Lots of parents tend to see time with friends as "optional fun time," but it's actually vital for physical and emotional stability.
In the 12 years since I left college and moved away to begin a family, I’ve consistently found myself wishing for friends. I tried to maintain my college friendships remotely, and I was able to with a few of them, but it’s hard to make time for phone calls when the second the phone rings, the children fall apart.
What I’ve found is that it’s even harder to make new friendships when life is busy and hectic. During the many years when I had multiple small children, my attempts at making friends looked like a string of planned playdates that 9 out of 10 times would fall through. A child was always sick or plans would change last-minute, and the one or two promising playdates would eventually just fade to a memory.
I kept telling myself this was a season in life, and when the kids got older and were all in school I would have plenty of time for making friends.
Lo and behold, the kids are almost all in school — the 2-year-old goes to in-home childcare, so my days are “free.” But freedom doesn’t look like I thought it would — it actually seems twice as busy as the days when I scurried around the house, moving from diaper changes to laundry to cooking dinner.
The one constant is that I still find myself wishing I had friends. Moving back to Texas after seven years in Florida meant that I had to start all over — my childhood friends are still here, but they’ve established lives and circles of friendships that don’t overlap with mine. I do have a whole new circle of connections with my business partners, and have struck up many work-related friendships. But not the kind of friendship where I can call them after a bad day and ask if they want to meet for coffee or a drink to blow off steam.
According to a recent article in the Atlantic, it’s hardly a surprise that I haven’t forged any real friendships with my work friends — it’s impossible to build a deep friendship with someone when your interactions are centered around and predicated by work.
Ryan Hubbard, who lives in Adelaide, Australia and works in “design for social innovation,” started a research project called Kitestring to try to figure out how people organize their lives to prioritize friendship, and some of the more specific ways that friendships get deeper.
One interesting way Hubbard uses the container metaphor is this concept of “repotting” friendships to make them closer, as you might repot a succulent that has outgrown its terra-cotta cup. “Sometimes you’ve got a friend at work, and you see them every day, but the pot that plant is in at work is quite small,” Hubbard says. “It’s going to reach the size of the pot, and that’s it. If you want it to be a bigger, deeper friendship, you need to repot it to a bigger context. You might need to bring them to your house. Or invite them to meet your family — that’s an even bigger pot.”
I have thought about getting together with work friends outside of work, but I always tell myself I don’t have time. The funny thing about being an adult, though, is that we never just have random free time — if I want to prioritize building friendships, I have to make the time to do so.
And it is something that should be prioritized. Friendships are incredibly valuable for our mental and emotional health and well-being. When I think to myself, “Gosh, I wish I had a friend I could call about this,” what I’m really feeling is loneliness — and loneliness is a detriment to mental, emotional, and physical health.
One things is certain: I’m not going to spend the next 12 years wishing I had a good friend to call; it’s time to prioritize building friendship as in investment in my health and well-being. My family and my job depend on my health and emotional stability, and it’s time to take seriously the fact that friendship is a vital component of those two things.