Parenting Means Letting Some Friendships Go

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Thomas Barwick/GettyImages

My college roommate’s cat died the other day. This was the black kitten she brought home from the Humane Society and named after an infamous literary heroine, only to discover the cat was male. She hid this fact from me for weeks, including when the cat began to grow testicles and cat-ignorant me asked, “What’s that?” She brushed me off with, “Nothing, don’t worry about it.” I had long since moved before I finally discovered the cat’s true sex.

And I cried when I saw the Facebook post telling me the cat had passed on.

A Facebook post. Not a phone call or text. I haven’t seen this funny, brave, amazing friend in years, despite us living in the same town, despite her just inviting me to her party. Despite her kindness to be my bridesmaid. So, the tears weren’t just empathy for the loss of her beloved pet. They were also tears for time passed, and relationships changed.

There’s no real reason. We’ve just … drifted, is all. It’s easy to drift, once you have kids. When you have kids, you must make a conscious effort to stay close to adult friends whose kids are not in the same daycare, preschool, or age group. You have to choose. You pick the people you’re going to stay close to — not necessarily intentionally, but you pick them nonetheless — and you make the effort to reach out, to keep dates, to stay in touch. Because as a parent, you’re up to your elbows in snot and weaning and soccer practice and baking allergen-free cookies for classroom parties, and you simply do not have the time to hang out during the day — or if it’s at night, you don’t have the babysitting cash, or you need some damn sleep.

That means that some friendships fall by the wayside. And the ones that you have, you make a serious effort to cultivate.

I have another friend who emerged from the woodwork after a decade-long disappearance and a divorce, two kids richer and a whole lot poorer. Chris and I picked our friendship up right where we left it off in grad school. But he works brutal hours. And as a single dad, it’s hard to get together.

We make it work though.

We make the birthday parties. We do brunch dates at improbably named Lizard’s Thicket — the best and cheapest — breakfast joint in town. We meet at the farmer’s market and stroll around, just to talk. Once in a long, long while, we manage to do dinner together. Chris knows I’m always around for emergency childcare, and realizes this isn’t an idle offer — he’s taken me up on it. We keep the friendship fires burning. When I realize it’s been too long, I shoot a Facebook message: “Farmer’s market at 11 Sat?” And we will eat donuts and laugh and stroll and herd children and enjoy ourselves, and so will his girlfriend and my husband.

We go out of our way for other friendships as well. One from my long-ago days as a new mama: a family of three whom we all adore, who are kind and gentle, whose love for their daughter shines beyond reason. Mom snarks out with me, never tries to sell me Tupperware, and Dad fries us all up some of his native lumpia if we’re really good. They came to our sons’ birthday party. They make time for us. They don’t have to, but they do, and we are deeply grateful.

Because when you have kids, you have to pick. You only have so much time, so much psychic energy. You need your own time to cocoon with your family. Going out at night is hard; any event that doesn’t involve the kidlets is both difficult to coordinate and expensive. And kids — kids need fed at precise intervals; kids need bed at specific times; kids melt down for reasons not even God can discern, and real friends need to be cool with that.

You don’t want to hang out with people to whom you feel you have to constantly apologize for your children’s existence. You need the friends who look at your kid’s chocolatey face and see normal, kid shenanigans, not an annoyance. So, my friends have become people who typically have children trailing along behind them.

You also need friends who will be there for you. All those people we make time for? I’d trust them with my kids. I’d ask them to help me move furniture. I’d hand them the keys to my car. I’d ask them to help with my dishes or let my dogs out. They can see my messy house. There’s no shame in our relationships.

Before I had kids, I had a massive social circle. We threw huge parties where people once took the snake out without permission and frequently passed out drunk on our couch. That’s not who we are anymore. That social circle had to undergo a serious overhaul, and that meant not cutting people out, but prioritizing some relationships over others. And holding tight to the relationships we do cultivate. Sending Christmas cards. Throwing Thanksgiving leftover parties full of kids and turkey sandwiches. Making those birthday parties when it’s 8 am on a Saturday and you really, really don’t feel like dragging your kids across town. Texting or messaging when it’s been too long. Sharing milestones.

Because in the end, we all crave connection. If we try to connect with everyone at once, we won’t connect with anyone at all. I feel guilty and sad for the friends I don’t see often. I miss them. I love them. But I’m happy in my life. I’m happy in my friendships. And it’s because I have a certain number of them — and I make an effort.