I am so excited and honored to be a part of Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger’s upcoming book The Her Stories Project. The piece I contributed is about the relationship I share with my sister today and how we got here.
I am extremely excited not only to be a part of this book but to read this book. As I mother my four children and help guide them through the ups and downs of their friendships, I am continually reminded of how important and sometimes complicated friendships are, and how even at my age, some friendships can still be tricky to navigate.
“Reason. Season. Lifetime,” my friend simply stated when I began talking to him about friendship. “What do you mean by that,” I asked. He went on to explain that there are three different kinds of friends: Reason—these are friends you have for a reason—you work out with them, you attend a study group with them, you serve on a committee with them. They serve a purpose and a fulfill a current need for companionship in your life. Season—these are friends you have for a certain period of time, and these friendships often happen as a result of something that brings you together and keeps you together for, on average, five to seven years—your kids go to school together, you are in the same book club, you are neighbors or you work together. Oftentimes, these friendships are “seasonal” and come to an end when the season that brought you together ends—one of your kids switches schools, you change jobs or move. The third kind of friendship, which you are truly lucky if you have even one, is, of course, the lifetime friend. Your relationship has stood the test of time. She knew you when and she knows you now and she still loves you, and you feel the same way about her. These friendships are often the most sturdy and reliable friendships. (I truly don’t know where I would be without my lifetime friends.)
Women need all three of these types of friendships, and they are each meaningful and fulfilling in different ways. And certainly a "reason" friendship can evolve into a long-standing friendship. When I step back to look at women and friendships in general, I see that there are many subtleties in friendships. Many women shy away from talking about their friendships, especially those that are more challenging (which is why Jessica and Stephanie’s book is so important). Women often think their friendships should be easy and natural, but when they are not, many women feel a certain amount of shame and they just want to move on. Dr. Irene S. Levine takes a close look at women’s friendships in her 2010 article in the Huffington Post.
“Despite the romanticized myth of BFF, the hard truth is that most friendships don't last forever. In fact, research suggests that when it comes to friendships, a phenomenon occurs that is somewhat akin to the seven-year itch: Half of our close friendships turn over every seven years. Women are reluctant to talk about their friendship problems which turn out to be quite common: losing friends, having unfulfilling friendships, or having no friends at all. Just like other life-affirming relationships that we treasure--relationships with lovers, husbands, siblings, children, and pets--our closest friendships tend to be imperfect. Friendships are fraught with disappointments and misunderstandings---resulting in some of the highest highs and the lowest lows of our emotional lives.”
For mothers, I feel that our friendships are extremely important. We are all exploring unknown, sometimes terrifying territory that involves raising kids and managing the relationship with our partner (whether you are married, separated or divorced). When we need to make sense of things, need support, guidance, love, trust, we often turn to our friends, sometimes even more than we turn to our partners. Our friends are there to help us get through the through the day to day challenges, share in our joys and sometimes give us the strength (or kick in the ass) we need to make dramatic changes in our lives.
An integral part of being a healthy woman and mother (which I cover in complete detail in my upcoming book…really, it’s almost done), is to be mindful and thoughtful about your friendships. It is important that women don’t take each other for granted, make assumptions, or treat each other unkindly. Raising children is hard, being married or in a relationship is hard, work is hard—our friendships need to be something we cherish and nurture so that we can count of them to help us feel good about who we are. Women need to feel accepted and loved, more than any of us would like to admit, and sometimes we need it more from the women in our lives than anyone else, including our partner.
I am not saying that it is always easy. For me, I know that I have been an amazing friend and I have been a shitty friend (not intentionally). I have SO been there for friends and I have SO missed things. I have hurt friends and have been hurt by friends. But from each friendship, I have learned and grown, and I hope my friends feel the same way. The older I get and the more I look at myself and my friendships, I realize how important it is for moms to feel connected to other women in a positive way. It doesn’t have to be the Cosmo drinking, lunching or hitting the town several nights a week, Carrie Bradshaw and her girl gang types of friendships. However, do not underestimate the power and importance of friendship.
So, try this: On a regular basis, make a point to reach out to a new friend or an old friend, or maybe even an estranged friend, and say or do something that could literally make her day. Really, try it! Sometimes it can be as simple as a phone call to say, “Hi, I am thinking about you.”
And let me know how it goes.