Sunday 19 November 2017

The minefield of 'mammy friends'

Having children changes your life and your friendships. On average, mothers make eight new pals after baby arrives

Support network: Liza Crotty, who’s made more than 30 'mammy friends', with pal Suzanne Curtin, Tom, Grace, Mia and baby Jane. Photo: Ronan Lang
Support network: Liza Crotty, who’s made more than 30 'mammy friends', with pal Suzanne Curtin, Tom, Grace, Mia and baby Jane. Photo: Ronan Lang

Mary Kirwan

Two recent studies found that, on average, new mums make eight new friends after having a baby but by the time their children go to school half of those friends are gone.

The studies looked at how friendships change for mothers when a baby arrives and found that old friends fall out of touch and a new circle takes its place.

Mums feared being socially isolated after the birth with many failing to meet up with old friends at all, so they rushed to create a new group.

The biggest concern for parents is establishing a 'circle of trust', with 48pc looking for people they feel comfortable turning to in difficult times.

Parents encounter their new 'mammy friends' in many places. Forty-four per cent meet in the playground; 32pc hook up at the creche; 22pc at coffee mornings and the rest at venues such as the gym.

However, these friendships don't always have a happy ending. Common reasons for mammy friendship break-ups include having nothing in common, over-competitiveness and know-it-alls.

Six out of 10 mothers in the study said they had no common ground with their new friends. Four out of 10 said they would never have made friends with them if they didn't have kids.

As one blogging mum commented on the study: "You have an immediate point of reference. Whereas before, I'd look for people who shared my political beliefs and values, now I can talk to any mom about her kids: sleeping, eating, potty training.

"It's not that we moms are one-note people; we just have a shared interest that we might not have had before. The lasting friendships. . . are with moms who I have other things in common with.

"I still have a few friends who are either not going to venture into parenting territory or haven't yet, and while I enjoy spending time with them, I worry about boring them with kid-talk," she blogged.

I've ended up in a few peculiar situations as a new mother, from an awkwardly silent pizza lunch with someone I had just met at baby yoga to a mum throwing me dagger looks on a play date because I offered her child a chocolate biscuit.

It's been hit and miss so I'm a bit more wary of catching some mum's eye in the playgroup or hastily giving my number out in the playground for a play date.

So how do other mums feel about mammy friends? Mum-of-two Liza Crotty has seen plenty of new friendships blossom in her playgroups. Having Mia (five) and Tom (16 months) has really expanded her social circle.

"I absolutely agree with the study. I see new friendships happening all the time."

Liza set up ClapHandies playlabs after Mia was born. "I felt there wasn't enough social and educational activities on offer for me and my baby. Now, four years later, we have a team of mums running classes throughout Dublin and nationwide.

"After having Mia I realised there wasn't enough out there for young mums. My first port of call was a local health group. I had always worked full time until Mia was born so I used to being up and dressed in the morning and wanted to be outdoors doing something. I felt we needed structured play and so I set up my business."

Her playgroups have certainly been a forum for mothers to meet. "I do see mums making friends through the groups, the average being about three to four new friends.

Expectations

"The classes are structured but we have tea and coffee afterwards where mums sit and chat. They often will organise play dates and meet up at home as a result of the groups," said Liza.

"I think having a baby hugely changes the types of friendships you have. I personally really got to know my neighbours much better. I knew them only to say hi to before," she adds.

The number of new friends that Liza made after having babies exceeded all expectations of the surveys.

"I made three or four new friends out of breastfeeding groups I went to. I would say I have four very close friends out of having Mia but made up to 30 other friends."

Of course, some of the friendships don't last. It's the nature of the mammy friendships.

"Some of the friends mums make will fall away. Children end up going to different playschools and schools so friends do drop off but some are forever friendships."

The UK studies on friendships and motherhood found that going out and partying seemed like a lifetime ago for three-quarters of new mothers. Many felt their old friends were too far away and 60pc found other mothers more in tune with them.

Most mums did something to stave off being alone. Nearly half of them actively joined groups, fundraisers and community projects to help meet new people.

Aisling Lyons lives in Sandymount and has two children Ali (four-and-a-half) and Julie (two).

"Before I had Ali I was working full time. I worked in a bank and was very busy and worked long hours.

"When Ali arrived I had planned to go back to work but when the time came I couldn't do it and decided to take a career break.

"I really wanted to be at home with her and we said we would see if we could survive on one salary. I eventually made the decision not to go back to work," says Aisling.

It was quite a culture shock after having a busy career. "If you are busy and sociable it is a big shock to the system when you have a baby and are at home all day.

"When I went out I used to hope someone would talk to me. I would chat with the lady in the chemist for 10 minutes!" she says.

"You have to get out and meet people. When Ali was around 16 months I saw a notice for ClapHandies in a local shop and decided to go. It became the highlight of our week.

"By Christmas, I was seeing familiar faces at the sessions. One of the girls came up to me and told me a group of them were thinking of getting together once a week outside of the group and if I would be interested.

"There were six of us and we went to each other's homes every Wednesday. It was a whole new world of getting to know each other.

"Then we started going out to dinner without the babies," adds Aisling.

"Two of the girls have since left Ireland but everyone else I still see every week. It made me feel linked into the world again and I found the girls were a great support."

The mammy friends turned out to be invaluable additions to the circle of trust.

"If you ever felt you were going off course there was always someone there to listen. I still have all my friends from school but if I am planning a birthday party, it is all the playgroup girls that are there."

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