Before I had kids, the idea of a “Mom’s Night Out” would have evoked in me the kind of whole body/soul revulsion usually associated with disgusted teenagers. I pictured gossipy cliques of bougie, Lilly Pulitzer–clad housewives chugging Chardonnay from giant wine glasses emblazoned with “Mommy’s Sippy Cup” in Curlz font. The idea that you would need to schedule a single night out per month to drink with friends was anathema to me, and the desperately high expectations behind this one night seemed like a recipe for emotional letdown—the same recipe that leaves super-psyched young women out for THE BEST TIME EVER on a Friday night drunkenly vomit-weeping in a Brooklyn gutter by Saturday morning (not that I have any experience with that).
The Mom’s Night Out would not be my lot in parenting life. I would not be thrown in with grown women who chose to self-identify as “mommy,” women who fetishized these meager little scraps of social time. Clearly these women had forgotten that they could still go out whenever they wanted like they’d always done, with the same friends they’d always had, drinking anything but Chardonnay.
So it was an especially cruel irony that in the early days of motherhood, when I was in the most alien state of my life—surging with hormones, completely exhausted, manically talking about my son’s every movement like a meth-y Mary Poppins—that I needed to make new friends. Specifically mom friends. During this period six years ago, my mother gave me some wonderful advice after an incident in which I skulked by the post office solely in hopes that a fellow adult female might talk to me. “Today,” she said, “you’re going to get yourself dressed, go out, and make yourself a friend with a baby.”
And though I was a sweaty, leaky mess, I did. My opening salvo to a smiling woman at a postpartum yoga class I could barely complete: “My mom said I have to make friends!” As an ordinarily socially adept adult, this was not my finest moment. But it worked, because I was talking to someone who was in the exact same position as me. Soon, I was broadening the circle through “playdates” with other moms and babies that were really excuses to get together and talk with other women, since 2-month-olds do not play with anyone.
But it was when we began to enjoy occasional nights out, without the babies, that real friendships developed. During these first evenings away from the responsibility of child care, we were again adult women with other adult women. We talked—hesitantly at first, then with the unabashed flush of women whose alcohol tolerance has tanked with motherhood—about our struggles, our frustrations, and how our expectations compared with our realities. As Heather Havrilesky wrote last year in the New York Times, “Somehow, as we’ve learned to treat children as people with desires and rights of their own, we’ve stopped treating ourselves and one another as such.” These nights out with my new friends—women who were also moms—were game-changing correctives in my post-baby life.
For the last couple of years, I’ve organized a monthly event I call Super Awesome Lady/Momz Night. The name has evolved into its current state to include broader identifications—some of my friends wanted it to be more “Lady” and less “Mom”; some are in two-mother or gender-queer households and don’t identify as Mom (which I’ve rather cryptically accommodated with the “z.”) As long as it stays dad-free and retains the “Super Awesome” part, I’m happy. At SALMNs (terrible acronym; suggestions welcome!), everyone is invited to bring anyone she wants: a mom they connected with at the playground, a colleague new to the area, even someone she picked up on the street who just looked cool. (I’ve done all three.) The result connects women from a range of backgrounds, classes, religions, races, political persuasions, sexualities, countries, and work situations. It is expansive, inclusive, without the Mean Girl Moms that some writers find behind every Bugaboo (maybe they just all live in Park Slope?). We talk about the triumphs and frustrations and minutiae of parenting, but we also talk about work, books, sex, gossip, and politics. There is laughing. There is drinking. There is maybe even some Chardonnay.
There are also serious conversations that offer sustenance through times of hardship. In my six years of parenting, I’ve found that a regular Mom’s Night Out is anything but a trivial indulgence. This is in part because when I delivered my first child, I also delivered a pernicious internal uber-mom into the world: one who looked like a Gwyneth-Gaia hybrid and who made her own baby food, who constantly judged me a failure, and who urged me to deprioritize my own well-being in order to become a selfless—therefore a good—mother. But self-abnegation helps no one, and neither does social isolation. The idea that you don’t need “mom friends” and their “mommy juice” is, in addition to being misogynistic, ultimately self-destructive. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from major depression, and between 6-13 percent of mothers suffer from depression in their first postpartum year; peer support groups have been shown to be pivotal in preventing and recovering from mental illness. Obviously, getting together with other mothers should not take the place of treatment for serious depression. But communities of women sharing their lives–whether or not those lives are concerned mostly with “mom” stuff– is empowering; that’s like Feminism 101. Psychologists across the board find that social supports help to augment treatment, ease stress, and improve well-being for all women, especially mothers.
Mom’s Nights Out helped shut down my pernicious internal uber-mom by replacing her with real mothers. As Havrilesky put it, “The current culture demands that every mother be all in, all the time.” Our Mom’s Nights Out are a refutation of this model, which all the women I know would like to burn to the ground. The first step in setting ourselves free from the culture’s trap is to find open, boozy communion with real moms unafraid to acknowledge how much we all struggle. Mom’s Nights Out help you see that the mother you think has it all together is actually stumbling, that she thinks someone else—maybe even you!—has it all figured out. This isn’t schadenfreude. It’s liberation.