multiple times. Like I said, it’s work.
Your kid’s school is the most logical jumping-off point to make these connections, but you have to create space outside of the chaos of pick-up and drop-off. Attend the school events, mingle, and step out of your comfort zone. When you’re standing at the playground, put your phone down and strike up a conversation—as terrifying it is. Remember, the greater the risk the greater the reward.
For one year, I made a commitment to fully put myself out there. To put myself in personally awkward situations all in the name of cultivating friendship. Man, did it pay off.
My friendship circle is bigger than it has been since I was in college. I have a tight-knit group of families that hang regularly. We watch each other’s kids. We coordinate sitters and go on dates together. We host weekly family dinners. We have group text threads with inside jokes. We take vacations together. We’re each other’s sounding boards. We support each in the ups and downs of parenthood.
However, getting there took work. It meant opening myself up. Saying “yes” to the events I’d normally say no to. Forcing myself to engage with others vs being the wallflower just passing the time. It meant not carrying the expectations of past friendships into new ones. It meant taking baby steps toward bonding. It meant meeting someone for coffee or drinks when staying in was easier.
Friendship is a fundamental human need. But it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It needs to consistently nurtured to stave off loneliness. As we get older and settle into our lives, we have to be active participants in maintaining connections outside of our immediate family.
I challenge you to pick a date and put yourself out there.