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Just keeping up with the demands of work and parenting can mean there is very little time for friends…
Do you have time for friends? This may sound an odd question, but with the whole work life thing friends can sometimes end up being squeezed out by the day to day rush. Before you know it you haven’t seen your closest friend in person for a year and a half. Indeed, you may only see your partner, if you have one, as you swap childcare shifts and the highlight of your social calendar could well be parents evening.
But friends can be a vital support in the midst of all the hullaballoo of family life. There’s the practical support, such as having the kids when you need to do something urgent, but the emotional support is much more important. Just having a few hours off to talk about other stuff or even to laugh at the day to day stresses helps to keep you going in the marathon journey called parenthood.
For non-parents who may be thinking that they can understand the rush on weekdays, but think that surely the weekends are what friends are for, let me just list a few of the usual weekend pursuits of parents: shopping [not just for food, but any aspect of school uniform that has fallen apart eg tights], washing, pet care, costume-making for assorted themed days, keeping up with/visiting the rest of the family, ferrying people to activities, getting people to do homework/doing ‘projects’, fixing stuff or at least patching it up so it can last for another week, etc, etc. And that’s just Saturday.
Sunday is almost entirely about preparing for the next week. Then you need time for total collapse in front of the tv or a favourite film which you have only seen the first half hour of due to constantly nodding off at the start due to exhaustion. Where do you fit friends into all of that?
Some people schedule friends in to make sure they see them regularly, but everyday life rarely conforms to such attempts at order. Stuff happens. It’s a question of how much you prioritise friendship – sometimes we don’t prioritise something until we need it when it may be too late – although there is nothing like picking up with old friends and discovering them all over again.
My partner has a great bunch of friends from his school days. They are all in Spain, but he sees them fairly regularly and in between they send each other voice messages and the like on WhatsApp. Those friends have kept him going through difficult times and, unlike many men, they actually talk about all the deep stuff as well as everything else. Most of them have been through the mill in recent years – relationship breakdowns, job losses, bereavement… – and the support they have given each other has been absolutely vital.
I don’t have anything similar, but I do have family fairly close by which he doesn’t have. What’s more all my old friends live a distance away so it is hard to meet up. Social media can act as some sort of temporary solution, but it’s not the same as meeting up.
Perhaps I don’t feel the lack of friends so much because we are a big family and because we moved around a lot when I was a child so I was always making new friends and staying in touch with the old ones through letters [it was a long time ago…]. It does make for a certain degree of loneliness, but, as a child, you know no different. Who knows? Perhaps it has stood me in good stead for parenting.
Still, the years spent parenting are long and crammed full of all sorts of events and emotions. I can’t for the life of me imagine why that experience is so often overlooked by drama, except peripherally or in a chocolate box sort of way. I guess we think that once you’ve got the partner and the kids your life is essentially a happy ever after ending. Or maybe parents just don’t have enough time to write about all the swirl of feelings and ideas that are going on in their heads. Sharing some of that a bit more with good friends can help, but too often it’s at the bottom of the to do list.