Saturday, August 27, 2016

What a trip to Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthplace taught me about the value of mom friendships

My friend Alicia has a saying, "Nothing brings people together like a common enemy." And in many ways that is exactly how we became great friends. With adjoining cubes at new jobs both trying to sell homes as the housing market bottomed out, we quickly bonded over our shared misery.

However, kids came, jobs changed and we slowly saw each other less and less. This spring we decided we needed to spend some time swapping stories and laughing about those failed mom moments that make you feel embarrassed to share with acquaintances but you get a sense of comfort when sharing with friends.

Then began the chore of finding a date to do this, which reminded us both of why moms struggle so much to maintain friends. The first date did work because of a wedding, the second date didn't work because my husband had to work, the third through tenth dates didn't work for reasons I don't even remember. After two weeks and what felt like endless emails and texts, we finally found a day four months later. You'd thought we were planning a week-long spa getaway and wine drinking marathon to Napa Valley, not a 50-mile drive to a Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum (we're both embarrassingly avid fans) and a Midwestern winery.

When the day finally came, it was great - uninterrupted conversation about topics that had nothing to do with work, going to a museum without being on constant alert for breakables and picking something from a menu for lunch because it looks good not because it would be easy to share with a toddler.

Still, there were those familiar pangs of guilt. As a full-time working mom, I have such limited time to spend with my daughter. How could a good mom want to spend a few of those precious hours without her? But as a I drove home after dropping Alicia off, I reflected on why this time is so important.

1. It showed my daughter the importance of friends and passions. From potty training to table manners, nearly every parenting advice column I read says something about modeling the behavior you want from your children. When I think about what I want for Grace, I want her to have meaningful friendships and interests, and if every advice column I read is true, then I need to show her the value of investing in those things.

2. It made me feel like a better mom. When I shared a story about accidentally letting two-year old jump off a dock into the lake with no one to catch her, Alicia countered with a not-so-fine moment of her own as if to say, "I get it; you're not alone. We're all doing the best we can."

3. It didn't just make me feel like a better mom. It in fact made me a better mom. When I pulled into the driveway, I was relaxed, refreshed and really excited to see Grace, and not just because I got her a Laura Ingalls Wilder book to pass on the obsession to the next generation. I played with her in a fully present way, not distracted or tired, and had a ton of energy to run around with her.

What the research says
This isn't just one mom's experience. It is supported by research. Kinstantly recently wrote about a 2015 study from researchers from Arizona State called "Who Mothers Mommy?" It looked at 2,000 mothers to uncover how moms cope with the demands of motherhood. In their research, mothers had four stand-out needs, and all of them highlight the need for friends, — unconditional acceptance, feeling comforted when distressed, authenticity in relationships and friendship satisfaction. Those were all things I saw the first-hand benefit of in a few short hours.

An article from pregnancy.org did a similar article on the need for moms to have quality friendships that found research showing close friends help with everything from sleep and immune systems to actually living longer and having more joyful lives.

One final request
For me, the pangs of guilt from a few hours away from my kids will probably always be there. But, I'm starting to view them like getting out of breath when running, uncomfortable but totally worth  the long-term benefits.

I'll finish with a request. As soon as you're done with this post, reach out to a friend and set up with some time to do something together, even if it means taking the kids along. Understand it may take a few months before it come to fruition, but trust that it will be worth the wait! 

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