Making non-parent friends helped renew my belief in myself

Tapping into an identity other than 'mom' is refreshing
By Kari O'Driscoll  Published on 10/22/2018 at 10:00 AM EDT
Alicia Steels/Unsplash

Making friends in my late 40s hasn’t been easy, but it has definitely been worth the effort. When my kids were little, I was constantly thrown into situations with other parents: gymnastics class, swim lessons, Montessori school functions. I got to know other parents during playdates, chaperoning field trips or coordinating bake sales. As our kids got older, if they stayed in the same sports or schools, those friendships built over time. If they didn’t, I met new people through my kids’ new activities.

When my two daughters were in middle school, I worked as a writer and loved the flexibility—if one was sick or had a teacher in-service day, I could work around her schedule. I built in time to volunteer at school and appreciated knowing the girls’ teachers and friends. But being a writer is a pretty solitary existence, so my group of friends was really still comprised of people I’d met because of my kids. Even though we’ve learned things about each other’s childhoods and other interests over the years, the baseline for our conversations and connection is our kids, so all discussions eventually lead to the topic of parenting. Our link was rooted in our role as parents. We bounced ideas off of each other, lamented the challenges of adolescence, experienced many of the same things at the same time. We saw each other primarily through the lens of “mom.”

High school changed everything. Parents are not invited to chaperone things. As soon as both of my girls could, they got their driving licenses and no longer needed me to chauffer them around. Birthday parties do not involve parents either. As a single mom, I’ve got a lot of time on my hands that wasn’t filled with family activities anymore and for a while, I was a bit lost.

Many of my mom-friends had gone back to work or still have younger kids at home. I didn’t really know how to meet new people. I didn’t have co-workers and my married friends had partners to do things with on the weekends and at night. I am not the type to work out with people or randomly chat up strangers, so I spent a few agonizingly lonely months pondering solutions and mining my interests and values in an effort to find ways to connect.

And that’s how I came to volunteer at my neighborhood food bank and join the board of a local nonprofit. I figured I’d use the time I’d alloted for helping out at school to making a difference in my community. Through that, I met people who don’t know me first and foremost as a mother. When I’m not primarily defined by my status as a parent, I feel free to express my thoughts and opinions and interests on a much wider range of topics. My fellow volunteers and I chat about the quality of the food we stock on the shelves and fantasize about the crazy concoctions we might make using surplus canned pumpkin, cases of hot sauce, and endless stores of rice. We also discuss food politics and the way our neighborhood has changed in the past few decades and express curiosity about each others’ dream vacation spots.

My new friends know me as a passionate feminist and social justice advocate. They learned early on that I love to cook and have a fairly dry sense of humor. Of course they know I have children, and many of them do, too, but it isn’t the foundation of our relationship, which makes these friendships feel more well-rounded. The freedom to express myself in a different way and stretch my personality is exciting and liberating. I’m not a fundamentally different person than I have ever been, but I get to shine a light on parts of myself that were relegated to the background with my parent-friends and it feels pretty darn good. I was hesitant to join the board because I know nothing about corporate finance, but it turns out that I’m somewhat of a natural at strategic planning and assessing the cultural health of an organization. It’s great to have people tell me they think I’m a good mom, but it’s also really lovely to be appreciated for other qualities I have.

I wouldn’t trade those years at home with my kids for anything, and I dearly love many of my mom-friends, but making new friends has taught me that there’s a whole lot more to me and it’s high time I started acknowledging it.

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