Several years ago, I was at my local library when a woman about my age approached me. She looked familiar but I couldn't place her. "Kelly James!" she said. I still had no clue.
"It's Hannelore." I was amazed. She and I were roommates and close friends in college and afterwards but had lost touch for years. It turns out we'd been leading parallel lives. We lived 20 minutes apart. We'd both had careers before deciding to run our own businesses. She'd married a German guy; I'd married a Norwegian. I had a son, Ryan, who was 2; her little boy, Ethan, had just turned 1.
We quickly fell back into a routine of phone calls and get-togethers-only this time, instead of drinking beer and flirting with guys at our favorite college hangout, we were drinking coffee in our living rooms, helping our kids learn to share. She and I still share similar senses of humors, political views and reading tastes and our frequent "play dates" are fun for both me and Ryan.
I never needed good friends more than when I became a mom.
As a health writer, I knew that studies prove people with the greatest number of social relationships report better health and overall well-being than those with fewer buddies. I knew firsthand, too, that no matter how much I love my husband, there's no substitute for a long relaxed Saturday lunch with one of my closest pals. But when my son was born, I forgot about everyone but him for a while.
Finally I realized how much I needed my friends-moms or not-to keep me sane, civil and truly happy.
The power of pals
"Friends are a source of comfort, fun and information," says sociologist Jan Yager, author of several books on friendship including Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How it Shapes Our Lives (Hannacroix Creek, 1999, www.drjanyager.com). "By having friends, you diffuse being over-dependent on your spouse for all your emotional needs. And you also relate to peers in a way you can't relate to your children who are, especially when they are younger, dependent children who need you in the caregiver role. Friends can provide nurturance to a parent."
Laura Krieter of Lombard remembers being the first of her friends to have kids. "I was a bit of an oddity to them-still am!," says Krieter, whose kids are now 17, 12 and 10. "While I didn't spend as much time with friends in the baby days, I did keep contact. ... After I became a mom, my friends continued to play the 'playmate' role. This was extremely important for me because in the early days, my husband worked about 100 hours a week. Sometimes I just needed a break and they were always happy to oblige."
Filling out your Friend Roster
Friends come and go, but I believe there are five friends every mom should have.
1. The "Same-Stage Mom"
Angie's one of my personal "Same-Stage Moms," a parent whose kids are the same age (or close) and are dealing with the same issues you are.
2. The "Answer Mom"
She's up on the latest swine flu scare, the cleanest Chuck E. Cheese and the best place for preschool clothing bargains. My friend Katie is a nurse and a font of information on everything from rashes to restaurants; it's no wonder I have her landline and cell numbers memorized.
2. The "Voice of Experience Mom"
She's already seen it, done it, got the T-shirt. I've known Sharon for almost a decade, and watched her children grow from tots to teens. Sharon now has something I lack-perspective. When I'm wrung out after a day of meltdowns, I call Sharon. She has advice that comes with experience ("No, Kelly, he will not need therapy because you told him you wanted to run far, far away"), and reminds me to appreciate this stage of his life.
Remember who you were before you became a parent? This friend does. My buddy Jill and I are both writers by trade and get together regularly to talk and laugh about work, love, life, you name it. Our relationship feeds my role as someone who is more than simply "Ryan's mommy."
5. "The Opposite Mom"
One friend of mine - let's call her Susan - is a lot more permissive with her daughter than I am with Ryan. I've wondered whether she gives in too much and too easily, but that's her decision, not mine. Spending time with her does make me take a closer look at how I parent, rather than acting out of habit.
"Sometimes it takes seeing the behavior of others to shine a light on one's own behavior," agrees Yager. "The approaches of other parents can be a learning opportunity as the mom decides she wants to emulate, replicate or completely avoid doing things the way others are doing."
As your baby grows, you help her learn how to interact with other children so she'll be able to make and keep friends. Don't neglect your own need for buddies as well-they'll help make you a happier, more grounded parent.
"Having friends is an important part of any healthy life," says Krieter. "Every parent I know is busy, but if you don't take some time to nurture your own friendships, you put your mental health at risk. Yes, we all love our children. But sometimes you just need comfortable adult company."
Kelly James-Enger is a freelancer and mom who lives in Downers Grove with her husband, son and golden retriever.
Kelly James-Enger is a former lawyer, a mom of two and a freelance writer.
See more of Kelly's stories here.