The year before I became a mom, I spent a lot of time with girlfriends. The pie chart of my life priorities had far less pieces than it does today, so “friends” took up a pretty good chunk of my attention. Most of my friends were in the same phase of life as me, so we brunched on Sunday mornings, happy hour’ed on Friday nights, worked out together twice a week and showed up at monthly gatherings where our whole flock of high-heeled new wives swapped stories and closed down swanky bars. We all wanted kids soon, and in gazing off to the mirage of our motherhood future, we promised that when it happened, we wouldn’t stop our girlfriend fun. No, we were going to be awesome moms who balanced everything perfectly and, by God, if we had to hike our strollers up Fifth Avenue to make it to the monthly birthday bash, we would.
Okay, so I was naive. Three kids later, I see most of those friends a lot less than I used to, but it doesn’t mean they’re any less important to me. With more kids, more duties and all of our pie charts being redistributed, we’ve redefined what maintaining friendships means. Instead of frequent organized happy hours where we each take turns rehashing every life experience, now we bump into each other at Target and, in between cereal boxes and pancake syrup, catch up on each other’s lives while shoppers reroute their carts around us. We’re “in the parenting trenches”, our time occupied with school and ballet, soccer practice and swim meets; and when we’re not tending to our families, we’re taking precious time to feed our own interests–going for runs, finishing that book, starting a knitting project.
The thing is, that “in the trenches” time is when you need your friends the most. Parenting little kids, while incredibly rewarding, is also demanding and emotionally exhausting. Spending time with friends to vent, celebrate, laugh, explore and yes, even dress up and go dancing, can reignite the things within ourselves that so often get lost with everyday parenting responsibilities. We need those things. Our kids need those things. So, how can we maintain those friendships with overwhelming schedules? How do we keep our own families as our first priorities and yet still make room in our pie charts for other ones we love?
Kill Two Birds With One Stone
I’ve found one of the easiest ways to make time for friends is to “kill two birds with one stone”–incorporate friends into things you’re already doing. Enjoy running or working out? Invite a friend to join you and share fitness challenges. Got a great new book you want to read? Ask a friend to read it with you (or form a book club with a group of friends) and have weekly discussions about it. Going grocery shopping? Double up with a friend, get a coffee, and catch up while you shop together. Or, try matching your kid’s activity schedule with a friend whose child shares the same interest. My oldest daughter recently participated in a theater class with a friend which allowed her mom and I to enjoy a weekly hour of catching up.
Initiate Get Togethers
Sometimes organizing a friend event is more work than actually going to one. Be someone that makes things happen and initiate get togethers. They don’t have to be complicated, and with e-vites and group texts, it’s less work than you think. Whether it’s dinner plans, a brunch invite or an all-call for a park or beach date, all it takes is one person to initiate friend gatherings. If you build it, they will come.
Keep in Touch Outside of Social Media
Social media can certainly help long lost friends stay in touch, but it shouldn’t be a replacement for real connection. Just because you “liked” your friend’s status update after she posted that she’s finally finding peace after her father’s death doesn’t mean it counts for you “being there for her.” Pick up the phone and call.
Go Beyond Surface Friendship
The most valuable friendships a mom can have are ones where vulnerability is accepted and you can truly be yourself. Having one good friend who listens without judgment and shows up in good and in bad times is worth far more than having twenty friends who you don’t truly connect with or trust. Make sure you invest in those valuable friendships. They’ll last much longer than the acquaintances.