Motherhood is an adjustment. It is hard going from a flexible schedule that you can control to one that’s ever-changing, filled with non-negotiable things and wild cards, like nap times and explosive diapers. We are all aware of how hard it can be to balance motherhood and…basically anything else. Friendships are one thing that we don’t like to admit take work, but the truth is, they do. So often we end up unintentionally letting them slip through the cracks as we shift our focus to our children. In those moments when we are giving our all to our family, we need those life-giving relationships the most. Like my husband likes to say ALL THE TIME: “Responsibility changes relationships.” Things change in our relationships when we add any kind responsibility to our lives (marriage, kids, school—you name it). There’s pain and awkwardness and ultimately a deeper relationship when you can work through things. But I think part of that awkwardness is actually recognizing that things are different.
I have read a lot of posts on staying connected with friends after having kids from a new mother’s perspective. There’s a lot of advice for friends of new moms on how to stand by them as they adjust to their new life. But what about the friends? What can we learn from their perspective as they adjust to a changing relationship? I asked my friends what it has been like for them as things have shifted in our friendship or in their friendships with other moms. I got some good and honest responses that felt obvious yet challenging. I fail a lot as a friend, so this was so helpful to me.
One of the things I heard from several friends is that they just wanted to know that they still matter. Yes—it’s that simple. As our friends are adjusting to changes in our friendship and patiently waiting to finish their sentence as we turn our attention to a screaming toddler, they just want to know that they are valued. That is something that has to be communicated to them somehow. It used to be in the form of a spontaneous margarita date with the girls. Now it may look like post-bedtime wine and cheese on my couch followed by a heartfelt, “Thank you for meeting me where I am, friend.” One of the first things I was told by a friend when I got engaged was “communication is the relationship.” This friend was referring to my relationship with my fiance, but it has been so applicable to all relationships that I think I can apply it here. And when a relationship is feeling strained I think over-communicating is needed. Stating the obvious is essential sometimes. Simply saying that we are aware of the shift in priorities but that we still deeply care, can go a long way. This is what one of my friends said: “I’m not used to conversations being interrupted… There’s a learning curve for non-parent friends to just be able to pick up the conversation again. It’s been seven minutes since we were chatting about my troubles at work and the conversation was interrupted, so I don’t know if I should bring it back up again. I think it does boil down to knowing that we matter, because if I know that then I have no problem picking up the conversation we were having several minutes ago.”
Honesty was also brought up often and in different ways. Being honest about where we are as moms and how we feel as friends. I think it ties well into that over-communication point that I will definitely be working on in my friendships: “This is where I am right now. I love you, but I can’t give you my full attention because the kids ate my brain. I’m good for a movie night in if you don’t mind my silence.” I don’t know about you, but I tend to shut down when I’m feeling sorry for myself. That is not helping anyone. It certainly doesn’t help my friends meet me where I am. We may be jealous of our friends’ flexibility, or the fact that they don’t have to think about whether they can nurse in that super cute top, or their ability to sleep all night. But that is not to be taken out on them or pointed out to them every. single. day. We need to be able to talk through those moments of self pity without making them feel weird for not knowing what it’s like to be a parent and also without dragging them down. I heard from one girl that sometimes it was hard hanging out with moms because she would just start to feel guilty about her ability to do what she wanted with her schedule. I hate to think that I may have contributed to that. The reality is that I let my guard down around my friends, and they get the good, the bad, and the whiny.
Here’s a hard one too: being honest with ourselves. We can’t assume that kids will be welcome at every outing. I heard this in a couple of ways. One friend was frustrated with kids changing the dynamic of an outing at which children weren’t expected to attend, especially when it was something that had been done in a certain way as part of tradition among friends. Another friend mentioned extending invitations to moms because she wanted her mom friends to feel included and to have the option of a refreshing night out WITHOUT kids in tow. Both of these are friends caring for us in their own way. Again, stating the obvious and simply acknowledging that it’s not going to be the same could be a perspective shift for us. It also helps us own that truth. And some days we need to be able to say, “It’s OK—don’t change your plans because of me. Have fun and enjoy a drink for me!” And then we need to be OK when they don’t suggest a night of drinking margaritas at home in sweatpants.
That feeling of being included seems to come up so much in motherhood, probably because mom life is often so isolating. What we often fail to acknowledge is that our friends want to be included too. I shared this thought with a friend after hearing it from several other friends, and this is what she said: “Being included is so meaningful. I loved being invited to Sophie’s party. I have watched her grow up and love her so much. It gives me a sense of pride to know that I am her friend enough to be invited. Especially when you are kidless and spouseless, it’s so meaningful. During the holiday season it’s so nice to be included in things when it’s just you.” They don’t know what mom life is like from our perspective, and they don’t want to sit aside just because they don’t have kids. Invite your friends to your kids’ parties because you love them and they love your kids. Or invite them along to see Santa or walk the River Walk at Christmas. Also, they will likely be the sane person there not chasing tiny dictators around. Giving in to self pity when we’re missing girls’ nights and thinking that we are the only ones affected by our role as a mom is way off. Our friends are adjusting as much as we are. If we can clear the air and be honest with our emotions and allow them to do the same, then I’ll bet with a bit of grace we can find a new rhythm. While our lives may not look the same as it did pre-kids, I can guarantee that those nights sitting around in the living room with a couple of friends after the kids have gone to bed may be as healing to your tired self as it is to your friends who miss you.