breaking up with mom friends as a feminist parent

This started as a how-to guide. “How to break up with a mom friend.” But when you’ve outgrown a friendship that you first made because of your kids, you do not need a step-by-step guide. You need permission, because mom guilt is pervasive. So here it is. Your “It’s-OK-to Guide.” This is your permission to let go of a friendship you’ve outgrown, regardless of how the friendship started. It’s OK.

I know it’s hard. You made those mom friends when you were at your most vulnerable. When you caught each other’s eye across the circle of other apprehensive new moms, all tentatively asking the questions you didn’t feel safe asking anywhere else.

“Why does my baby cry for hours every night? Will he remember that I swear at him a lot?”

“When will she start sleeping for more than an hour at a time? Is it OK for me to be driving a car right now?”

“Should my nipples really be this color? Or this shape? Or this…weird?”

When your baby was brand new, you needed that tribe of new mamas to reassure you that, no, your baby will not remember all the terrible things you said about him. And, yes, sleep deprivation is a very real type of torture. And also, yes, everything about your post-baby body is beautiful. Or at least normal. Being a new parent is physically painful and emotionally isolating. Every ounce of your social energy is expended with other people adrift on New Parent Island, your common thread being a collective attempt to navigate new-parent survival mode without causing physical injury to your baby or partner. And at that moment, that’s the only commonality you need.   

You also made mom friends when you were at your most lonely. If you went back to work, you spent hours isolated in a pumping room. Your social conversations centered on kids, childcare, and how you’re “making it all work.” Or how you’re pretending to, because no one ever really does. If you decided to stay home with your kids, your new coworker had extremely limited conversational skills and was—quite frankly—a little boring. We all live in our own self-made mom worlds with very few other people who understand the struggles. Finding someone who is trying to perform the same balancing acts—likely also with limited success—becomes an essential survival mechanism once again.

Then your kids grow. They start sleeping all night and engaging in real conversations during the day. Work relationships find a well-crafted balance, and we hardly ever talk about our nipples in public. You find yourself returning to friends you were close to before kids, or you find new friends through other life experiences. You start to realize that those people who seemed so necessary when your world revolved around sleep and nipple-care aren’t as relevant anymore. So often we cling to those friendships, not because they continue to fulfill a deep need in our lives, but because letting go of the friendship means letting go of our kids as babies.

It’s OK to say goodbye those friendships, even if it grew into something more meaningful. People come in and out of our lives at different times for different reasons. Acknowledge how important those early mom friends were to your survival. Give those friendships the space and the gratitude in your heart that they deserve. And then let them go.

If feminism is all about owning your life’s path, then feminist parenting is all about modeling that path for your children. Be a feminist parent by giving your energy to the friendships that bring your life purpose and meaning, not to the friendships that you have outgrown. Be a feminist parent by being honest and showing compassion when a relationship has run its course, while also allowing yourself space to grieve and heal. Be a feminist parent by continuing to seek out friendships that bring authentic love, joy and purpose to every chapter of your life. Love yourself—and your children—by learning how to say goodbye.

(Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)

Rachel is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis. She is a recovering political writer and most recently taught high school English in Baltimore. She is thrilled to now be a full-time mama and writer,...