Blog

  • Childhood Friendships and the Turning of the Tide

    Last week my daughter found out her best friend was moving away. My husband and I stood at the bus stop waiting for her to come home from school, and as the neighborhood children spilled off the bus, one of them announced, “We’re moving to Wyoming in two weeks!” It was the older sister of Izzy’s best friend, and I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I held tightly to my daughter’s hand as we walked home, and she whispered, “I almost cried today at school.” “Did Sarah tell you on the bus ride to school?” I asked gently.”Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”

    I spent the rest of the evening fighting tears, sometimes unsuccessfully, as I imagined how this move would change our lives. Sarah and her siblings lived just a few doors down on our cul-de-sac, and they were a staple in our daily lives. When we moved to the neighborhood two years ago, I felt somewhat trepidatious about the idea of the children bouncing back in forth to each other’s homes. On our old block, there were no other children, and we had no experience with the casual coming and going of nearby friends. It was just so “1980s,” in that it evoked memories of the freedom I experienced as a child; to be honest, I didn’t think it would ever be possible for my own children to enjoy similar friendships marked by the freedom that comes from close-by playmates.

    Earlier this summer, Izzy and Sarah solidified their blossoming friendship by playing together nearly every day. When my daughter returned home from a day at camp, she would dash into the house, grab a snack, and then call, “I’m going to Sarah’s house!” I had long ago overcome my discomfort with this independence, and I often barely looked up from whatever I was doing to acknowledge she was leaving.

    Similarly, Sarah and her sister were often at our doorstep first thing on a weekend morning, and the kids often spent hours playing together- sometimes the better part of an entire day. They would flit back and forth between the two homes; sometimes we fed them lunch, and sometimes Izzy ate at Sarah’s house. They shared the milestone of the first sleepover together, and quickly became “best friends.”

    The requisite sleepover pillow fight
    The requisite sleepover pillow fight

    I was devastated by Izzy’s reaction to the news; she sobbed inconsolably, lamenting, “I thought we had found the perfect house! I thought this was finally the perfect neighborhood.” All I could do was hold her tight and cry along with her, trying to soothe her without dismissing her very real, raw feelings. There were several other families on our street, but their children were just far enough apart in age from my daughter to make regular playtime not appealing.

    I knew there was no denying the fact that this family’s move would irrevocably impact the dynamic of our block. The likelihood of another family with girls my daughter’s age moving in was not comforting.

    It seemed grandiose, but I wondered if Sarah’s move would signal a clear turning point in our lives; what if there was never another family with built-in playmates to live on this street? What if these two years would be the only time in my children’s lives that they had friends to play with in the free, independent way I enjoyed as a child? These semi-omniscient musings seemed a bit theatrical, but I was worried that it was the truth. It felt like we would be sad about it forever.

    I moved frequently as a child, and well into adulthood I have been sensitive about my friendship history and lack of lifelong comrades. I have always been envious of my friends who remain close with the pals they grew up with. Every time I moved, I stayed in contact with a few special friends, but as the tide continued to turn, we always lost touch. Sometimes it took two separate moves before the transition was complete–my move at age 13 and then leaving for college, or even my out of state internship followed by my move to Colorado– but I always seemed to shed my friends as I outgrew my old skin. It made me feel sad, and somehow self-conscious. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I hang onto friends? I have finally managed to maintain a close bond with three of my college friends. After a few post-adolescent years while we fumbled into our adult lives, we have worked hard to stay in contact.

    Scan
    Me with my childhood best friend; we stayed close despite multiple moves.

    I wanted my daughters to have the history of closeness with the friends they grew up with. I never had neighborhood friends move away when I was a child, because I was always the one moving. I know it is a reality that many children experience, but I wanted to spare my girls that sense of loss. The hours I spent with the neighborhood children when I was in elementary school, the memories we shared of various wild adventures, shaped me in unmistakeable ways. But I am very aware of the transient nature of childhood friendships, and the fragility of these first social bonds.

    When I moved out of state just before 6th grade, I managed to find nearby friends my own age in my new neighborhood, and once again basked in the childhood high of freedom, walking back and forth between our houses in the twilight hours. Our final family move, weeks before my 13th birthday, landed us in a neighborhood filled primarily with families who had babies and toddlers. This didn’t faze me, and I instead focused my efforts on cornering the market on baby-sitting services. I was old enough to walk farther to friends’ homes, and I didn’t feel that I was missing out. But for seven sweet years, I belonged to a pack of kids who roamed the streets comfortably, never lacking for playmates and dodging the daily boredom that I worry my children may succumb to.

    It is my hope that, in spite of our neighbors moving away, we will put down roots in this community, and my girls will still find friends with whom to share their formative years. But I still find myself questioning, “Will Sarah’s leaving scar my daughter for life? Will things ever be the same?”

    Did your family move away when you were a child? Did you lose a best friend, or has your child lost a best friend to a move? How did you cope? 

    **We took a brief end-of-summer hiatus from our friendship essays; we are now accepting submissions! If you have a friendship story to share, please email a 500-1000 word essay along with a 2-3 sentence bio and photos to herstoriesfriendshiptales@gmail.com. We would love to hear your story about how a friendship impacted your life! **
  • Juggling Without a To-Do List: Reflections From a Work At Home Mom

    DSC_0046It’s a realization familiar to any work-at-home mother of small children: that moment in the day when you realize that your kid is not going to nap and you need to readjust your expectations for your day accordingly.

    It’s become the most dreaded moment in my quest for work/family balance.  For me it symbolizes every thing that’s missing from the simplistic “lean in”/”opt out” public conversation about women’s lives.

    It’s early afternoon, and I have a checklist of tasks — articles to write, e-mails to send, phone calls to make — that still need to be done.  That list, that uncompromising and guilt-inducing list, sits next to me at my dining room table, my work station.  Usually my son naps for two hours, but sometimes he won’t nap at all, despite my best efforts. As my son screams from his crib, “Mommy! Mommy!” I scratch off items from my daily list, assigning them reluctantly to tomorrow’s list. My work day is over.  Now I’m Mommy, not education writer with a doctorate. Not aspiring freelance writer. Not parenting blogger.  Just Mommy.  And I feel an uncomfortable mixture of pleasure, gratitude about being able to spend a whole lovely summer afternoon with my son, frustration, and failure.

    I’ve had this “daily list” since my boarding school years of high school, pinned to my bulletin board in my dorm room.  I was a master at checking off every item each day on the List.  I had separate columns for short-term goals (finish French homework) and long-term ones (learn 10 new SAT words).  Later, my List would sit at my desk at every job that I had through my twenties and thirties.  I never missed a deadline, never missed a meeting, never passed over any professional opportunity offered to me. I just added it to the list.  In graduate school, I thrived. I finished my research papers ahead of schedule. I juggled research assistant positions, research fellow opportunities, teaching assistant jobs with my class schedule and other priorities.  But I had my trusty List.

    When my son was born, I was thrown into uncharted territory. Was I a stay at home mom?  How would I ever finish my dissertation?  Since I wasn’t making any money, how could I justify child care for the large blocks of time that I needed to analyze my data and write my dissertation?

    I had to learn to something new to me, how to seize small moments:  a few seconds to jot down ideas in notebooks at the side of my bed while I tried to rock my son to sleep, quiet walks in the fading afternoon light to think about my research conclusions while walking my son to the grocery store in his stroller.

    During these two years, I’m not sure if  I’ve been “leaning in” — making conscious choices to pursue both professional and personal success — or  if I’m beginning the slow process of “opting out.”

    Last week writer one of my favorite writers, Galit Breen, wrote a beautiful piece about the “gifts and pressures” of working from home. I can’t get some of her sentences out of my head. In all the talk about “opting back in” for women who gave up their careers, Galit’s words resonate with me more powerfully than any media headlines.

    According to Galit,

    Being a work at home mom is a beautiful gift, wrapped in a juggling act that can be hard to maintain.

    And in the New York Times Magazine piece from Judith Warner, “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In,” I could relate to the mothers’ voices, their compromises, and their joys.  What is lost in the public conversation (mostly) about these women is that they are not looking to become — and do not regret that they are not — Sheryl Sandberg.

    According to Judith Warner,

     And not a single woman I spoke with said she wished that she could return to her old, pre-opting-out job — no matter what price she paid for her decision to stop working. What I heard instead were some regrets for what, in an ideal world, might have been — more time with their children combined with some sort of intellectually stimulating, respectably paying, advancement-permitting part-time work — but none for the high-powered professional lives that these women had led.

     

    Working from home, for so many mothers that I know, is this sort of compromise. Yes, there is the awareness that we will not be the next Supreme Court justice or CEO. We will not be running a Fortune 500 company or a large magazine.  You can become discouraged by the goals, the accomplishments that will not be within reach. You miss the companionship and professional support of the workplace. And sometimes I do.

    Or, as most women do, you can celebrate the uncertainty, the complexity, the juggling and the possibility, while also acknowledging what has been lost.

    My to do list will stay on my dining room table. Every day. I will sometimes check off all of the  items on that list. But most days I won’t. But these days, these days of missed naps, playground adventures, and the exhilarating newness and possibility of reinventing myself as a writer, will not last forever.  My To-Do List will wait.

     

     

    Enhanced by Zemanta
  • Is New Parenthood Making Your Marriage Miserable? How To Help Your Marriage Survive the Transition

    Have you ever heard another mom gush, “Becoming parents has made our relationship so much more fulfilling!” Did you want to slap her? Did you question her sanity and/or honesty? Becoming a mother is one of the most significant transitions a woman can experience, and it changes virtually every aspect of her life:  her career, her self-image, her friendships, her mental health, and her body.

    One of the most substantial adjustments, often overlooked, is the profound impact that parenthood has on a couple’s marriage. Many women may assume that having children will primarily strengthen and enhance their marriage, and they are consequently surprised when parenting takes a toll on their relationships.  In the research literature, the decline in marital happiness following the birth of a child has been well-documented. (Marital happiness is high immediately after the wedding, and then declines after a child is born.  It peaks again when children leave the home.)

    Jessica and I talked to mothers this week about how the transition to parenthood has affected their marriage. As it turns out, the women that we spoke to have a lot to say on this subject. Here are a few of these women’s reflections about marriage and parenthood:

    •  I feel that parenthood has made us stronger and yet more distant.
    •  Having a child has definitely been the hardest thing on our marriage, hands down.
    • I miss my husband, and yet I feel even more tender towards him after seeing him with our daughter.
    • After a stressful day staying at home with my kids, all I want is for my husband to come home and take over. But I know that he’s at work dealing with stress, and all he wants to do is come home and relax in front of the TV a little. We both want peace and quiet, but for either of us to have it, the other has to NOT have it.
    • The darkest point for us in our marriage was about six months ago, when for the first time, I actually could see why people get divorced after having kids. As amazing as our child is, he was becoming like a wedge between us. We were exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed.
    • It’s amazing the intensity of the anger and the intensity of the love felt for one person – and sometimes even in the same moment.

    When it comes to identifying the emotional effect of parenthood on marriage, the range  is staggering. Mothers feel everything from “becoming parents has brought us closer together,” to “I am so frustrated with my husband that now I understand why people divorce after having children.” Some of the recurring challenges we’ve heard about (and experienced ourselves!) are:

    • difficulty making time together
    • differences in style, such as parenting choices, coping skills, and communication styles
    • struggles with navigating role changes and balancing parenting responsibilities
    • a substantial change in sex life

    I had the opportunity to interview Susan Forde-Bunch, LCSW (licensed clinical social worker), a practicing psychotherapist and marriage counselor in the Denver area, and ask her some questions about marriage, motherhood, and finding support. Susan verified that the transition to parenthood can be one of the most difficult stages of marriage, stating,

    “I think the early years of parenting are indeed the least satisfying for married couples. The relentlessness of the demands of parenting young children can’t be overstated.  As parents we are often underprepared for this, particularly since it can be romanticized for us culturally. Haven’t we all visualized ourselves as the beautiful couple taking our perfect baby home to the life of idyllic family bliss?”

    I concur that many parents are blindsided by the reality of becoming parents, and our fairytale daydreams often fall short. Forde-Bunch added, “While it is often the stage for the most falling in love with our children, it usually isn’t the stage of falling in love with our spouse.”

    We all melt a little over the proud new Daddy.
    We all melt a little over the proud new Daddy.

    Many of the women we spoke with indicated that watching their husbands interact with and care for their children made them feel even more connected to them. However, other mothers were frustrated by the fact that they seemed to be pulling more than their fair share of weight. Forde-Bunch described how challenging it can be to adjust to your new roles as parents, particularly when factoring in sleep deprivation and increasing workloads. One mother told us, “I really thought that our decisions about our baby would be ours, and they are mine. That has been the hardest part for me. I don’t even know if it surprised me so much that the decisions were mine but that there were so many decisions to make when our son was a newborn. I was completely overwhelmed.”

    There is a fairly broad spectrum when it comes to the responsibilities and engagement of the father. Forde-Bunch noted, “Although we are in a process of a cultural change which is increasingly emphasizing fathers as egalitarian participants in all aspects of parenting, the primary parenting still tends to be the mother’s, especially in early infancy.”

    I’m sure there are many dads who would stand up and strenuously object to this statement.  However, it is also true that there are plenty of mothers who feel resentful about the imbalance of parenting duties in their households.

    Another interesting layer is, according to Forde-Bunch, that this situation “is magnified by the fact that women’s primary identities are often more defined by our roles in relationships than they are for men.” She points out, “Have you seen many little boys dressed up as grooms for Halloween?”

    This role discrepancy can leave many women seeking out support from female friends and family members. No matter how great a dad your husband is, it is nearly impossible for men to truly grasp what it feels like to be a mother, just as we are not fully capable of understanding how it feels to be a father. Many moms form alliances that can help them to feel more understood and validated. Forde-Bunch explains that being understood by another person is one of the most transformational interpersonal interactions, and that we seek it out and experience tremendous healing when we find it. She added, “When parents can share their struggles with other supportive parents of the same gender, it can provide powerful reassurance and validation.” While women may be more likely to form friendships with other moms, I think this is important for men, too. Even my own stoic husband has shared stories of being empowered by a conversation he had with a fellow dad.

    So what can we do to overcome some of these relationship challenges brought on by parenting? One mom shared,

    “Communication is, by far, the biggest key for our marriage- keeping open, honest, and respectful lines of communication going. We have had to learn how to not bicker as much. We’ve had to rally together through some really difficult transitions and upheavals in our child-rearing. It’s never been more important to put each other first, to keep that foundation strong.”

    Forde-Bunch added that staying connected as a couple, in addition to being crucial to the health of the marriage, also supports the mental health of the individual parents and even benefits the self-esteem of the children. She said that being aware of the importance of staying connected helps set the stage for success, and she offers some tips for staying focused:

    1. Embrace the goal of maintaining connection by verbalizing it and jointly developing practical strategies. 
    2. Set realistic expectations regarding time, energy, money, and support available to you.
    3. “Institutionalize” time together; build it into your lives as a structured part of your daily, weekly, or monthly routine.
    4. If communication is particularly difficult, consider using a couples’ therapist to get back on track.
    5. Consciously provide emotional support to one another, by being compassionate and putting yourself in each other’s shoes.
    6. Schedule time for physical intimacy. Sex is a powerful bonding experience on the most primal level, and it defines a couple from all other relationships.

    Communication is often harder than it seems, especially considering that men and women can have very different needs, expectations, and styles. One mother described, “My husband copes so differently than I do: he’s much more of a “grin and bear it, stop talking about things and it’s not that bad, just deal” sort of person. I need to talk about things and get validation and encouragement at the end of a day. My husband interprets that (often) as focusing on the negative. We have very different coping techniques, and we’re learning to help each other.”

    I have found that the more deliberate, clear, and conscious my husband and I are about caring for our relationship, the more likely we are to connect. Being mindful of this while in the midst of raising young children is also harder than it seems. Another mom said, “We try to be intentional about dates and talking, but it can be hard in the chaos.”

    835
    Making time for yourselves as a couple is key.

    We asked Forde-Bunch if she had any advice for expectant couples on how to “baby-proof” their marriage. Once again, she emphasized the importance of communication. She advised couples to talk about their expectations, hopes for themselves as a couple, their own childhood experiences, ideas about parenting, and the specific logistical issues to anticipate. She offered some helpful discussion questions such as, “How did your parents divide duties around childcare and housework?” and “How do you anticipate your current roles will change when a child is involved?” and “How did your family of origin use discipline?”

    I think we can all agree that navigating changes to marriage after becoming parents takes a lot of work and a lot of communication. Many of us share the same struggles and frustrations, and simply admitting these out loud to another mom that you trust can be tremendously helpful. I feel that although becoming parents may solidify your connection and add meaning to your marriage on a deeper level, on the surface it often creates complications and struggles. Rather than pretend that having kids has done nothing but improve my marriage, I prefer to acknowledge the challenges so that I can more adequately cope with them.

    How has parenthood affected your marriage? What strategies have worked for you to maintain closeness with your partner?

     

    102111133136Susan Forde-Bunch is a LCSW and has been in full-time private practice for more than 30 years in Colorado. She works with adults both individually and as couples. In addition to having a general practice, her specialty area is women and women’s issues. 

  • Friendship Breakup Lessons: Here’s What I Learned

    friendship breakup lessons

    Losing a friend is so painful that it’s difficult to learn any friendship breakup lessons. That comes with time.

    I have often marveled at the parallels between friendship and romantic relationships, especially romantic breakups and friendship breakups. Finding new friends can be disturbingly similar to dating, complete with awkwardness, insecurity, and butterflies. Really connecting with a new friend can feel much like falling in love, as you find yourself bringing the other person up in conversation when you are not together. And breaking up with a close friend can be just as devastating as breaking up with a partner.

    Jessica and I have been reading Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend by the “Friendship Doctor,” Irene Levine.  In her book, Dr. Levine talks about why friendships fall apart, how to cope with getting dumped by a friend, how to end an irreparable friendship, and how to move forward after a traumatic friendship split.

    She pinpoints many of the various reasons that  friendships can disintegrate and also helps shed light on when it is worthwhile to mend the relationship, or better to cut your losses and move on.

    Last week Jessica wrote about toxic friendships: how to spot them and how to handle them. This week, I am going to share the story of one of my closest friends, and the painful breakup we experienced.

    I met Shannon shortly after I moved to Denver, having completed a post-graduation internship and secured my very first real job. Shannon was interning with the small company of music therapists I worked for, and we found ourselves connecting through our magnetic need to process the intensity and hilarity of the groups we were learning to lead. After co-teaching a music class for toddlers and parents, we would often stand in the parking lot for close to an hour afterwards, laughing at our mistakes and the unexpected turns our session had taken.

    I remember the exact day we began to consider ourselves true friends- we met after a monumental work week to celebrate with cocktails at a trendy bar. Over Dreamsicles, we exchanged stories, laughed, and disclosed personal details that further cemented our connection. We continued our “first date” long into the evening, and emerged from this rite of passage as kindred spirits. Each subsequent year, we acknowledged that anniversary by returning to the bar and ordering the same drinks.

    Shannon soon became a staple in my life; each Wednesday, along with another girlfriend, we honored Ladies Night, and took turns hosting and cooking for one another. Our raucous evenings included lots of wine, dessert, laughter, and profuse oversharing. We often spent hours on the phone together after our work days, debriefing each other on our challenging clients, commiserating about our incompetent boss, and of course, laughing until we were breathless.

    We traveled together, briefly lived together, and were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. Even after the birth of my first daughter, we maintained our tradition of Ladies Night, though we had a tiny new member who was passed around each week. My transition to motherhood definitely impacted all of my friendships, and also inspired me to seek out new friends who were experiencing similar struggles and challenges.

    Girls NightWhen my daughter was about eight months old, Shannon and I broke up. It was not a gradual fade, though I’m certain my transition into motherhood along with my decision to file for divorce from my first husband was a burden on our relationship.

    But our breakup happened suddenly, in the most dramatic and unmistakable way possible- a blowout. I will refrain from sharing the details of our blowout, because I don’t believe it is productive or appropriate to rehash it; suffice it to say, hurtful words were exchanged, and both of us walked away from the experience feeling wounded and misunderstood.

    We did not reach out to each other. My life was changing significantly, and I was swept along by the inescapable wave of single motherhood, navigating new roles, and eventually, finding a new relationship with my husband. I thought of her frequently; I no longer enjoyed Ladies Night on Wednesdays, I didn’t have anyone who would fully appreciate my music class anecdotes, and her absence was felt sharply at my daughter’s first birthday party.

    Months went by, and though I had other friends, I did not have Shannon. I missed her intensely, with the deep ache of someone who has become a refugee from their home. But I clung to my sense of justice and wounded pride, and did not contact her. And then one Christmas I received a text message from her. Merry Christmas. Missing you. It was late at night when I saw the message, and my heart began to pound with shock and elation. I called her the very next day, and we made plans to get together for dinner.

    I will always remember where we went, what I ate, and even where we sat. We filled each other in on the tremendous changes and tiny joys that we had missed out on.

    Avoid rehashing old arguments.

    We carefully navigated the tender details of our breakup, and were able to hear one another, understand things with a fuller perspective, and make amends. That was over five years ago, and we have stayed close ever since. We do not often revisit the context of our breakup; I still maintain that it is unproductive to rehash old arguments, no matter what type of relationship you are in. Unless you have found yourself in an unhealthy pattern that continues to reappear, it is often enough to acknowledge the isolated disagreement and move on.

    However, I do think it is possible, and beneficial, to learn from a friendship break.

    Think about the balance between honesty and support.

    In our case, Shannon and I learned a lot about what lines to avoid crossing in terms of offering advice, appearing judgmental, and speaking our fullest opinions. Dr. Levine refers to the importance of finding a balance between honesty and support. My friendship break helped me to clarify my own opinions and practices when reconciling the role of honesty vs support in relationships.

    Severing ties (temporarily) in times of flux can help a relationship.

    While it was never my intention to end my friendship with Shannon, when I reflect back on our breakup, I feel that it served a purpose for us both. Sometimes when we are experiencing great flux in our lives, be it the transition of motherhood, career change, divorce, or even a move, we need to temporarily sever ties with a friend in order to fully move forward and reinvent ourselves.

    Dr. Levine devotes an entire chapter to friendships in flux, discussing the various life changes and transitions that can take a toll on relationships. I saw this happen with several of my best college friends, many of whom are an important part of my life today; we simply needed to break away from one another, learn who we were outside of the context of our friendships, grow up a little, and then assess whether we still belonged in each other’s lives. And unless the friendship has become toxic, is no longer relevant, or irreparable harm has been done, it is often possible, and even therapeutic, to find your way back after a friendship break.

    In an earlier HerStories essay, Nina Badzin shared her insightful perspective in The Case For A Friendship Break. Her piece deeply resonated with me, as I have successfully rebounded from several friendship breaks, including Shannon’s, as well as others that were more gradual. I think that sometimes they are necessary, and provide the space and perspective to grow, process, and reevaluate the role of the friendship.

    Wedding shower 419I will be forever grateful that Shannon reached out to me that Christmas night; she was present when I remarried, celebrated with me when my husband adopted my daughter, and supported me after the birth of my second child.

    She is the friend who keeps me grounded- the friend who knew me “back when,” who understands who I am at my core, and who knows me apart from my children. She makes me feel appreciated, celebrated, and listened to. Shannon is a friend who brings out my sense of joy, a friend that I laugh with more than almost any other person, and a friend who isn’t afraid to get muddy wading around in the depths of our own psyches.

    She is not my fellow mom friend, nor is she a friend of convenience. We have to work hard and put forth a lot of effort to make time for each other. Shannon is the proof that some friendships, the ones that are truly meant to be, can survive a break-up and emerge even stronger.

  • Still Looking For My “People”

    A few weeks ago, my husband and I took our daughters to the neighborhood swimming pool. I ran into a colleague and casual friend who was there with her two boys. She was chatting with another mom of two boys, and the four kids were splashing together happily while their moms lounged on the edge of the pool. (Note to self- bring a buddy to the pool next time to enhance Mommy’s relaxation experience.)

    My friend introduced us, and explained that they had all gone to college together, and wound up moving to Colorado at the same time. “We’ve been here for 13 years,” she told me, “and we met their oldest son in the hospital the day after he was born. Our boys are more like cousins than friends.”

    I felt a pang of jealousy. These were her “people.” A few weeks ago, 3 Things For Mom ran a post that included this tip: “Find your people.” The full post articulates the importance of surrounding yourself with a tribe, and when I read it, I immediately felt grateful for all the fantastic girlfriends I had in my life.

    • My best friends from college who all live less than an hour away from me. 
    • My two closest friends without kids who keep me grounded and know me as more than Mommy.
    • My fellow mom friends who listen without judgment and make me feel less alone.
    • The friend who “gets me,” sharing my sensitivity trait and even matching my exact Myers-Briggs type!
    • My blogosphere friends, most of whom I have never met, but who relate to my ambitions and frustrations so well.
    Two of my college BFFs- we all have little girls of our own now.
    Two of my college BFFs- we all have little girls of our own now.

    But there is one thing that has always felt missing to me- my husband and I don’t have “that family.” You know- the other couple that you both like so much, whose kids are of a similar age. Maybe they live next door and you wander freely into one another’s backyard, understanding that the lack of shower and presence of pajamas is not a deterrent to sharing time. Maybe you’ve known each other since your wild college days, and you’ve navigated the transition into parenthood together. Maybe it’s your sister and her family, and a standing invitation for reciprocal baby-sitting.

    We don’t have those people in our lives- not yet. It’s not that we don’t have friends with kids that we have suffered through birthday parties, street fairs, and carnivals with. It’s not that we don’t have neighbors with kids- we actually love spending time with the other families on our street. But there’s something different about having that couple that you know without a doubt would come stay with your kids if you went into labor in the middle of the night, or who can join you for dinner without inspiring that “hostess” panic. Those people. 

    It seems like this type of relationship is very elusive- both the husbands and the wives have to like each other, or worst case, the husbands have to tolerate one another! It helps if the kids are close in age, so you can plan activities that everyone will enjoy. It seems like the kid:kid ratio should be close as well- the family with one child may not mesh well with the family who has two sets of twins. Then of course you factor in proximity, schedules, parenting styles- how can all these factors possibly add up to the perfect dual family friendship?

    I don’t want to appear ungrateful for the fantastic, loyal, empathetic friends that I have. Perhaps our inability to align ourselves with another family has more to do with conflicting schedules; I work part-time, and often my children are in school or childcare when my stay at home mom friends are available to socialize. Conversely, my friends who work full-time may not have the same flexibility that I do, and who has time to get together during the infamous Crappy Hour- that mad rush from 4:30-8:00 that involves frantic dinner preparation, a sit-down meal (or not!) and the bedtime countdown?

    One of my favorite HerStories essays, from Christine of A Fly On Our Chicken Coop Wall, shares the story of two families who had weekly community dinners. Reading that post filled me with longing; I have always envied people who had another family that they dined with, played with, and traveled with on a regular basis.

    My cousin lives in a neighborhood with several families whose children are of similar ages; she and her next door neighbor have traded off caring for one another’s children during pregnancy, illness, the post-baby months, or even Get-these-kids-out-of-here-right-now! moments. They often show up in one another’s kitchen, not necessarily having bothered to call or even knock, and frequently join each other for a communal backyard BBQ.

    I want that. My parents have a couple they have known since college; their names are Charles and Charlene, and my brother and I have always known them as Uncle Charlie and Aunt Charlie. They haven’t shared a city with my parents in over 35 years, and yet the lack of proximity did not diminish the importance of their role in our lives; we routinely traveled to visit them and their two boys, or hosted them at our house. “The Charlies” were a staple in my life, and a model of what an enriching adult friendship could look like with another family. I have often remarked that I am still looking for “Our Charlies.”

    My parents with The Charlies at my wedding reception.
    My parents with The Charlies at my wedding reception.

    I wonder if I will ever be fortunate enough to have another family that I consider to be my tribe, my people. It is possible that I am romanticizing the idea, but I have the sense that for those who have found their “Charlies”, this type of friendship is life-changing.

    Have you found your people? Do you have another family that you spend time with regularly? How has it affected your life? 

  • Being Alone and Being Lonely Are Two Different Things

    Here’s one thing I’ve learned in my two years as a mother: experiencing solitude and experiencing loneliness are not the same thing.

    Before I became a mom, I frequently sought out solitude, but seldom felt lonely.

    Pre-baby hammock relaxation
    Pre-baby hammock relaxation

    Now I sometimes feel a bit lonely but — until recently — hardly ever experience true solitude in the same way that I did before having a child.

    I’ve been reading One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One by Lauren Sandler, and Sandler makes some provocative and insightful points about what we think we “know” about only children.  (I’m reading it for my Parenting Book Book Club For Parents Who Hate Most Parenting Books over at School of Smock.  Join the ongoing conversation about this book and Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us by Christine Gross-Loh!)

    According to Sander, being alone is an objective state.  You may like it; you might not.  You may find being alone recharges your energy (as introverts like me do), or you may prefer to be around others.  But loneliness is different.  You’re not happy when you’re lonely.  You’re missing a connection with others.  It’s unpleasant.

    In our culture, Sandler states, “We often mistake loneliness with solitude, confusing a state of grievous misery with a placid state of contentment.”

    One of the main themes of the book is that only kids are not necessarily lonely at all, despite the stereotype.  They learn to be their own companions and are generally content in their own company.  They are more likely to be self-sufficient, to have a strong sense of self.    That only kid sitting by himself in the sandbox or drawing pictures without siblings may not be lonely at all, although it’s tempting to feel sorry for him.  But he might not be longing for company in the slightest.

    On the other hand, motherhood can be truly lonely.  A new mom can literally never be all alone during the whole day:  surrounded by toddlers at the park, accompanied to the bathroom by her child, woken to the sounds of a screaming child over the baby monitor during the quiet first rays of morning sunlight.  But she may not feel a constant daily connection to friends or to a support system.

    Solitude is about finding the time and space to have a deep relationship with yourself.  Solitude can be “down time,” moments to reconnect and recharge.

    I experience solitude and peace during:

    • reading
    • walking or running
    • cooking a long meal

    For me, cultivating happiness as a mom is about finding that balance: connecting with myself and with others.  Connecting enough not to feel lonely, allowing myself to be alone enough to be calm.

    In One and Only, Sandler contends that only children are particularly good at this balance.  They’re skillful at forming and keeping social connections — on their own terms — but also seek and cherish time alone.

    How do you find this balance?  Do you think that only kids are better at this balancing act?

    Enhanced by Zemanta