We love today’s essay from Vicky Willenberg of The Pursuit of Normal. Vicky’s writing style is so unique and relatable, and her thoughts on how friendships change through the years really resonated with us. How have your friendships evolved since childhood? Did you have a “grown-up” friend who helped you navigate new motherhood?
I was 8 years old the first time I made the walk from the bus stop to my house in tears because I was being made fun of by my “best friend” and the crew that picked her side in our latest argument. It was less than 2 weeks later when it was my turn to be on the “winning side” as she made the same walk of shame.
I was 15 when my high school friend returned from studying abroad for the summer and didn’t call me as soon as she unpacked. She didn’t call for over a week, as a matter of fact.
I was 20 when my college friend hooked up with a guy I met earlier in the night and then proceeded to tell me she did it knowing I’d forgive her because that’s just how I am.
I was 22 when a misunderstanding led to 15 years of no communication with someone who was one of my closest friends and had a starring role in my best memories of college.
In between all these painful memories are years and years of laughter and fun times. I had wonderful friends and great experiences. But these friendships all felt so fragile- like they would break under the slightest weight of judgment or mistakes. I couldn’t help but wonder if it would always be like this.
I was 23 when I met my first grown up best friend. It changed the way I defined friendship forever. What’s the difference between little girl friendships and big girl friendships? The difference is everything. When I reflect on the little girl relationships of my past, they hang on hooks of laughter, sleepovers, silly arguments, crushes and broken hearts, and ever-changing cliques. They are no less valuable than the friendships of a big girl and they served their purpose in defining who I am. However, we were children, so our friendships were founded on childish things and in turn, they lacked depth.
At 23, the friendship I developed was built upon the things of grown ups: faith, marriage, relationships and career. I was no longer working through how to define myself nor experimenting with philosophies. It was time to take who I was and turn it loose on the world. This was a scary time for me. I was picking a career, not a job. I was getting married, not deciding whether or not to give someone my phone number. The risks were bigger and the cost of failure was greater. This was the time in my life that I needed the best people on my side. Those who would cheer for me when I succeeded, encourage me when I was losing faith and catch me when I fell.
Just a year or two ahead of me in most things, my grown up best friend had the wisdom of someone with experience and the understanding of someone who had only recently been through it. She helped me through newlywed fights and decorating first homes, “we hired someone else” and “why doesn’t he just know what I need”. And we had loads of fun- yoga, Spin, kickboxing, pedicures, weekend BBQ’s and introducing the husbands. The two of us became the 4 of us which quickly became a lot of us as we shared friends and brought in new people. All grown ups with grown up lives and grown up friendships.
I was 29 when I had my first child. I was not the first of my grown up friends to have a baby, nor was I the last. But it was MY first child and I was overwhelmed. Nothing prepared me for all the parts of my life that would change. I knew sleep would become a distant memory as would my waistline. I expected the strain on my marriage as roles and expectations were defined, redefined and then redefined again. I was prepared to mourn the loss of my career while embracing the choice to stay home. What I did not expect, what I was not prepared for, was feeling the heavy burden of responsibility that came along with becoming a mother. For me, it was crushing. Every decision, no matter how trivial, felt monumental and I felt like I had to “get it right.” Whether it was sleep training or nursing, playgroups or discipline- it all felt so incredibly big, so incredibly impossible.
However, I was not alone in this. The burden wasn’t solely mine. I had a wonderful husband who, although often confused about why I was so upset, encouraged and comforted me. I had a mother who supported and educated me. But most important, I had a grown up best friend- my person. And my best friend knew me- truly knew me. This was the friend with whom my fears and frustrations could be laid bare. This was the friendship that kept my head above water with encouraging words and a frustrated “calm down” when necessary. This friendship was the safe place within which I could release frustrated tears and whisper my greatest fears- I didn’t love being a mom and I think there might be something wrong with me. This was the voice on the other end of the phone that told me I was normal, everyone felt like me, I wasn’t a bad mom and it was ok if I needed help. This friendship was authentic and reliable. It was my safe harbor in the storms of life.
The little girl friendships of my youth were not built on unfiltered honesty, unwavering loyalty and fierce protection. In fact, many of those friendships never survived the challenges of the grown up world. It was the big girl friendship developed in the grown up world of marriage and solidified through the universal battles of motherhood that was my strength when life felt too big and too much to handle.
Vicky Willenberg is a wife, mother and wannabe writer who lives in Southern California. You can find her chronicling her adventures in raising two kids while still growing up herself on her blog The Pursuit of Normal and on Facebook.