Are They Just Bored, Or Am I Boring? New mom life and how it affects existing friendships
Our lactation counselor, Sarah Siebold, shares her fears about being boring among her child-free friends and reminds us that we’re our harshest critics.
My son’s first birthday party was a flurry of brightly-colored balloons and bubbles, pizza and cake, age-appropriate toys, music by his beloved music teachers, and the expected insanity of having 20+ wiggly, wormy infants and toddlers (and older kid cousins) in one backyard. It had all the usual trappings of a kid’s birthday, and the other parents appeared equally prepared for the Raffi songs on-loop, the pieces of cake that accidentally fell to the ground, and the tantrums that ensued. It felt like a very typical, albeit chaotic, Saturday afternoon.
Against this backdrop huddled six of my closest friends on bean bag chairs. They watched the abovementioned madness unfold. Because they weren’t parents at the time, they understandably didn’t sing along to “Baby Beluga” or “Airplane, Airplane Fly By My Window,” and, at least from where I was standing, they seemed bored. I checked in on them as much as I could to make sure they felt comfortable or to see if they needed a sparkling water refill. I wanted them to feel accounted for and appreciated.
I didn’t blame them for feeling bored. There’s something jarring about Saturday afternoons that morph from bar crawls to birthday parties. Instead of sipping on pints from a local brewery, they were watching us open bags of fruit snacks and supervise kids on the slide. If anything, I started to feel like it wasn’t that they were bored, but that I’d become boring.
This wasn’t the thought I had on the day of the party, but during the many months that followed. My son is now 2 ½, and I still apologize to my child-free friends for what feels like my perpetual mommy brain, an inability to talk about anything other than my son, or breastfeeding, or the little one I’m currently growing inside of me.
New motherhood has always already been identity-changing, but not until recently has the media recognized this truth and given women permission to feel lost, tired, overwhelmed, even boring. Still, I continue to grapple with the boring part of the equation and often wonder how my sense of my own boringness affects my existing girlfriend relationships.
When I became aware of my “fear of boringness” feelings, I wasn’t happy about it. I’d sit with a girlfriend to catch up, we’d chat for a bit and then I’d notice an awkward long pause ensue. I’d blame myself for the long pause, of course; it was my job to propel the conversation forward, and I’d convince myself that my pre-motherhood self would have seamlessly kept conversation going. I’d look down at myself in those moments and wonder, “Am I that bad date right now? Does this friend need an excuse to leave because she’s not that into me anymore, and rightfully so?” These long pauses may never have really existed, or maybe they lasted a couple of seconds, but to me they felt agonizingly long and stressful.
I brought this fear up with two different child-free friends recently. I needed the reassurance from them directly that I was still the person they loved and needed (I have no shame, at least now, in admitting that their validation felt important). And both friends said essentially the same thing: that the point of our long-standing, ever-evolving friendship is just that. It’s supposed to evolve, and neither of us should ever feel expected or pressured to be “on” in a performative way. These friendships are about the real stuff that’s actually going on in our respective lives, and my real stuff happens to look different now that I’m someone’s mom. They also both maintained that what I labelled as my own boringness looked very differently to them. They saw an engaged mother and loyal wife who managed to change career paths and do something she genuinely loves. They saw a friend who was tired, understandably so, and who didn’t need to act differently for the sake of keeping up appearances or pretending that things haven’t changed.
These friends helped me realize that boring isn’t the right word here. It’s not that I’m idea-less or less quizzical, it’s that I’m mentally and physically at-capacity. And they are too, for different reasons. Long work hours and tiresome commutes, the same pull I understand and relate to from family members, other friends, and co-workers wanting us to do, do, do, and be, be, be all things to everyone. The realities of all of our lives looks differently now, and that’s — all it is. There’s no need to ascribe moral judgement to any of it without first recognizing the nature of our current realities.
My beloved therapist not infrequently reminds me that anxiety and fear about others’ perceptions of us are biologically normal and important. The best we can do to combat feelings of self-doubt is to recognize the icky feeling and notice it, like a storm cloud above head, slowly floating by. It’s not about not feeling, but about seeing the feeling for what it is — a temporary state — and letting it be okay. I challenge all of you “boring” moms to look up at your storm cloud and watch it drift by. Turns out that “boringness” is more the way we conceive of ourselves than the way others perceive us.