“Let’s try this again,” I typed into a group text to my three closest friends. “When can we get together?”
Now that most of us are vaccinated, we had been trying to set a date for a month, but we kept getting sidetracked. Coordinating the schedules of four women with careers, three of whom also have kids or step kids is no easy task.
My phone pinged again and again as my friends threw out dates and others shot them down. Work, family obligations and kids’ activities were all standing in the way of us seeing each other — something we desperately needed after a year apart because of COVID. Finally, we were able to commit to a date, nearly six weeks out.
In some ways, it’s easier than ever today to keep in touch. While I can send a text or social media hello to friends between work calls and parenting crises, it takes a lot of time and effort to actually get together and maintain friendships that I have outside of my role as a parent. The friends that I see most often aren’t the ones who I’m closest with, but the ones whose kids share the same activities as mine.
Of course, I’m not alone in this. As Joshua Coleman recently reported for The Atlantic, many parents sacrifice their own social lives amid the hustle and bustle of raising kids. While that might seem like a forgone conclusion to today’s parents, it doesn’t have to be. Coleman points to the work of sociologist Paul Amato, who found that boomers had 51% more friends than people do today.
Coleman argues that’s because we spend so much time and energy on raising our children. Parents today spend more time with their children than parents from past generations. That time has to come from somewhere, and Coleman argues that it’s coming from our social lives. That might seem trivial, but having meaningful friendships is critical for health and wellbeing.
Researcher William Chopik, who studied the impact of friendship on health, found that meaningful friendships can be even more important than family connections, in part because the way we interact with friends is different from how we interact with family.
“I went into the research sort of agnostic to the role of friendship,” Chopik told Time. “But the really surprising thing was that, in a lot of ways, relationships with friends had a similar effect as those with family—and in others, they surpassed them.”
He continued, “A few studies show that we often enjoy our time with friends more than with family. We do leisurely things with friends, whereas family events are often serious or maybe a little monotonous.”
That really resonated with me. My mom and sister are two of my best friends, but I almost exclusively see them when the kids are around. That family time is really nice, but it also leads to lots of interruptions and distractions, not the type of deep and meaningful conversations that I look to have with friends.
More recently, we’ve been making an effort to get together once or twice a month without the kids. My daughters are indignant that I would dare to see Mimi or Auntie without inviting them, but I remind them that I have relationships that need to be nurtured, outside of the time that we’re all together as a family.
“One day, you two will want to spend time together without me sometimes,” I told my daughter this weekend before leaving to go kayaking with my sister.
On that kayak trip, I was able to catch up with my sister in a meaningful way. We talked about her school, future plans, our families — and I left feeling rejuvenated in a way that doesn’t happen after I spend an afternoon at the park with her wrangling the kids.
Once my friends and I finally picked a date to see each other we moved on to the next question: kids or no kids? While I would love to see how much my friends’ children have grown in the past year, I more importantly want to hear about what the year has been like for my friends, in the nitty gritty detail that you just don’t get over text.
I sent them all a message, “Let’s leave the kids at home this time.”
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