Mom Talk: Leaving Kids out of the Conversation
I can’t wax enough about the merits of socializing with other new moms when you yourself are a newbie. These gatherings of child-rearing women can be like a lifeline during times when you feel like you’re stumbling in the dark, then inadvertently step on a plush talking Elmo, wake up the kid, and can’t go back to sleep because Elmo’s cloying voice is on repeat in your brain—literally. Because other mamas will have done it, survived, and lived to tell. Or even if they haven’t done exactly that, they’ll match your woe-is-me tale with something far more horrifying, typically involving a child’s bodily fluids.
So, yes, I wholeheartedly support routine mama talk as a healthy way to stave off newborn-induced psychosis. But—and I do mean to emphasize this—you also have to have mama talk that does not include any mention of children at all.
I know, it seems like a moronic oxymoron, but here’s the deal: while you deeply crave talking to another diaper bag–carrying female about the organic, wheat-free teething biscuits from England that you found on some obscure Web site and that Junior will actually gnaw on, you also have a profound desire to hark back to the days of yore when you had a rockin’ bod, slept in, and had lots of great sex. Don’t deny it.
A lot of moms suppress the yearning to reflect on their child-free days because they feel guilty, as if their kids will curse them for acknowledging having had a life before they were born. But please don’t restrain the urge to talk about nonbaby stuff—because otherwise, you might explode.
It’s not easy to leave baby talk at the door when you’re in a room full of other ladies who’ve given birth. I should know, because in a very covert, scientific study of my own social circle, I discovered that it takes an average of six and a half minutes (yes, I timed it) for the topic of any conversation to return to that of children. We could be talking about candidates for governor or a new restaurant or the frustrations of home repair, when somehow, approximately 390 seconds later, the discussion turns to daycare or high fevers or the best way to handle a tantrum. In this way, it’s as if we never stop talking about our kids. And, frankly, that gets old—and it can make you feel old. So quit it—at least every once in a while—for your own mental well-being.
How do you talk to other mothers without ever bringing up your kids? Well, for starters, establish a rule. It can go something like this: “Okay, ladies, let me have your attention. For the next half hour, talking about our kids and kid-related stuff is absolutely off limits. Got it?” And while everyone looks at you like you’re a lunatic, go ahead and start yapping about whatever used to come naturally to you, say, when you hung out with coworkers at happy hour. Can’t remember because your brain is too fogged with puréed carrots and peas? Here’s a list:
- Funny or atrocious events that happened at work
- A recent movie you’ve watched or book you’ve read
- How you met your significant other
- Inane in-law stories
- Travel tales
- Celebrities you think are hot
- New recipes or restaurants you’ve tried
- Current events
- Gardening, knitting, painting—whatever hobby you’re into
- Goals and aspirations
- Most embarrassing moments
- Dating disasters
- Proud accomplishments
You’ll find that it’s easier to keep the conversation devoid of the mention of children if they are not present. So establish some regular girls’ nights out, and make a rule that for the entire evening, talk of kids is forbidden. It’s a little tricky to get used to, especially if you’ve had a hard day or are struggling with some new toddler phase, but as soon as you hear about the insanely inappropriate drunken toast your girlfriend’s father-in-law gave at her wedding, you’ll have forgotten all about your kid baggage. You’ll feel relieved. You’ll feel refreshed. You’ll feel like your old self again.
Sometimes those cheesy games from high school can be fun to reinstate at a girls’ night out, too. Play Twenty Questions or any variant of True or False?. If you still need help, books like Would You Rather …? can stimulate the conversation with random questions to ask of your friends, like “Would you rather have a tire for a leg or the ability to spew fire from your ear at will?” and “What superpower would you love to have?” You can learn a lot more about your mom friends this way than by knowing which diaper brands they use. And you’ll laugh. A lot. And, as you know, laughter is a nice way to end the day when your kid spit up on your Coach purse a few hours earlier.
So please, next time you’re feeling crummy because you haven’t showered for three days and the house is a mess and your spouse is out of town for three weeks and the toilet is stopped up because Little Miss Thang flushed her diaper down it, don’t complain to another mom about it—at least not for an entire hour. Do a four-minute vent, then get on with some intriguing question that’s sure to not include children for at least six and a half minutes, but preferably for a couple of hours, like “If you were stranded on a deserted island for three weeks and could bring three things, plus one other person, what and who would they be?” Or just keep it simple with “So tell me about where you grew up.”
You’ll discover that keeping your prebaby identity within arm’s reach, even if it feels far away at times, strikes a nice, healthy balance with the complicated, multifaceted mother/wife/housekeeper role you suddenly embodied the moment you gave birth. Have fun rediscovering that person in you—and in your mom friends.