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Feature Friday: Amber Folkert

Hello? Can anyone hear me? (finding a tribe in the midst of motherhood)

In the bible, toward the beginning, it starts with God making Adam. He sees that Adam is alone and that it’s not good. So, Eve comes along and the rest is, as they say, history. Well I’m not God and obviously He knows what is going on but I really think we all could’ve been spared a lot of trouble if maybe Eve was given a squad of women, God fearing and spirit filled women to do life with. Sure, sure, Adam could’ve been given a group of bros too and it would’ve been nice but think of what could’ve been if Eve had some friends. I imagine, if there was a Garden of Eden version of a group chat, Eve and the squad would have had a conversation that went something like this:

Eve: “ok, ladies. I need some advice”

Squad: “k”

Eve: “So, I was hanging out by the tree with the knowledge of good and evil today…”

Squad: “Ooooohhhhh rebel. Go on”

Eve: “So there was this snake and it started talking to me…”

Squad: “Woah, hold up. Like, a snake *hiss hiss*?

Eve: “ummm yeah, what other kind of snake would it be??”

Squad: “oookkk so, snakes don’t normally talk, you know this right?”

Eve: “Ugh, whatever! Ok so the snake says I should eat the fruit bc God is basically trying to keep me from being, like, my best self”

Squad: “hmmm, well what did Adam say?”

Eve: “Well, I didn’t tell him”

Squad: “…”

Squad: “please just consider running it by him. You KNOW that if it doesn’t work out he will LITERALLY blame you for the rest of forever.”

Eve: “ok, but I really think he has a point.”  

Squad: “Sooo you realize you think a talking snake has a point?  We aren’t going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do or anything, we are just saying, we really think it’s probably a bad idea. Just think about it, maybe talk to God the next time He comes around?”

Eve: “….”

Squad: “you know we just want the best for you right? Just don’t do it right now, if it still seems like the right thing to do later, then we will totally support you.”

Eve: “ugh ooookkkk. I will think about it and maybe talk to Adam. You guys are probably right now that I think about it. It is legit WEIRD that a snake started talking to me. What would I do without you for real??”

Squad: “Same”

**Boom, fall of human kind avoided**

See, Eve made that decision all on her own. In today’s world there is basically no way that decision gets made without consulting friends, possibly family, several self-help books and Oprah. Now, I am of course being completely facetious when I make this argument. If you read my stuff long enough you will understand that sarcasm and humor are generally my love languages. However, the point I am trying to make with all this ridiculousness is this, women NEED to have friends. Now, I am not saying you need a Kardashian sized entourage of “yes friends” who will go along with every crazy thing you say. No, we need a small group of friends who will come alongside us when things are hard. Who will laugh with us, cry with us, tell us when we are wrong and encourage us to do hard things. Sometimes, we find our tribe on the Internet. I am in no way discounting how important this is. I have been a part of some large online groups of women that have saved my sanity at times when motherhood was overwhelming or when I wanted to actually throw in the towel and pull a Lindsey Lohan (this means leave everything, adopt a weird accent and start a health spa in Mykonos for those who may not know). Specifically I am a part of a large breastfeeding group that has helped hundreds of women on their journey to feed their babies. I am in a large group of other moms online who just support each other and help to normalize the highs and lows of motherhood. It is empowering and it has played a large part in overcoming some of the loneliness I have felt since getting married, leaving my network of college and high school friends and becoming a mom. But, that is not the tribe I am talking about today. I am talking about the ones who live down the street, across town, if you’re lucky maybe even next-door. The ones who watch your kids, the ones who come over for coffee or you go shopping with. The ones who’s kids you know almost as well as your own, their moods, tantrums and pooping schedules. The ones it took me almost a decade to find.

When I started my motherhood journey, I worked full time as a child abuse and neglect investigator with the State of Michigan. (I know it is JUST as glamorous as it sounds). I moved around positions over the course of my time there but still, I worked. I was a working mom. I worked full time after my first and second child were born. I honestly never saw myself as a stay at home mom. I had my Masters Degree in Social Work and the student loan bill to go with it. I thought it would be doing my children a disservice to see their mom “throw away” her education to stay home. Well, I was so wrong and when I got pregnant with my third child, God let me know about it. I started feeling that pull to stay home. To show my children that I wasn’t throwing anything away, I was actually gaining a whole new skill set AND showing them that women really could do what they wanted to do. Yes, even stay home with their babies. (My sisters in the feminist movement really need to embrace this…but that is a point for another day). Now, I understand there are tons of women who would love to stay home and it is just not financially a possibility. I understand that. I do not take it for granted that my husband’s income is enough for me to do this now with four kids at home. I also know there are women who cannot relate to wanting to stay home at all and that’s ok too. The point is that whether you are a working mom or a stay at home mom, you need a squad.

I found myself a brand new mother of three kids, age 4 and under, sitting on my bed, nursing my baby and feeling so totally alone that I wasn’t sure how to go on to the next thing in my day. I was no longer a working mom. I was a stay at home mom and even saying it, hearing it roll off my tongue felt strange. Like the way it feels to pronounce a word in a language that is not native to you. I had friends from work but they were…working. I had best friends from college but they were far away. I had Internet mom friends but they couldn’t hold the baby so I could shower or come over and just sit with me in my pajamas as our kids ran around like wild animals. It was the most isolated I had ever felt in my life. I don’t think I have ever really dealt with postpartum depression but in those few months of my stay at home journey, I was most definitely dealing with a bad case of what our Grandmothers would call the “baby blues.” I remember planning to take my kids to the children’s museum or the park or to a gym and posting something on my Facebook page like “Taking the kids to the park today around 10 if anyone wants to come hang out!” I would make sure to include some silly emojis and maybe a sarcastic comment about how we are “mostly” all up to date on shots. I would post it and then wait and just hope someone would be able to meet us. I would get comments like “I wish! Sounds fun!” but usually no one could actually come. I was so desperate but at the same time I was too proud to actually call or text one of my actual friends and say “hey, I am really lonely. Can we hang out tomorrow? Or next Tuesday, or anytime?” I always assumed everyone was busy, or dealing with her life better than I was, or that they already had these fabulous groups of friends. In reality I had also put out an “image” of being this mom who kind of had it all together, I presented myself as one of those people who had a lot of friends to go to, who didn’t need anything from anyone. It could not have been farther from the truth. I needed female friends to DO LIFE with.

One day, I decided to do something. I loaded all three of my preschool age children (one being an infant) up in my newly acquired mini van and we went to the women’s program my church offers on Thursday morning. I am going to be completely honest here. I ONLY went because they had nursery care. For two hours I got to sit by myself with no one asking me to do anything and the worship was amazing (I will go to almost any church thing if there is worship). I saw faces of women who I wanted to be friends with. I chatted with them and kept up my façade of being this person who didn’t need anything or anyone. I would later learn that during this time, it was just assumed that I knew everyone because of how I talked to anyone and their sister like they were my long lost cousins I hadn’t seen in twenty years. I had become so good at putting on this act that it was actually working. I continued going to this Thursday morning service for the entire year. I made some acquaintances but still not that “tribe” I had heard about from other people. I was starting to think that everyone else was lying about it. That most women were like me, just going along alone, bumping into faces they know casually at the park or gym and chatting but then parting and not seeing them again until the next chance meeting. Then, I found out that the “mom tribe” is in fact a REAL thing and I found it out because I finally got one!

The summer after I started going to the women’s ministry I saw that they were going to be doing a summer bible study. Again, the childcare was what roped me in. By that time, I had just found out I was pregnant with my fourth child and we were in the process of moving to a new house. Basically, I was looking for anything I could put my kids in that would let them get some energy out. I sat down at an open seat and it was filled in by these two other women who I had seen on and off during the year but had never really talked to. Well, we hit it off I guess and the rest is history. The “mom squad” was born that day. Now we have five members, all living locally except one who had to up and move to Texas faster than you can say “shiplap.” You know what made this time different from all the other times I met new faces and then went away from them without any further connection? Well, honestly I don’t know. It may have been I was so run down, so lonely that I was finally ready to go through the awkwardness of making new friends. Real friends. A person like me, well it can take quite a while for someone to figure out my humor and my personality. Is she joking or being serious? Why is she talking through this entire sermon? Wow, I have never seen someone’s face give away so much of what they are thinking before, this woman could be too much for me. See, it takes time and effort and energy to get through all of these things. We don’t really remember having to do this with our college or high school friends because they were always seemingly right there with us. This doesn’t even mention the really hard stuff. Talking about family dynamics, our relationship with our husband, our parenting style, our (gulp) political beliefs and our relationship with God. No, I can’t say exactly what happened that summer but it started out by me deciding to put myself out there. Just like you have to do in a dating situation. I had to acknowledge that I DID need friends who were close by. We started a group chat on Facebook. We use that group chat EVERY DAY. Yes, we talk about silly things but also really real things. Relationship things. My husband once expressed concern, wondering what I tell them after we have had a fight. I told him “babe, you need to be glad I have them because if I didn’t we probably wouldn’t living in such bliss right now.” A GOOD group of friends will not tell you what you want to hear. They will listen to your rant about an argument you have just had with your husband and they will tell you the truth. They will NEVER advise you to do the easy thing (unless it’s unsafe-please don’t misunderstand be there). They will encourage you to work on your marriage, to compromise, to see things from another point of view. The will give you wise counsel when everyone else in the world will tell you to do the thing that appeals the most to your pride, ego and self.

We then started “Mom Squad Monday” (now Tuesday) where we would rotate houses every Monday and just hang out. No agenda, no special things planned. Just making a decision to get up, haul our kids out and do something maybe a little uncomfortable and generally inconvenient (everything is inconvenient with kids but we do it anyway) in order to have something invaluable. Since I have had my squad come into my life, I have grown in ways that I never thought I would. The most surprising to me has been how my relationship with God has grown. I have been challenged to do things like step out and volunteer with my church, to get in my bible daily, and to spend more time in prayer. Not to mention, the whole squad goes to the same church so we go as much as possible and now, it’s not ONLY because of the free childcare. I feel like I am a better mom and wife because of them but also, just an overall better person. We are meant to live in community with people. God knew it in the garden; He knew it was not good for us to be alone. When we are alone, (and I mean without living breathing humans to interact with face to face) we are so much more susceptible to fall victim what loneliness brings, depression, anxiety, apathy, anger, fearfulness of everything around us, and self -pity. These are all things that take hold of us when we don’t have someone there to reach out to. I had to do a really hard thing and it took years. Now I have someone I can text who will be at my house in five minutes if I need them to. Who will watch my kids for me so I can go to the doctor. Who will look me straight in the face and tell me “I think you are wrong on this and I love you too much not to tell you so.”

I hope if you are reading this and you relate in anyway that you can draw from me and do something hard for yourself too. Don’t let it take years like I did. You might find that it can save your life.