The Momma Code

A few months ago, out on a walk with my kids, I met a woman in our neighborhood who, it turned out, lives almost directly behind us.  Kerry has two little boys; the youngest is only a couple of weeks older than my daughter Corrie.  She and her husband had only moved to the area recently, and we were both glad to meet another mom in the neighborhood.  We talked about schools and pediatricians and all the other stuff moms are required to discuss on their first meeting–then we traded phone numbers and went back to our respective houses. 

I called Kerry a couple of weeks later to meet up for lunch at a Burger King with a play place.  We had a nice–albeit loud–visit while our two year olds played.  Actually, her two year old played;, my two year old (who has three big brothers, and therefore thinks that all human interaction involves fists) attempted to drop-kick, body-slam and otherwise tackle my friend’s little boy the entire time.  I was mortified and apologetic and mumbled every few minutes about how she wasn’t sleeping well lately, or some other lame excuse.  Kerry was completely gracious, of course.  We parted, and I hoped my new friend would want to get together again with That Strange Family That Is Raising a Mean Girl.

The flurry of the holidays kept us from getting together, though our kids squealed at each other a few times from their respective backyard forts.  Early this week, I was so pleased when Kerry called to invite us to her house for a play date.  I dressed Corrie in her frilly best (if she was going to act like a bully again, at least she wouldn’t look like one), and we headed around the block for our second meeting with our new friends. 

We arrived to find Kerry at the door, face white, on the phone with the doctor.  Her older son had a bad fall in the garage moments before and immediately wanted to sleep–she was scared he had a concussion.  She hung up and told me that the nurse said her son was fine as long as he didn’t vomit, at which point he (of course) promptly vomited.  I immediately offered to take her little one home with me so that she could take her son to the doctor, and I brought him back to my house with Corrie.  As we pulled out of the driveway, Kerry looked at me, folded her hands and mouthed the words thank you with a look of desperation.  No problem, I mouthed back. 

As I write this, Corrie and her little friend are playing happily in the next room, and I’ve been praying for my new friend and her older son at the doctor’s office.  Our friendship consists of about 15 minutes-worth of conversation at this point, and yet we’ve both already had the chance to see each other at a particularly low moment.  It’s the reason, I believe, why "momma friendships" seem to be such deep ones, and why we bond so quickly.  We’re all on the same roller-coaster, after all.  It’s as if there’s an unspoken Momma Code that hangs in the air between us at all times:  This-is-hard-please-help-me.

In a society where asking for help is sometimes seen as a sign of weakness, motherhood forces us to reach out for others–it’s simply too much for one person, sometimes.  It’s the reason you watch a friend’s child so she can take another one to the doctor, because you know how hard that is.  It’s the reason you intercept a wandering toddler in the produce section, because the wild-eyed look of terror on the face of the mom two aisles away looks all too familar.  And it’s the reason you take a meal to a friend who has morning sickness, because you’ve tried to fix a casserole between dashes to the bathroom.  You do it with the assurance that you will likely be needing such kindness yourself soon. 

So if things are smooth at your house today–if no one is sick or bleeding or fighting or grounded or has soccer/karate/dance/piano lessons–you can be quite sure that somewhere near you things are not smooth for another mom.  Find her, and do something

And if you’re the one up to your eyeballs, reach out and ask for help.  Any mom worth her salt would sympathize and come to your rescue.  She has to.  It’s part of The Code.

This post was originally published on January 12, 2007

29 thoughts on “The Momma Code

  1. Amber says:

    I have learned about this the hard way. For the first year of my life with a colicky newborn, I could not admit that I needed a lifeline. And made my situation 100X tougher than it needed to be.
    Now that I have two kids, I am eager and willing for any help I get. And can often be heard saying, “Aren’t my children darling? Here, take ’em.” 🙂
    I hope your neighbor’s little boy is OK!

  2. Amanda says:

    This is a lovely story, and it’s really got me thinking too. Ellen, you’re right: we do need each other! I only wish I had more courage to go out and make new friends with the mums in my area; we only moved here recently, and I’m still feeling very shy! Not to mention busy with all the kids at home!
    I do hope your friend’s little boy is okay, and also your friend too: it can be so worrying and upsetting when one of our little angels gets hurt.

  3. Summer says:

    That is definitely advice we all need. When we all lived so close together in villages we always had more than enough help. In today’s modern society we have to seek out help. Mothers were not meant to do this alone all day.

  4. Sally says:

    I remember this post from the first time and it is still good advice. There are many Moms in this neighborhood with new babies and/or very young children, and I feel kind of like an old pro, being the Mom of teenagers, and always willing to help the younger Moms in any way I can, if they want it.

  5. MamaToo says:

    I read this with tears, both laughing with you and knowing how absolutely true this is. It can be a struggle to get out of self-reliance, self-pity and lonliness. It sounds like a blessing to be your neighbor; I wonder if the same can be said of me? You remind us of our responsibility to others, both to give & receive!
    Thank you for posting such a sweet and needed reminder. Blogs can often seem to advocate the opposite, but “friends” on the internet cannot do the practical things you mention.

  6. Rosemarie says:

    Great post! The code is a great concept, but in reality, I’m not looking for just any mother to be friends with I want those that are divinely meant to be.
    I’d rather journey alone than to be with a group who really have no interest in the real me or my daughter.
    I once had ideals that all mothers could connect just because they had children. What a misconception!
    I’m not a surface person so for others these types of relationships work. I’m unique and looking for those that will add to my life and the life of my daughters. Nothing short of that will be worth my time or effort.

  7. Jan says:

    Oh how I wished for a mommy friend with my first born! We had just moved to a strange city, where we had no friends or family (DH was in construction), and the baby cried ALL THE TIME! Even though we were living in an apartment, somehow I was never able to find another young mother to commiserate with. However, our next-door neighbor turned out to be such a blessing–in her 80+ years, she had accumulated a lot of knowledge about babies, how to shop frugally, and lots of other skills and advice for a struggling young mama. Now I am the one dispensing advice to young mothers, and enjoying snuggling those sweet babies–I just hope I can be a fraction of the blessing to others that she was to me.

  8. Christine says:

    I love this post. I am one of those moms who keeps to herself, not really because I want to. I used to be a working mom and always had connections that way, then I became able to stay home with our kids and have become isolated as most of my friends have moved away.
    I am inspired by this post. We are moving soon to a nice neighborhood with LOTS of new people and I am determined to make more ‘mommy friends’ for just those reasons. So thanks!

  9. Birdie says:

    Great post! However, you forgot about plumbing problems! I was getting ready to go and help another mom with a shower knob problem when she suddenly had a problem with her daughter which trumped the plumbing issue. THAT one I couldn’t help with. :/

  10. Sandy says:

    Hey Shannon, great post. I think you need to write a book called, “The Code.”
    I remember back to all of my girlfriends who were fellow-Moms and we shared so much. We would do anything for each other. It also included neighbors (sometimes Grandma neighbors!)
    It’s so important to connect.
    My dtr. has 3 older brothers so I could relate with you on how little girls act 🙂
    I’ll be waiting for that book 🙂
    For Reluctant Entertainers

  11. Christina says:

    Your post is so true. Momma-friendships are so important. It can be tough finding them though.
    So glad you were able to help your new friend.

  12. Connie says:

    There was one comment about only wanting the mom friendships that really mattered. I think the ones that matter are the ones that will be there when you need them. I just had a very similar situation happen to me. We were at ball practice with a bunch of 7 year old boys, one of them swung a bat in an area he shouldn’t have and CRACK! my friend grabbed her hand and went down to her knees. As her husband was taking her off the field she just looked and said, “watch the kids”. Well of course! That’s just the way it works. She’s okay by the way, don’t think it’s broken.

  13. Brenda says:

    I enjoyed reading your post. Momma-friends are so important ALL the time. I especially needed them when my kids were teenagers. I’m now using them for help with my adult children and getting them out on their own.
    I agree with Jan that sometimes the most helpful friends come in a different package than we expected (like being old enough to be our grandma). 🙂
    This post reminded me that I need to be on the look out for those weary Mom’s who might need some encouragement.

  14. MamaToo says:

    I was struck by the honesty in Rosemarie’s comment “I’d rather journey alone than to be with a group who really have no interest in the real me or my daughter.”
    We have to show genuine interest in others, because we can’t control their interest or ability to show us love. If we have patience for frienship to grow, and invest what we have (ourselves), I thin all will be blessed.

  15. Sincerely Anna says:

    Another mom helped me today at the grocery store, a place where I’m known to crumble. Jake’s at that age where he wants to help so much and it drives me crazy. He had his own shopping basket and wanted exactly five things that he picked out (with my approval). I thought I was going to lose my sanity b/c we were in that store much, much too long. But this kind woman saw what was happening and she engaged in conversation with Jake and it was exactly what I needed to get out of my mad state. Thanks, Mom, whoever you are!

  16. Andie says:

    I love this post. With t-ball and softball, I’ve had a lot of “mommy code” momments lately. I had never thought about it like this…but it is so true! I’ve recently had new neighbors move in with a daughter and son the same ages as my two youngest…and pregnant with twins! I’ve been meaning to bake something and take it over, I think I’ll do that RIGHT NOW! Thanks for the encouragement!

  17. Kim says:

    I am a strong believer in the Momma Code, great post! No matter what package a Mom comes in, being a Mom is a bond that we all implicitly share. I help Moms all day long at work and have helped and been helped by other Moms personally and am very grateful for the Momma’s in my life!

  18. Jill says:

    This is a great post. I moved to a new city 2 years ago and the first thing I did was join a playgroup with other moms and get involved in MOPS. I am firm believer that we are not meant to journey through motherhood alone.

  19. Marian says:

    I’ve found that nowadays, at least in my area, the majority of moms just don’t speak the code. Lots of turning inward and minding one’s own business, when they’re not subtly judging and competing, that is.
    As another mom of a 2 y.o. little girl with 3 big brothers, I totally understand the bit about intentionally dressing her in frilly clothes! She is very polite and girly much of the time, but she also, ummm… knows how to hold her own, shall we say?

  20. Trish says:

    What a great post! I hope your friend’s son was okay!
    A few years ago I was in the grocery store and intercepted a toddler that was wandering away from her mom, who was busy looking at something. I took her by the hand and led her back to her mother. The mom looked horrified and acted very weird and rushed off like she thought I was trying to steal her kid or something. I was only trying to help and was left feeling awful and wondering if I had done the wrong thing by stepping in.
    I hate to say it, but that whole experience made me very wary about reaching out to others, and I tend to just mind my own business now, and that’s really kind of sad.

  21. Faerylandmom says:

    This is so true, and I didn’t learn this lesson until I was completely sideswiped by wretched morning sickness with my first child. I wouldn’t ask for help, but all my mom friends helped me whether I wanted it or not. Now, my mission in life is to help and be helped.
    “The Momma Code” is a very accurate name for this.

  22. Rosemarie says:

    Mom Friends
    I came back to read what your other readers had commented on this particular post. You have a great group! I decided to post about my comment [see above link] along with some link love to here, and to share about one special friend I have met.
    Interestingly, I found an article that you may want to have linked on your post as well.
    I’ll be back to visit!

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