It takes a village to raise a child. And, lately, I have realized that it takes a group of girlfriends to raise a mother. I am seven years into this mothering thing, and I couldn't do it without the help and companionship of my female friends.
At the very beginning, when we first got Katie, I really had only one close girlfriend who was a mom. The rest of my friends were still single or married without kids, and I started off my mothering career with a mom's group that included just two of us - my friend Loren and me.
I clung to our weekly lunches during my lonely maternity leave. We did not live close to each other, but I happily drove 45 minutes each way to see Loren and her daughter Claire.
I remember confiding in Loren that I was struggling with the sudden jump from a busy career to motherhood, and she reassured me that it was normal to feel out of sorts and a little lost.
When Katie was five months old, my friend Beth had a baby boy, and she became another girlfriend guru, and several months after that, my friend Sharon had a baby girl. Then I met Jodi at a Gmyboree class, and we became fast friends. Slowly, I was building a community of mom friends.
Seven years later, with three kids who go to different schools and have multiple activities, my circle of mom friends is extensive. There are girlfriends from every walk of life who are walking me through my life.
Once an isolated new mom, I now rely on girlfriends from the elementary school and the preschool, the ballet school and the music school, the gym and the park and the playgroup, moms who I meet in the waiting room at the doctor's office and moms who I exchange phone numbers with after a spin class, and each one brings her own form of mom wisdom and comfort to me.
Interestingly, my best girlfriends represent a wide range of parenting styles. One is very much into attachment parenting; another has more of a tough love approach. One advocates early separation and independence; another does not even send her kids to preschool. Some work outside the house full time; others rarely hire a babysitter for an hour.
I watch these girlfriends of mine, and I notice that they all have great
kids. I used to think that watching others could help teach me the
right way to parent, but I see that there is no such thing, because my
girlfriends vary in their beliefs, and the kids are doing okay
regardless. The common factor is that the children are loved.
What my girlfriends are teaching me is how to follow my own mothering
instincts so I can develop my own parenting style. They laugh with me
over the terrible moments and express support when things go well. They
bring food when a baby is born or a child is sick. Most importantly,
they are there.
Just yesterday, my girlfriend Jen was over for lunch. Our 3-year-old
daughters were playing together beautifully, and I tried to put my new
baby, Cleo, down for a nap in her crib. Cleo screamed and screamed. I
sat with my friend Jen, and we talked about the process of sleep
training. She smiled when she saw that my coffee table was covered with
different parenting books: The Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, BabyWise.
While Cleo cried, Jen and I tried to eat lunch. Every ten minutes, I
went upstairs to console Cleo and then leave the room, like one of the
books suggested. I came back to the table and insisted to Jen that I
would stick it out, that I would teach Cleo to self-soothe and put
herself to sleep. After an hour straight of screaming, I couldn't take
it anymore. I was near tears myself. I got my sling, fetched Cleo, and
nestled her close to my heart. She instantly calmed down, and so did
Jen didn't judge me for caving in, just like she didn't judge me for
letting Cleo try crying it out. She simply said, "It's really hard,
isn't it?" I was so grateful to have a girlfriend around.
Later that afternoon, I was relaying the story to another girlfriend who
is trying to sleep train her third baby. We mused over how we should
know what we are doing by now. After all, we have done this twice
before. Yet we are both struggling with our new babies just like any
new mom. It sure was nice to see I am not alone.
My girlfriends are key supporters, even when they don't have experiences
similar to mine. Before our reunion with Katie's birth family, I was
able to share my worries and fears with my mom friends, even though none
of them are parenting an adopted child in an open adoption. By
imagining themselves in my situation, they were able to offer astute
observations and helpful advice.
What we always will have in common is that we are moms, and we want our
children to grow up to be well-adjusted, productive members of society.
We want them to have healthy relationships and lead stable lives.
We want them to have a community where they belong. I think about how
much nicer it is to be a mom when I have girlfriends along for the
ride. A village is helping to raise my children, but within that
village, my girlfriends are helping to raise me as a mother.