Best mom friends are seriously the best. They’re that calm voice telling you, “You’re doing great,” after a long day of temper tantrums (whether those are coming from your 2-year-old or your teenager). Our mom friends help us feel less alone in our struggles, and build our confidence during those much-needed lunches that somehow extend into dinnertime. But what happens when your mom BFF suddenly transforms into the worst? If your bestie begins to bring you down, how do you know if your relationship has moved into toxic territory — and when is it time to move on?
All friendships change and grow, and ideally, you can change and grow together. Dr. Katie Smith, a licensed clinical and child psychologist, defines a healthy friendship as one that has mutual respect. “In adult friendships, awareness, respect for one another’s boundaries, empathy, and compassion form the basis of healthy friendships,” Dr. Smith explains. When both friends can create this foundation, your relationship keeps you feeling good and connected. And it’s these qualities that keep a friendship thriving and moving forward in a positive way.
“A safe and healthy friendship can do wonders for your mental health,” says Supatra Tovar, PSY.D, RD. Having a mom friend you can count on for late-night parenting talks or quick encouraging texts creates a supportive space for you to be heard and validated. Dr. Tovar explains this relationship finds its healthiest dynamic when reciprocity is put forward. “Healthy friendships inherently have an equal give and take, whether that is with listening and speaking, paying for lunch, or helping with favors or errands,” she says. A willingness to share and an air of generosity should be present. But what happens when the scales tip and the friendship becomes unbalanced?
After three years of close friendship, one mother noticed her friend slipping into an unexpected pattern. “We were like sister status,” she says. But when this mama needed her friend’s unconditional support, it didn’t happen. She explains she was going through a difficult emotional time, and instead of receiving empathy from her trusted friend, she felt shut down. Her friend’s uncaring behavior made her feel awful. “I looked to her for support, but she wasn’t really offering much,” she says.
If you’re noticing some icky inconsistencies in a mom friendship of your own, but are unsure, Dr. Tovar says to watch out for friends who disrespect your boundaries. “One of the biggest red flags indicating a toxic or unhealthy friendship is when you experience issues with boundaries, such as a friend not respecting your time or interfering in a private matter,” Dr. Tovar says. So, if your bestie asks for all the help all the time but is unavailable to return the favor, or readily spills out her own drama but rarely provides a safe space to hear about your sleep-deprived day, you may want to reassess your relationship.
One mom of two was surprised to find out her BFF was more a manipulator than a supporter. Their relationship began as work friends, but as time went on, this mother noticed her bestie’s behavior to be insistent. One major warning sign was when her BFF became jealous when other friendships were mentioned. “She made me feel small. Honestly, I felt bullied at times,” this mama reveals.
When it comes to recognizing toxic aspects in your friendships, Dr. Smith says that looking out for those who don’t express empathy or support is a key. “Generally, when the relationship feels off balance or when we notice that we’re not our best version of ourselves when in the midst of the friend, the relationship is probably not healthy,” Dr. Smith explains. So, if you notice your friend takes time out of a conversation to “one-up you,” take you on a long guilt trip, or drain you of all life — signs might be pointing to toxic momship.
If you’re ready to borrow a play from The Handbook of Ross and Rachel and go on a break, Dr. Smith suggests taking some space while you consider the implications of no longer being friends versus remaining friends. This can be accomplished by saying something like, “I’m not feeling like my best self right now. I’m going to spend some time evaluating myself and my relationships, so I need some time and space.” You can follow this up with a phrase like, “I’ll reach out when I’m ready.” Being direct assures that you’ve communicated your feelings clearly and that the other person understands your needs.
In terms of when it’s appropriate to step away from a friendship, Dr. Tovar says, “If you’ve stated your needs and your friend doesn’t respect the boundaries you set, continues the old behaviors, or her behaviors get worse, you have a toxic friendship on your hands and may need to walk away.” And Dr. Smith adds that it’s time to let go when you’ve given yourself time to evaluate life without the friend … and you actually feel better about yourself.
Mama number one tried to repair her friendship, but then decided to stop reaching out. “I was too hurt and too vulnerable to spend energy engaging,” she says. Their relationship faded as they simply communicated less and less. Mom number two decided she needed a friendship break, which eventually led to a break-up, and says, “I’m relieved she’s not able to take me on an emotional roller coaster anymore.”
If you feel like you might be dealing with a friendship on a toxic level, it’s time to stop avoiding those calls you’ve been sending to voicemail and take steps to move to a healthier emotional space. Dr. Smith reminds us to trust our gut, and that it’s far better to gently let a friend know you can no longer be friends rather than ghosting her — that’s no fair to anyone (and don’t forget to disengage from their social media as well). It’s true that saying goodbye to a friend might be unpleasant, but by following these guidelines, it doesn’t have to be traumatic.