Today is Woman’s Day in South Africa and to celebrate I thought I would tackle a topic that is central to women everywhere – Friendship. Whether you are young, old, rich, poor, have kids or not, single or married, something that is consistent across all demographics of women is the need for genuine friendships. A place to belong and find acceptance whatever your circumstances. I have never met a woman who doesn’t appreciate a true friend and see the importance of friendships, both old and new. Over the years I have had my share of failed friendships. Ones that left me feeling more insecure after spending time together or those that fizzled out due to life changes and choices. But I have also been blessed with the most amazing girls who I am blessed to call my friends. Some I have know since childhood, and a few I met only this year. I love spending time with girlfriends and recently I heard a statement that resonated loudly with me: “Spending time with a friend is as good for your health as spending an hour in the gym” Yes please – I’ll choose girl time over gym time ANYDAY 😉
Unfortunately with the way modern life seems to be going we are spending less and less face time with people and connecting via technology far more often. While this does have it’s benefits there is nothing as valuable as spending TIME in the company of someone who encourages you and makes you laugh. I noticed recently that when I hadn’t seen a friend for a while I started to get creeping doubts about the friendship – did she like me? had I said something wrong the last time we met? maybe we aren’t as close as I imagined? The nagging negativity is so damaging and very quickly your unfounded fears can become reality if you don’t cast them aside and make that call to reconnect. The truth is usually just a lack of time not a lack of desire to connect.
When life changes occur friendships are often the first to fall by the wayside. Other priorities always seem more important – career deadlines, a new partner and especially the arrival of a baby can all derail the most solid of friends. It is easy to keep postponing a friendship date but not always easy to walk out the door on a colicky baby and tired husband combination. Having children changes the lives of new parents in many different ways. You learn how to survive on less than four hours of sleep per night. You adjust to never getting a moment alone to do things like go to the bathroom and you slowly adapt to making your child, rather than yourself, the primary focus of your life. Many well-meaning people will also inform you that having a child means watching your social life dwindle to almost nothing, but, as many new parents discover, your social prospects after having a baby don’t necessarily fade away as much as they simply change.
Strengthening Old Friendships
In those hazy newborn days, when taking a shower is a luxury, you may feel like being anything but social. Most of your childless friends will understand and likely give you your space. However, as your baby gets older, you might find yourself pining for some one-on-one time with your old friends, but trying to fit a conversation and a cup of coffee in between feedings and nappies can feel overwhelming. The key is to keep things casual.
With a child, going out drinking at the latest club might be out, but inviting your friends over for dinner and a movie is something you can accomplish even with a baby in the house. Invite your girlfriends over for take-aways or tea and cake while the baby is sleeping. Send your partner out with a friend to the movies and enjoy some girly catchup time. Part of taking care of yourself can be finding a trustworthy caregiver. Hiring a babysitter or arranging with your partner to watch the baby so you can spend a night on the town with your friends can also help reconnect you with your old life. Taking time for yourself without the baby is important, the first time you do it you will feel like the worst parent in the world and will probably go home early or leave the movie after the opening credits like I did, but being around people who have things to talk about other than breastfeeding and sleeping schedules, can help you keep a good perspective on parenting and how it fits in your life.
Making New Friends
Once you have reconnected with your old friends you might discover that you want to find some other moms with whom you can compare notes or sing the praises of your little munchkin. Giving birth to, or adopting, a child is an automatic induction into a whole new world of social interactions. From making small talk with other parents at the park to casual chatting in the queue at the shops, your baby or child is an instant conversation piece. Other ideas for places to meet new parents are at the baby clinic or doctors waiting room, a formal baby class such as Toptots or Moms and Babes, libraries and at church mom’s groups. Other parents, who are as likely keen for social contact as you, will be eager to trade stories and advice.
These small interactions often become repeat ones as you go to the same spots as these same parents, after some time they can lead into play dates and get-togethers. While it might seem that all you do is talk about your children initially, you may find other areas of common ground with your new parent friends. Eventually, you could become quite close with other parents who are experiencing many of the same milestones and moments of madness that you are. Where did you meet your best “mom” friend? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!
If you find yourself craving a little adult interaction but feel chained by your responsibilities to your children, taking time to cultivate and strengthen your friendships can help you feel more balanced. Making friends with other parents can give you a support network that understands the challenges of raising a child, while maintaining old friendships with your childless friends can give you space to develop your own relationships despite your new role as a parent. Friendships can help you take care of your own needs. Time spent chatting with a girl friend is the best sort of therapy in my opinion!
As women we need to start supporting each other – being encouraging will do far more to develop friendships than judgement and criticism (even if we are doing it in private or behind backs it’s damaging!) If we all just loved and accepted each other for our different life choices and personalities we would find life a lot more enjoyable. Why are we always trying to get everyone to do what we did or think is best?? We seem to want to clone ourselves everywhere but how boring would the world be if we were all EXACTLY the same person?? Let’s rather look for ways to be a friend to someone who needs one. BEfriending is just that – BEing a friend, not waiting for someone else to be our friend. I have not met many people who don’t want to make a new friend and if they don’t want a new friend then what is wrong with them? But bearing that in mind there is no need to have 100’s of friends. Rather cultivate one or two genuine, deep friendships where you can be yourself and share honestly than 100’s of surface level “Hi how are you” friendships! The person with the most Facebook friends doesn’t win a prize at the end.
I came to marriage and motherhood fairly young and had to navigate the tricky path of connecting with my long-standing single, childless, career-minded friends, while also trying my best to make connections with those in the same boat as me. It hasn’t always been easy, but as with everything worthwhile in life the time that I have put into maintaining and making friendships has been invaluable and I look forward to many more years sharing life together with my friends.
One last thought that I had recently when thinking about friendship and which woman I most like to connect with: Upon noticing a particularly perfect looking mom – one with full make-up, hair and outfit before 8am – I realized this and decided to apply it to my own life as well: Being honest about my flaws leads to more real connections than perfection ever will. This applies to physical as well as emotional flaws let me add! I find that the friends who share with me their worries and concerns and areas where they are struggling ultimately lead to a deeper relationship than the friendships where we all pretend everything is perfect and we have everything under control. Let me tell you that even the moms that appear to have it all together don’t. They are just better actresses 😉
What do you think?? What has your experience of friendship been? Is it an area in your life that could do with some work. I would love to hear from you and make some new friends (albeit online)…