Nine years ago, this guy was careening around the playground of his Montessori preschool, racing his Wiggles and Spiderman-loving friends on a tricycle and getting reprimanded by his sweet, patient teacher because he thought crashing was the most fun a guy could ever have.
Today, he is trying to master the art of shaving.
I absolutely, positively can’t fathom how we got to this point, where our children are 13 and 14. In four years, my oldest child will likely be headed off to college. And one year after that, her brother will likely follow and we will be left with an “empty nest.”
As this reality is hitting me right between the eyes, there is a huge part of me that wants – more than ever – to spend every waking moment with both of my kids.
I’ve always made time with them a huge priority, building my career and lifestyle around them at every turn.
In this season, I am becoming more intentional than ever about addressing certain topics – tough topics like when to walk away from an unsupportive friend, how to know when you truly want to “date” another person, traits you might look for in a marital partner, the dangers of exposing the brain to addictive substances in adolescence, battling gender and racial stereotypes and inequity, potential triggers for eating disorders, choosing a career …..
Every car ride seems especially important, because before I know it, they will be driving themselves most places. Their free time will increasingly be taken up with high school activities, friends, studies and jobs. And all of that is exactly as it should be. This, after all, is what we’ve been preparing them for from the moment we brought them home from the hospital.
But in some ways, a lot of this whole family-life balance struggle feels like a bit of a cruel setup.
On one hand, I have the instinct to spend every spare moment I can manage with each of them. Yet, I know that if I make them the absolute center of my universe, then I will be setting myself – and possibly them — up for failure in this next season.
Our immediate family – probably because we have moved several times together and don’t have much extended family – tends to be rather clannish. We appreciate and guard our time together. We all actually really, really like each other, and we sometimes don’t let others into our little world as a result.
So in this season, I find myself realizing that in order to successfully navigate the coming years, I will need strong, honest friendships to get me through. And, I hope, I will increasingly have time and energy to support others in friendships.
I am trying to strategically resolve this tension between time with family and the need for keeping existing friends and making new ones, being honest and realistic about what I have to give and what I might need in return.
Here’s how I’ve gone about this intentional effort so far:
- One recommendation of Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and creator of the Happier podcast, is to create a “standardized vacation” with friends. I currently have the beginnings of two standardized vacations in the works – both two-to-three-day trips with friends from our time in Texas. Even though I know that I won’t realistically be able to make the 8-hour drive to Houston often, keeping in contact with friends so we can continue to communicate by phone, texting, etc. in authentic ways seems more likely if I know I will see them face-to-face at least once or twice a year.
- Education guru Harry Wong says “you are always invited if you are the one throwing the party.” I’ve always adored this quote, because Wong makes it clear that we shouldn’t just sit around hoping to be included. One way to be included is to include, first. With this concept in mind, I have started a little “no-homework book club,” which I hope will meet monthly. Because I know my friends are as busy as I am, we aren’t doing a traditional book club, where everyone has to read the same book and come prepared to discuss. Instead, each gathering will be an opportunity for everyone to quickly share a little about a book they have read – either recently or in the distant past – that they enjoyed. They might talk about why the book was appealing, or they can just read a favorite excerpt. Easy. Low-pressure. Meaningful. I’m excited, and the other people signed up to come seem excited, too.
- I’ve been intentionally scheduling one-on-one weekday dinners to catch up with existing friends I want to maintain contact with and/or get to know better. Social media can sometimes lull me into thinking that I know what is going on with friends. But of course, social media isn’t telling me the full story – just as they aren’t getting a truly accurate depiction of my life from Facebook and Instagram. Because our weekends tend to be so consumed with sports and church activities, as well as chores, I’ve chosen weeknight dinners with friends as a way to connect. I try to go early so that I can stop and meet on the way home from work, visit for a while and still get home in time to check in with the kids about their days before they are asleep.
- Re-committing to regular community service. My very favorite people are those who choose to spend their lives in service to others. It’s one reason I have always gotten along well with my co-workers in journalism and education. Since moving back to my home state, we’ve done more “on our own” service projects, where we see a simple need and fill it. But by recommitting to regular service with others, I know that we will build those connections. Few things are more sacred to me – and to our family – than coming together and serving with other like-minded people. I can’t afford to let that go untended.
So far, I am happy with this plan. I’m excited about the potential it gives me to strengthen existing connections that are important to me, while also building some new ones. And at the same time, I’m also being honest with myself about how much time I have to give and I’m honoring my commitment to put my family first during this season.
What about you? How do you make sure you build and maintain the connections you need to navigate life? Have you tried any of my suggestions? Would they work for you? Is making time for friends hard? Why or why not?