Not long ago, frustrated that my 3-month-old refused to sleep in his brand-new crib, I posted the following on Facebook: "Patty is wondering why Will hates his crib so very much." Almost instantly, my friend Angela, who had a sleepless 2-month-old of her own at home, sent me several suggestions for getting him to sleep in his crib. One of them actually worked (for a night or two anyway). A few sleep-deprived weeks later, my Facebook status read: "Patty is glad to be home after locking myself and Will out of the house with a dead cell phone." This time, I got some advice from a friend whose son is about a year older than mine: Put a spare key in my diaper bag, as I was bound to lock myself out at least one more time. (Great advice. Maybe I'll actually remember to do that someday soon.)
Having these friends -- one who was going through the same stuff I was and one who had already been through it -- has been a lifesaver to me. I turn to the been-there, done-that gals for parenting advice, my fellow clueless new-mom peers when I need someone to commiserate with, and my pals without kids when I need a night out -- and, let's be real, a cocktail or two. No matter how old our kids are, we moms need our confidantes. These six are lifesavers -- but before you freak out, thinking, "I don't even have six friends," don't worry: One woman might fill several roles, making you one lucky gal.
The Mom in the Same Boat
Why you need her: She gets it. Theresa Heroux of Vernon, NJ, mom of 4-year-old Julia, spends a lot of time with her friend Erin, who's also a single mom. "When my married mom friends want to get together, they don't understand why I can't immediately agree. I have to find a babysitter," she says. "They just don't get it. But Erin does. We always have the kids with us when we get together, and even though it's hectic, it's more relaxed because we don't have to worry about finding, paying, and rushing home to relieve a sitter."
How to keep her: Whether the two of you are stay-at-home moms, working moms, or single moms, try to get some one-on-one time without the kids -- and make it fun, says Amy Kovarick, coauthor of Baby on Board: Becoming a Mother Without Losing Yourself and a mom of four. Yes, you're busy with work, the kids, errands, the house, and other craziness, but the more time away from Chuck E. Cheese, the better. Make a date: You both deserve it -- and probably for the exact same reasons!
The No-Kids Pal
Why you need her: For adult conversation -- and so you can act like you're still cool. "Mother is my favorite role, but not my only one," says Mary Moore of Austin, TX, a stay-at-home mom and an author. "It's so hard to get together with other moms because someone's kid always has to nap or go to school or has some other commitment, and we can never easily agree on a time or place to meet," she says. "With my friends who don't have kids yet, that's not an issue." Another plus: "They're still into the latest restaurants, fashion, and gossip," says Moore. "There are a lot of moms who just say 'Forget it, I'm too crazed,' but that's not me." And perhaps best of all, she adds, "They're a respite from all the mom chatter -- like, say, discussing at length the local preschools years before we need to. My single or non-mom friends are testament that there is life outside of 'cookies versus cupcakes.'"
How to keep her: Put aside all the mommy stuff for an hour or two. Take time to find out what's new with her, and be honest with yourself about her reaction to your kid talk. She may eat up your cute stories -- or she may not be so fascinated by the embarrassing thing your 4-year-old said. As Kovarick puts it, when talking about one of her single friends: "She likes my child and she likes to see him -- kind of like she likes to see my dog." So when the two meet up, they go halfsies. "I send my son to the babysitter for an hour so we can go for a drink at a restaurant," she says, "then it's back to my house -- with my three-year-old running around." Compromise is key, even if your pal adores your kids.
The Been-There, Done-That Mom
Why you need her: She gets you through your "I don't know what I'm supposed to do next" moments. For Jen Matlack of Bethel, CT, mom of 3-year-old Mae, this friend is Janet, whose kids are 22 and 20. "If I have any concerns -- Mae not napping, Mae constipated, Mae not having playdates, or maybe my own parenting worries -- I always check in with Janet. She has offered me a lot of reassuring guidance," says Matlack. "And even though she's my older, wiser parenting friend, she's also a kid at heart, just like me, so when I'm around her, I get the best of both worlds: wisdom but also a wild side."
How to keep her: The good news is that she probably loves giving advice as much as you love getting it. "Motherhood can seem like a thankless job, so it's great to be recognized and be able to share what you've learned," says Kovarick. If you've asked for help, try to remember to call and tell her how well her ideas worked out. And even though you may not know yet what it's like to be in her shoes, you can still be a sounding board for her older-kid problems.
The I'll-Do-Anything-For-You Buddy
Why you need her: She'll help you with your garage sale, drive the kids to soccer, and bring over lasagna when you're dealing with a crisis. For Erin Hart of Arlington, VA, her husband's best gal pal, Laurie, is this friend. "When I was pregnant with my second child, we were in the process of redoing our closets, and my baby girl arrived a week early. Let's just say the bag I brought to the hospital was a grocery bag, with a nursing bra, underwear, a toothbrush, and a hairbrush. There wasn't much time." The day after Erin's daughter Emerson was born, Laurie called a sitter to watch her own two boys, came over, and washed, folded, and organized all the baby's clothes. "It was incredible," says Hart. "She basically dropped everything to come to our rescue. And the first week we were home, she brought over a fully cooked meal. I'll never forget that."
How to keep her: Friendships don't come with vows, like marriages do, says Marla Paul, author of The Friendship Crisis. It helps to remind your friends that you care. "So many friendships fall apart because one friend feels neglected," says Paul. So return the favor. Maybe you don't have the time to drop everything, as she always seems to, but make an effort. When she's going through a tough time (or even having a tough week), instead of cooking the family a homemade meal, as she might, drop off a pizza or a gift certificate for her favorite Chinese takeout.
The Slightly Glam Girlfriend
Why you need her: For inspiration (it is possible to be a fashionable mom), advice (how does she get out the door looking so great?), and a wardrobe you can borrow. My friend Mary fits neatly (of course) into this slot for me. Every photo she e-mails me of her and her daughter shows the two of them looking gorgeous, whether in their matching bikinis or out to dinner at a fancy restaurant I couldn't imagine going to with a kid.
How to keep her: You admire your friend's got-it-togetherness, so tell her, says Kovarick. She surely works hard at it and will appreciate the compliment. Watch out for your own jealousy or embarrassment, though. Most of us feel that way sometimes, but if she's a real friend, she's not trying to make you feel bad about your relative lack of style or organization. She likes you for you -- though if you're still wearing mom jeans, maybe she can help you trade up.
The Brutally Honest Pal
Why you need her: We all need to hear the truth sometimes. It can sting, true, even if you asked for your friend's opinion. But if she cares enough to tell you not just what you want to hear, then she's a keeper. For many women, sisters play this role; for others, it's a longtime friend, or a particularly outspoken newer one. The trick is distinguishing between someone who's just bossy and someone who actually puts thought about you into her opinions. You'll know the difference (one clue: If she only ever criticizes your choices, she's not helping).
How to keep her: It may take a day or two for you to digest what she's told you, but once you have done so, call your friend and thank her for being honest -- even if you don't agree, says Kovarick. We don't have to be exactly like our friends -- Twitter would be seriously boring if we were -- as long as we look out for each other, even while we're looking out for our kids.
Patricia Curtis, a writer in New Jersey, often sips coffee with friends while her 1-year-old gnaws on her purse.