I’ve always thought of myself as someone whose life is largely defined by friendship. I have friends I’ve kept for thirty years. I like to be there for them. I like to spend time with them. For all the years I was single, I depended on my circle of friends for companionship, advice, and emotional support, and I gave the same in return. I was never the kind of person who’d cancel something with a friend because “something better came along.”
It is only now, nine years after I got pregnant with Justin that I am beginning to accept the fact that my relationships with friends are not what they used to be. I have a hard time returning phone calls, my days of chatting on the phone are over, and I rarely get time alone with a friend where we can really talk or do something together. If someone happens to have kids the same age as my kids and our kids happen to get along, then we see each other. If not, the relationship drifts into disrepair. Unless someone regularly walks in my front door (and we are blessed with a couple of extended family members who drop in on a weekly basis), it’s hard for me to arrange to see people. And if a grown up friend of mine is not “into” kids, forget it.
In reality, I have a lot of old friendships that exist only “in spirit.” Regularly, I meet new people I’d love to nurture a friendship with, but there just isn’t time. The demands of work, relationship, kids, and daily maintenance take everything. When the kids were babies, I went to baby groups and lived on baby time, but now that they are older, things have changed: there are the disparate needs of four people with conflicting schedules, dissimilar needs for stimulation and down time, and varying social needs. When my kids were little, it was easy to manipulate them into going where I wanted them to go and doing what I wanted to do, but I can’t do that anymore.
For months, I’ve wished I could find more time for friends in my life. But at the same time, I’ve been learning to value the spacious freedom that comes with hanging out with the family at home without a plan. As I continue to prioritize that more and more, and am more reluctant to fill my calendar with “dates,” my time with friends shrinks accordingly.
People with teenagers say that things are worse for them now than they were when their kids were little. Our friends from Cupertino, for instance, have regularly come to visit us. They love coming to the beach and we’ve enjoyed their company on a regular basis for years. But now their son is fifteen and he’s no longer interested in coming to our house. It’s boring, he doesn’t want to be around little kids, and he doesn’t like leaving his computer. Since our friends don’t want to leave their son home alone for long periods of time, their visits have gotten shorter and more infrequent, and they never sleep over anymore.
Last week, I was talking to the mom of a sixteen-year-old. She said, “I thought when my kids got older, I’d have more freedom, but in fact I have much less. We’ve worked really hard to make our house kid-friendly and a lot of my daughter’s friends like to hang out here. And that’s good. We know what they’re doing. But they don’t want us to hang out with them. So my husband and I often feel trapped in the bedroom. We’ve never had a TV before and recently we got a VCR just so we can watch movies while my daughter and her friends are in the living room.”
This conversation reminds me of the years when Daniel was a teenager living at home. He was often out doing his own thing, and he rarely wanted to hang out with us, but if we wanted him to talk to us, we had to be available and interruptible at the time he wanted to talk to us. Joan might be weaving. If Daniel came in and sat down on her chair, she couldn’t say, “I’m busy now. Come back later.” If she put him off, there wouldn’t be a later. Joan had to learn to put down what she was doing and be present for Daniel, and then perhaps he would confide in her. If she’d been too busy or if she’d been out seeing a movie or a friend, those precious moments of connection would have been lost.
As parents, there are many times when being present for our kids keeps us from doing something else. When for me, this means not having as much time as I would like for friends, I can start feeling deprived. Then I try to frame it as a choice. “This family is what I wanted more than anything. Nurturing children is one phase of my life, and I want my kids to say that I was there for them. Later, when they grow up, there will be all kinds of time to spend with friends.”
When I stop and really think about it, I do have friends, it’s just that I don’t have friends the same way I used to. I still have people I care about and who care about me. I have people I can depend on in a pinch, and who can depend on me. But the kind of time I have with them isn’t what it used to be.
So what has to change here? Maybe just my image of myself. Perhaps if I accepted that I’m not the person I once was and that my kids need to be my priority for the next fifteen years or so, I’d feel more peaceful about not having the kind of time I’d like to have with my friends. That and a walk with a buddy every month or so might just do the trick.