Here's How I've Learned To Rebuild My Mom Squad As An Army Wife
Make friends. Move. Lather, rinse, repeat.
As anyone who's been through it knows, making mom friends is hard and uncomfortably like dating. It’s super awkward, and you’ll have to suffer through playdates with a few frogs before you find your true companions. It’s worth it, though, to find fellow moms who you can commiserate with, get advice from, and count on for regular get togethers. But imagine you have to go through that process multiple times, every few years, ad nauseum. I'm here to tell you it's that much more of a challenge when you have to do it over and over again.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a core group of friends who start having babies around the same time. Whether you’re the first of your friends to have a kid or have left work to become a stay-at-home mom, many have to start from scratch. But as if that wasn’t difficult enough, still others have to do it more than once. Maybe your partner’s job or your own position requires that you move. If you’re a military spouse like me, then you have permanent changes of station every few years. My youngest child is not yet four, and we’ve lived in four different states, so I’ve cultivated a circle of moms before, and I’ll do it again. And I’ve learned a few things along the way.
I started out with a list of desired mom friend qualities, but I quickly learned that you don’t get to be picky when you’re on my kind of a timeline. That, and you miss out on lots of cool people. I eventually realized that just having children of similar ages is usually enough in common, and that’s pretty much all I need. I’ve had friends of different races and religions, as well as buddies on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me. A different parenting style is not a problem as long as they’re not judgmental of mine. As anyone does, I do have my deal-breakers but generally, if someone is willing to hold my baby while I go to the bathroom or help my preschooler put her shoes on, we’re good to go.
I’ve made some discoveries about the mom dating scene, too. Over time, I’ve figured out where the cool moms are. I always start with the obvious mom haunts: the library and the park. Story times and mommy and me classes (swimming, Kindermusik, etc.) are also great places to meet other mamas. I’m a big fan of online mom groups. I’m not talking about a place to get recommendations on pediatric dentists or to air your grievances about your kid’s school’s closed-toe shoe policy, although those certainly serve a purpose. I’m referring to groups with regular, planned playdates and moms' nights out. As an experienced mom dater, that’s my bread and butter.
Whether I’m at the play gym on my own or at a scheduled group event, once I’ve found someone who fits my particular friend bill, I make my move. Even for an extrovert like me, this is challenging because, like most people, I fear rejection. But as in romantic dating, acquiring mom friends takes a bit of risk-taking. I’ll ask if they like their brand of baby carrier or where they got their kid’s cute tennis shoes. If we’ve chatted for a bit, I ask to exchange numbers or give them my name and invite them to find me on social media. I try to follow up with a message after a few days (can’t be too eager, you know) and an invitation to do something specific within a week.
Even when everything seems to be in place, I’ve found that there are barriers to friendship I didn’t anticipate. With one mom, our personalities synced up great, but those of our children did not. In my experience, kids getting along isn’t usually too much of a problem, especially with little ones around the same age, but if you’re on different nap schedules, you may be out of luck. I once hit it off with a mom, but then she “ghosted” me. I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she was busy, but I’m not going to pursue a friendship with someone who can’t be bothered to text. As an Army wife, some people don’t want to invest in a relationship with me simply because they know I’m going to leave in a few years.
The people who did hang in there — they became my tribe. With my first move, it was a smaller group of women within the larger moms group. I could always count on them to hang out on a regular basis, and they were fun (like going away party tattoos fun). After my second move, I became involved in a very active military moms group, so we all had a baseline of understanding and support. My village consisted of those women, along with others I met through mutual friends, moms of my daughter’s classmates, and spouses of my husband’s friends who, as luck would have it, moved with us. These were the people who brought me meals when my son was born, planned pumpkin patch field trips, and gave me tips for potty training.
I have been incredibly fortunate in that, within that group of mom friends, I have found my lobster (more than one, actually). I got a good feeling about them right away and gradually, we became closer. As time went on, I recognized them as my mom BFFs because they truly loved my children, enough to correct their misbehavior when they needed it, pick them up and comfort them when they cried, and yes, wipe their butts. They were the people I could vent to about my husband or tell about my postpartum anxiety because I knew they were lock boxes. I could count on them to listen and encourage, and when I needed emergency childcare or just a night out, they were the ones watching my kids. And it broke my heart to leave them.
We recently moved for a third time, and I now find myself back at the mom friend drawing board. It’s not a position I enjoy being in, especially knowing that I’ll be starting all over in just a couple of years. But my kids need friends and so do I, so I will chat up moms in the baby section at Target and stalk the bilingual music class until I find my people. There’s an expression in the military that says, “Embrace the suck.” Having to make new mom friends is as frustrating as it is unavoidable, so I choose to focus on the positive. The women I befriend will become part of the trail of kickass moms I’ve left behind who continue to form an important part of my life — my ultimate mom squad. And how many people can say they have that?