We are happy to share a guest post today from one of our contributors, Jennifer Swartzvagher, who blogs at Beyond the Crib. Have your online friendships ever become real life friendships?
Before the dawn of Facebook, Twitter, and texting, I longed for adult conversation during the afternoon. After wrangling a toddler and infant all morning, naptime became “me time.” Alone in the house, I looked to the computer to keep me company.
Luckily enough, there were countless other moms just like me wandering around cyberspace. We were bleary eyed after countless episodes of “The Big Comfy Couch” and “Blues Clues.”
We connected on bulletin boards tied together by a common thread. After typing in my interests, a bunch of matches were thrust at me. The options were endless. All I needed to do was find a board of like minded women and jump in. I could share as much or as little as I wanted. A lot of times, I started out slowly lurking and getting a feel for the atmosphere. Baring your soul to complete strangers can be intimidating.
Some people we meet online fabricate stories and are looking for someone to prey on. Both in life and online, we have to be careful with whom we interact. I learned the hard way how to figure out who the trolls were.
As the months went by, I found a safe place to ask questions, vent, and form friendships. Granted, I didn’t know these women “in real life,” but that didn’t make our relationships any less valid. Looking back, now that face to face interaction seems to be few and far between, these online relationships parallel the ones I maintain through Facebook.
Still, I yearned for face to face interactions. We all need friends in real life, even if our online relationships are filling that need. I had come to find that chatting online could not replace time spent with friends. Mommies need playdates too.
Online friends can’t fill all the needs that real life friends can. Online friends can’t bring you a meal during a time of need, carpool to dance class, or spend the day with you at a moments notice. I would have looked pretty silly dragging my desktop to the mall for a day of girl talk and shopping.
I searched the internet and started to hook up with a few local mommy groups. Some groups which required more face to face over virtual didn’t work into my busy life as I juggled 4, 5, or 6 kids. Finally, I found a local mommy bulletin board. We may live 45 minutes or even an hour away from each other, but we were local enough to share a common bond. The relationships could stay strictly online or develop in the real world.
A little guarded at first, I dipped my toes in gradually. While being local was a plus, I wanted to make sure that I protected my privacy and my emotions to ensure I wouldn’t get hurt.
It didn’t take long for me to jump in, feet first. Girls Night Out and breakfast dates followed. With our busy schedules, most of us rarely get to see each other, yet when we get together, we a chat as if we just saw each other yesterday. It is like no time has gone by.
Our local board doesn’t exist anymore, mostly due to the dawn of social media. We picked up and relocated to Facebook. Come to think of it, my original national mommy board is there too. Thanks to social media, we are all connected to each other on so many levels.
Over the years, these women have become my family. It just goes to prove that real life happens online too.
Comments Off on I’m Going Rogue: Punching Culture in the Face With a Phone Call
by Stephanie Sprenger
We are so happy to bring you a brand new friendship essay from one of our HerStories Project contributors, Vicky Willenberg. Vicky blogs at The Pursuit of Normal, and her essay, Big Girl Friendships, is featured in our upcoming book, which will be available in just two weeks! We bet you will be able to relate to the post she is sharing with us today:
I’m going rogue. I’m going to take a cultural norm and smack it upside the head. Am I going to challenge gender roles and the unreasonable expectations thrust upon women? Um, not really. Am I going to admit that I often forget to turn off the water while brushing my teeth and I don’t even feel badly about the wasted water? Nope.
I… am going to call you. Well, not all of you. But I am definitely calling some of you.
I am breaking the cultural chains that have tried to convince me that I cannot and should not call my friends. The same chains that have bound me to my computer, iPad and smartphone and have brainwashed me into believing that I don’t have time to make phone calls. Even more tragic is the fact I’ve convinced myself that I don’t need to call, that my current means of communication are enough.
But the truth is, they aren’t enough. So I will be making some changes. I won’t be texting, Facebooking or emailing you. There will be no tweeting, Instagramming or Google Circling. Well, there might still be some of that, but that’s not all there will be.
The truth is, friends, I miss you. I miss the sound of your voice. I miss the way you roll your eyes when you’re telling me something your mother or mother-in-law did. It’s been too long since I’ve seen you flail your arms as you share another story about your kid and how he just won’t pick up his clothes! And I miss nodding in solidarity when you heave a sigh and tell me how you and your husband feel more like roommates than lovers these days.
I want to Laugh Out Loud with you and even Roll On The Floor Laughing. And when you tell me something utterly ridiculous, I want to Shake My Head. I mean physically shake my head with you… in the same room!
I know it won’t be easy. We’ve become accustomed to this detached form communicating. It will be a tough habit to break largely because we did not arrive here intentionally. Someone once told me that the best way to cook a frog is not to drop him in a pot of boiling water, but to put him in a pot of tepid water and set the heat to low. Little by little the temperature will rise until the poor little sucker is cooking to death. Unbeknownst to me, over the last few years I think I’ve slowly boiled my friendships to death.
When I had my first child, I regularly chatted with girlfriends on the phone because my son was confined. I could strap him into the swing or the bouncy seat and he happily stared at his feet or gnawed on his fist. But those days passed much more quickly than I expected. Soon, he was on the move and all bets were off. The minute I got on the phone he decided it was time to attempt climbing the stairs for the first time or riding the dog. Talking on the phone was a bit like this…
Next came the parenting phenomenon known as The Magnetic Phone began. The second I picked up the phone, my children were drawn to me like magnets with life or death questions such as, “Can you read this for me?” or “Do you know where my Lego guy is?” and my personal favorite, “Can I have a snack?”
The next phase of parenting brought on the harsh reality that the “little ears” that rode around in my car were now big ears attached to an even bigger mouth; and unless I wanted my business discussed with the entire third grade or announced loudly in the aisles of Target, I needed to conduct all “adult conversations” after hours, in private.
And so, it became virtually impossible to have meaningful conversations with my friends. Slowly and surely I adapted and the Age of Texting dawned.
I’ve come to realize, though, that this really isn’t communicating because “communication” by definition is the “exchanging of information.” There was no “exchanging” going on. I was more or less dumping information as quickly as I could in a tiny window of time.
I equate texting to Grammatical Photo Bombing. While stopped at a red light I am furiously texting the latest events of my life as fast as my fat thumbs and autocorrect will allow. I breathe a sigh of relief that I finished before the light turned green, hit send and I’m on my way. You, on the other hand, are not sitting at a red light. You are driving your child to soccer, while mentally planning dinner, reminding yourself to sign that permission slip and trying to figure out when you’re going to fold that clean load of laundry that has been sitting in the basket for 4 days. Suddenly BOOM! You’ve got a text- smack in the middle of your life. Like the goofy guy who waves and flashes a giant smile in the background of your photo, interrupting the romantic atomosphere, I’ve just interrupted your groove with a 2 paragraph synopsis of a recent altercation I had with a friend. So you read it, plan your reply because you are a law abiding citizen and don’t text at red lights (unlike me) and get around to texting me when you have time- anywhere from 2 hours to 3 days later.
This, friends, is not communicating. Whatever it is, it’s not enough for me. My friendships are worth more than 140 characters, the length of a red light, or the 11 minutes I sit in the carpool pick up line at school. YOU, my friends, are worth more.
I wholeheartedly believe we were designed for community. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, the need to connect and share is ingrained in us. Our technology based lives trick us into believe that Text Bombing is connecting.
I don’t feel like it’s been ages since I’ve seen you because I saw a picture of you and your sweet family at the pumpkin patch just yesterday. Although sweet, that 3 second glimpse of you doesn’t strengthen our friendship nor does it tell me anything other than where you are. But I want to know how you are. And I need to tell you how I am.
Pictures and fun updates have their value of course. But I don’t necessarily need my friends to share in the fun happy times nearly as much as I need you when my life is in the crapper and I’m drowning in my over-scheduled, over-carpooled, over-guilted life. And no one’s posting that stuff on Facebook and if they are, they’re certainly not getting any “likes” for it.
Simply put, the current trend of drive-by communicating does not satisfy my soul.
The women I have chosen to call “friends” are amazing, complex people. They are women who enrich my life and help me be my best self. Our friendships are beautiful and deep and fulfilling. And in order to glean all that they have to offer, I must invest the time to connect- truly connect, in a way that is meaningful.
So I’m taking back my friendships. I’m restructuring my priorities and rediscovering what made you all my favorite people. I’m going to call you. I’m going to stutter and mumble and giggle and drone on and on and on, on your answering machine. And if you have 5 minutes to call me back- awesome. And if you don’t- well, that’s OK too because I know how busy you are and how hectic your schedule is. But I want you to know in a way that’s meaningful to me, that YOU are important to me and I’d love to hear your voice when you’ve got some time.
Being a rebel feels pretty good. You should join me.
Comments Off on Finding The Right Style of Mom Friendships
by Stephanie Sprenger
My toddler and I recently had a playdate with one of my friends and her daughter. Our girls are several months apart, but they are still at an age where parallel play rules, and their own enjoyment of one another is somewhat moot. We are in that perfect stage where we can control and direct their friendships with children whose parents we enjoy. As we entered our friends’ home that morning, it was clear that neither of us had showered or dressed to impress, and within minutes both girls were running around pants-less. There were no mumbled apologies about a mess, or disclaimers about our children’s teething-related temperaments. We were comfortable.
The two of us sat chatting over iced coffees from Starbucks and split a few pastries in half to share while our children happily ignored one another in pursuit of their own activities. We talked about marriage, our discomfort with the extra pounds we were toting, our embarrassment about our children’s newest public behaviors, and our worries about the future. No time was spent idly remarking on the weather, or the sale at Gymboree, or trading cloaked brags about our children’s burgeoning vocabularies. This playdate was for us. We were here to get real.
One of the girls shouted angrily, “That’s MINE!” and we found ourselves navigating that tricky territory of playdate intervention. I had recently asked my childcare guru how best to handle my daughter’s new trait of hollering “No! That’s mine!” and other negative-sounding demands. She reminded me that when possible, it is best to ignore these statements; any attention given to a less than desirable outburst is rewarding the behavior. It reminded me of my good friend Carisa Miller’s article on Hoverparenting, in which she shared her own experience trying to back off when her children were butting heads with friends. She mentioned that it is often a concern that other parents will judge you for not jumping in quickly enough. My friend and I agreed that this made us uncomfortable; we both liked the idea of backing off when our girls were working through possessiveness and interaction struggles, but we worried that we might look like jerks if we didn’t intervene with some sort of reprimand like, “Sophie, those aren’t nice words. We share.”
While it is true that I often worry about being publicly judged, at a park or play area, for not verbally intervening and expressing my awareness that my child is being impolite, I think the best friends are ones with whom you can ditch this hang-up. As we listened to our girls bicker for a moment, we agreed that from here on out, we would ignore the “That’s my toy!” whines and let them fend for themselves. Short of overtly harmful behavior, we would step back and make a pact not to think less of one another for our lack of hovering. It felt good. Making that agreement with a friend–we are not here to judge and we are in this together– can deepen a friendship and multiply the benefits of spending time together.
I realized that for me, the mom friendships that I find the most rewarding are the ones in which I can be myself. The understanding is, “Come as you are. You are safe here.” Because of my own personality and needs, I find that it is important for me to disclose what I am going through–even the hard, ugly stuff– and get support from my friends. I am not a big fan of sugarcoating motherhood; if I am having a hard time with something, I prefer to admit it, and I feel even better when my friends can confirm that they have been through it, and they understand.
I think there are two different types of moms: the moms who like to talk about the challenges that lie in the parenting trenches, and the moms that don’t feel comfortable discussing that stuff. Of the latter category, I think there is one more distinction. Some moms may be truly at ease with this parenthood gig, and they may have little need to complain or vent about rough moments. Or perhaps they are genuinely positive thinkers who do not gain anything by sharing their hardships. However, I think many moms experience dark moments and feel guilty about their negative feelings. I believe there are a lot of women that feel ashamed to admit the struggles they are having personally or as a mother; some may prefer to keep these feelings to themselves, and some may battle against them, trying to hide all their unpleasantness and appear to be the perfect moms.
For me, I clearly fall into the first category- let’s talk about this sh*t. I am almost magnetically drawn to other women who share this trait, and I have developed some enriching friendships with women who embrace the full disclosure policy. This works for us, and it’s one of the reasons why my recent playdate was so invigorating to me. I didn’t have to pretend, and I knew that during our two hours together, we would vent, brainstorm, and emerge with renewed confidence and maybe even some ideas to try. But I accept that not all mothers are comfortable with that dynamic; perhaps they value their privacy too much or perceive this sharing as unproductive complaining.
Which is why I think it is important to identify what exactly you are looking for in a mom friend. Is it a confidante who will listen to you when you are struggling? Is it someone with whom you can share the beautiful, enriching moments of parenting? Is it another mom who may quietly struggle but doesn’t expect you to emote or analyze with her?
When you discover what your comfort level is and what you are looking for, you may increase your odds of making meaningful connections with other moms, and you may be more likely to find the style of mom friendships that works best for you.
What do you look for in a mom friend? Do you value closeness and honesty, or would you rather keep your distance?
Comments Off on Childhood Friendships and the Turning of the Tide
by Stephanie Sprenger
Last week my daughter found out her best friend was moving away. My husband and I stood at the bus stop waiting for her to come home from school, and as the neighborhood children spilled off the bus, one of them announced, “We’re moving to Wyoming in two weeks!” It was the older sister of Izzy’s best friend, and I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I held tightly to my daughter’s hand as we walked home, and she whispered, “I almost cried today at school.” “Did Sarah tell you on the bus ride to school?” I asked gently.”Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”
I spent the rest of the evening fighting tears, sometimes unsuccessfully, as I imagined how this move would change our lives. Sarah and her siblings lived just a few doors down on our cul-de-sac, and they were a staple in our daily lives. When we moved to the neighborhood two years ago, I felt somewhat trepidatious about the idea of the children bouncing back in forth to each other’s homes. On our old block, there were no other children, and we had no experience with the casual coming and going of nearby friends. It was just so “1980s,” in that it evoked memories of the freedom I experienced as a child; to be honest, I didn’t think it would ever be possible for my own children to enjoy similar friendships marked by the freedom that comes from close-by playmates.
Earlier this summer, Izzy and Sarah solidified their blossoming friendship by playing together nearly every day. When my daughter returned home from a day at camp, she would dash into the house, grab a snack, and then call, “I’m going to Sarah’s house!” I had long ago overcome my discomfort with this independence, and I often barely looked up from whatever I was doing to acknowledge she was leaving.
Similarly, Sarah and her sister were often at our doorstep first thing on a weekend morning, and the kids often spent hours playing together- sometimes the better part of an entire day. They would flit back and forth between the two homes; sometimes we fed them lunch, and sometimes Izzy ate at Sarah’s house. They shared the milestone of the first sleepover together, and quickly became “best friends.”
I was devastated by Izzy’s reaction to the news; she sobbed inconsolably, lamenting, “I thought we had found the perfect house! I thought this was finally the perfect neighborhood.” All I could do was hold her tight and cry along with her, trying to soothe her without dismissing her very real, raw feelings. There were several other families on our street, but their children were just far enough apart in age from my daughter to make regular playtime not appealing.
I knew there was no denying the fact that this family’s move would irrevocably impact the dynamic of our block. The likelihood of another family with girls my daughter’s age moving in was not comforting.
It seemed grandiose, but I wondered if Sarah’s move would signal a clear turning point in our lives; what if there was never another family with built-in playmates to live on this street? What if these two years would be the only time in my children’s lives that they had friends to play with in the free, independent way I enjoyed as a child? These semi-omniscient musings seemed a bit theatrical, but I was worried that it was the truth. It felt like we would be sad about it forever.
I moved frequently as a child, and well into adulthood I have been sensitive about my friendship history and lack of lifelong comrades. I have always been envious of my friends who remain close with the pals they grew up with. Every time I moved, I stayed in contact with a few special friends, but as the tide continued to turn, we always lost touch. Sometimes it took two separate moves before the transition was complete–my move at age 13 and then leaving for college, or even my out of state internship followed by my move to Colorado– but I always seemed to shed my friends as I outgrew my old skin. It made me feel sad, and somehow self-conscious. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I hang onto friends? I have finally managed to maintain a close bond with three of my college friends. After a few post-adolescent years while we fumbled into our adult lives, we have worked hard to stay in contact.
I wanted my daughters to have the history of closeness with the friends they grew up with. I never had neighborhood friends move away when I was a child, because I was always the one moving. I know it is a reality that many children experience, but I wanted to spare my girls that sense of loss. The hours I spent with the neighborhood children when I was in elementary school, the memories we shared of various wild adventures, shaped me in unmistakeable ways. But I am very aware of the transient nature of childhood friendships, and the fragility of these first social bonds.
When I moved out of state just before 6th grade, I managed to find nearby friends my own age in my new neighborhood, and once again basked in the childhood high of freedom, walking back and forth between our houses in the twilight hours. Our final family move, weeks before my 13th birthday, landed us in a neighborhood filled primarily with families who had babies and toddlers. This didn’t faze me, and I instead focused my efforts on cornering the market on baby-sitting services. I was old enough to walk farther to friends’ homes, and I didn’t feel that I was missing out. But for seven sweet years, I belonged to a pack of kids who roamed the streets comfortably, never lacking for playmates and dodging the daily boredom that I worry my children may succumb to.
It is my hope that, in spite of our neighbors moving away, we will put down roots in this community, and my girls will still find friends with whom to share their formative years. But I still find myself questioning, “Will Sarah’s leaving scar my daughter for life? Will things ever be the same?”
Did your family move away when you were a child? Did you lose a best friend, or has your child lost a best friend to a move? How did you cope?
**We took a brief end-of-summer hiatus from our friendship essays; we are now accepting submissions! If you have a friendship story to share, please email a 500-1000 word essay along with a 2-3 sentence bio and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear your story about how a friendship impacted your life! **
Comments Off on Is New Parenthood Making Your Marriage Miserable? How To Help Your Marriage Survive the Transition
by Stephanie Sprenger
Have you ever heard another mom gush, “Becoming parents has made our relationship so much more fulfilling!” Did you want to slap her? Did you question her sanity and/or honesty? Becoming a mother is one of the most significant transitions a woman can experience, and it changes virtually every aspect of her life: her career, her self-image, her friendships, her mental health, and her body.
One of the most substantial adjustments, often overlooked, is the profound impact that parenthood has on a couple’s marriage. Many women may assume that having children will primarily strengthen and enhance their marriage, and they are consequently surprised when parenting takes a toll on their relationships. In the research literature, the decline in marital happiness following the birth of a child has been well-documented. (Marital happiness is high immediately after the wedding, and then declines after a child is born. It peaks again when children leave the home.)
Jessica and I talked to mothers this week about how the transition to parenthood has affected their marriage. As it turns out, the women that we spoke to have a lot to say on this subject. Here are a few of these women’s reflections about marriage and parenthood:
I feel that parenthood has made us stronger and yet more distant.
Having a child has definitely been the hardest thing on our marriage, hands down.
I miss my husband, and yet I feel even more tender towards him after seeing him with our daughter.
After a stressful day staying at home with my kids, all I want is for my husband to come home and take over. But I know that he’s at work dealing with stress, and all he wants to do is come home and relax in front of the TV a little. We both want peace and quiet, but for either of us to have it, the other has to NOT have it.
The darkest point for us in our marriage was about six months ago, when for the first time, I actually could see why people get divorced after having kids. As amazing as our child is, he was becoming like a wedge between us. We were exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed.
It’s amazing the intensity of the anger and the intensity of the love felt for one person – and sometimes even in the same moment.
When it comes to identifying the emotional effect of parenthood on marriage, the range is staggering. Mothers feel everything from “becoming parents has brought us closer together,” to “I am so frustrated with my husband that now I understand why people divorce after having children.” Some of the recurring challenges we’ve heard about (and experienced ourselves!) are:
difficulty making time together
differences in style, such as parenting choices, coping skills, and communication styles
struggles with navigating role changes and balancing parenting responsibilities
a substantial change in sex life
I had the opportunity to interview Susan Forde-Bunch, LCSW (licensed clinical social worker), a practicing psychotherapist and marriage counselor in the Denver area, and ask her some questions about marriage, motherhood, and finding support. Susan verified that the transition to parenthood can be one of the most difficult stages of marriage, stating,
“I think the early years of parenting are indeed the least satisfying for married couples. The relentlessness of the demands of parenting young children can’t be overstated. As parents we are often underprepared for this, particularly since it can be romanticized for us culturally. Haven’t we all visualized ourselves as the beautiful couple taking our perfect baby home to the life of idyllic family bliss?”
I concur that many parents are blindsided by the reality of becoming parents, and our fairytale daydreams often fall short. Forde-Bunch added, “While it is often the stage for the most falling in love with our children, it usually isn’t the stage of falling in love with our spouse.”
Many of the women we spoke with indicated that watching their husbands interact with and care for their children made them feel even more connected to them. However, other mothers were frustrated by the fact that they seemed to be pulling more than their fair share of weight. Forde-Bunch described how challenging it can be to adjust to your new roles as parents, particularly when factoring in sleep deprivation and increasing workloads. One mother told us, “I really thought that our decisions about our baby would be ours, and they are mine. That has been the hardest part for me. I don’t even know if it surprised me so much that the decisions were mine but that there were so many decisions to make when our son was a newborn. I was completely overwhelmed.”
There is a fairly broad spectrum when it comes to the responsibilities and engagement of the father. Forde-Bunch noted, “Although we are in a process of a cultural change which is increasingly emphasizing fathers as egalitarian participants in all aspects of parenting, the primary parenting still tends to be the mother’s, especially in early infancy.”
I’m sure there are many dads who would stand up and strenuously object to this statement. However, it is also true that there are plenty of mothers who feel resentful about the imbalance of parenting duties in their households.
Another interesting layer is, according to Forde-Bunch, that this situation “is magnified by the fact that women’s primary identities are often more defined by our roles in relationships than they are for men.” She points out, “Have you seen many little boys dressed up as grooms for Halloween?”
This role discrepancy can leave many women seeking out support from female friends and family members. No matter how great a dad your husband is, it is nearly impossible for men to truly grasp what it feels like to be a mother, just as we are not fully capable of understanding how it feels to be a father. Many moms form alliances that can help them to feel more understood and validated. Forde-Bunch explains that being understood by another person is one of the most transformational interpersonal interactions, and that we seek it out and experience tremendous healing when we find it. She added, “When parents can share their struggles with other supportive parents of the same gender, it can provide powerful reassurance and validation.” While women may be more likely to form friendships with other moms, I think this is important for men, too. Even my own stoic husband has shared stories of being empowered by a conversation he had with a fellow dad.
So what can we do to overcome some of these relationship challenges brought on by parenting? One mom shared,
“Communication is, by far, the biggest key for our marriage- keeping open, honest, and respectful lines of communication going. We have had to learn how to not bicker as much. We’ve had to rally together through some really difficult transitions and upheavals in our child-rearing. It’s never been more important to put each other first, to keep that foundation strong.”
Forde-Bunch added that staying connected as a couple, in addition to being crucial to the health of the marriage, also supports the mental health of the individual parents and even benefits the self-esteem of the children. She said that being aware of the importance of staying connected helps set the stage for success, and she offers some tips for staying focused:
Embrace the goal of maintaining connection by verbalizing it and jointly developing practical strategies.
Set realistic expectations regarding time, energy, money, and support available to you.
“Institutionalize” time together; build it into your lives as a structured part of your daily, weekly, or monthly routine.
If communication is particularly difficult, consider using a couples’ therapist to get back on track.
Consciously provide emotional support to one another, by being compassionate and putting yourself in each other’s shoes.
Schedule time for physical intimacy. Sex is a powerful bonding experience on the most primal level, and it defines a couple from all other relationships.
Communication is often harder than it seems, especially considering that men and women can have very different needs, expectations, and styles. One mother described, “My husband copes so differently than I do: he’s much more of a “grin and bear it, stop talking about things and it’s not that bad, just deal” sort of person. I need to talk about things and get validation and encouragement at the end of a day. My husband interprets that (often) as focusing on the negative. We have very different coping techniques, and we’re learning to help each other.”
I have found that the more deliberate, clear, and conscious my husband and I are about caring for our relationship, the more likely we are to connect. Being mindful of this while in the midst of raising young children is also harder than it seems. Another mom said, “We try to be intentional about dates and talking, but it can be hard in the chaos.”
We asked Forde-Bunch if she had any advice for expectant couples on how to “baby-proof” their marriage. Once again, she emphasized the importance of communication. She advised couples to talk about their expectations, hopes for themselves as a couple, their own childhood experiences, ideas about parenting, and the specific logistical issues to anticipate. She offered some helpful discussion questions such as, “How did your parents divide duties around childcare and housework?” and “How do you anticipate your current roles will change when a child is involved?” and “How did your family of origin use discipline?”
I think we can all agree that navigating changes to marriage after becoming parents takes a lot of work and a lot of communication. Many of us share the same struggles and frustrations, and simply admitting these out loud to another mom that you trust can be tremendously helpful. I feel that although becoming parents may solidify your connection and add meaning to your marriage on a deeper level, on the surface it often creates complications and struggles. Rather than pretend that having kids has done nothing but improve my marriage, I prefer to acknowledge the challenges so that I can more adequately cope with them.
How has parenthood affected your marriage? What strategies have worked for you to maintain closeness with your partner?
Susan Forde-Bunch is a LCSW and has been in full-time private practice for more than 30 years in Colorado. She works with adults both individually and as couples. In addition to having a general practice, her specialty area is women and women’s issues.
We are excited to share an essay from Dana at Celiac Kiddo today. Dana shares her transition to new motherhood, and the women she was lucky enough to share this journey with. Dana has a fantastic blog- if someone in your family is gluten-free or has Celiac Disease, you should definitely check her out. And if not, you should still head over there, as she writes about motherhood in such an honest, entertaining way.
When I had my first child five years ago, I was lucky enough to have a momtourage. Together we were four brand new deer in headlights mamas struggling to figure out life post babies. For nearly a year we spent countless hours in each other’s homes, at cafes, and in parks while carrying, wearing, or strolling our new babies, trying to make sense of our strange new life. We talked, nursed, cried, advised, and confided. Our last time together was at my daughter’s second birthday, but we had begun to drift apart well before then.
Sounds dramatic, but it wasn’t. We were friends of proximity. The kind of friends that are drawn together because of shared circumstances. Our friendship was intense, as those kinds often are, born out of fear and the unknown, burning like fire until the flames die down.
I met my momtourage in childbirth class. About ten couples gathered every week for six weeks to listen intently to a neighborhood woman who had not one, but two babies (!) and was trained in such matters. I thought of her as a guru of sorts, someone who was supposed to reveal the secrets of the universe, which for our class of first time mamas-to-be was how the hell to have a baby. As the class wound down and our due dates approached, our teacher set up an email contact list. In the weeks that followed, we learned the names and saw the smushed up faces of the babies who had brought us together.
A few of us continued emailing after the initial announcements, and somehow less than two months after having my baby, I ended up meeting three of my classmates on a sweltering June day. The “oldest” baby was mine, at about seven weeks, the others coming in close behind. Though we were relative strangers, even after our six-hour course, that first afternoon we couldn’t talk enough. From the moment we walked through the door of Amy’s apartment with our tiny babies in tow, stories spilled out of our mouths. We tried taking turns, but it was impossible not to chime in and interrupt each other. It wasn’t rudeness, but excitement, and more specifically, utter relief at having found one another. New motherhood is like being airlifted and dropped into another country where you don’t know the language, geography, or the culture. You stumble along feeling totally shell-shocked until suddenly you run into another traveler who you understand, and better still, understands you.
When you’re pregnant, labor and delivery seems like the penultimate event, but as we mothers all know, it’s only the opening monologue to a play that lasts the rest of your life. Those first friendships I forged in the fire of new motherhood saved me from losing my mind, and my sense of humor. Because right alongside the ecstatic joy of having a new baby is the utter despair upon realizing your “life” is irrevocably changed. Like, forever.
Even though we’re not all still in touch, I will always be grateful to these three women who made up my momtourage. Names have been changed, but the details are for real.
I remember picking up Hanna on the way to Amy’s home for our first official get together. I had warned her that my baby would probably scream in the car (as she did most of the time except when she was passed out on my body). Hanna took it in stride and sang the whole way while I drove white knuckled. She was always like that, kind hearted and easygoing, never making me feel self-conscious about my colicky baby. I will always remember how she unabashedly sang Old McDonald for the zillionth time to soothe my fussy girl while strolling down crowded city sidewalks, and for the countless moments of kindness she consistently offered, and continues to offer, to both me and my daughter.
My gratitude to Julie reaches back to the very first days of our friendship when she graciously invited my family to dinner at her home. Her husband is a chef, so considering our post-baby meals were almost 100% take-out, this was bound to be a real treat. But still I hesitated. Dinner hour was my baby’s prime screaming time, but Julie didn’t seem fazed. In the end, her laid back manner eased my anxiety, and my sweet yet high strung baby somehow followed suit and fell asleep on the car ride over. My husband and I were able to eat dinner while both babies slept angelically on the table beside our perfectly cooked lamb burgers. Soon after Julie and I enjoyed our first glasses of wine post partum while our husbands’ fed the babies pumped milk. It was my first moment of “normalcy” and I will never forget how good that meal tasted. Not to mention the wine.
My gratitude toward Amy is all wrapped up in loneliness and a respite from loneliness. Just a few days before our babies were born, we met at a local bakery and politely exchanged stories. When she revealed to me that her son would be named after her mother, who had passed away years before, I nearly dropped my cupcake. My own mom had died shortly before I became pregnant, and that recent loss was still so raw. After our babies were born we mourned our mutual sadness, which was twofold: how our mothers would never hold our babies, and how our mothers would never know us as mothers.
Motherhood can be a lonely and isolating time. Motherhood without a mother perhaps even more so. There is something to be said about shared pain, and I will always be grateful to Amy for understanding my loss.
Loneliness might be powerful, but so is friendship. The stories here are only the tip of the iceberg. The rest lies beneath the surface and buoys me up, even now five years and another child later: a rock solid foundation of support, solidarity, and love.
Dana Schwartz is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, two wild kids, and two neglected cats. She writes about her family’s journey with celiac disease on her blog, http://celiackiddo.wordpress.com