The Balance of Friendship when You Have Little Kids
My daughter goes to a school where, in addition to academics, kindness and inclusiveness are a major part of the curriculum. “Keep Kind in Mind” is their motto and they value the importance of following your ‘inner compass’ and doing what’s right, even when it’s not easy.
We all know that it's not always possible to include everyone. A birthday party where you can have 25 kids max, or an event where you have just four tickets and you have to choose between your two best couple friends. That's a life lesson that's tough, but critical -- you simply cannot be included all the time.
What we can do is to be mindful of other people's feelings, being respectful and considerate to the best of our ability. From acquaintances in our lives on up to our closest friends, we can be mindful of the eb and flow between us so that it doesn't fall too far to one side leaving one person holding up more of the relationship.
In my house, I often tell my kids that they have three rules to live by: "to have fun, to listen to their parents, and to be a 'good person'."
But I also make sure they know that being a 'good person' doesn't mean that you can't stick up for yourself and do what's right for you.
After a series of life events, I lost my own sense of that. I could preach it to my kids, but after having our third baby, a few things happened in our lives that really shook me. Our oldest son was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy. My housekeeper/babysitter of five years quit on me without saying goodbye to my children. And without having family in Los Angeles, I had really looked to her as part of my 'village'. And finally, a friendship breakup that had been a long time coming, but was extremely painful. The combination of those things really made me second guess myself.
Ultimately, that experience has led me back to my backbone - my own true North. Being nice is great, but it should never hurt you too much in the process. I'm not going to stop considering other people's feelings -- that's not who I am. But I am going to think twice about continuing along with a person who doesn't consider mine. And ultimately, within that is a good ol' gut check -- "Is this working for me? Is this right for me and my family?"
Friendship is always give and take -- sometimes you need more, and sometimes your friend needs more. But the compassion, effort and listening ear have to balance out a bit, or in my experience, it just ends up feeling bad for one person or the other.
As a mama of three, I am limited with my time now more than ever. I want to spend the time I do have with people who:
- Care about me and my kids. I love to help people. It's in my nature. I've been babysitting since I was like 10, was a lifeguard and an aquasize instructor when I was 16 (I'm not kidding, I was an aquasize instructor. My Grammy was in my class). But bending over backwards to show up for someone who isn't going to show up for you isn't how it should be.
- Reciprocate. Again, I don't mean Even Steven. But you pick up their kid all the time and they never offer to do it in return, or ignore you when you ask. Or you host them for dinner rather frequently but you've not been invited for dinner at their house...ever. Or you're always making all the plans or chasing them. In a holistic way -- and not a tit-for-tat one -- it's gotta be relatively bilateral.
- Are Inclusive. My husband and I are very inclusive. Need a place to go for Trick or Treat? Come on over! On your own with the kids for the week? Come hang with us! We are giving because we want to be. Because it's in our nature. And we expect nothing in return. But there comes a point when you start to notice if the invitation isn't extended in the other direction.
- Balance. Sometimes I can't text back like I used to. A few times this year I've slept so little I had to cancel plans. And at points, I was so broken hearted over that friendship breakup that I just wanted to stay home with my kids or be with my family. My energy was given to my baby and my older children. Because that's my purpose. And my center. And my close friends helped encourage me and helped pick me back up. I've built more of those friendships this year (thank you, kindergarten -- a second mom tribe after my first baby's mommy + me) that I feel so comfortable with that I now write their names down on school emergency forms and ask them favors of picking up my kids from school -- a big step for me! And you know I'ma pick up their kids (and plan, like, the best playdate ever) in return.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about what it would be like to raise my kids with more family nearby. We have one blood relative here -- Nana, and she's fab. And over the past almost seven years of parenthood, we've gained a tribe of friends-as-family who give this big city the small town feel I miss so much when raising kids. Everyone needs a community, whether it's family or friends-like-family, who show up for them because they want to. Because they love you, and know and love your children.
I'm that kind of friend, because I want to be. And right now in my life, as a mama of three little kids, I can only accept that kind of friend in return.