Growing friendships in the season of mothering littles (Hard, but worth it)
As an adult I’ve never lived in one place longer than four years until now. I never set out to move around but all throughout my twenties my work took me to different locations and I easily adapted, made friends, and found people to live in rich community with. I thrived on change and challenge and reinventing home each place I went.
After Ryan and I were married I moved to a new city and joined a new branch of our ministry in a place where I only knew a small handful of people. Maybe I should have been nervous but I wasn’t. I was excited to be starting a fresh chapter with the man of my dreams and since I had already relocated seamlessly a few times, I had no reason to believe this would be any different.
Many say the first year of marriage is difficult but our first year of marriage was easy. During a time where my whole life was in flux, my marriage was absolute grace to me in the midst of finding my place in a new location surrounded by people who all seemed to be perfectly happy with things just as they already were.
It wasn’t that they didn’t want to include or befriend me, it was more that they had a shared history (of which I wasn’t a part) that was the defining bedrock of their relationships. I have never heard so many inside jokes as I did that first year! I often felt on the outskirts and wondered how I would ever genuinely fit in. It was a totally new feeling to this easily adaptable, fairly outgoing, self assured girl and it caught me completely off guard.
Marriage and babies change friendships; it’s naive to think otherwise.
To compound the friendship ‘problem’, a year after marrying we began to have children. If you’re a parent you know how that changes things. Like it or not, there is a clear line in the sand between Life Before Kids and Life After Kids. It’s just different. Not exactly better or worse. Just different.
Before marriage and children, you have so much more time to float in and out of social circles, going wherever something exciting is happening. Your friendships seem to form a little more organically – they grow from the ground up as you spend time doing life together. You naturally gravitate toward those you have chemistry with and friendships sprout over late nights and day trip adventures, party hopping and church functions, weekend getaways and family holidays spent with whatever ‘family’ you’ve chosen as your own. (That was my experience at least.)
But as a married person, and especially once I became a parent, so much of my time became consumed with nurturing the relationships under my roof. And if I wasn’t caring for someone or enjoying someone there within the walls of my own home, my next blaring need was for alone time to regroup. Having time and energy left to devote to friendships became harder than I cared to admit.
It wasn’t that friendships became less important once I had kids. In fact, I think they became more important. I desperately needed life outside of spilled milk and cracker crumbs, both with other moms who could relate to this new crazy of my life and with people I didn’t end up talking about parenting with (can I get an AMEN for our beloved childless friends?!). But as important as friendship was, it was also becoming more difficult for it to grow organically like it once did. No longer would we just say, “what’s happening Friday night? let’s do it!”. Our conversations began to sound more like “what time do your kids nap? and how much time do we have until you need to go home to breastfeed? and is today a carpool day?”
Friendship in the trenches of motherhood – cultivated through a million little things.
At times I’ve missed the ease of friendships that I used to enjoy in my twenties, but I’ve come to appreciate the cultivated friendships I have today. They are different—yes—but they are solid. They have been slowly built one play date at a time. They have been developed over texts of, “my kids are sick and if you happen to go to the store today can you pick us up some toilet paper?” They have formed through conversations of “I saw a sale on kids jeans and I know you’ve been looking for some”. They have matured through facebook messages of “I made double the lasagna today so I’m dropping off dinner and don’t you dare lift a finger.” They’ve been forged one girls night out at a time, far too few and in between.
The friendships I have now have not come easily, but maybe that’s what makes them so precious to me. We have fought for them, invested in them, been deliberate about carving time out for them. We have chosen them and let them choose us.
I still have many friendships that have remained from past chapters of my life – from my girlhood, my teenage years, and my wild, adventuring twenties. There is nothing like them and nothing that will ever replace them. They are some of my richest treasures. But the friends I have around me right here, right now – they are special too. They’ve been planted and watered through the season of late nights and early mornings and learning how to be a grown-up with little people depending on me. They have sprouted in the spaces of park benches and McDonalds playgrounds, combined family days at the beach and noisy toddler birthday parties.
They have come slowly, but they have come.
And sometimes I wonder if the unhurried pace of their blooming has been the most solidifying of all? Not the sudden burning chemistry of attraction that shows up when you’re bouncing from party to party and you connect with a person who shares your same passion for fill-in-the-blank. But the slow, steady, measured love that take root when you’re committed to tilling the soil, planting the seed, tending the vines, and waiting for the fruit of friendship to come.
Be encouraged, moms of littles.
You may be a person who’s never moved and who has a plethora of friends who’ve seen you through every chapter and season of life – you all grew up and got married and had kids together, and you’ll probably grow old together. Or you might be like me, having built friendships from scratch more than once.
Whatever the case I want to encourage you that friendship is worth pursuing. It might feel harder than it once did but that’s not because you are any less loveable or worthy of belonging. It might just be that the nature of friendship will look different to what you’ve experienced before. Don’t cling to your old normal – you’ll surely be disappointed. Ask God to help show you a new normal.
Don’t be discouraged if you feel left out, lonely, or like you don’t totally fit in. (Chances are the next mom does at times, too.) Instead, take the time to invest, move slowly, think long-term, and widen your perspective to include a new way of cultivating friendships – one play date, one text, one library trip at a time.
Maybe we don’t have the intense need for a BFF to share matching heart-shaped necklaces with anymore; maybe we’re better off cultivating some slow-growing Really Solid Friends. (Though RSF doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?!)
Dear friends, have you experienced change in the nature of your friendships like I have? What has been your experience in finding friends when you land in a new season, new location, or new set of life circumstances? Have you been discouraged? If you’ve found your way through a difficult or lonely patch, please share one truth in the comments with other moms of littles who need to be empowered in building friendships during this vulnerable season of life?