In private conversations with mothers, I’ve heard the exact same story over and over again. A new mother wondering what happened with her closest friendships. It’s a painful story I resonate with in deep parts of my soul, but also one I’ve finally come to a peaceful place with and feel healed enough to talk about.
As most of us experience, a majority of friendships are for a season. The season that the two of you share the bond that brought you together. It could have been classmates, coworkers, a church community, a project you were both working on, a neighbor, or a plethora of other commonalities. I came to accept that it was normal to grow apart from some amazing people I shared life with because our seasons no longer aligned. I have a fiercely loyal personality, so this was a hard pill for me to swallow in my twenties.
But none of that could prepare me for the changes that motherhood brought on.
Overtime we develop certain friendships that we believe are our ride-or-dies. Relationships that can withstand any hurdle and are just as intimate as family. The friendship is bigger than our geographic location, career changes, and personal life changes. But as I have experienced, and so many women I have I spoken with, sometimes those are seasons too. When those shift, they catch you by the most surprise and leave you feeling wounded.
Becoming a mother shifts your entire world in a moment. Once that child enters the world, it’s like an earthquake. Everything centers around keeping this human alive. If you are a mother that also chooses to (or needs to) go back to work, that becomes your max capacity. Keeping you and that child alive, fed and bathed while maintaining a career becomes all you have the width and breadth to manage. Your little spare time will most likely go to self-care or a rare date night with your significant other.
When I had my first daughter, on top of the usual adjustments, we also were in the middle of a personal life crisis. We lost our home, moved in with my parents and then moved when she was two weeks old and tried to set up a new home with both of us working from home and taking care of a newborn. It was overwhelming.
When she was about six months old, I picked my head up and realized that during that very challenging season there were some friends that showed up more than I could have expected. They helped us move, brought over a meal, just came and sat with me to be company, even mowed our lawn when my husband left for a month for work when she was five months old. And then I realized there were some people who I thought were my inner circle that had not even come to meet her.
I’m not a woman that keeps a scorecard. I always give the benefit of the doubt, but something this time felt different. My husband, being the peacemaker he is, kept reassuring me that I was overthinking things and these people still loved me and cared about me, they were just busy. So I tried to reach out and make plans but I was given excuse after excuse.
By the time my daughter was a year old, I was finally able to accept that these were seasonal friendships. By “able to accept” I mean I wept many tears and grieved the losses. (At the time they felt like losses, as I healed I realized they were just normal seasonal shifts that I didn’t adjust to very well.)
A similar pruning happened after I had my son. For most of the pregnancy I was in a ton of pain, barely functional, and solo-parenting. After he arrived I had about a month I was home with him before I was back to work. And when he was two months old he landed in the Pediatric ICU for two weeks, five days of which he was on life support. I tear up just thinking of how close we came to losing him and the compassion of the nurses and doctors that carried us through that time.
Again, through that six month period there were people who checked on us regularly and showed up for us. Even my friend who was living in the Middle East sent a baby shower gift, a care package for his arrival and managed to be a support system to us while I was living at the hospital with him. Between our friends and our family, I felt overwhelmed in love. We had been so blessed.
Months later, after the stress and trauma had settled down and I was no longer in survival mode, I reflected back. There were certain people who I had in my inner circle who managed to go missing during that time. A reason for why they couldn’t make the baby shower, too busy to come sit with me when I was home with him, absent during the hospital stay. And these were people that in my mind I would have paused the entire world and inconvenienced my family to show up for them.
If you are a working mom then you know, our time to pour into our friendships is so limited, and it has to be very intentional. Every invitation we say yes to leaves something else in our life neglected. Moments at home with our family to just rest (not clean, or meal prep or grocery shop) are far and few between. To maintain our health and our family’s health, we have to set clear priorities.
Most of the time, I am managing how I spend my time, energy and resources by what or whom can most afford to be neglected, not what I most want or desire to do.
Fast forward a couple years and I am so blessed with amazing people in my life. When I say that, I am including the ones I was referencing in this post that I felt caused pain. (Minus one who I realized was a narcissistic abuser and I had to get help to heal from that one, but that’s a different post for a different day, HAHA! I have absolutely 0 contact with her in any form now)
The arrival of both children taught me so much. Here is what I have learned:
- I choose to tell myself a story that the actions (or typically lack thereof) that hurt me the most were never, ever them realizing they were hurting me. They were in their own state of survival and they were doing the best they could to get themselves and their families through each day.
- When I am going to pause the needs of myself and my family to invest in my friendships, I am going to pour into the people that pour into me. I will be a mirror to those I love so that I do not accidentally hurt anyone I care the most about. There is a well-known concept I took to heart, “you are a reflection of the five people you spend the most time with.” After the experience with my second child left me feeling disappointed when some of the people I invested the most time in were not the ones that showed up for me on my darkest of days, I literally got out a sheet of paper. I knew that with two kids, a marriage, a full-time job and a side hustle I would be investing very little time into friendships. I wrote down five names that I wanted to love on the hardest and make sure I always showed up for in the ways they needed me and everything else was bonus.
- I have gotten very good at saying no to invitations. It’s never, ever, ever because I don’t WANT to go to something. I am an Enneagram 7. I absolutely LOVE socializing, spontaneous fun and making new memories. Literally…the driving fear of a 7 is FOMO, the fear of missing out. I want to be at all the things, party with all the people and maximize the amount of laughs I can have on this planet.
But I have come to realize that I cannot do all the things. My children literally cry when someone other than mommy tucks them in bed. My job supports our family. My husband craves time with me. I’m blessed with parents and siblings (plus nieces and nephews) that live nearby and I treasure the time we can be together like they are gifts sent directly from God himself. These things will fill up a calendar quickly.
All that to say, when the invitations start coming in for birthday parties, Christmas parties, backyard barbecues or whatever the festivity may be, I pause. I didn’t used to pause. I used to look at the calendar and see if there was a conflict and if not I always went. Now I realize “dinner with my family and putting my kids to bed myself” is an event.
Now I say yes if it’s a mutual friendship (meaning someone that also shows up for me). Or I will say yes if the invitation in an investment in my self-care.
- I’ve found other ways to love on friends. My love language is quality time and that’s how I WANT to show up for EVERYONE. I just simply can’t. So now I try to show up with words of affirmation a lot because it’s really all I can manage. Maybe it’s a social media comment or DM, maybe it’s a text to check in, or maybe it’s some other form of communication (I don’t make phone calls…don’t be offended, lol). But this is a way I can manage to make someone feel loved without taking away from my family or career.
- I focus on the gratitude for the people who are in this season. Whether it’s because of a commonality with our children, our careers, living in the same vicinity or whatever we share, I enjoy them to fullest with no expectations. I appreciate the friendships around me for what they are right now, and I don’t expect anyone to still be here when I’m 80. I laugh with them, I cry with them, and I (on rare occasions) make plans with them. Because I’ve been hurt, I don’t hold anyone to the expectation anymore that they can weather all my seasons. It’s not fair. Neither of us know what life can bring. Some of my most favorite friendships I have right now are with people I have only known for the last 2-3 years and that’s okay. They bring so much joy into my life and have been a gift on a silver platter. We will enjoy each other’s company, learn from one another, and one day life may separate us, and now I am perfectly at peace with this truth.
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