When you have children and your friends don't
"Maintaining friendships, like keeping up your fitness or forging a career, takes work" ... Sonja Ebbels
Picture this. A Friday night, husband away for the weekend, and I’m sitting in a busy inner city restaurant with my two children. I’m waiting for friends, a childless couple, to arrive for a catch-up dinner, which they organised. They are 20 minutes late, and counting. There’s no more bread, and the sugar-laden lemonade is having an impact on my young children. Is this a scene you’re familiar with?
Bored, tired, and sick of being reprimanded, my kids disappear under the table to play a version of hide and seek. I grab my phone and send a mildly terse text asking when my friends might show up. Their response - a casual, cheery ‘grab a wine honey, we won’t be long’ - unfortunately coincides with my son standing up while still under the table, sending cutlery and glassware smashing to the ground.
it’s not just parenting that affects friendships. The older we become, the more stuck in our ways we are. We know what we like and what we don’t
Immediately grabbing the kids and paying for their lemonades, I send a swift text suggesting a catch-up at a later date, then made for the door.
Once home and with the kids finally in bed, I check my phone. As expected, there are several missed calls and text messages from my tardy friends. And while I expected them to be disappointed that I’d decided to pass on our dinner, I wasn’t ready for the extent of annoyance they exhibited.
Stages of life differ for everyone, and there will be times when your stages don’t mesh with those close to you. But rather than seeing it as imperative for your friends to partake in all areas of your life, it’s possible to have different friends for different seasons.
A recent online survey of nearly 1000 parents revealed that both men and women feel significantly dissatisfied with their friendships after having children. Like my friends from the restaurant, childless friends can find the time restraints and organisation that comes with kids difficult to adjust to. And how quickly parents forget – or yearn for - the spontaneity that comes with being childless.
But it’s not just parenting that affects friendships. The older we become, the more stuck in our ways we are. We know what we like and what we don’t.
Maintaining friendships, like keeping up your fitness or forging a career, takes work. Whether your new job keeps you busy, or the demands of a young family have taken over your life, ensuring that you spend quality time with friends is just as vital to your wellbeing.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported on a 2011 study that stated that women in particular are predisposed to the calming effects of friendship. When stressed, females release the hormone oxytocin, which encourages “tend and befriend” behaviour, rather that the “fight or flight” reaction commonly observed in men. As a result, when women feel stressed they talk to their friends.
One of the beneifts of working and raising a family is the opportunity to meet people and make new friends. As these friends commonly partake in all areas of life it can, at times, be challenging. When a friend of mine was recently organising a birthday party for herself she began worrying over the guest list - she's divorced, in a new relationship, and has different friends from different areas of her life, so her list consisted of old school friends, university friends, career friends, mummy friends, friends she made while married and friends she’s made from her new relationship. The thought of putting them into a small room for a cocktail party was daunting. She’d was worried they wouldn’t all get along. But she'd forgotten about the common ground: herself. As we were all there to celebrate her birthday we had a wonderful time getting to know all the different people in her life.
Author Helen Keller once wrote, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” There are friends you exercise with, friends who share your taste in movies, friends who are friends just because you like them. It’s all right to have different friends for different things.
Like the seasons, friendships change and evolve. All that matters is that in times of need, your friends are there for you, just as you are for them.
This article first appeared on Daily Life.