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A couple of weeks ago, I boarded a commuter train from my suburban home into New York City at the time of day when most are taking it in the opposite direction. My toddler secured and happy at home with her father, I was headed out for a night on the town. I’ll admit it: I was giddy. And it wasn’t only because it was the first time in months I’d left my home toting a purse too small for diapers and wipes, or because I was wearing four-inch heels since I wouldn’t be carrying an extra 30 pounds on my hip. It was mostly the company I was looking forward to.

This is how I feel every time I make and commit to a plan with a friend who is not a mom. I love all my friends equally, and I’m lucky to have a bunch from all different periods in my life. Some who are older than I am, some who are younger. Some who were pregnant at the same time as me and others who don’t plan to have children, or aren’t there yet. And here’s the thing: each one plays her (or his) own role in my happiness and fulfillment as a human. But the non-mom friends keep me grounded.

When I get together with my mommy friends, it clicks. I can prattle on about poop color, sneaky veggie tactics, and why on earth there are only three episodes of our toddlers’ favorite show On Demand right now. We need each other. We rely on the strength that comes in shared experiences and a big part of that is the huge role that being a mom plays in our lives. But they’re not all I need. I also need friends who aren’t moms. And here’s why.

1. They remind me of who I was before I had kids. I used to have a pretty cool life, okay? I worked with celebrities, I spent my entire disposable income on great clothes, and one time I even flew to Paris for a weekend on an impromptu trip with my then-fiancee. I had a Pinterest-worthy wedding and danced until the sun came up. I used to get frequent facials and have long, laughter-filled happy hour dates that lingered to the time we all decided to start ordering entrees. My life was uncomplicated and yeah, pretty cool. Then I had a baby. And I love her more than all the celebrities, the clothes, and vacations combined, of course. But it feels really freaking great sometimes to sit across the table from someone I found in that past life, and just be. No sippy cups, no potential meltdowns, just happy hour that turns into into dinner. And lots of uncomplicated laughter.

2. We can talk for hours without feeling like we have to discuss children. Here’s the thing about moms: if we get together and don’t talk about our kids, we feel weird about it. Weird and a little guilty, too. Even if our children are at totally different ages and stages, we still need to chat about them. And that’s great. But in addition to being a mom, I’m also a woman. I care about politics and music, hair trends and the economy. I want to know about what my friend is reading right now and feel okay about spending two hours talking about nothing that relates to my daughter. My non-mom friends always ask about her, but a simple, “She’s doing great!” followed by one or two sentences on her development will suffice. They love her and they care, but that’s all they need to know. Then we can get back to other important things, like which of the unsatisfactory presidential candidates we are least terrified of, or which muscle-clad contestant The Bachelorette is going to choose.

3. They push me to be a better friend. With my mom-friends, there’s an unspoken code of “I get it.” They get it if I don’t return a text, call, or email. They get it if I have to cancel a plan at the last minute. And this is amazing. It’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card. And it totally goes both ways! I never even have both feet out the door for a mom plan until it’s been confirmed multiple times, because a shift in the schedule on either end is always likely. But the truth is, as great as it feels to be forgiven for not being the best friend sometimes, I really need the accountability provided by my non-mom friends. They’re not greedy and don’t expect too much of my time, but they expect clarity and responses. They express hurt when I cancel last-minute, as rightly they should. And even when they say nothing and don’t pressure me at all, I feel more compelled to put down the potty-training books and pick up the phone when I know a non-mom friend wants to talk. They put up with me, sure, but they also help me remember what real friends do for each other.

4. They’re not jaded by the mommy wars and give great advice when asked. When my milk supply dipped about six months postpartum, it was my non-mom friends I reached out to for support. I knew they wouldn’t pressure me to uphold any kind of standard they’d read about or tried at home, and their sage advice helped me reach a decision that worked for our family. This is how it’s been every time I’ve reached a parenting crossroads. Other moms are so in it — they’re reading everything, they’re consuming each word their doctors and the ringleaders of their mom groups are spewing. I’m not discounting the comfort, support, and strength a group of moms can afford each other, especially in hard times. But when I’m spinning and need advice from someone with absolutely zero judgement or agenda, it’s my friends without kids who I know will, every time, tell me to do what feels right to me and ignore the critics.

5. They keep me grounded in “real life.” Becoming a mom is completely life-altering, even for those of us who swore we wouldn’t change. But the intensity of being a parent to young children can be especially overwhelming and huge. There are times when I feel like my entire identity is comprised of the fact that I’m a mom. And don’t get me wrong — I love that it’s the first word most people will use to describe me. But it isn’t my whole life. It isn’t the entirety of real life. With my non-mom friends, I’m likelier to focus on the ambiance of the restaurant we’re choosing to meet up in, and likelier to tell a raunchy joke or not feel guilty about having a second (or third!) drink. Likelier to actually care what I look like when we hang out.

When my non-mom friends are asked to describe me, I can pretty much guarantee they’ll reference ways we’re connected as friends, like as a writer or a cosmetics junkie. They love me for who I am beneath the layers of baby food and piles of laundry, and they give me a reason to let that girl shine through. Because of course, I’ll always be a mom. But I was me for a really long time first. I’m so glad to have the friends in my life who know that.

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