I'm a mom, but I don't do mom groups. I don't follow some "Alternative Moms" Facebook page and I don't subscribe to newsletters and I don't meet in parks for playdates. I avoid classes and decline invitations to MOPS and I stayed away from breastfeeding support groups.
Now, this isn't just because my procreating friends are far away. Sure, that plays a large part in it, but I could have broadened my horizons or read the hospital's pamphlets or used the Internet for something other than Parks and Recreation GIFs. In all honesty, if a few select mom friends lived closer, I would gladly spend my time with them; they are kind and understanding and as judgement-free as they come.
They're also extremely rare.
In my experience, most moms spend their time preaching their very specific brand of parenting in a way that's somehow accusatory instead of inviting. They judge the decisions of others, forgetting that each family, each baby and each situation is different. They're hurtful in a subtly vindictive, condescending kind of way that will probably come in handy when they decide to verbally discipline their child in his or her teenage years.
They're so consumed with motherhood that they forget what it is like to be a friend.
My child-free friends, on the other hand, have not.
While they can't completely understand what I am going through, they are supportive and understanding and take the time to listen. They don't have an agenda they're waiting to push because, duh, they don't have children. They have an idea of what they would like to do and how they would like to do it when the time comes, but they stay open-minded about my choices and my journey.
They aren't disappointed when I'm late to dinner dates or scheduled outings because, hello, I have a child and that child has yet to comprehend the idea of time. They can't imagine the added responsibility, so they are forgiving, instead of reminding me that I could do better with an unnecessary, "Well, I'm on time and I have a child..."
There isn't this weird, unspoken but extremely palpable sense of competition between us. We're in different phases of life thanks to our diverse yet equally respectable choices, and that's something to be celebrated. I get to experience child-free fun vicariously through them and they get a taste of motherhood while simultaneously remembering to take their birth control.
They don't judge my parenting choices when they vary from theirs because they aren't making parenting choices at all. They are candid about the fact that they don't have a clue what to do and that's refreshing, because most of the time I don't, either, and if my mom friends were honest instead of afraid, they would say the same.
They don't feed me a spoonful of unsolicited advice or get upset when I choose to parent my own way because taking their dog to the vet isn't the same as taking my child to the pediatrician.
They are capable of talking about something other than children because yes, I adore my son in ways I can't adequately describe, but I need to talk about something else. Anything else. I need more than my kid and when I share that with them they look at me with understanding instead of bewilderment. They don't think that makes me a bad mom and they don't think I'm making some political, judgmental statement when I look outside of my son for meaning and accomplishment and self-worth.
They haven't forgotten how difficult first-time parenting is because they haven't experienced it yet. They aren't on their third kid and self-proclaimed "masters of parenting," so they are kind and sympathetic when I share my very real, yet probably ridiculous, fears. They don't talk to me like I'm ill-equipped or altogether stupid. They talk to me like I'm human.
I'll admit, I didn't expect to feel this way. I watched my friends have children before me and when I found out I would be joining them in motherhood, I was excited. I was looking forward to learning from them and understanding what they had already experienced and I couldn't wait to grow closer to them because of it.
Unfortunately, most tried to brow-beat me into experiencing pregnancy and birth and parenthood in the exact way they did. And when I didn't, I wasn't supported. I was criticized.
I understand that we all have our different viewpoints and beliefs and theories on parenthood and the like. I realize that most of the time, blatant judgement and outright criticism is really masking fear and doubt. Mothers are hardest on themselves; constantly worrying if they're doing a good job or striving to be the best they can possibly be for their child. Mothers look for validation, even if it means publicly shaming their own kind to feel better about their decisions. Hey, we're human. I am not above understanding.
I'm also not above saying I don't want any part of it.
A community of mothers should be open and honest and trustworthy, not hell-bent on perpetuating the illusion of perfection via shame and judgement and fear.
Until that happens, I'll stick to my friends who nurse hangovers instead of children.
Or, you know, beg those few, select mom-friends of mine to move next door.