Why good friendships are so important for mums

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 Photo: Getty Images

Despite all its rewards and tiny joys, few would argue that motherhood is also incredibly demanding. And in the juggle of family and work/home life, it's often our friendships that take a hit.

But prioritising those friendships can be vital to our wellbeing – and that's a fact that's been reinforced by new research published in the journal Developmental Psychology.

In a study conducted by Arizona State University, researchers looked at factors that are most important for a mum's psychological health. Over 2200 women were questioned about how they felt about various aspects of their lives, particularly their experiences of parenting and their personal relationships. The primary focus was on well-educated, upper middle-class mothers – a group identified as being at "high risk" for parenting stress.

The researchers were interested in examining the suggestion that today's mums are excessively child-centric, "pre-occupied to an unhealthy degree with how well their children are doing". Would their wellbeing be tied to how well they think they're managing as parents?

As it turns out, there was little evidence that the mums surveyed were child-centric in unhealthy ways. What the researchers did find however, were four factors associated with mothers' psychological wellbeing: unconditional acceptance, feeling comforted when needed, authentic relationships, and friendship satisfaction.

The results also showed that while partner satisfaction was important for mums, other close relationships were more significant.

"As contemporary mothers strive so carefully to tend their children, they must deliberately cultivate and maintain close, authentic relationships with friends as well as family," the authors wrote. "These must be recognized as essential buffers against the redoubtable challenges of sustaining 'good enough' mothering across two decades or more."

And yet, as many women discover, forming new friendships and maintaining old ones can become increasingly difficult when you're a parent. Having limited time, different priorities and pure exhaustion can make socialising far more challenging than it was before starting a family.

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So how do women maintain their friendships post-baby? And which friendships do they rely on most as mums?

There's something particularly special about the bonds formed with women who are navigating a similar life stage and all the highs and lows that come with it. It's why, in those early years, many mums swear by the relationships formed in mothers' group.

And then there's its modern equivalent: online parenting forums or social networks, including Facebook groups and Twitter. When getting out of the house is too hard, or for mums who are isolated, these can be a wonderful and convenient source of support. And, despite being based online, can still result in authentic and vital connections.

One of the first of her friends to have a baby, mother of two, Pip, formed a number of close friendships though her personal blog. She also met women who were at similar stages of motherhood on Twitter.

Amanda, a mum of two, is part of a chat group on WhatsApp, comprised of friends who have children ranging from five years down to five months. She says the group discusses "everything really, but it's great to vent on kid raising issues and get suggestions and support. Sometimes you're just looking for someone to put it in perspective and make you realise that you're not incompetent or on your own."

Medical professional and mother of one, Kate, found that she relied most on other colleagues who understood the specific challenges she was facing as a working mum. "There's also a very active Facebook group of Australian medical mums (most of whom I've never met), which I also find to be a great resource and form of support," she says.

While many women find they lose friends when they have children, others continue to rely on these longstanding relationships for support. Mother of two under two, Karen, turns to her friends with kids for advice and play dates. Of her childfree friends she says, "I have a few friends without kids who totally get it, and they come to the house with food or they cook for me. Yes, I am lucky and blessed!"

So, those mothers' group catch ups, forum or online friendships with people you may never have met in real life, and those rare but always wonderful girls' nights, are all so important and worth cherishing. Science says so!