I wanted to write a little note of encouragement to all of the sweet and loving and amazing mommas out there. This is my deal with you: If you feel a twinge of desire for more connection with friends in your life, then you'll want to listen to what I'm going to say.
If, on the other hand, your voice of wisdom says that you are healthy and happy without anymore connection, then I give you permission to feel no more guilt that you "should" be doing anything more on the friend front. Seriously.
Either say it's important and do something about it, or say it's not important and let it go. But no more guilt, OK? :)
Here are five tips to help moms enrich and expand their friendships:
- Repeat after me: Having kids is not an excuse to not make time for friends. I'm thrilled to have step-kids, but I know that doesn't earn me enough stripes in the mom department to say this without incurring wrath: Having kids is not an excuse to not have friends; it's the reason why you do need friends!
Making time for friends actually protects your body from stress. Friendships don't prevent stressful things from happening, but science shows us how they limit the damage that stress has on our bodies, acting as a buffer so we don't feel the impact as much. And kids, for all their joys, are also a lot of stress. Moms, almost more than anyone else, need friendships in their lives that give them the benefits of healthy relationships (i.e. happiness, longevity, stress reduction, increased immunity) without the feeling of dependence that comes with relationships with spouses, children and employees. Friendships are some of the few relationships in your life that you don't have to schedule doctors appointments for, figure out what to feed them, or lay awake at night worrying about.
- Model the friendships you hope for your kids to experience. Several years ago, I lead workshops where one of the assignments was to write down all the memories you had of your mom's friendships: Who did she hang out with? Did she go on weekends away with friends? Do you remember her talking on the phone and laughing? Did she go out for girls' nights? Did she invite all her girlfriends over to the house?
Do you know that about 70% of the grown women in my workshops ended up saying they didn't really have memories of their moms engaging in meaningful friendships? I wish I could say to the mothers of those 70% that, "Maybe you had good friends... but you thought you were doing your kids a favor by only hanging out with your friends while they were in school or at times where they didn't notice? But unfortunately, that means that they have no memories of you making time for friends. For their sake, I wish they got to see you prioritizing friendships in your life."
Moms, if you feel guilty going out with friends on the weekends or evenings, I'd like to remind you that what you're doing is helping them know that someday they don't need to feel guilty when they need more connection, too!
- Think through the childcare options and benefits. Every situation is different and I know this area of childcare is a big deal and not easily solved. But I love the approach my friend Daneen has taken to this subject by seeing a weekly girls' night out as special "Daddy and Daughter" night where they get to create their own rituals and memories together. Many of my mom friends assure me that the more regularly they go out, the easier it is on everyone -- spouse and kids included. If it's a rare event then Daddy might feel more like he's the "babysitter," but if it's "every Tuesday night," then everyone gets into the rhythm of the routine.
Other friends of mine divvy up the week, making sure that each parent has one night off a week that they are required to take -- even if they're just sitting in a cafe reading or working out at the gym.
Two of my friends are single moms. One makes a deal with her mom to do her bookkeeping in exchange for one night out a week; the other sets aside money for a babysitter and calls it her investment in sanity.
I won't pretend that I can fix this for you, but I do invite you to prioritize getting out and then figuring out how to make it happen.
- Talk to your children in ways they understand it. I adore all you parents who talk to your kids about their friendships, and I hope that you'll also talk about yours with them!
When you're going out in the evening, you can say, "Just like you got to play with your friends at preschool today, Mommy needs to go play with her friends now!"
When you're going away for a weekend, you can say, "Oh, I am going to miss you so much, and I am also super-excited to have a slumber party with my friends. I can't wait to tell my friends about how good you did in dance class this week!"
When talking about your day at the dinner table, you can say, "I talked to Debra, one of my best friends today, and she was so excited to hear about your science project."
Let your kids see you doing friendship in ways that light you up, where they feel thought of and loved in those relationships, and where they have no doubt that you have a circle of people who love you outside the house, too!
- Foster friendships with non-moms, too! Frequently, women feel that they can only be friends with other moms "who understand." But a few weeks ago, Daneen (while her hubby and daughter were enjoying their weekly evening together alone) said to us, "I love hanging out here with my non-mom friends -- it's such a joy to talk about things other than kids and it's actually a bit of relief to not feel like we're judging each other, competing, or comparing our parenting styles and kids." Making friends with non-moms might also mean easier scheduling. You'd be surprised at how you can bond with all kinds of women who don't have the big things in common with you. It's not either/or, but both/and!
The vast majority of my closest friends have kids of all ages. And I applaud them regularly for how impressive they are in keeping up their friendships with me and other women in their lives. They inspire me!
Daneen is one of those inspiring friends. I think she only took a month off after having a baby before getting back into weekly girls' nights out of the house and trusting that her husband could figure out how to put her baby to sleep with a bottle of breast milk when Mommy wasn't there to nurse her to bed. Did it feel weird or hard, at first? I'm sure it did!
I also think of Sher, who spends at least an hour on the phone with me every week with three kids running around her. There's always something go on and someone who wants her attention. But as much as she can, she simply says, "I'm on the phone with Shasta, I'll be with you when I get off," or "Hang on one minute Shasta, I'll be right back." And we keep on talking.
And then I have to give mad props to my "SoCal Girls Group" who gets together every year for a weekend away, despite two of them birthing two kids each in the last few years, one of them mothering three kids and the other who showed up for girls weekend one year to the day after she found out she lost her pregnancy (the following year, she showed up only a month before she was due). I keep thinking they all have valid excuses for missing a year -- but not one of them has yet.
My friends wow me with their commitment to their friendships, so I know it's possible if it matters to you. Remember our deal? Be inspired by these stories if you feel the desire for more relationships in your life; but if you don't, then release any guilt.
You are a good mom, no matter how much time you make for your friends. And if you long for a little more time with friends, then may this post remind you that you're a good mom, too, even if you miss out on an evening of homework or bedtime here and there! Promise. xoxo
If you're hungering for more meaningful connection, Shasta Nelson is offering, for free, the first module of the home-course program, "The Friendships You've Always Wanted: Learning a Better Way to Meet-Up, Build-Up, and Break-Up With Your Friends!"
Follow Shasta Nelson, M.Div. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GFCircles