Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it's been pretty easy to see everything our kids have lost. The structure of school, the fun of team sports, the freedom to meet up at the mall, and the list goes on. But along the way, parents, and new mothers especially, lost something a bit more subtle: friendships.
Convenience has always played a factor in the friends we make. The routines moms relied on during pre-pandemic times, whether it was seeing the same folks every morning at school drop-off or sitting in a sea of parents on the sidelines at your kid's soccer game, used to give us nuggets of opportunities to speak to others. Now that our routines are gone, however, so are those opportunities for camaraderie with like-minded women.
"These are built-in opportunities for making friends, having conversations and feeling connected to people going through life in the same way as you," says Francyne Zeltser, Ph.D., a family and child psychologist. Even if some of these acquaintances might not have been chosen friends, it doesn't mean they aren't genuine. Because you're sharing an experience, like raising kids the same age, you have a common denominator that binds you.
"With mom friends, there is a real sense of camaraderie. A sense that we are all 'in it together' since we are all going through it, the 'it' being parenting," says Dr. Zeltser.
Pre-pandemic, these kinds of relationships "filled up your friendship bucket" so to speak. They provided women with empathy, comfort, compassion, mentorship, and fun, explains Jaime Gleicher, a psychotherapist and family counselor with Hartstein Psychological Services in New York City. Without them? We're missing out on a lot.
The good news is there are ways to get around the obstacles social-distancing presents (while still social-distancing) when it comes to making new friends. Here's how moms all over the country have deepened bonds and made new ones during the pandemic so you can take a page from their book and get back the support you need.
Reach Out to Old Friends (and Ditch the Bad Ones)
"If you have 20 minutes, it takes the same effort to strike up a conversation with your cubicle buddy that it does to reach out to a friend you haven't spoken to in a while," says Dr. Zeltser. Sometimes that's all it takes to make a "new" friend right now.
Call your long-lost cousins, childhood friends, coworkers, classmates, and college buddies who you might have put on the back burner of your life. Maria, a mom of two in Long Island, New York, turned to her best friend from college when the pandemic kept her from socializing with other parents in her community. Now they're closer than ever. Dr. Zelster agrees that the foundation of former relationships are still there even if those people had faded into the background due to proximity. Now that we've all gone virtual though, it's a different game. When you look at your phone, who you speak to the most might not be the same people you thought you would have spoken to a year ago.
Dr. Zeltser also stresses that now is the time to shed any friendship that you may have felt was toxic. "You have an easy excuse, you're not socially obligated to meet up with an acquaintance who you would be seeing to keep social peace, like the mom of a friend of your daughters who you don't really mesh with," she says.
The bottom line? True friendships will prevail, better ones will get better, and the bad ones will likely fall apart.
Get to Know Your Neighbors
"Now that we've all been through almost a year of living through a pandemic, there are inconsistencies and variations between what different people feel comfortable doing and what socializing safely means to them," explains Dr. Zeltser. Friendships might grow out of what she calls "COVID comfort" situations, or spending time with people who share similar beliefs and practice safety strategies that align with yours. That's how one Colorado mom approached new relationships with her neighbors.
"The stress of living through a pandemic with small children, jobs to manage, and other family responsibilities was already new territory for my husband and I, so when our 4-year-old son was diagnosed with kidney cancer in September it felt like a double blow," says Erin Eckert. The mom of three knew that keeping her immunocompromised youngest child safe was at the top of her list, but letting her daughters experience some normalcy was just as important for their mental health. "We became closer with neighbors, especially those with little kids that we saw spending more time outside since everyone was home more often. We would grab our lawn chairs and sit outside watching them play from a distance." The neighborhood bond was strengthened she said and there was more of a sense of community on her street, something she relies on these days when she needs a pick-me-up.
Don't Shy Away from Virtual Friendships
Alexandra, a first-time mom in Queens, New York, had a baby in the middle of the pandemic. "While that wasn't stressful enough, I was missing out on what everyone says is the 'mom bond' you'll find once you enter the world of parenting," she says. This didn't happen and the feelings of isolation were compounded. "When I needed to contact a sleep coach for my daughter, I had no idea that the person I hired would actually become one of my closest friends during this period of my life," says Alexandra. While they never actually met in person—all sessions were done virtually—she says their personalities clicked right away and soon enough they were texting regularly about all things.
Another virtual idea? Mom Shannon Ress of Miller Place, New York, turned to her Peloton app and created a Facebook group for the other moms in her community. "Everyone started adding other mom friends and soon enough we had this fun group of like-minded ladies, and a social space where we could talk recipes, meal prep, workouts we were doing, and even things beyond our fitness world," says Ress. Instead of a night out, Ress explains she and her new fitness friends text each other and schedule early morning virtual workout dates to do from home.
Team Up Together for a Common Cause or Goal
Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, historian and author of Classroom Wars, felt like the pandemic yanked out of her support system. "I was instantly isolated from the friendships and acquaintances I mostly cultivated in spaces I could no longer frequent—my office and the gym specifically—but the new circumstance allowed me to forge new friendships, some of them surprisingly profound given we've barely spent time indoors together," she says.
Motived by a shared desire to address the challenges of remote learning, Petrzela connected with one mom in particular who pre-pandemic she had only exchanged friendly glances with at the playground. "We developed a really strong bond that started with organizing around the education of our kids and has grown to encompass all the things friends share in normal times: politics, family, exercise. In a year when so much has been so challenging, especially trying to get our kids more days in school, cultivating friendships for adults can easily seem like a frivolous priority." While these moms shared a passion for advocacy around the reopening of schools, they now consider themselves good friends who will continue to share parenting and life lessons with one another beyond the pandemic.
Promote People from Acquaintance Status
Not all friendships happen due to an effable moment in time, where a spark or immediate chemistry tells you that someone will be your lifelong friend. "All relationships take work and effort, and if you already have a network of people you speak to, try to see who you might be able to bring to the next level," Dr. Zeltser says.
Pre-pandemic, mom Ashley was connected to 15 other local moms on a WhatsApp chat thread. Their kids attended the same school and synagogue, and the conversation was mostly kept to logistics of school pick up times, activities the kids shared, or events on the weekends. "We only really knew each other from the community and probably lack of real time prevented us from taking these conversations off our screens and into the real world. But when COVID hit we only had the virtual space to communicate—and communicate we did!"
Ashley shares that the women who stuck around locally became each other's therapists, cheerleaders, and family as they leaned on one another for meals, homeschooling, and help caring for sick family members. "We are bonded in a way we could never have predicted and with very minimally physical time together. I have a real awareness of how grateful I am for this mom chat that became my lifeline during a crazy time in life."
Foster Your Family Friendships, Too
Not only are adults dealing with a lack of physical friends, kids no matter their ages have been affected too. "Even though children are resilient—they won't recall the year they didn't have play dates or they weren't in group settings—the loss of friendships to children is really just the loss of physical comfort they had to another human being," says Elana Yalow, Ph.D., CEO of Early Learning Programs at KinderCare Education. "The importance of physical comfort is critical, so whether it's between parent and child or a child with his pet or snuggle toy, children just need to experience a tactile relationship," she says.
Take the time during quarantine to get even closer with your children. Put away the computers and turn off the TV screens, and take a little time every day to be as attentive physically to your children, Dr. Yalow explains. "A child's brain is hardwired for concrete experiences and when too much is virtual they may not have long lasting memories to pull from for this period in their lives." You want to make those physical connections with your kids, like drawing together, writing letters to family, gardening, or going on bike rides, as ways your children will recall the memories from this year. The perks of this extra bonding time is a deeper connection to your own children, something you may not have been gifted in a COVID-free world.
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