Almost all of my close friends are now mothers. And that’s a really amazing and cool thing — but it's also a struggle. It’s so hard to maintain friendships when you’re taking care of yourself, family, and work. And then there's the question of how to make friends when you’re a working mom. What if you moved to a new town and need to recreate your village? It’s one thing to try to maintain relationships you already have, but to create new ones? That’s a horse of a different color.
As a working mom myself (who is fortunate enough to work from home), sometimes I feel like I’m juggling too many things and doing them all poorly. Like I’m not as focused as an employee as I’d like to be, while also being a subpar mom because there aren’t enough hours in the day, and I only have two hands, one brain, and one heart. What about moms who work in the office 40+ hours a week? Those few hours when you’re home from work after you pick up the kids from daycare, you probably want to spend quality time with your children since you haven’t seen them all day. And some women are still expected to cook dinner and be the default parent even if they have a partner. Once the kids are in bed, it's either time for a little relaxation before bed, or cleaning and picking up, or other house chores. And as far as single working moms, I don’t know how y’all do it.
I have a hard time trying to keep up with my friendships because I am touched out mentally and physically, and I don’t have the mental bandwidth at the end of the day for anything — even for fun chit chat. (I am trying, friends of mine who are reading this. I promise.) I’m also extremely introverted and empathetic, so my energy meter is in the negatives at the end of the day after taking care of a child on top of working and then trying to be a good wife, good partner, and also trying to nurture my own interests. I can’t imagine trying to make new friends as a working mom, especially since it can be tricky maintaining friendships with my wonderful ladies I already have.
“Loneliness is such a struggle for moms," Katie Lear, a licensed therapist who works with parents and kids, tells Romper.
"I would encourage moms to think outside the box when looking for new friendships: you never know who might surprise you. The neighbors who don't have kids or your acquaintance with older children may have a lot to offer as a friend.”
“Some of the mothers I have worked with have had great success finding new friends through local parenting groups" Lear adds, "like MOPS (Moms of Preschoolers). I had an image in mind that these groups would be kind of stuffy or lame, but that's not the vibe that I hear from clients.”
“These groups can be a lifesaver, providing meals to a family after a baby is born and giving moms a social outlet as the child grows,” she says. “Meetup.com and other organizations that don't specifically cater to moms can also be a great way to develop a more diverse friend group,” according to Lear.
Otherwise, there’s always trying to make friends with your coworkers, since you see them for most of your waking hours every day of the work week. Danielle Bayard Jackson, certified women's coach and author of Give it a Rest: The Case for Tough-Love Friendships tells Romper this is a pretty natural solution. “The main ‘ingredient’ in cultivating friendships is repeated exposure. We tend to befriend those we see all the time. This is why we have so many friends in school but see the number drop significantly once we’re a few years removed from college.”
Jackson also suggests using groups like meetup.com to potentially find friends, as well as Facebook groups for working moms in your area. Unless, that is, you're not the "virtual" type.
“If you don’t like the idea of searching for friends online, then open your eyes to the opportunities for friendships in real life," Jackson suggests. "Engage in conversation with the Target cashier, make eye contact with the Starbucks barista, and hold conversations with your Uber driver. These moments of small talk lead to connection, and you’ll often discover others who are working moms who are one coffee date away from becoming trusted confidants. The key is to remember that friendships don’t just happen — they will require consistent effort and an open mind.”
And now for the kicker: How in the world do you find the time to socialize and maintain these friendships as a working mom? Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in the day for all your other commitments.
“I wish I had a magical answer for how to fit in social time, but I don't," says Lear. "For busy moms, unless social time is put on the schedule, it's not likely to happen. Self-care activities tend to be the things we prioritize the least during busy times. Carving out time in advance on a regular basis makes it less likely that time with friends will get bumped off the calendar, even if you're missing out on some of the fun and spontaneity of a more casual hangout.”
Jackson agrees that you definitely need to be intentional about spending time together, including potentially redefining what it means to “hangout.” “Maybe you aren’t willing to dedicate hours every weekend to going to happy hour. Then have a virtual wine date. Facetime each other and watch an episode of a Netflix show you love in real-time. Or have a standing telephone call — say, Thursday nights — that you hold sacred no matter what. This counts as time spent together. This works well for women who have a network of friends but need to invest more time together,” Jackson says. OK ladies, this is happening. A standing Facetime date is something I never even considered but it’s such a great idea.
Of course, here comes the old “mom guilt” creeping in. Feeling guilty that instead of spending time with your kids or partner after being away from them all day, you’re spending time “hanging out” (in whatever fashion)? Jackson has some tips on how to bash that pesky feeling. “The same way you wouldn’t allow your kids to only spend time with you and your partner, you shouldn’t limit your network. You’d encourage your children to play with others because you understand the importance of that socialization. This fact doesn’t change once we’re older,” she explains.
Jackson adds, “When women spend time with other women, it actually releases oxytocin — the ‘feel good hormone.’ This doesn’t happen as much for men because their level of testosterone actually impedes their ability to generate as much oxytocin as we do when we’re with friends. So we quite literally need friendships to help buffer us against the stress we experience as working moms.”
It’s also important to maintain healthy boundaries with your family, according to Jackson. “If you don’t have other women to confide in, you’ll find yourself complaining to your [partner] about your [partner], or sharing things with your children that they are not emotionally equipped to handle, all because those things are reserved for peers who are better able to help you cope.”
And in that same vein, for those of us who call our spouse/partner our best friend (guilty), Jackson says that's great they satisfy us in more than a romantic way. Still, that doesn't mean we don't need other close friends besides our partner.
“Despite the level of support or chemistry we have with them, the context for the support they’re able to give is limited," Jackson explains. "Venting to a friend who may be able to see your situation objectively and offer uniquely feminine advice serves you differently than a spouse who’s invested in different ways. Marriage is uniquely different from friendship — as it should be. And having friends doesn’t just benefit you. Your spouse will benefit from you having other relationships so that he or she is not in a position to have to meet all of your needs.”
Plus, having a healthy social life is a great model for your children, too. “Children learn from observing their parents, and use that information to dictate how they're going to respond to other people in their lives. Spending time with children is incredibly important, but so is showing children what positive friendships look like is valuable, too. Parents shouldn't feel guilty about keeping their own support systems strong.”
It’s super important to have friends outside of the home to ensure you’re the best mom, wife, sister, daughter, and friend you can be. Finding friends as a working mom can be tricky, but look online for different groups to join in your area, or try to make connections with people you see on a daily basis. You never know where a friendship could blossom. Now excuse me, I’m about to text my ladies and tell them we need to have a standing FaceTime date every Thursday to ensure we maintain our friendship.
Katie Lear, licensed therapist
Danielle Bayard Jackson, certified women's coach and author of "Give it a Rest: The Case for Tough-Love Friendships"