Monday, January 5, 2009

Cultivating Friends While Raising Children

The request for reading suggestions got me to thinking about the problem of finding time for adult pleasures when life is filled with work and children. Although we see plenty of people in our work settings, that is different from having friends. We are necessarily reserved with patients, and we tend to be (or struggle not to be) competitive with colleagues and directive with staff.

It takes a conscious effort for working mothers of any stripe to maintain or seek friendships. On the one hand, our children’s activities bring us together with parents of children of similar ages. Some of the best friends I have made as an adult are women I met that way: in a prenatal exercise class and the mothers of my daughters’ close friends. Even the girl scouts have provided some great connections (though with continual dodging and weaving to avoid being the cookie mom). But it is not always easy to find common ground outside of parenting, and when children change their friends or their activities, these ties can easily fray.

I have tried lots of other ways, including book clubs (but then you have to read the books), exercise classes (never a good bet for an unathletic soul like me) and various volunteer activities. What has worked best—and sometimes wonderfully—has been to get involved with things I love for their own sake, to which I can bring a child sometimes. The real lifesaver was finding an opera company that had chorus parts for adults and children. I brought along two of my daughters, and while I never graduated above second alto, the experience brought out my daughter’s latent musicality and has formed her career as an adult.

It is important to find something that is more than a single time event, that offers both continuity and flexibility. The Sierra Club, with its multiple local outings, can be great for that. The other thing I have learned is that with effort, one can learn not to strive for excellence in everything. We have been such achievers, it can be a surprise to realize that a fifth rate production of one act plays is still fun and that other harried but interesting people may be drawn to similar things.

And of course, my lifelong addiction to books with series characters—from Nancy Drew to Harry Potter and mystery series too numerous to mention—means that whenever I want to visit an old friend, someone completely undemanding is always at hand.

Do others think about this? How do you stay yourself while taking care of so many other people?

2 comments:

  1. I made a great friend while taking prenatal yoga class with my first. The great thing about that is our kids are the same age and have been close friends since (3 1/2 years and counting).

    It takes extra effort to maintain friendships now, for sure.

    How do I stay myself? Blogging/writing helps me immeasurably.

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  2. I thoroughly agree with you. Most of my cherished "adult" friendships are those born of my children: prenatal yoga partners in crime and moms of my kids' preschool classmates. You are right, though, that these ties are fragile. When preschool ended for 3 months last summer, it felt like an unnatural effort to sustain some of the friendships.

    How do I stay myself? I wish I had anything to offer there. I have changed altogether since being a working mom. I second KC that writing is therapeutic. I also take a Pilates class once a week, where no one knows my kids or thinks of me as a mom (well, except when they see my midriff of mush). And I have a small core group of girlfriends from my fellowship, none of whom have gone on to have children except me for one reason or another. When I get together with them, I don't discuss potty training or Otitis Media the Sequel or bedtime roaming as soon as the big girl bed came on the scene because they couldn't care less about these things and have nothing to contribute to the conversation. It is very, very refreshing to get together with them, even if we only manage to do it every 2 or 3 months. And, as a bonus, I actually get to try out the cool restaurants that childless people know about--you know, the ones that serve tapas and Cosmopolitans rather than chicken fingers and juice boxes.

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