A few months ago, work was slow, the office was empty, and I decided to take myself to see Bad Moms. I figured writing about how horrible it was would be a pretty easy, reasonably interesting essay. So I bought some pretzel bites (yum), took some solo photos in the photo booth (why not), and went to sit by myself in a blissfully quiet theater. Because, you know, I have two kids under the age of four, and a bunch of employees, and a nearly endless to-do list and super over-scheduled life. So going to see a frivolous, potentially awful movie by myself while everyone thought I was working at the office is basically the height of luxury in my life right now. To everything there is a season, right?
And then… it wasn’t terrible. Well, I mean, parts of it were. (The early plot is basically Clueless, but with thirty-year-olds, now that the Clueless generation is solidly in our mid-thirties. Related: why we have to depict grown-ass women acting like high school girls is beyond me. And the wild drinking single mom is beyond a negative stereotype, and I could go on…) But surprisingly, the core of the movie was simply about friendship—real, normal, raw friendship between three moms in their thirties. Media depictions of friendship at this age are so rare it was apparently enough to make a whole movie about what happens when moms make friends. (Moms! They go rogue! They drink at bars, and have dance parties, and refuse to bake for bake sales, and generally put their own interests first! THEY’RE BAD MOMS!)
A few years ago, I probably would have thought the plot of the movie was both ridiculous and depressing. Does motherhood have to be like this? No. But four years into parenting, with two small children, I think the answer is no, but also… yes.
Because no, I don’t have to be some sort of robotic Stepford wife who gets a perfectly cooked meal on the table every night for my ungrateful husband and kids. And the Variety review of Bad Moms (by a dad, obviously, because why hire a mom to review a movie about motherhood?) actually apparently me makes me tired: “It’s a comedy about, and for, the current generation of over-stressed, overworked, overly perfectionistic—and, as often as not, under-appreciated—mothers. But will they have the time and inclination to get away and see it? Let’s hope so, because the laughter this movie offers could provide cathartic medicine for the middle-class mom blues.” Because am I overly perfectionistic? (Is that a word?) No. But am I overtired? Yep. And am I under-appreciated? No, because I’d leave my damn partner if he didn’t understand what I do because HE WAS ALSO DOING IT HIMSELF. And do I have time to see the movie? Well, apparently yes.
But once we get past the stereotypes, Bad Moms does nail some truths. Because yes, as the joke in the movie goes, I have actually dreamed of waking up mostly uninjured in a hospital with a nurse to take care of my every need. Because I’m crazy? No, probably because I’m sane, and I have spent the last four years taking care of other humans literally 24/7. And yes, I regularly fantasize about just eating a slow, quiet, breakfast… alone. Not because HAHAHAHA MOMS ARE REDIC AM I RIGHT? But because I so rarely get to just sit with my thoughts. All of this while loving everything about my kids in huge enormous, life-changing amounts… including their crazy exhausting messes and how they can’t get through two minutes without a compulsive need to touch me.
Which leads me to the question that brought me to the movie in the first place: How does friendship look for women in their late-twenties and thirties? Particularly, how does friendship look for women of any age with young kids, a demanding job (or jobs), partners, or some choose-your-own-adventure combination of enormous responsibilities?
In Bad Moms, the friendship so wild and crazy that the word “Bad” is applied to it, looks to me a lot like regular old friendship. The kind where you go to a bar and drink and bitch about the annoying parts of your life. Where you go out to lunch. Where you invite your girlfriends to a party at your house where you (gasp!) dance and drink booze. Where you hang out because you honestly like each other. The problem is that having friendships like that is dependent on a few things: having a partner who lets you get away from the kids, not feeling like you have to subsume all your personal interests to the overwhelming force of motherhood, and not bowing to the enormous societal pressure to act “mom appropriate” at all times (because the media seems to push a particular idea of what moms should listen to/wear/read/think about/eat/the list is literally endless). Not to mention the pressure for moms to only hang out with other moms (relevant).
But here is the thing, straight up: maintaining friendships when you’re in your mid-thirties with a small child or two and a career going full steam ahead is complicated. Not too many years ago I had roommates I was friends with. I had time to go out to bars on a moment’s notice. I could pull late-late-night weekend outings. I could call a friend at 9pm because I just wanted to shoot the shit for an hour.
On the most basic level, these days it’s hard to simply find the time. My life is broken up into work time, putting the kids to bedtime, chore time, sitting exhausted on the couch time, and juggle kids and chores and husband weekend time. It is a constant effort for me to carve out moments for the two of us as a couple, or just for me by myself. (Because, GIRL, sometimes you just need to be alone with your thoughts and with no one touching you. Or Grey’s Anatomy and no one touching you.) To also layer friends into that equation is complex.
So finding a model of what friendships in your thirties should look like is helpful… and can be hard to find. When I polled the APW staff and friends about media depictions of thirty-something women friends (who have kids), the result was rough. The end of Sex and the City, where two of them had kids? Later seasons of Grey’s? Uh, Bad Moms? Not much… else? Women with children (or as we depict them in the media, “Moms”) seem to be mostly shown with their families. What’s their social life like? Play dates, one assumes.
And really, this is what got me to go see Bad Moms. While the previews made the movie (which was written by men, btw) look like a train-wreck of clichés, at least it was about mid-thirties female friendships. And yes, in some ways, the movie confirmed my worst fear. As moms, and adult women, we are supposed to live within some sort of rigid model of “correct” behavior. One where we put everyone else first, and our real interests and passions and, yes, friendships, fall by the wayside. But within it, the movie also contained a model of the kind of friendships I want more of. The kind where we don’t worry too much about social norms, where we go out and dance on tables, and where we make fun of our husbands and talk about our sex lives while we gently mock our kids (and acknowledge our enormous love for them). I just don’t want that model of friendship to be the outlier, to come within the rubric of “Aren’t we all bad moms?” Because no, we’re totally not.
I’d love to close with a quick pithy conclusion about how I figured out the friendship puzzle. I’d have a snappy little story about this thing I did, the people I met, and the lesson I learned. But, it’s not quite that simple. After all, I went to see Bad Moms on my own. But then I bugged Stephanie (long-time Internet friend, more recent APW Managing Editor) to go see it on her own, and then talk about it with me. Local friendship? No. Friendship? Sure.
And I’ve been working on it. I’ve been trying to talk to my friends who I know through my kids’ school about stuff other than our kids, and I’ve been going to dance class regularly (if you hang around with cool people long enough, you’re bound to make friends). I’m bugging ladies I don’t see often enough for lunch dates, and I’m texting long-distance friends more often. And, really, I’m just trying to shake this idea that women in their thirties need to look or act a particular way—namely the way they looked when we were in high school or college.
I’ve got two kids, a career I love, and a husband I want to spend time with. It’s normal that those things come first. I’ve chosen for these things to come first right now, and that means I have less time for going out to bars. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to snatch moments of time when I can get it.
If you freeze-frame Beyoncé’s 7/11 video, that paragon to mid-thirties women squad goals, her husband and her kid make a split-second appearance. Blue’s tent is all set up in the hotel room. But still, there is Bey, dancing by herself, dancing with her backup dancers, and generally being herself. And that’s about how it goes. Most days I fit friendship and self-care into the freeze-frames, but some days it gets the whole reel. One day soon life will change again, but till then I’m trying to embrace the mess, and grab connection when I can. Not as a mom, good or bad. As a human.