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Happy New Year! Today, I’m taking a trip down memory lane to when my first child was born, and it’s reminding me about something that helped sustain me during those early days: new friendships that offered mutual support. It’s a side of parenting folks don’t talk about as much as childcare itself, but that definitely merits our attention. (Let’s not let ‘old acquaintance be forgot’!)
In the beginning, my mom friends and I always joked about how crazy it is that no one gives you a manual when you take home a newborn baby. As if a days-old infant is easier to handle than a microwave! On top of all the physical issues that come with giving birth to a newborn, new mothers also deal with a whole range of questions and concerns about how to keep their babies safe, fed, and rested.
And while some things about infant care feel intuitive, most of it is pretty confusing… and all of it is up for debate when you start reading books, magazines, and social media.
And on top of THAT, in our society, new parents and their newborns are often cut off from all they knew before. You have a baby and go on parental leave/stop working—and lose your work community (at least temporarily). You stop going out—and lose your local community (again, for a period). You stop seeing friends who don’t want to be around babies, and lose some of them for good. Your family may live far away, or may visit and then go away again.
So many reasons to feel that you’re isolated and alone with an infant needing round the clock care.
To counteract this isolation and sense of uncertainty, after my first child was born, I joined a moms’ club. And then I quickly joined a second one. (I would have been happy to be part of any parent or caregiver organization, but when my child was born—a child who is a teen now—mothers’ groups were what I could find locally.) In my small living room, I hosted about 10 other mothers and their infants, all spread out in a circle on their tummies on the carpet. We compared notes on how we were surviving with 24/7 care needs, how nursing was going (or not going) and how we were dealing with our own physical recovery.
The group I spent the most time with was Las Madres, a longstanding local moms’ club in my neck of the woods. I recall my first club meeting. I found myself with my infant in a carrier walking into a Las Madres meeting in another parent’s home, and seeing folks cradling their infants in various stages of wakefulness. I walked up to another mom holding a baby that looked about 3 months older than my little one. It turned out hers (a boy) was about 6 months old, and mine (a girl) was about 3 months old. We started to talk, and later formed part of a playgroup for our infants and then toddlers. The babies were too young to interact at first—parallel play or just playing with their own feet was the extent of it. Later on they started sharing toys. But really, the playdates were for the parents. That mom has since become one of my closest friends for the past 17 years.
The bonding among new parents extended to “Moms’ Night Out” evenings organized by club members at local inexpensive eateries or cafes. We’d leave our infants at home with another caregiver, and join the group chatting about anything and everything, but mostly about our babies. I looked around at the people at the table, realizing how unusual it was to be part of a social group with folks I had nothing in common with other than our babies were born around the same time. The group encompassed a cross-section of mothers with questions like my own. The bonding was real—we were in the trenches of new parenthood, and there for each other to talk about sleep patterns, breastfeeding tricks, fighting off infections, coping with returning to work, and more.
Today I look back on those days with nostalgia. I’m thankful for that time. I am not sure if the mothers’ clubs I was part of a number of years back are as vibrant today, now that social media has grown even more prevalent for answering our baby-related questions, and since the pandemic stifled so many social activities for a long period. But I hope they are, and that they encompass any new parent or caregiver who wants mutual support.
All this leads me to say that we owe it to ourselves to form these kinds of friendships if we can. As Stoics, we don’t rely on other people exclusively to get us through tough times—we do that for ourselves. But there is a very important value to making and keeping friends through difficult times. We seek to find those people who inspire us to become even better.
As Epictetus said, we should keep company with those who uplift us, and “whose presence calls forth your best.” The friends I made as a new mother did that, and the handful of folks I’ve kept ties with from that period have been there over the long haul—through medical challenges and house moves and changing jobs and shifting relationships and everything else.
Over the years, the questions about our kids change, and so do our lives as we move past infant care into many other phases. But the desire for this kind of friendship persists, and those who have been with us through the parenting journey occupy a special place.
As Seneca put it:
Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship, but when you have decided to admit her, welcome her with all your heart and soul. Speak as boldly with her as with yourself… Regard her as loyal, and you will make her loyal.
- Moral Letters, “On True and False Friendship,” adapted by me
Here’s to a new year of old friends—and new ones! Please feel free to share your parenting friendship stories in the comments, and wishing you a happy and healthy 2023!
About The Stoic Mom
I'm a writer, editor, and mom to two daughters in Northern California on a journey to discover how Stoic philosophy and mindful approaches can change a parent's - or any person's - life.