I first encountered being a friend of a new mother when I was 20. For my “adult” life I have added handfuls of non-biological nieces and nephews over the last nearly 15 years, and one biological nephew - who may just be an angel on earth.
As kids, we grow up being conditioned that school, marriage, kids, work is a life well-lived. But the true fact is that everyone’s “life well lived” is subjective. There is no formula.
I never really wanted kids. Destined to be that amazing Aunt/Tia/Lala (my nickname for littles who can’t say Kayla) to all the children my friends and siblings may eventually have. I relished in that fact. I smiled and truly felt excited at every picture I was sent, every birthday party I attended, and baptism I was able to be a part of. Until recently, that was my truth.
But I couldn’t help but notice that with those friends it didn’t seem easy for them to let me in on the day-to-day. To bring the cooked meal, to rock the little one to sleep, to bring the wine when the days were too long for anything else. The feedback I kept getting, proactively sometimes before I would even ask was “I won’t bore you with my kids” or “I wouldn’t want to hang out with me and a baby, that doesn’t sound remotely fun.”
My friends were kick-starting a chapter of their life that would ultimately be a central theme to their story. And as I watched one by one of my friends have those babies, the calls to hang out subsided and the texts I’d send to check and offer assistance would go unanswered.
I polled several of these friends, unofficially, over the years. “I hear you share about being tired or stressed or overwhelmed, why won’t you let me help you?” And for one reason or another, the responses all sort of amounted to the idea that they thought it would burden me.
We hear a LOT about how new moms, heck women in general, have been conditioned not to need anyone. To figure it out, to be independent. Vestiges of the fight for equality and freedoms our male counterparts have taken for granted for centuries. And my generation was still starting their families before maternal mental health was a more popularized conversation. So it’s no wonder, asking for help seemed like a stretch.
But the funny thing is, no one asked me if it would be a burden. The assumption was that I, as a single, woman about town would somehow be Samantha Jones, disgusted by kids because I had chosen to not have my own. Which was the opposite. I found extreme joy in the moments I saw my friends as mothers. I was profoundly impressed and proud at who they were becoming and shining a light on the qualities I already loved about them. Their compassion, kindness, humor, patience. I also was not ignorant to the fact that our friendship would need to adjust and change to new chapters. Just like when I started dating someone new or took on a new job, there were adjustments to how life would be. I knew that and was ready to ride the wave alongside my girls. But so often, I was not on the same boogie board.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be there every day. Most of my friends have spouses, other friends, family. I don’t want to be the end all be all. But I do want to be seen as the same friend who would help them after a bad breakup or after the all too familiar hangover after a stellar night out as the same one who would watch a toddler for an afternoon. But as they say, a baby changes everything.
My point is not to feel sorry for me, not one bit. I started to follow the lead of these women and not place expectations on time spent together and I settled into my new role. However, my concern and our conversations remained the same. They felt Tired. Overwhelmed. Isolated.
I can’t begin to imagine how it feels to be a new mom. The hormone changes. The lack of sleep. The way your body looks completely different. But I will say this, as your friend…I know you. I love you. I don’t love you for the way your body looked. Or that you aren’t available to check out the new hot restaurant in town on opening night. I am friends with you because you have seen me through the good and bad of my days and I want to do the same for you. And I am a small reminder that you are still your own person who wears many hats, not just mom. And you are valued and loved and are worthy of time not always being “mom.”
Your friends who don’t have kids yet aren’t saying they know how it is to be in your shoes. We’re saying we want to help you tie those shoes when you can’t see your feet. You, your child, your life is not a burden. We want to cheer you on from the sidelines and also allow you to tag out when you need a water [read: wine] break. There is no call too late. No ask too big. Or too many tears. And we’re not asking you to plan outings for us or even have real clothes on. We’re asking to sit on the couch with you and watch Harry Potter while we talk about that one Halloween party back in 2008 where we dressed up as a sexy Where’s Waldo? and you were a Kitten and laugh about where we are now.
I now would like to have kids of my own. Turn 30 and whataya know, a biological clock is real! But also, in the moments I was let into these families, it gave me the small grain of confidence to think I could do it too. With no pressure, no questions of when, just leading by example and letting me observe.
Don’t sleep on your friends without kids. We may not know what it’s like to try and get your 3-year-old into the top pre-schools or even how frustrating is it for your spouse to get to golf on Saturday when you haven’t showered in a week, but you can be sure we’ll be there in the pick-up line to get them when mommy just needs a minute.