Up the long driveway once and around the falling-down barn. Stop to throw some rocks in the lake. Say hello to the cows.
Just me and my tiny strawberry-blonde-headed baby — always. It’s not a country song. Just me and my baby is how I spent the first year of my first baby’s life. It was always just me and my baby.
My husband and I had moved to a small family farmhouse that was off the beaten path to save money while we adjusted to young parenthood. It was a blessing, but it was a trek from the city where most of our friends lived. While at first, a quiet life seemed like the perfect way to settle into motherhood, I learned the hard way that year that parenting without friends nearby — without a village of people in the same stage of life — can be utterly brutal.
Each night, after I’d strolled, changed, and fed the baby, my husband would get home from a long day at work. If I hadn’t talked to myself or made a point to get out and run errands, when he walked into the kitchen, I’d realize I’d scarcely heard the sound of my own voice all day. I craved people to talk to — about motherhood, about the newfound knots in my back, about learning to do everything with one hand.
Instead, loneliness became so ingrained in me that I came to believe it was simply a necessary part of parenthood.
Sometimes on Sundays, we’d have dinner at my mother’s house. Sometimes my father would stop in after work. But friendships were lacking, not just because of our location, but because I was the first of my friends to have a baby by many years. My friends had all done their dutiful “meet the baby” visits when my daughter was a few days old. And then they went back to their lives. I tried hard to settle into mine.
Motherhood was one thing, but the intense loneliness I felt each and every day was another. And for me, opportunities to meet parents felt hard to come by, at least during that first year. I was always nursing or getting my baby ready for a nap. I felt weighed down. I was suffering from a mild, nipping depression. Going anywhere took so much time and energy, yet the more I stayed home, the more isolated I felt.
When my daughter grew big enough to toddle around the house, I started taking her to once-weekly play gym classes. There, I’d chat with other parents between rounds of “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” then it would be nap time and we’d all go our separate ways. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
Eventually, my husband and I had saved enough money for a small down payment, and we bought a house on the outskirts of the city. Suddenly, I had neighbors all around me, pushing strollers, neighbors who would leave lasagnas on my porch when I gave birth to my son a few years later and offer to watch my daughter for a few hours so I could take a nap with him when we’d been up all night.
Over the years these friendships grew deeper, and I was able to devote more time to them, too. I made plans with the neighbors on my block. We’d have girls nights and family nights where our kids had pizza parties and tore up the house while we talked and laughed in the kitchen. We brought each other groceries if someone was sick, and our kids felt comfortable hanging out at each and every one of our houses. Birthday parties and holiday parties, from Christmas to Halloween — there was always something to do involving our little community.
Over time, more of my old friends started to have kids, too. I made mom friends at my daughter’s preschool. I became close friends with my doula, and our families got together often. And each time, as new friendships developed, my world opened up and up.
Having friends I could lean on, or as part of my “village,” meant that I had people to call in an emergency, sure. But it also meant that I didn’t go a day without having conversations. It meant that I could pop over to my neighbor’s porch for a glass of wine and talk about teething or colic or reading levels. It meant that the sense of loneliness I’d learned to feel — and would sometimes always feel during long, hard days — was no longer my normal but a fleeting sensation that I knew would pass because I had people. People to help, people who understood, and people my kids learned to trust as if they were family.
I can’t say that I was completely without a village during the early years of motherhood — I always had family who would’ve helped me when I needed it. But the friendships I developed after becoming a mom were truly life-changing. Having a village of friends while raising kids helped me survive the toughest times. But it also helped teach me to be a better parent, and most importantly, it allowed me to be a happy one.
I’ve been a parent for nearly a decade now. There’s a lot I’d do differently if I could start from scratch. But the one thing I tell new parents is: Don’t overlook the importance of having parent friends in your life. They will empower you and lift you up and help you in ways you didn’t know you needed.
Luckily, you will get the opportunity to do the same for them without even trying. That’s what’s so special about having a mom village. At your worst, it surrounds you. And at your best, you give back to it.