For me, it is
This morning, I opened my email and saw the latest NYT Parenting newsletter, this one aptly titled, “Are Mom Friends Necessary?” The editor, Jessica Grose, usually writes a little blurb about the topic of the week (it varies each week, but all related to parenting, of course), and for this week’s newsletter, she talked about her experience having her first kid at 29 years old and being the youngest person in her group of friends to have children and the experiences that followed after having children. I felt like she was talking directly to me, for my own experience is nearly identical to hers.
She poses the question as a way to say, “Perhaps we do, perhaps we don’t.” She has a solid network of moms and friends who understands her experience as a parent. But for me, though, while I do have my mom and my husband and a small handful of my own family members in my circle of support, many times I have felt this lingering sense of loneliness and being left out, because I don’t have any “mom friends,” or specifically, women who belong in the same generation cohort as me (millennials) and who had children around the same time that I had my kids.
I do have a friend who’s close to my mom’s age (they’re both Baby Boomers) and awhile back, I had an email conversation with her in which we talked about childcare. She told me that she relied on her group of friends way back in the day when her children were young to be her babysitters and caregivers, because her family wasn’t around. These women were close to her age and had children around the same time that she did.
“At least you have friends!” I exclaimed in my email. There was a hint of frustration on my part.
The conversation continued to the real matter at hand — which is the fact that many women today are having kids at a much later age. I had my first child 10 days after I turned 28 (average according to the New York Times article), and another one when I was 31, and I thought it was perfectly normal. It wasn’t until last year that I realized what I was doing is considered “young.”
Because women who have children who’s also the same age as my own children tend to be older, I feel a certain disconnect with them. Exchanges at the library, the park, and coffee shops seems forced somehow. This disconnect has affected the way I behave in social situations in two ways — one, I feel like I cannot connect with an individual, whether they’re my age or not, unless they have kids of their own, (because what else is there to talk about? Children provide as much conversation material as the news); and two, my identity as a (potential) friend is overridden by my status as a parent. (Oh, we’re going to this [insert social event], it’s gonna be so much fun! But you can’t go unless you find a babysitter, can you? Sorry, no kids allowed).
Where I live — Portland, Oregon — and in particular, my neighborhood is an affluent neighborhood (although by no means we are affluent. We just got lucky and moved in back when it was still an affordable area to live), filled to the brim with children. On a recent Saturday in early July, I took my kids to the nearest school yard to play, and little did I know there was a neighborhood event in which (it seemed) the entire population of the neighborhood’s children and their parents came. It baffled me, not only to see so many kids that I often didn’t see, but also because as I looked around at the parents, I saw gray hair, Birkenstocks, Croc sandals and fanny packs (which seems to be the fashionable choice amongst older parents in my neighborhood nowadays).
I don’t want to complain — after all, I live in one of the safest (if not the safest) neighborhood in town, able to moonlight as someone who’s affluent when she’s actually not, and for that, I am grateful. But because there is such a small number of women my age who have children my age, let alone the same race as me, I feel the gap widening.
I also don’t want to make anyone feel bad because they had kids later in life than I did — I’m well aware of the troubles that may arise on the journey to parenthood, so this is simply my perspective. I feel that ever since I became a parent, my identity has shifted dramatically from just wife and worker to “mom” — that’s how I would introduce myself. While there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I’m a mom, an accountant, a wife, etc.” I feel that having friends when you’re a parent is necessary for social relationships and personal growth, and yet it feels as if you become a parent, you have to trade that identity of being a “friend with no kid” to being a “mom with no friends.” It shouldn’t have to be this way.
Anyway, I’ve kept quiet about all of these feelings because I felt that it was just me being petty, whiny and desperate. I didn’t know if there was anyone who felt the same way I did — that making friends is innumerably harder when you’re a parent than when you’re not, at least for me. Whether it’s geographically based or culturally based, the difficulty in finding like-minded people is pervasive in my neck of the woods. Will it change? Maybe. Maybe not.