How well do you really know your mom friends? The question sounds like the ominous introduction to a Dateline special. But it's one I had to start asking myself recently as I discovered the true identities of some of the women in my innermost circle.
I talk to my mom friends constantly, whether through group texts that number in the gazillion range, at book club meetings where the books never actually emerge from our bags or while juggling kids on the playground/birthday party/swimming pool circuit. We talk about parenting quite a bit, of course, but we also branch out to the other relationships in our lives, our current jobs or hobbies, and important discussions about global politics and Big Little Lies.
What's missing, I've come to realize, is in-depth conversations about our "pre-mom" selves. Sure, there's the offhand tidbit here or there—a reference to one mom's years of ballet in the context of her own child beginning lessons, or an admission that another mom used to spend hours making gourmet meals before she birthed children who only eat chicken nuggets.
For most of us, this gap in our personal histories isn't intentional; some of those topics just haven't come up. The question I have now is: Why not?
My family recently joined forces with another family from our kids' school for a weekend getaway near our Northern California home. I count the other mom as one of my nearest-and-dearest mom friends, and yet I was shocked to find out over dinner one night that she was an accomplished actress and singer before pivoting to the healthcare field in her late 20s (the career she had recently left when we first met in our 30s). I had no clue.
Naturally, I immediately demanded to hear her sing, and the result blew me away—actual tears, and I don't even cry at This Is Us. It was a revelation that made me wonder what other talents, achievements and fun facts I had yet to discover about the moms around me.
Before kids, I had a very different standard for what defined a "close friend." The idea that I might call someone a good friend and not know all her siblings' names, her college major or her natural hair color seemed preposterous. But then I became a mom, and those details were overshadowed by information that relates either directly or indirectly to people's kids ("Do you work right now?" "Do you have relatives in the area?" "Do you have any clue how to raise happy, well-adjusted human beings and send them out into the world?").
I don't feel in any way less close to my newer friends than I do to the friends I made before I had kids—they are both vital to my sanity—but it's a different kind of closeness. One set of friends is intimately linked to my present, day-to-day existence (they just get it), while the other might know less about my everyday life but perhaps also sees me more three-dimensionally.
As I cried my way through a recording of my friend's singing the other day, it occurred to me that there doesn't have to be such a large gap between these two types of friendship. There isn't always time to dig deeper into the pasts of my mom friends, but when those quieter moments do arise, I'm going to try to remember to ask more questions that have nothing to do with our present selves and our identities as parents.
The moms I know amaze me already. I can't wait to learn more about the women behind the moms.