When you become a mother for the first time you have so much to contend with in your everyday life, you’d think socialising would be the last thing on your mind. But when you become a mother, pretty soon you start to realise that your social circle needs updating.
I’m talking about Mum Friends.
You may already have friends who have become mothers before you. And you may have absolute best friends who are always there for you, no matter what. But when you make your first Mum Friend, you realise what an essential bond you share.
That is not to say that your Mum Friends may not become your actual friends. But Mum Friends are a unique breed.
A Mum Friend has had a baby roughly around the same time as you. They live in your neighbourhood and frequent the same baby groups or children centres as you. They are at home alone with a child, or children, at the same time as you. They have just confronted and are currently going through exactly the same life-changing experiences as you. And, just like you, they would really like someone to talk to. Some people are lucky enough to make Mum Friends before they have even given birth, at NCT classes.
When I moved house last year with my six-month-old daughter, I knew no one. I had to get out there to meet some other mothers. And it was a lot like going back to school.
Attending a local playgroup for the first time I felt a bit like Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls. I was the new girl desperately hoping to make friends, and I found myself plunged alone into this strange jungle, surrounded by seemingly impenetrable groups of social stereotypes that I wasn’t sure would ever accept me.
On one side of the room sat the Nannies and Childminders. A tightly-knit rank of women who all appeared to be either older or much younger than me, who all knew each other well and who had complete control of ‘the scene’. (Although rather less control of the multiple screaming rugrats in their charge.)
Then there were the Newborn Mums. Confined to the playmat corner, their children couldn’t sit up unsupported yet and spent most of the time feeding or napping. They all seemed to have bonded at NCT class and were able to sit back for a cup of tea and a natter while their babies bobbed up and down happily in bouncers. My wriggly, grabbing, shouty child was only going to disturb the peace.
That is the trouble with making Mum Friends. It’s not just you that has to win them over, it’s your child too.
It’s heartbreaking spotting an apparent kindred spirit across the room and then realising she has a newborn strapped to her front, while your stompy toddler has run off to the other side of the room and started snatching other kids’ biscuits because you took your eyes off them for a second.
Getting dressed in the mornings, I was transported back to being a teenager. Image was everything and I needed to convey the right impression.
“If I team this moderately stylish jumper and earrings with the obligatory mum bun and leggings, does this outfit say, ‘I’m an easy-going, down-to-earth mother, who is still in touch with the outside world and would be fun to share a bottle of wine with,’?”
Back in the Mum Friend jungle, there were the Working Mums. They had enviable flexible jobs that meant they could come to playgroup some days, but still needed to check their emails all the time. Their chat was all about the stress of the nursery run, what was the best train to catch into the city and how their maternity cover was trying to steal their job. You can spot a Working Mum even if she isn’t checking her phone all the time, because she is well-groomed and has a proper handbag, not just a nappy changing bag.
And then there was the group I called the Cool Mums.
They all appeared to know each other already and sat chatting to each other and just leaving their babies to it. They were around my age and seemed like nice, normal people. But they all had more than one child. A toddler and a baby, and their older children played together.
How could I, a lowly Stay At Home Mother Of One, ever hope to find a place in this daunting new society?
Just like school, I worked hard to fit in. I hung around the play mats and managed to join in conversations about sleep patterns, childbirth and weaning.
And eventually some Newborn Mums asked me out for coffee. And then the Cool Mums invited me to the pub. And before I knew it I was, “Rollin’ with the homies.”
But now almost all my Mum Friends are going back to work and I feel like I’m starting a new school all over again.
Only at least I am not totally clueless about how it works this time.
Because at the end of the day the Mummy Circuit is just like high school. Deep down, everyone just wants to be accepted for who they are.