How old is your oldest friendship? In what ways has it changed over the years? What makes a good friend? Did you lose or make friends in direct correlation to your debut into parenthood?
I think most of us had and lost dozens of friendships in childhood. This is normal, because often what constitutes a friendship when we’re young is proximity and shared interests in My Little Pony, playing on the same soccer team, or building forts.
Once we became adolescents things were already changing. I remember some of my friends deciding I wasn’t cool enough to hang out with anymore, and that wasn’t simply sad, it also felt like betrayal. Self-esteem was involved now. My parents reassured me though that there was a lot more of life to come and that I would make wonderful friendships in the future, particularly at college.
Of course, they were right. I made fantastic friends at college, and these friendships would last a lifetime.
Or so I thought.
The closest of friendships that I made in college didn’t survive 3 years post-graduation once I had moved first to a rural area and then to an entirely different continent. It turns out friendships made in college are not by default any stronger than the ones made in elementary school. They, too, are often based solely on proximity and shared interests. Things like jealousy, selfishness, and changing world views also come into play now that we’re adults.
By the time we all started becoming parents? Priorities changed, world views were set, and the friendships that made the cut were stronger than ever, though very few in number. And that fact alone doesn’t bother me.
The thing about losing friendships as adults though, even if it is inevitable, is that it sparks disturbing thoughts like: What if they never really loved me? What if I’m just not a good friend? Is it okay to have friendships come and go? What IS friendship anyway!?
And I’ve come to this conclusion: There are two types of friends. There are ones that are based mostly on proximity and shared interests or similar situation (your kids go to the same school for example), and there are ones that are based on your personalities clicking without regard to time or distance between you. We need BOTH.
We need someone to hang out with and share our parenting struggles, to schedule play dates with, and to have over for birthdays. After all, we all have social needs! And we also need those friendships that endure a lifetime- the ones that will be there if you pick up the phone and call or write to once every few months, that exist because you love and accept each other just the way they are, regardless of any other financial, familial, or political factor. Some people have those friendships nearby already, which is great, and some of these relationships based on proximity will turn into those enduring friendships, too.
I’ve realized that friendships, particularly once we’ve become parents and our lives become an endless struggle just to keep our metaphorical boat from sinking, take a certain stubbornness on our part. We have to decide to keep our friends. Or to make them. And then put in the work needed, despite our hectic lives. Friendships need nurturing from both parties and we can’t expect to make or keep friends if we don’t give what is needed in the first place.
It also takes more serenity. To accept that we haven’t made the cut for some people. We have to understand and accept that some of our friends can’t or don’t want to give us what it takes to be a good friend. And that’s okay. Wish them good fortune, and let them live their lives the best they can. Friendship should never be about changing someone or having a one-way relationship. Nobody has any obligations to live their lives according to our ideals, and we are not obligated to give of ourselves if nothing comes back in return.
All that is old news though. The biggest maker or breaker in friendships nowadays, is clashing parenting styles. Say for example that a friend’s kids come over to your place and behave rudely, don’t pick up after themselves, or worse, that they terrorize your kid(s). Is there a line between accepting your friend, and refusing to accept that they’ve raised little monsters? How do they react if you insist that their children apologize or set down some house rules when they arrive? Do they respect your wishes? Disregard them? How gracefully can you navigate that situation and keep everyone’s feelings from being hurt and your friendship intact?
Perhaps you realize that this is a temporary situation. Nobody’s kids stay two years old forever. They’ll grow up and mature, and you know your friendship is strong enough to endure these formative (and trying) years. Life won’t ever stop being difficult, and we will have to deal with health issues, deaths in the family, divorce, the teenage years, and a plethora of other hardships before it’s all done. Perhaps you realize this and decide that this is precisely when you need your friend the most- when you’re both struggling to raise children and that regardless of your parenting differences, your friend is the same person who has been there to love and support you before and will again in the future and in the grand scheme of things parenting styles don’t really matter.
I was the last of my friends from middle school to have kids. While we had always stayed friends, I found that our friendship deepened once I, too, became a mom. I could relate to their worlds in a whole new way. They didn’t hold back about talking for hours about pregnancy or parenting worries like they had before, and I find their insights and support invaluable when adulthood and mommyhood gets particularly difficult. This is really important, and one of the reasons I will fight to keep my friendships with these women forever. Motherhood is demanding, it can be lonely or isolating, it can be traumatic, it can be overwhelming, and keeping friends that knew you before you had kids can remind you of your identity, which is imperative to self-care and finding happiness in your life.
Not everyone can keep every single one of their friendships once they transition into parenthood though. For once reason or another, it’s just not feasible or desirable. That’s okay, too. It’s normal that friendships wax and wane. If they were pretty strong to begin with friendships can be repaired after some time as well. So don’t give up hope if you want to be friends again in the future.
Regardless of where you find yourself, if you are a parent struggling with finding or keeping friends, don’t feel alone in this. Like every other aspect of our lives, friendships change when we become parents and we are all trying to find our footing and adapt the best we can.
— — —
Did this article help you or give you any insight into what you are experiencing in your life? Consider sharing it with your friends and family.
Sign up below to receive a monthly newsletter with other OPEAR articles!