Photo by Natalie Chitwood
On a blustery, rainy Wednesday night this week, 59 new mothers gathered together in a Brooklyn bar. Not to toss back drinks, or even to celebrate simply being out of the house after 8pm, but rather, to do some speed dating. With each other.
Sponsored by the podcast The Longest Shortest Time and the public radio station WNYC, this cocktail party-cum-dating game was designed to help moms with something that you’d think would be simple – making “mom friends” – but it turns out, can be quite hard.
The women were clearly happy to be there. (Out, on a weeknight!) Jennifer M., the mom of 6-month-old Henry, joked that the last time she was in a bar was about a year ago. There’s also a sense of camaraderie amongst this group — perhaps it has something to do with The Longest Shortest Time’s whole judgment-free ethos or perhaps it’s just that motherhood-sisterhood thing going on — but as tunes from Elliott Smith and other folk-rockers played overhead, there was no shortage of conversation.
In between bites of onigiri rice balls, veggie skewers with miso hummus, and tiny, powdered sugar dusted brownies, women were peering at one another’s name tag to make out both each other’s names and those of their offspring.
When LST creator Hillary Frank took the stage to kick off the event, she noted that while finding the right mom friend can feel like high-stakes dating, she hopes this event will be way more relaxed — and allow for more talk time than you’d have at the playground.
Five years ago, after the birth of my first child, I had my own struggles connecting with other moms, which was something that surprised me. I figured that once I gave birth I’d instantly be part of some primal sisterhood of women. As if I could conceivably give a knowing nod to a whole group of women who came before me. Like I suddenly could connect with millions and millions of women with just a glance on the playground. And yet, despite all this, I also felt totally, completely alone.
Sometimes I physically was alone — often stuck at home with a wailing baby, or ping ponging between naptimes and mealtimes — but other times, I realized it was I hadn’t yet made enough “mom friends” and I was desperately craving connection, camaraderie and sometimes just a bit of company.
And it’s not just me. Perhaps you don’t live near family and friends, or maybe you’re the first to have kids in your circle of friends or maybe you’re the last. Whatever the reason, you simply need these mom friends to feel sane, connected and to have a bit of fun. Someone to whom you can complain when your kid won’t wear shoes anymore. (Only someone who has spent four hours trying to get a toddler dressed can truly understand that form of torture.) Also vital: A friend who can to watch the baby when you have to rush an older kid to the ER, someone who can offer feeding advice, sleep-woe commiseration, and possibly even gently-worn hand-me-downs.
Photo by Natalie Chitwood
Sometimes, proximity is as key as personality. Last winter’s Polar Vortex had me scanning my contacts for the names and numbers of friendly moms who lived within a five-block radius.
"These sorts of face-to-face encounters are immensely important for both physical and mental health," says Andrea Bonior, PhD, a licensed psychologist and the author of "The Friendship Fix." (She’s also a mother of three.) Being a new parent is such a big adjustment, and it can be a potentially isolating time, says Bonior, but it’s also one where women crave meaningful connection. "I love the Speed Dating idea," says Bonior. "Sure, you can always try to pick-up the mom on the adjacent park bench, but that can be awkward. There’s just no script for making platonic friends as a grown-up."
What’s more, modern forces — from Facebook to far-flung families — are chipping away at those opportunities, says Bonior. In fact, research has shown that people have fewer friendships outside their family—and less time for those pals—than they did 20 years ago. The 2013 American Time Use Survey found that people watch an average of nearly three hours of TV a day, but spend just 43 minutes socializing.
It’s too bad, because a shrinking circle of confidants can have physical side effects: Studies have even shown that people who have more social support have lower rates of heart disease, anxiety and depression. A 2007 study found that just having a pal by your side can lower your blood pressure and pulse rate, particularly when you’re having a tough moment. And when you factor in the hormonal upheaval inherent in new motherhood, the notion that friendships are a lifeline becomes quite literal.
Back in at the bar Brooklyn, the sound of five-dozen women chattering — in four-minute increments — was not unlike that of a giant all-women’s college dining hall. Smiles widened, icebreaker questions were being posed: What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve done because of lack of sleep? What’s your biggest parenting triumph?
Later in the night, via applause, the crowd decided the winner of a best-pick-up line contest from submissions gathered at the start of the night.
Suggestions included “Your crib or mine?” but the winner was a little more blunt: ”Nice tits.”