I am not ashamed to say that I wouldn’t have survived parenting for nearly 27 years without other moms in my life. Though I have the most amazingly supportive husband with whom I will celebrate our 30th anniversary in October, he cannot offer me the same unrestrained view of motherhood my “sisters” do. Gotta love him, he’s never tried; he just fully supports my need to get out with the girls, which meant many solo nights of helping with homework and getting the girls to bed—and even nights when my friends’ high-pitched laughter kept him awake. (These days it’s my empty-nester replacement puppy that needs his attention when my girlfriends are over, but he doesn’t complain about that either.)
It all started when my first-born was about a year old. Fully aware that socialization was good for both of us, we had playdates once or twice a week with my friends who were also new parents. While it was revitalizing to spend time out of the house engaging with other moms who were in the same stage of parenting I was, I started to get frustrated that every time we’d start an adult conversation about work, our parents or the meaning of life, one of our kids would need a diaper change or to nurse or to be comforted or to have their hair disentangled from the clutches of another toddler. I didn’t begrudge our children their social time, but I was really annoyed that mine wasn’t meeting my needs.
So I made a proposal to all the moms I knew who had young kids: henceforth we would have a Mothers' Night Out (MNO) group that was strictly kid-free. Partners would be called upon to take care of their kids while one Wednesday a month we would rotate hosting at our homes, with wine and snacks we each brought—and nothing but adult conversation allowed. Single moms were helped with a sitter or a sleepover. Partners were also cheerfully banned because we believed very firmly in being free to speak about sex, our bodies and any other damn thing on our minds without having to censor ourselves. There were some Wednesday nights, though most of us needed to be at work early the next morning, that we were still talking at 1 a.m., and sometimes even after we would finally get kicked out, we’d continue the conversation on the sidewalk. I can’t fully express how important those nights became to all of us. We shared almost everything, gave each other advice, cried and mostly laughed pee-in-our-pants hard (hence the sleepless nights for partners) about all the insane things we found ourselves doing in the name of motherhood (and about the things our adorable children did as well).
But that’s not all. I also joined a local Mothers’ Center where I became a member of a book group, which also met monthly and gave me not only another group of moms to hang out with, but also an adult deadline that was just for me. The assigned book, sometimes something I wouldn’t have chosen myself, was a much-needed intellectual and entertaining outlet. Over time that group morphed into the one that still meets today, 20 years later. For this group I invited five other moms with whom I had separate connections through our oldest children, and because we each had two kids the same ages, we went through every stage together, all those firsts, from kindergarten to high school—to the first day they all went away to college, at which time, I confess, we spent a lot of time in self-congratulation that we had helped initiate successful first-born launches—and then we cried. To this day when we get together, we talk about the book—I swear—but mostly we have so much else to catch up on, like our careers and our aging parents.
MNO hasn’t met in several years. The group had 20-plus moms, and as our kids all got older with their own nighttime activities, it got harder to meet as often. And not everyone needed it the same way as their children matured. But one annual event I created along with MNO was an ornament exchange each December, at which everyone brings a wrapped ornament for a grab bag, always at my house. This past December, our 24th year, 23 moms in all stages of parenting crowded into my living room and my husband gave up on any thoughts of sleep.
Because I am apparently nothing if not greedy for my adult time, for the past 10 years, four moms from the original MNO and I meet once a month for dinner in a restaurant for what we affectionately dubbed our “Whine and Dine” night. But we’re just poking fun at ourselves because these kid-free mom times aren’t about whining. My girlfriends are the ones who provide the validation that comes from being with women who know exactly how we each feel about our children and the challenges of raising them in this complex world. Because of that, our time together has always been empowering.
All these moms still in my life are women I long ago called on when I thought my nipples were going to fall off from my daughter’s incessant nursing; with whom I watched our country go into war with Iraq the first time and worried what world our children were living in; who were there for me when I had a miscarriage; who came to the hospital when my youngest was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 7 and my husband and I were bewildered at what this would mean for her and for us. We gave each other kid respite on those days when the only thing that would keep us from losing it was time alone. We provided meals for each other when we had new babies, when someone was ill or we lost a parent. Mostly, we’ve marched headlong into each new stage of parenting side-by-side, knowing we have each others’ backs. I can’t imagine my life without these ladies in it. I have the satisfaction of knowing I was there for my friends as well.
Though I love being a mother to this day, my daughters benefited from this extended network that kept me sane. These women have also watched my girls grow, and they provide support to them as well, something that didn’t occur to me all those years ago when all I wanted was one grown-up playdate that didn’t involve a crying child.