I Sometimes Prefer My Mom Friends To My Partner Dr. Darby Saxbe on how community equals wellness.

By Caroline Tell | Illustration by Ana Hard

I often feel that the women in my life are every ounce as important as my husband. Sometimes, even more so. My husband is my eternal partner. We have an equitable relationship when it comes to parenting. We laugh often and there’s no one I’d rather zone out to Netflix with after a long day. But my female relationships give me life.

Seeing my female friends or even chatting with them on the phone (yes, I’ve brought back the phone call and you should, too) is every ounce as crucial to my wellbeing as “date night” or whatever else Esther Perel is shoving down our throats. I’ve actually made it a point to prioritize my female relationships to a greater degree in 2022, and it turns out, that might prove wonders for my mental health.

According to Dr. Darby Saxbe, a clinical psychologist and professor of Psychology at the University of Southern California, mothers – new ones in particular – who have a sense of community are less lonely and less anxious than those without one. In fact, getting some ladies together at the park is as essential to a woman’s health as chugging that nasty glucose drink. In comparing a pandemic sample of pregnant women and new moms to a pre-pandemic sample, Dr. Saxbe saw higher rates of isolation and depression and stress, even reports of moms having more trouble bonding with babies, all of which she links to social connection. 

“It’s a common theme,” says Dr. Saxbe. “Women who say they haven’t had the opportunity to make new mom friends often feel very isolated on this journey without a connection to other parents.”

Plus, the idea of the couple relationship as the “end all be all” in a woman’s life is a relatively new concept. We used to raise our kids in a community of extended family and neighbors, aka the “it takes a village” idea. Pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp notes that in pre-industrial society, the average woman had at least 10 people on her list who could help with the baby on a daily basis, a radically different idea from the isolated nuclear family unit we have today, where everything falls on the two parents. This was not how we were designed to parent.

Over the last 75 years, these connections eroded for structural reasons, like expanding neighborhoods that left little time and space for parents to congregate. Couple that with globalism, electronics, displacement, a pandemic….the list goes on. Our individual bubbles are a far cry from the 1950’s coffee clutch of gathering with moms while the kids ran around, and as a result, anxiety and depression rates among new moms have skyrocketed.

“How we parent today is lonely and isolating, so anything we can do to forge those friendships is crucial,” says Dr. Saxbe. “It’s a lot of effort but women should make it a top priority.”

Dr. Saxbe goes on to argue against the unrealistic expectations mothers have set for ourselves, where we believe we’re supposed to love being at home alone with a baby every moment of the day. But newsflash! 20 hours of the day, babies are actually boring AF! 

“Some of my best times as a young mom involved going to a friend’s house and hanging out while the babies rolled around on the floor,” says Saxbe. “Anything women can do to cultivate community, whether gathering around causes or getting involved in the PTA, it might feel uncomfortable putting ourselves out there, but it’s as important as getting a stroller. Having community is as important as anything on a mother’s to-do list. Consider it health related.”