As parents we hear a lot of “How come we’re the only ones who…” But guess what? You’re not the only ones. It’s normal
I’m a mother in my thirties. I have a bunch of little ones close in age, bli ayin hara, and I work part-time. Although I don’t have much time to socialize, I keenly feel the lack of close friends. I keep up with a few friends from my high school and single days, but we all live in different places, and while I cherish the relationships, it doesn’t fill the void of not having a friend living nearby. (Besides which, it’s hard to find the time to speak on the phone.)
When I had one or two kids and lived elsewhere, I had a few good friends in my neighborhood. Although we were busy with our newborns and toddlers, we found the time to get together; we used to spend Shabbos afternoons in each other’s apartments or feed our children supper together in the park.
Five years ago we moved to another city, and I still haven’t found someone I’d call a good friend. I find that women my age and in my stage in life are so busy, they just don’t prioritize friendships and won’t find the time to cultivate a new one. I do have many acquaintances, baruch Hashem; I chat with them when I see them, we make kimpeturin meals for each other, borrow things from each other, etc. Our family has also hosted and been guests at Shabbos meals. But none of these exchanges have led to what I consider actual friendships.
I’d love a friend or two I could meet up with for coffee during the week, or to go shopping with. On long Shabbos afternoons, I get many knocks on the door for my kids, but I find the day so lonely for me. It’s awkward for me to go over to someone’s house to visit with all my little ones in tow, and besides, Shabbos afternoons, when women are busy with their families, is not a practical time to develop a real friendship.
I spoke about this to a woman about ten years older than me, and she felt that women in my stage are just trying to keep their heads above water, and that in a few years they’d start getting together more. I’m not sure…. I have a feeling I’m not the only one who feels that motherhood can be lonely and friends are important. How can I make a true friend at this stage?
Mrs. Esther Stauber is a seminary and parenting teacher living in Givat Ze’ev. She’s a popular mentor for newlyweds, veteran mothers, and everyone in between.
There’s a great rule of thumb in parenting that says that when a healthy, functioning child is experiencing something as part of his childhood growth, unless there are extreme factors involved, the assumption is that this is normal. If this child is experiencing it, then plenty of kids out there are most likely experiencing it as well, whether or not we know about it.
“Normal” by definition means that a majority of people experience this to some extent or at some time. As parents we hear a lot of “How come we’re the only ones who…” But guess what? You’re not the only ones. It’s normal.
This rule equally extends to adult experiences. When a mother feels that she’s the “only one who…”, or hers is the “only house that…” she’s not the only one and her house is not the only house. It’s a normal part of functioning and many other people are experiencing what you are, whether it’s obvious or not. Again, maybe not to the same degree or at the exact same time, but it’s part of normal functioning.
Now let’s talk about moms.
Generally speaking — obviously individual circumstances vary — women in years five through about twenty of married life are busy. Really busy. Sometimes up-to-their-ears busy, with the rigors of maintaining daily functioning: housework, meals, homework, laundry, shopping, working, parenting, working on their marriages, you can say laundry again, doctors’ appointments, PTA… no need to keep going, you get it! Sometimes more, sometimes less, some lighter years, some heavier years.
A great number of women just about keep their heads above water during this time, their day ending when their battery simply conks out.
As such, women tend to prioritize and a lot gets left on the side of the road to be picked up at a later period. Some things slide naturally, others are more conscious decisions. So yes, you noticed that friendships and certainly the development of new relationships often fall into this category, as home, marriage, and children can be all encompassing.
Many women rely on old friends for the occasional “booster shot” when the need for a friend arises. You are absolutely correct when you observe that “Many [women] don’t prioritize friendships” or “simply don’t have the time to cultivate a new one.” That’s what they let slide — and they’re not right or wrong; it works for them, although not for you. And that’s… normal.
Many women occasionally meet up with an old friend at a simchah or a visit from out of town and genuinely enjoy themselves, and they say (very sincerely!) things like, “Why in the world don’t we get together more often?” or “Please let’s do this again soon!” They enjoy it, they love the experience, but they end up jumping right back into their lives by the next morning.
But what my sister or neighbor lets slide might not work for me. The reality is that it doesn’t work for you to ignore this need — nor should it. The fact that you crave friendships and have a need to keep friendships in your life indicates that yes, there are others who share this need. True, the women you casually bump into might not need it as you do, so they’re not the right candidates for you.
So what can you do?
Popping in on a Shabbos afternoon, as you say, with kids in tow is not the way to build a deep and meaningful friendship, but it’s actually a pretty good start. Deeper, more substantial friendships begin casually. They begin with the Shabbos visit, a park day, sending a meal (and a follow-up phone call) and then they develop, whether organically or with a little more initiation on your side.
The key is to try to find the right candidates — you don’t want to pursue the women for whom deeper relationships are not on their list of priorities right now. It takes thought and intuition (and often subtlety) to peg the women who are open to what you’re seeking. You want to find the women who seem to be open to your overtures. Realistically speaking, that might mean looking in social settings; if you’re craving connection, put yourself in obvious social situations (as others seeking the same thing might).
Do you live in a neighborhood where women and children go to shul? Do you frequent the park in the afternoons? Can you join your local PTA or N’shei committees? Ask yourself, “If we had all the time in the world, would this person be someone I could be friends with? Is this a person I really click with?” If the answer is yes, take that chance!
Call with something specific in mind after you think her kids are in bed (at this stage, calling with no agenda, just to say hello, might be awkward, so a specific thought or question is a good idea). It might be “a quick question,” asking her for her opinion, advice, or a recipe. Make sure you’re calling at a good time and keep it pleasant and natural — and try to intuit whether this person would like to pursue this further. Always ask if it’s a good time to talk and follow her lead.
As in previous stages in life, close friendships might very well begin as circumstantial but blossom into something greater (think of schoolmates who sat near each other and became besties, colleagues who became good friends). Take advantage of those opportunities to develop friendships based on present circumstances.
In addition, although you yourself have only been in the neighborhood for a short time, be proactive in looking out for newcomers whom you can welcome. Those elusive friends are out there, and they’re looking for you as well!
When I was in shidduchim, a common cliché people used to describe someone who was “a great friend” was, “He’s the guy you’d call at three in the morning if you were stuck.”
That’s definitely sweet, but I remember thinking, somewhat cynically, “Okay, but what about at three in the afternoon? What about if you weren’t stuck? What if there was no drama?” The guy you call in the middle of the night might just be a doer or a macher. That doesn’t mean he has the makings of a good friend. So who does?
Here are some questions we can ask ourselves in order to determine if we’d be that person for someone else…
Am I trustworthy? Do I trust others?
Am I honest with others?
Am I dependable?
Do I experience — and express — empathy for others?
Am I judgmental or critical?
Do I speak about other people?
Can I listen without interjecting, advising, or judging?
Am I supportive of others in their bad times? What about during their good times?
Am I aware of healthy boundaries? Am I aware of when my friend needs me or when she needs her space?
Am I pleasant to be around?
Do I often have complaints, kvetches, or harp on things, or do I generally have positive, pleasant conversations?
Do I talk more about my own life than express interest in the other person’s? Then again, do I only like talking about the other person’s life and not share from my own?
This is by no means exhaustive or exclusive, but it’s a good start. Our friendship pool might vary at different stages of life, sometimes including ten women, and other times including that one sister overseas who we e-mail a few times a week, but making oneself a kli who is capable of being a friend is a great way to attract friends!
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 665)