By Kasey Edwards
“I’ve seen a lot of women neglect their friends when they became mothers, but I didn’t think you’d be one of them. I was wrong.”
This smackdown came from a former friend after I had my first child.
I was gutted, not only because I was being accused of being a bad friend by someone I had loved and admired for over 10 years, but because she was right.
I wasn’t fun to hang out with anymore. I was too tired. And my head was so full of baby stuff, I couldn’t talk about anything other than my daughter.
On the rare occasions I did catch up with friends, it had to be on my terms so it fit within my breastfeeding and sleep routines. About the only phone calls I made were to my mothers’ group to get advice about nipple thrush and nappy rash.
Another ex-friend was so annoyed at my friendship transgressions that the last time I saw her she scrolled through the calendar on her phone to show me every time I had cancelled on her. Her frustration with me was understandable; it was a pretty long list.
Despite my best intentions, I couldn’t be the person my friends wanted me to me. Hell, I couldn’t even be the person I wanted to be.
And I’m not the only one. The growing graveyard of friendships is an under-acknowledged cost of motherhood for many women.
This month, writer Nadia Bokody issued a pre-emptive strike to her friends who have become mothers, writing in She Said an article titled: “I Can’t Be Your Friend Anymore, Now You’re A Mother”.
“[W]hile I’ll always be filled with pride for friends who announce they’re expecting, it will never be without a heavy heart, as I come to terms with the fact our friendship will soon come to its inevitable end,’ writes Bokody, who has watched numerous friends disappear into the void of motherhood, despite assurances that they wouldn’t.
I also made this vow before I had children. I was determined to not reduce my identity to “just a mother”, to not “let myself go”, to not make my life small.
But there I was, still wearing my pyjamas at midday, covered in baby vomit, having barely left the house for a week, feeling like I was failing at being a mother, a woman, a daughter, a professional and a friend — and there was not a damn thing I could do about it.
It feels like a sick and twisted joke that we expect mothers to go through something as momentous and life-changing as making a person, keeping said person alive and raising them to be happy, well-rounded and functional adults — at the same time as not expecting mothers’ lives to be fundamentally changed by the experience.
Even mothers themselves are fooled into believing that having a child should only be as disruptive to their lives as, say, getting a puppy.
Never before in our history has there been so much pressure on mothers. We are expected to give our children our full attention every moment of every day. There is no kicking the kids out of the house and telling them to come back when the street lights go on like our parents did with us. We can’t even glance at our mobile phones in a playground without being accused of being negligent.
At the same time as standards and expectations of intensive mothering continue to rise, we have lost our village and extended family networks to share the load. Fathers are slightly more involved than previous generations, but only slightly.
I haven’t ever seen an article about men lamenting the loss of male friendships after fatherhood. Many dads still maintain their social lives of sport and drinks after work after the bub arrives.
Working mothers, on the other hand, have to battle the misconceptions about mothers not pulling their weight at work. Because they often have to leave earlier to pick up the kids, they work harder while they’re at work — research shows that mothers who work part-time make the most efficient employees – and therefore don’t have the luxury of maintaining friendships during work lunches and water cooler conversations. And for many, as soon as they get home their second shift begins.
When mothers do try to maintain normal lives they run the risk of being videoed and trolled on aeroplanes when their toddler inevitably behaves like a toddler. Or they’re criticised and excluded from cafes, restaurants and other public spaces because their two-year-old has the table manners of a two-year-old.
Of course, not all my friendships failed when I became a mother. I made wonderful and life-saving friendships with other mothers, and a small group of my old friends who don’t have children of their own have been endlessly patient, flexible and supportive, and they gave me the most precious gift of friendship: they allowed me to change.