For tonight’s reading pleasure, make yourself a cuppa and settle in. I want to get a bit cozy with you.
I’ve never been particularly good at friendships. I make friends easily and I love people, but the things involved in keeping bonds going do not come easily to me. Remembering birthdays, checking in, returning emails and texts. I don’t know what it is, but I never seem to be able to keep on top of it. I go through phases of engaging ferociously, and then I lose my footing. Life gets busy. I get overwhelmed. I recoil from the world, looking with dread at my phone if it rings as if it is a personal violation of my privacy. As if someone is INVADING me.
I’ve also never been particularly good in groups. I find it stressful navigating social dynamics and group hierarchies. I get tired thinking quickly on my feet, saying the right things, laughing when I’m supposed to, feeling included but not being grabby, asking appropriate questions in silences, appearing relaxed, effortless, likeable. I get so tired analysing the invisible layers of female interaction where we all might be talkin’ but underneath, we’re all trying to scrutinize the what-did-she-mean-by-that and the whose-being-left-out and the be-careful-what-you-say-because-she-might-get-offended undercurrents of our communication. It just feels so…emotional. Like we have to be delicate. Not only do we have to keep up with what’s happening on the surface – not only do we have to sail the boat, effortlessly, engagingly – but we have to hover underneath it constantly, reading all the signs and interpreting all the unspoken communication. We have to be analysing the winds, the tides, the currents of the boat, too. It’s not easy like it’s easy with male company. It’s complicated, somehow.
All this is to say that I am noticing one very distinct aspect of my life now that I am a mother, and a mother of two kids, particularly.
Motherhood is the most consuming job I’ve ever had. Consuming both for the obsession I feel for my children and the amount of work that goes into caring for them. Motherhood can easily devour entire days, months, years, and though I’m only two years in, it’s glaringly obvious that in order to juggle the balls in my hands, the very first things I let go of are my friendships with other women. I push them right to the back burner, disregarded, like they don’t hold the value they once did. Like the input they require is just another thing I’m failing at.
I hate admitting this, but it’s true.
Because if we’re being really honest, most of the time, I feel like my family is enough — like friends are just the cream on top and cream is good every now and again, when you feel like it. After all, my family gives me a sense of belonging I’ve never found elsewhere. My family feels safe, uncomplicated, effortless. I am my most truest self with them, and we share moments which are always unguarded, but more than that, they are moments which make me feel the way nothing else does. Family life is at once claustrophobic yet strangely addictive.
It is a double-edged sword, of course, dropping the balls of friendship, because we are a sum of all our parts, and the parts of us that beg for female connection end up starving. I know what it’s like to escape the clutches of my family and share a deep belly laugh with a girlfriend. I know the power of female intimacy, initiated and carried by the words ‘me too’. I know the kind of hunger which only women can satiate. I know the value of women and I have so many I’m lucky enough to call mine. For goodness sake, I’ve even created a blog which recognizes the need for female connection and encourages more of it. I know my family isn’t everything. I’ve read so much research of female friendship improving health, prolonging life: one study showed that people with extensive networks of good friends and confidantes outlived those with the fewest friends by 22 percent. And the strangest thing of all? The study also showed that close relationships with family or children had little to no effect on longevity.
The bonds we have with our family are not our life-sustaining bonds.
Our life-sustaining bonds are our friendships.
And yet, if women provide such a powerful buffer to our worlds; such a unique relationship that can not be replicated – not by our husbands, not by our children, not by our own company – why then, is it so hard to find time to be with them? Why are they the very first things we let go of when life suddenly gets busy?
Balancing priorities is a hard one for all of us because life is demanding. Maintaining our homes, caring for our children, loving our husbands, fostering friendships, nurturing our hobbies, working, being part of our communities — there’s so much on our plates and so little time to accomplish our dreams.
But what I’m learning to hold onto is the fact that we can’t be everything at once. There is no such thing as doing it all at the same time. It’s a concept that doesn’t actually exist. There is just no such thing. Repeat. Repeat.
What we do have is the ability to take time for friends one day and time to walk alone on the beach another day and time to clean our bathrooms another day. What we do have is the ability to cook healthy meals one day and snuggle in for a movie with our husbands another day and write that report another day. And while doing all of these things at different times, we can still be great mothers to our children. We can still be as nurturing and as loving as we ever were despite not having them in constant view, not holding their hands every second of the day.
Because the point is that one hat doesn’t have to replace the other. We don’t take off Mother hat to wear Businesswoman hat. We don’t throw out Friendship hat in order to wear our most comfiest Homemaker hat. We fit all of them under a great big sombrero because we are, as Jo March says in Little Women, a great many things. When we remember that we don’t have to be these great many things at exactly the same time, it makes for easier living. It helps with the overwhelm. It allows us not to crumple in a heap when our phones ring because OH MY GOD ANOTHER THING THAT NEEDS MY ATTENTION NO JUST NO.
You see, when we cast away any one of these hats, we suffer. Maybe not right away, maybe not even next year. But at one point we will. Our Friendship hat especially so. Because the sun it protects us from is hot and harsh. We burn if we go without it for too long. Yes, I know. Maybe the sun’s not out? Maybe it’s an overcast day and hats are just not on our radar? But that’s where it gets dangerous, you see. Because this hat is the kind of thing you only realize you need once you don’t have it.
Aint’ nobody want to be stuck in the desert without a hat on.
So may we take the time. May we celebrate the value of our friends, by a meaningful text, a card in the mail just because, or an out-of-the-blue phone call. May we be more forgiving of ‘offences’, and likewise, take less offence. May we drop our impossibly high standards, and love our women in their messy totality, rather than cutting them off when their first fault is discovered. May we be vulnerable; may we let ourselves be truly seen. May we replace competition with celebration, suspicion with truth, envy with inspiration. And most of all, may we be the friend we’d like to have.
The one who texts you a photo of a cute pair of kids shoes because she know you’ll go crazy over it.
The one who emails you a beautiful quote because she knows you’re a sucker for things like that.
The one who grabs your child and smothers him in kisses, loving on him as though he was her own.
The one who tells you she peed herself the other day because she knows it will make you laugh.
The one who calls and asks about that appointment you had, because she remembered that thing you told her three weeks ago.
May we be that friend more.