We're discussing The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming our Passion, Purpose, and Sanity. The first two conversations are
Part 1(discussing Habit 1)
Part 2 (still discussing Habit 1)
Part 3 (still more on Habit 1)
Part 4 (Habit 2: key friendships)
I find it tricky to write about friendship, sort of like I find it tricky to write about marriage. Well, not exactly. It's tricky to write about friendship because I'd never want my friends to feel like our relationships have been reduced to so much blog fodder. Nor would I want to betray a trust or to air dirty laundry (mine or someone else's). In those ways it's like writing about marriage. When I write about marriage, though, I can show everything I've written to Mike before I ever publish it. We can talk about it, side by side, and reach a mutual consensus. I can be absolutely certain there is no misunderstanding. With friendship, that's not possible. So, it's tricky not to offend or to be misunderstood. I thought about just moving on from this topic and avoiding the whole challenging issue. But the comments last week were heartfelt and compelling and they deserve to be acknowledged. Also, I want to hear what you have to say.
So, I'm going to draw upon those comments and my mail and speak to the common experience of us all. I beg you not to read anything else into my thoughts.
The making of food not only meets a basic need but is a tangible reminder of nurturing from one soul to another. Often we cannot change the circumstances a person is experiencing but we can lighten the load by offering practical help where possible.
A thought also that, it is OK to ask for help, so often I have struggled on unnecessarily because I have lacked the courage to turn to others during times of need.
Also on the topic of food, Barbara wrote:
Bringing food to a mom in need can be an act of kindness and solidarity, but isn't always an act of friendship. Friendly isn't always friendship. Does that make sense? That doesn't devalue the dinner, though.
For example, I think the food that meant the most to Elizabeth was brought on the spur of the moment by someone who knew her well, knew her unspoken need, and cared enough to take action.
I've brought food to many women over the years, but I think the most appreciated was the set of frozen entrees I took to someone whose husband had a long term illness. I didn't see her often, but as life happened I set aside extras from our meals, eventually bringing her a stash. She knew I had been thinking about her and praying for her. Yet even so, we aren't close friends. I wasn't expecting it, so it's not a disappointment. Those meals were acts of love, but friendship takes more than love.
I think that these are valuable points. Dr. Meeker's examples were definitely of the friendship variety. She cited women who were good friends and made meals for other women. Many of us have experience with meals ministry. As Barbara differentiates, those are acts of kindness, but not necessarily genuine friendships. Very valuable acts of kindness I might add. It's funny for me to read this quote from Barbara. It was Barbara whom I called in utter panic seconds after leaving the midwife on my way to have an urgent c-section. Who was going to manage my house? She was. That's a friendship call, not a generalized call. San's point here is a good one. It's difficult for many of us to ask for help. To be vulnerable. To show our weaknesses. I think that even in cases where a deep friendship doesn't exist, when women ask and women answer that genuine call, friendships can develop. A bond is often forged in a time of need.
Barbara also wrote:
Friendships do need an investment of time on both sides. I don't make enough effort, being caught up with my home and family and schooling and activities. Other times I want a deeper friendship but she won't invest the time. If I'm always the one initiating or traveling or putting in the most time, maybe it's not meant to be an inner friendship. That's disappointing, especially if it's the drifting apart of a close friendship rather than a potential one that isn't working out.
I found that thought really interesting in light of what Amy wrote:
It was helpful to read about inner and outer circle friends, but it highlighted some things I have been struggling with. As Dr. Meeker said, inner circle friends take time, and it is hard for me to carve out that time when I am homeschooling and housekeeping without sacrificing time I could be spending with my husband (yes, truly my dearest friend) or kids. To maintain several inner circle friends seems like it is requiring a lot of time. I was lonely for years and prayed for good friends, so I know this is a blessed problem to have, but I am also concerned about balancing it all.
And Marie echoed the thought:
Although I understand the point made, I wonder if there might be a flip side to being unbalanced in the other direction. In other words, having a circle of friends is yet another pressure women/mothers put on themselves. I see a lot of women these days running themselves ragged getting involved in activities so that they and their children might have friends. Many other important things are sacrificed at this altar, home-life, family relationships, meals together, etc.
While I'm not saying "no" effort needs to be made, I believe this is an area you can really trust God in. Especially if you have the very pressing responsibilities of raising a large family, small children and homeschooling, which generally doesn't afford a lot of time for outside social outlets.
I think Amy's experience is a common one. I think it's the experience of moms with careers outside the home and I know it's the experience of mothers of many children. And it's the experience my husband voices again and again, so I am quite sure it's not just a girl thing. When we hear God's call to have a large family and then, possibly, to educate them at home, our life is going to look different. The calls on our time by our families are real; they are necessary; and they are incessant. Literally. Mothers of large families and homeschooling mothers don't have the discretionary time other women do. The same, I think, can be said for fathers. My husband works really long hours. When he has time "off," he spends it with his kids. It sounds harsh to say that a woman can prioritize herself right out of a friendship, but I think it's true. There are seasons when our inner circle might be just one woman and our outer circle might be two. And that's all the time we have.
Tangentially, I think this is the draw of the internet for mothers at home with small children and/or big families. They know they can't travel--they are in the car all the time transporting children hither and yon and they truly don't have time to meet a friend for lunch. They go no where without a nursing baby in tow and find that the challenge of getting out with four children under six is just too exhausting most days. But they can squeeze in a conversation on the internet while waiting for a pot to boil. And they can share ideas with other women all over the world while baby sleeps in a sling in a rare moment of silence.
Can those friendships be inner circle ones? Should they be? 'Tis truly a matter for prayer.
Is it possible that a dry spell in friendships is an opportunity? The two highest prority friendships in our lives are God and husband. Liz wrote:
Recently, I have had the idea come to me (Holy Spirit prompting?) that perhaps the reason why my prayers for a "best friend" have seemingly gone unanswered, is that Jesus has been quietly waiting for me to become His best friend. Waiting to have a more personal relationship with me. Some people may be led to Christ through their friendships, whereas for others, perhaps Christ is waiting to show them TRUE friendship and thus lead them to true friends.
I must admit when I read stories like Elizabeth's about her best friend Martha who shared so much with her, my initial reaction is to feel jealous, and to long for that kind of friend with whom to share my journey of motherhood. But for now, I am concentrating on building my friendship with Christ, to share my loneliness despite being surrounded by friends, to connect on that deeper level with HIM, and then trust that the graces will flow.
Martha and I shared every day when our first children were little. When I was pregnant with Mary Beth (my fourth), she moved to England with her husband and four children. Those were early internet days. We weren't yet plugged in. Within weeks of her leaving, I was pregnant, in a new house, in a new town, far, far from my best friend. In the 15 years since, I have had five more children and she has moved back to the town where we met, but I am no longer there. All four of her children went to school and now, she is nine months away from an empty nest. I have a two year old and eight children still at home. Our lives look very different and we definitely drifted. Still, I cherish that friendship with all my heart. Do friends move in and out of different circles? Perhaps they do.
In that gaping hole after she left for England, I poured God. I look back on that time and see that He was my only refuge. Perhaps not incidentally, Mike was working 80-hour weeks during that season of our lives. Maybe it was all part of His plan.
Do God and husband move in and out of circles? Do they ever drift away? No. And yes, I think those relationships deserve our wholehearted investment.
I also think that as we prioritize and invest in our families, we are investing in the friendships of our future. My very favorite quote in my book, Real Learning, is this one:
Be a friend to your child. Listen with interest. Speak with courtesy. Think of him as a friend. When he behaves in a way that would not be desired in your best friend, speak the truth in love. Must you correct or admonish? Of course you must. For this is a child. And while he is your friend, he is still growing. You must shape him so that he is a good friend. Shortly before he died, Col. Mike Pennefather, who was known in our local Catholic community as an exemplary father and a wonderful friend to the homeschooling community, wrote an article in which he referred to his seven grown children as his “best friends on this planet.” What an incredible tribute! With that simple phrase — best friends on this planet — he speaks both of the beauty of their relationship and of the integrity and worth of his children. Think of working toward that goal. Yes, we need to form our children. We want them to be worthy and loving friends. We absolutely need to guide them with loving firmness. And we need to nurture and cultivate our relationship with them. We need to be good friends to them so that they learn how to be good friends. I am not advocating that you relinquish authority. To do so would be to plunge your children into a sea of confusion and bewilderment. I am simply advocating that you treat children with the respect and gentleness of an excellent mentor, an older and wiser friend, whose strength is that she inspires the heart of her student.
I see this coming true. We are not our children's friends when they are children. And we are their parents forever. But what nobler purpose than to work with the Creator to form children into the best friends we could hope to have? Isn't this what we want? For them to grow into the kind of people whom we would choose for our very best friends.
That's all I have time for a for today. I want to leave you with Megan's hopeful thoughts:
My heart aches for those who feel hurt or threatened by this chapter. Women's hearts are so fragile and yet so rich. Too many hurts, too many reasons to throw up the walls and form a solid barrier between ourselves and the rest of the world.
Gentleness. We need it, and we can give it. The world is so so harsh.
Joy. The world needs it, and we can give it. It can be shown with one smile.
Maintaining key friendships is an investment. But it is one worth the time and effort. Like our relationship with Christ. Don't we WANT to spend time with those we love dearly?
After receiving meals for over a month after baby #6 (via c-section) I know it's time to pay it forward. Like the tide, it ebbs and flows. Gentleness and Joy, Charity and Magnanimity. We women have beautiful gifts to give.
What are your thoughts?