How to Nurture Friendships (even in our busy lives)

When I became a parent I was afraid of losing my friends.

Now, this was not my friends’ fault. They were the ones coming to see me, checking in on me and the baby. My friends were the ones who let me get teary-eyed on my first week back at work, and also knew to ask me about my work, and my interests, not just “how is the baby doing?” Running with a friend is how I train for a half-marathon. Talking to friends about hopes and dreams is what helped me launch Create Balance. Playdates with friends and their kids make me feel better about being the imperfect parent I am.

But having friends takes time and energy.

It’s good time and energy! It’s well spent! It’s rejuvenating!

But when you are running on a no sleep, when your to-do list is never ending, when your work piles up, when you haven’t even touched the dishes in three days, plans with friends can be overwhelming. When your children need you all day, when you barely get a chance to experience silence for a few minutes, when everyone seems to need, need, need you, it can be hard to rally the emotional energy needed to see a friend.

There is plenty of research on the l importance of social connections. In his book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, UCLA professor Matthew Lieberman says, “What [analysis of the human brain] suggests is that becoming more socially connected is essential to our survival. In a sense, evolution has made bets at each step that the best way to make us more successful is to make us more social.”

We need connection. We need our friendships, even as we grow older and our lives change. We need to nurture new social connections that will support us on our path.

But how do we cope with those moments when we want to cancel our plans with friends because we feel too overwhelmed? Or the idea of meeting a new person for coffee or a playdate seems like a herculean task instead of a pleasant diversion? What do we do when we are cursing ourselves for the plans we made a month ago?

What do we do when the importance of having and nurturing connection is overshadowed by all the stuff we have to do, and all the other people who “need” us?

The short answer is this: We will be better at getting stuff done, and better and taking care of our families if we first take care of ourselves. Part of taking care of ourselves is nurturing our friendships so they can nurture us back.

The PRACTICAL answer is this: Personal connections come in many forms. Sometimes you might think that you don’t have time to connect with either current or potential friends because that connection will take hours, or that you don’t see any space in your calendar for it until next month. But being a parent has helped me see the value in connecting over small chunks of time, as well as long ones. Here are three ways to make time for connection that will allow you to enjoy your connection time instead of feeling

Here are three ways to make time for connection that will allow you to enjoy the time instead of feeling overwhelmed by it:

Make small connections.

By small I mean in both time and energy. We all know how much it matters to us that we are noticed, that we are seen. Not every connection needs to be about deep issues in our lives and work. It can just be a quick check in to show the other person you are thinking about them, and for them to show they are thinking about you. Some great ways to make small connections through the week are:

  • Sending short texts to a friend when something happens that makes me think of them (even if it has been weeks or months since we last talked)
  • Saying hi to a co-worker in the hall and mentioning something positive to them (a compliment on clothes, something positive I heard from one of their students’ recently, or just acknowledging something good about the day or week)
  • Taking pictures of your kids with your phone and sending them to family and friends with a one-sentence message
  • Carpool or commute with someone to work. This was suggested by one of my newsletter subscribers, and I wholeheartedly agree! I love the times I’m able to get a ride with one of my dear friends at work and we chat about work and life. It’s an amazing way to connect, rejuvenate, and all while we are doing something we had to do anyway!

Make longer connections

Sometimes we need more than a quick text. We need to talk on the phone, meet face-to-face, take a walk together. But some of us have the tendency to try and make these connection times events. If you are always waiting for the perfect opportunity to go out to dinner, or figuring out which zoo or museum that you and your friend will take your kids to, you are going to spend as much time planning as actually connecting. When it doubt, keep connection time simple. My favorite ways to meet up with friends for longer talks are:

  • Phone dates. I have lots of friends on the opposite coast from me, so planning times when we can talk as they get home from work, and after my kids go to bed, is key. Once in a while we’ll text or email to set up a “phone date.” It’s super chill and comfortable to sit in my pajamas and chat with them. And if something happens where one of us can’t make it, we just try again later!
  • Walks. Given the option, I will choose to go on a walk with a friend rather than sit somewhere. It is lovely to get outside, stretch our legs, and also have a good conversation. Something about walking gets us out of our stressed headspace from work and home and lets us connect and focus on each other for a little while.
  • Tea and coffee. I love the tea/coffee date because it feels like less pressure than a dinner or lunch date. You can do it anytime, but you still get time to sit and chat face to face with a friend over a beverage. Of course, after 5 (or 4 or 3) this could also be a cocktail date 😉
  • Park dates. Hanging out with friends became more challenging when we had kids. But park play-dates are my saving grace. Instead of planning epic adventures to big places, or trying to figure out parking at Legoland or the farm, I now usually opt for “which park do you want to meet up at?” Just this weekend we met some good friends at a small park. The kids mostly played on their own with minimal drama, and we got some good grown-up time. Win-win

Make connections routine.

In case you didn’t already know, I’m a fan of routines. Routines take the decision-making stress out of our lives, and this can be so important when it comes to making plans with friends. If we think we will get together and connect with someone “someday” it doesn’t take long before you realize that “someday” turned into “not at all.” Having routine makes it easier to nurture a relationship without doing the work of planning. Here are some ideas for connection routines that can fit into your busy life:

  • Have a standing date. Maybe the last Wednesday of the month you always meet a friend for lunch. Maybe you went to a Mom’s group every Tuesday, and then keep up Tuesday playdates even after the group is “done.”  Maybe it’s planning on carpooling together every Friday. Standing dates can make nurturing connections a habit instead of a chore.
  • Do Lunch. This suggestion came from another one of my lovely newsletter subscribers! She shared that she makes sure to each lunch with a co-worker once a week (instead of just hunkering down and working while eating). This is great example of making use of an activity that is already routine (eating lunch) and combining it with the power of connection
  • Plan some group fun. I love meeting up with my book club once every 6 weeks. We meet  for a good block of time and takes a bit more planning than just a quick trip to the park, but it is so worth it for the deep connections and discussions we have about our books and our lives. This could also apply to a “girls night out,” every month, or even visiting an out-of-town friend once a year. There are some events you can’t make time for every week or even month, but that are worth making a routine, even if they are infrequent.

Nurturing connections with our friends and friends-to-be requires time and energy. But that time and energy will pay off big time when we are nurtured and rejuvenated in return.

I’ll end with of my favorite quotes from Gretchen Rubin: “I’d rather have take-out in my messy house with friends than plan the perfect dinner party that will never happen.”

May you find ways to nurture your friendships, and to let them nurture you in return!

Leave a comment below and let me know some of the ways you make time for friendships and connection!




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