I’ve always been pretty outgoing. I’ve made friends relatively easily, and I have a large and diverse set of interests that makes it easy for me to connect with many different types of people. However, as a post-higher education adult, I have mentioned on many occasions how difficult it is to make new friends when you’re not forced into a college classroom, a sorority house, or a weekly Friday house party. But friendships are so essential to good mental health, so it’s important to go out there and forge new relationships. The problem with making friends as adults is that everyone’s schedules are vastly different. And when you work full-time, it’s exacerbated because you have so little free time to begin with. But it’s not impossible. I’m fortunate that my closest friends have been in my life since high school or even earlier, but I’ve made some truly awesome friendships even post-kids. Read on for a few tips for creating meaningful friendships even in the crazy life of a working parent.
Accept the New Normal
When I was in high school and college, my friends and I would get together every weekend and often on weeknights. Even after we were married but before kids, we all got together at least once a week. But once kids are involved, and some friends work while others don’t, schedules become very difficult to coordinate. If they’re important, don’t give up. Accept that you might have to make plans two months in advance. Accept that it might mean catching up while chasing toddlers at the park.
It was hard for me to watch my stay-at-home-mom friends make plans at 10:00 am on Tuesdays. I felt left out. But it wasn’t about me and they certainly weren’t intentionally excluding me. This is just what worked for them. When I started reaching out and offering things that worked for my schedule, we were able to find ways to get together. It isn’t the same as it used to be, but it’s what works in this stage of life.
Find Common Ground with Colleagues
Making friends at work is the hardest/weirdest thing. I tend to be considerably younger than my peers. I am more in the age range of my employees. It’s hard to make friends when you’re the boss, and I’m not sharing a lot of life experiences with my peers who are sending their kids to college while I dream about the day I don’t have to change diapers. But friendships can take many forms, and finding common ground is an easy way to create friendships. And work friendships don’t even have to go beyond lunches and happy hours. Having a person to enjoy a meal with to break up a tough work day is so necessary, but you don’t need the same person to be the one you call when your baby takes his first steps.
Make an Effort
It’s easy to excuse your lack of social life because between work and family, there just isn’t time, but you owe it to yourself to develop and maintain friendships. Your spouse and kids cannot (and should not) fill every role and need for you. Don’t just smile in the hall at the other parents during daycare drop off. Say hello and ask their names. Get to know the parents at kids’ birthday parties.
One of my closest friends today is the mother of my daughter’s best friend from school, but for so long we didn’t really know each other–just that our daughters were friends. But when we showed up to back-to-school night in the preschool room and realized we were both pregnant, she asked how far along I was. I asked her if her baby was going to go to the school too. We made a plan to get together on maternity leave. Now our families are so close. Our daughters were friends for two and a half years before we started to get together. All it took was some effort.
Utilize Your New Network
Some friendships last a lifetime. Some friendships are for a stage in your life. But just because you aren’t in the natural social environments of school doesn’t mean there aren’t new friendships to be made. The parents of your kids’ peers probably have a lot in common with you. The woman sitting next to you at the industry seminar with a picture of her kids on her phone is a likely candidate. Look around your daily experiences and you’ll see there are plenty of opportunities to make friends.