When I was pregnant with my first child, I imagined that my future afternoons would be filled with fancy coffee powered play dates. I looked forward to that village mentality that I hear and read about so frequently.
Then reality occurred and it turns out that balancing a full-time career and motherhood while also maintaining friendships was not going to be manageable for me. As an introvert, it felt absolutely exhausting to even imagine attempting to socialize once the weekend hit. I guess I eventually stopped trying and then most of my friends did as well. I had seemingly forgotten the elementary-level lessons that teach children the importance of maintaining friendships, which was especially ironic since my career as a school counselor includes teaching these lessons.
At first, while I was in the depths of postpartum depression, I didn’t notice that I was failing as a friend. I began to notice how lonely I felt after returning to the daily grind of life as a working mom. Some days, I found myself thinking that it would be nice if I had someone to meet up with for a walk or glass of wine, but for some reason, it felt unattainable. Even if I was able to muster the energy to connect with someone, I did worry that reaching out to a friend that I had not seen for months or even a year would end in awkward rejection.
Each time a social media post reminded me that my friends were doing just fine without me in their lives, I gave up a little bit more. I was torn between a desire to be part of a circle, even a very small one, and apparently not even having the energy required to be an active, contributing member.
It really hit me when I was pregnant with my second child and a coworker asked when my “sprinkle” would be. I realized that I had only one (maybe two) friends who I could even invite. I definitely didn’t have any friends who would be willing to throw this party to celebrate my baby.
It was such a selfish realization, but it made me see how lonely I really was. As my pregnancy progressed, I pondered my lack of a social support system and found myself wishing that I had put the effort in earlier. As my due date was approaching, It felt so strange not to have had any type of celebration to welcome this new life. Sure, I would have welcomed the help with gathering baby essentials, but I felt mostly upset just imagining how this baby did not have a village to be born into—it made me feel very sad and also guilty. I do not have many relatives and I had always hoped and imagined that I would maintain close friendships that would be more like family. It had become apparent that I had not put in the energy that was required to make this a reality.
Looking back, I think that checking in with my friends would have gone a long way, even if I didn’t always have the energy to make plans to hang out in person. Maybe if I would have been honest about how overwhelmed that I felt, then my M.I.A. status would not have possibly been misinterpreted for a lack of interest in maintaining that friendship.
I also think it would have been good for my mental health to get a babysitter and send myself off for a girls night, even though I never truly felt that desire to be away from my child. In the end, it seems that it really comes down to the fact that I didn’t follow my own classroom lessons that teach children the importance of spending time with their friends and taking a true interest in their lives.
It has now been four months since my second daughter was born. Coincidentally, she was born the week before stay at home orders were issued. We have been almost completely quarantined but it has provided an unexpected opportunity to reconnect with friends. Maintaining social connections became a focus for many during this challenging time. My toddler has had several FaceTime play dates and it turns out, happy hour on Zoom can be a fun time, too.
The act of balancing motherhood, a career and meaningful friendships may be a challenge but it is a one that is worth the energy and time that each area requires. I am planning to step outside my introverted comfort zone in an effort to be a part of the village that I envisioned for my children.