The Trouble in Connecting with Other People is… Me
Making Friends When Your Kids are Older
I remember when my daughter was preschool age. It was easy to meet the other moms and set up play dates, which were as much for the moms as they were for the kids. This trend continued into kindergarten and the early elementary years. Because we walked the kids up to the door before school started and waited for the kids after school, I didn’t really have to seek out moms to talk to – they were right there. The time just waiting for kids proved to be mini social hours, and there were additional play dates, lunch outings, and coffee dates arranged. Some moms even parlayed these relationships into bunco nights and book clubs.
As the kids got older, a couple of things happened: a lot of the stay-at-home moms returned to work, and the kids were old enough to just be dropped off and picked up from the carpool line. My contact with the other moms was drastically reduced. Still, I didn’t feel disconnected. I chatted with moms during field trips, made some friends through my daughter’s sports teams and other activities, enjoyed the book club nights, and continued a few of the friendships I had made during the earlier years. This was about all I could manage during these busy years of life, and I was fine. I remember leaving for book club and my daughter would get teary-eyed, not wanting me to go. I felt terrible, but I knew I would be a better mom for allowing myself this grown-up time to recharge and refresh.
Now, I’m at a weird place in my life. My daughter is in high school and will soon have her driver’s license. She is a great kid, and we do spend time together, but she is very much a normal teenager by wanting to spend a lot of time with her friends. And while college is three years away, it still looms large. Her school has college planning nights, and she is being recruited by college coaches for her sport. Her growing independence at school and with activities is great for her, but leaves little to no opportunity for me to connect with other moms. I had to make a real effort to at least meet the moms of her new friends, and when she talks about kids at school (that I didn’t already know from the earlier grades) I have no idea who they, or their parents, are. There are MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) groups, but no MOTS (mothers of teenagers) groups – and we might need the support the most!
What I hear from veteran moms is that this is the time in life to start thinking more about me. There are many cautionary tales about kids leaving for college and moms realizing they have not rekindled any hobbies or career skills, maintained or made new connections, and forgotten who their spouse was. Did you know that rates of divorce and alcoholism rise for empty nesters? This scares me and I really take their advice to heart.
My community is full of different groups and activities, so it is not a challenge to find people to connect with. Recently, on a Facebook group dedicated to my area, a brave woman posted that she was in search of friends. She was tired of feeling isolated in our community and just wanted to put herself out there and let people know that she needed friends! The moms and ladies in that group resonated with her, and out of that post came another group for the ladies of the area specifically designed to create connections and friendship: anyone in the group can post an event or outing of any kind.
I love seeing the creative ideas that come out of that group, as well as the invitations I receive from other people in my life. So do I go? Nope. I see the date of the event, and I’ll realize that my daughter has a game, so I should really be at that. Or my husband will be out of town so it’s a great opportunity to spend an evening with my daughter. Or even just realizing that my social skills have taken a hit and I’m not great at putting myself out there. My perspective could be that college is three years away (time to build up my connections and buffer myself into this next transition), what I actually think is college is three years away (so I should be spending every second with my daughter). I know, super unhealthy.
When I hear about the fun events that others attended, and see posts and pictures with their wine-glasses, smiling faces, and new friendships, I’m jealous. I would love to say that the opportunity to create connections is lacking, but it isn’t. I have only myself to blame. I’m not sure how to bridge this gap – if I decide to build some connections, will I look back and feel selfish, regretting that I didn’t spend the time with my daughter or husband? Or if I stay in my comfort zone and close ranks around my small world, will I be resentful when my daughter goes off to college that I am suddenly alone, not having built a network in which I can support and be supported? I do still go to my book club, but now I am the one who seems teary-eyed to be leaving my daughter (again – super unhealthy, I know).
I feel as if I should be writing with the intention of including answers to my questions, and helpful nuggets of wisdom to share with readers. But I think this is one of those things where there may be no one-size-fits-all answer for every mom. We all struggle to find balance between something – work and home, our family and caring for aging parents, nurturing kids and nurturing our marriages or relationships, and yes, taking care of our families and taking care of ourselves.
Because this is new territory for me I have given my permission to not know exactly what to do. I have found it incredibly helpful to talk with moms who have been in my shoes, and also to read about the experiences and advice of others. As with anything, it is helping to shape my perspective. Moms who go out for girls’ nights a few times a week seem to have a fantastic time, but I know that’s just not me. Moms who spend every waking minute devoted to the needs of others and don’t even manage to make yearly doctor visits for themselves are so dedicated, but that’s not me either. I am somewhere in the middle, trying to make sense of what to do during this time, and not doing a great job. I would love to hear how the rest of you are managing your time and emotions as you approach an empty nest, I’m hoping we can all help one another. Hey, is it just me or is that the start of a connection? I think I’m making progress already!
About Debi – Debi Smith-Racanelli has three advanced degrees in psychology and gender studies. She is a parenting educator, and her book Between Baby Dolls and Boyfriends helps other parents navigate the tween years with girls. She has come to appreciate the importance of effective parenting, and is passionate about supporting other parents, but is now realizing that as her own daughter needs her less she may be the one needing support. Connect with her at www.betweenbabydollsandboyfriends.com and on Twitter @DebiJSR
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