When you are a brand new mom, you pretty much start in the same camp. There is so much to be found in common. We’re all new at it. We’re all exhausted. We all miss pieces of our old selves as we try to figure out our new selves. These days provide so many things to bond over, and deeply, at that.
When the baby days morph into toddler days, motherhood grows with it; it becomes a more consuming part of us. We start to fall into familiar preferences of what works for us. We find our camps. And being human, we are drawn to others in the exact same camp. We see this lingo in cute hashtag form whenever parenting approaches are swapped. “I’m #team – insert any possible tiny parenting choice you could make.”
Making mom friends was a breeze when I was pregnant and still figuring my own motherhood out. Making mom friends with two opinionated littles, a busy routine and a set of established values makes it harder. I assumed it would be an extra layer of difficulty to making mom friends in this military life with frequent moves, but after being the new girl all over again, I’ve realized it was actually more difficult when I established myself too definitively as a mom.
Being new has been a refreshing step back, where I’ve been forced to see how little the cumulation of these parenting preferences matters when it comes to finding your people. Solidarity has its role, but so does being inclusive.
And while there’s nothing wrong with gravitating towards people with similar interests – and furthermore I think it’s natural to wish for our parenting to mesh well with our friends – the additional step towards picking a team implies picking sides more than it implies tolerance and empathy. Team implies competition more than it implies community. It’s a buzz word I’m kicking to the curb. As mothers and friends, regardless of how we navigate these early years, we are all on the same team. It’s important to remember that, especially in an age when the ability to respectfully disagree seems to be a lost courtesy.
My first big crossroad in parenting was navigating infant sleep. I found my style – a little attachment, a little survival. I was #TeamCoSleepers, for example. Just being on this “team” brought so much unintentional division in the background. We join the groups that are focused on our chosen paths, which are intended to bring support and more informative resources, but all too often they come with chatter in an “us vs. them” mentality.
Now that infant sleep is in the rear-view mirror, I look around my circle of mom friends and have no idea what their chosen infant sleep approach was, nor do I care because I wouldn’t suddenly deem them lesser of a friend had they survived the baby days with a different nightly routine than mine. It’s easy to see how silly these filters are in retrospect. It can be challenging to rise above these filters in the chapter we are currently in. Take mine – the highly-opinionated toddler/preschool days. Everything from how we discipline, how we play, how we engage – the overlap with parenting is bigger than ever.
There might be one of us who chooses to helicopter at the playground, and another who chooses free range. There might be one of us who expects their child to share when approached by another child, while one of us might expect the approaching child to wait his or her turn. There might be one of us who chooses to let their child navigate a peer disagreement on his or her own, while one of us chooses to intervene.
And it is going to be fine.
I have friendships where every one of these crossroads mesh, and I have friendships where these crossroads clash. I’ve realized that to expect our kids’ social interactions to be in line with our particular parenting preferences undermines our efforts by shielding them from experiencing things differently – which is inevitable. We all want our children to be accepting, confident, independent, empathetic, and inclusive. Equipping them with the skills we think they most need is one half of the equation. Modeling this in our own circles and allowing them to practice those skills in both agreeable and disagreeable situations is the other half of that equation.
It’s a wonderful thing when we get in a solid groove of what works for us and the kind of parent we set out to be, but we shouldn’t hesitate to form healthy friendships outside of our specific mom identity, and we should trust that we’ve established a strong foundation for our littles so that we treat them as capable rather than limit their interactions to our biased liking.
This doesn’t mean we need to be friends with everybody. This doesn’t mean we bow our heads to differences that prove to breed disrespectful encounters. It means that it should simply be okay to disagree without splitting into separate teams. It means that there’s probably a less divisive way we can frame these kind of conversations in motherhood, because they are still helpful, empowering, fascinating conversations to have 99 percent of the time.
Find your identity as a mom, unapologetically, but don’t leave the larger community that is motherhood. We are not stronger mothers when we break up into teams. Motherhood is not a game, race or competition. I am not raising my children to be better than you are raising yours. I am raising my children to be better than me, as I assume you are raising your children to be better than you. And hopefully, in the future, this creates better adults who work better together to make the world a better place.