When I look back on my first few years as a parent, I can't help but filled with a little regret. There are, of course, aspects of that time that I wish I had done differently. I wish I'd had more confidence in my parenting abilities. I wished I'd remembered that I'm important and that it's okay to take care of my own needs.
And one realisation that came far too late – I wished I'd known how to be a better friend.
When I became a mother for the first time, the early years of parenting were filled with lots of worry, stress, and appointments. My daughter was born premature and had several developmental delays. She was also diagnosed with a specific language impairment.
Being a first-time parent, I wanted to be the best possible parent for my child. I devoted all my time and energy into my daughter. When she was in bed, I spent time with my husband. If he was at work, I was doing housework or simply passing the time.
I was doing all the right things by my daughter, but I was forgetting to do right by me.
Eventually loneliness got to me and I joined a parenting website. I quickly made a group of parenting friends, and became friends in real life with one woman in particular.
But I was so busy tending to my daughter's needs I didn't know how to be a good friend. I would make promises I couldn't keep; I wouldn't make any extra effort to see her and her children. I didn't have the courage to tell her all the financial hardship and personal problems that I was going through, as I didn't want to burden her with my problems.
Over time, inevitably, our friendship fell apart, and I lost someone who helped me through my early years as a mum. I lost a valuable, meaningful friendship because I didn't realise that being a parent, as busy as you are, shouldn't stop you from caring about other areas of your life.
Since that friendship ended several years ago, I've made the decision to learn from my mistakes.
Looking back on my experiences, I know that I was busy. But now, as a mother of three, I know that I could have, and should have, let my friend help me. I didn't need to feel like I had to do it alone.
Now, I also work and study from home. My two youngest children also have language impairments and attend a different school to their sisters. As busy as I am now, I have a supportive group of friends who I know would do anything for me. I've finally learnt how to be a better friend.
The lesson I learnt
All of us have busy lives. Whether we're parents of one child or five, we have our own struggles, challenges and responsibilities. And I realise now that when you care about the people in your life, you try your best to make an effort – no matter how hard it can be at times.
You don't have to do anything major to show someone that you care. Your parent friend might be going through a difficult time, and a simple text or call to check up on them can be huge. Or it could be simply going out for a coffee, or a walk with the kids together.
I've also realised that being a good friend isn't just about making time for friends who have children. It's important to be there for all your loved ones – whether they have children or not.
Nowadays, I'll put my work, assignments and/or housework to the side if my friends are feeling down. I'll text my friends to see if they're okay. I'll be their shoulder to cry on, just because that's what friends do for one another.
I realise now that each and every effort matters. And I truly know that it makes a difference.
I may have lost that particular friend years ago, but I have gained so much from that experience. I no longer let my responsibilities lead me to forget to appreciate my loved ones. I remember that life is too short not to cherish the moment and the special people in my life.
I may not be able to be there all the time for everybody, but at least I know now how to be a better friend.