Living by the Mama Code

Pinky swear

At the age of 44, with 14 years of parenting under my belt, I have learned one thing for sure (and it might be the only thing, so listen real good): It is a whole lot easier to be friends with someone whose kids get along easily with your kids and who shares your parenting philosophy. It just is. I have been to the other side and — believe me — it is dark and disorienting. Just like when Fat Amy says in Pitch Perfect, “I sometimes have a feeling I can do crystal meth, but then I think ‘Hmmm ... better not.’” I sometimes think I can be friends with someone who doesn’t discipline their child, but then I think “Hmmm ... better not.”

Because then she might come over to my house, let her feral hellions swing from the ceiling fan and poop in the dining room. And then it would be hard for me to enjoy the rest of my glass of pinot noir and pretend like I actually care about what this other mom is saying to me.

Here’s the deal: Parenting is really freaking hard. And, sometimes, especially in those early years, it can be difficult and isolating and depressing, even for the bravest and hardiest of souls. Like sex or drinking, it’s one of things that can definitely be made better in the presence of someone you like. So why not make life easier on yourself and find awesome, like-minded parents with cool kids that you and your kids can enjoy spending time with?

My best pal, Lucy, and I had our girls at the same time and, for months, the highlight of our week was taking the babies to Nordstrom, touching stuff we couldn’t fit into, eating Chinese chicken salads and then feeding the babies in the Ladies’ Lounge. We would commiserate, laugh, cry, spatter breast milk, change diapers — but never once did we judge each other.

We each knew how sleep-deprived, gassy, hormonal and generally overwhelmed the other was, and to disparage or compete with one another would have been breaking the Mama Code. (Like the Mafia with their Omertà — it’s just not done.) You love each other; you love your kids; you love each other’s kids, and you cut each other some slack. It takes a village, remember?

Little did I know then how lucky I was to have Lucy. A few years later, I moved to the other side of the country; Lucy and I had our second babies — both boys — thousands of miles from each other; and I began to understand that not everyone follows The Mama Code, and sometimes there’s no village for miles around.

I mean, let’s be clear here. When it comes to their children, folks can go from zero-to-whackadoodle purty darn fast. It can be extremely hard to see the bigger picture when you feel your child is being threatened or hurt. Once when my daughter was 3, a friend’s son pinned her down on the grass and was clobbering her head and face. She was hysterical and trying unsuccessfully to push him off her. Like Black Widow, I vaulted across the lawn, pounced on this kid and pulled him off my daughter. My “friend” and her husband were so horrified by my behavior that they asked me to apologize to their son. I did, and then we never spoke again. Clearly, she really wasn’t that good a friend.

Now, could I have handled that particular situation in a more graceful, less Avenger-like way? Probably ... yes. Hindsight is 20/20, and I can think of countless other situations with my friend’s kids or my kids’ friends that I could have handled better. I have, at various times over the years, been alternately too defensive of, and too apologetic for, my children. And I still struggle with defining that fine line between letting the kids figure it out on their own and stepping in to protect them when enough is enough, while at the same time weighing whether a friendship of mine hangs in the balance. It can be scary, hairy, dramatic and emotional stuff.

But here is the truth as I have come to understand it: A real, loving friendship can sustain the hairy drama that often arises between respective children. Again, let’s remember that Mama Code: You love each other; you love your kids; you love each other’s kids, and you cut each other some slack. Everybody makes mistakes, and we can all behave badly sometimes. But if you feel yourself and your children compromising too often for the sake of a family friendship, then it’s time to take a break.

No friendship is more important than your children; and no friend should ask you to choose.

Years later, Lucy and I are still thick as thieves and remain one another’s most trusted advisers on many matters, particularly parenting. And the best part, which Lucy and I never ever dared hope, is that our teenage daughters love each other, too. Like Lucy and me, they are very different (and their friendship probably benefits from the fact that they live in different states), but whenever they see each other, our girls share a mutual, deep-seated love and respect. Over the years, they’ve watched their mothers bicker, quarrel, quibble, kiss, make up and hug the breath out of each other. If we’ve taught them nothing else, at least we’ve taught them the sustaining power of true friendship.


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