By Shasta Nelson
“Write down all the memories you have of your mom’s friendships,” I’ve often instructed attendees in my friendship workshops to do. “Who did she hang out with? Did she go away for weekends away with friends? Do you remember her talking on the phone and laughing? Did she go out for girls’ nights? Did she invite all her girlfriends over to the house?”
When I first started dishing out this assignment I was shocked by the answers that came back.
Roughly 70% of the grown women in my workshops ended up saying they didn’t really have memories of their moms engaging in meaningful friendships. And more often than not there was a big difference in guilt between the women who had mothers develop friendships when they were kids versus those who didn’t.
The problem: Our friendships don’t feel worth the time
Moms, almost more than anyone else, need friendships in their lives that give them the benefits of healthy relationships (i.e., longevity, happiness, stress reduction, increased immunity) without the added stress of those relationships being dependent upon them in the way that spouses, children, and employees are. Friends are some of the few relationships in our lives that we don’t have to schedule doctor’s appointments for, figure out what to feed them, or lay awake at night worrying about.
Unfortunately, just because we need them doesn’t mean we’re getting those benefits. As part of my research for my new book, Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness, I asked more than 1,200 women to rank how fulfilling their friendships felt on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most intimate and meaningful. The results? Women were twice as likely to rate their friendships a 1 or 2 as they were to give them a 9 or 10, and over half scored below a 5. The vast majority of us, moms and non-moms alike, know our friendships could be more fulfilling.
And the less fulfilling it is, the less committed we’ll feel to prioritize time for our friendships. Our default reaction when our time together lacks depth might be to pull away, but it’s really a call to lean in even more.
The solution: Maximize the time together by focusing on 3 key actions
A friendship isn’t how much we like another person, but rather how much we practice the three requirements of friendship with each other.
We all have examples of women we liked instantly that never developed into a friendship; and we also have the examples of the women we probably wouldn’t have chosen out of line-up of choices—but because we saw them regularly (like at work or school), laughed together and shared stories: we became friends.
When practiced repeatedly, these three actions can help you develop friendships:
- Positivity: A friendship has to be more rewarding than stressful, where two people are both contributing laughter, words of affirmation, loving action, fun memories, and peaceful reassurances. The healthiest relationships stay above the 5:1 positivity/negativity ratio.
- Consistency: A friendship has to log hours together in order to develop, and the more regular and consistent that time is, the greater we feel supported and trusting of the other. Without consistency, we don’t build momentum with new friends, build trust with developing friendships, or benefit from feelings of support with our deeper friends.
- Vulnerability: A friendship has to invoke both people to take incremental steps toward greater bonding and sharing. Ideally, as our consistency increases so should our vulnerability—with both happening simultaneously. Vulnerability isn’t just sharing our insecurities though—it also includes sharing our good news, inviting the other into new activities, and increasing our communication topics and methods.
If a friendship isn’t practicing one of these three behaviors regularly, it’s not a healthy friendship. These three actions can create friendships, strengthen them, and repair them when they aren’t feeling as healthy and meaningful as possible.
A side benefit for your kids when YOU develop friendships
I’m going to assume that more than 30% of our moms had good friends, but that most of them thought they were doing their kids a favor by hanging out with their friends while the kids were at school. This is where working moms have a slight advantage: the only time to engage in friendship is when our kids will undoubtedly notice it! To model the friendships we hope they’ll have one day—we want them to see us making time for our friends. The trick for us is to make sure that our time out with friends actually fills us up and doesn’t leave us more depleted.
As women with limited time—we can make decisions about how to maximize a few of our friendships to ensure that they are as fulfilling as possible: we can offer up laughter and affirmation, focus our conversations on real sharing, and acknowledge that the more time we make with a few people will end up being more fulfilling than trying to spread that time out with many.
The answer to our guilt isn’t less time with friends but making sure the time with them is as fulfilling as it can possibly be so that it fills us up and models to our kids the friendships we hope they develop as adults.
For more information on how to measure our friendships, identify the intimacy gaps, and deepen our friendships, order Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness. Shasta Nelson, M.Div., is the Founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, a women’s friendship matching site in 65 cities across the U.S. and Canada, and is also the author of Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of GirlFriends. She writes at ShastasFriendshipBlog.com (see the post “5 Tips to Help Moms Move Toward More Friendship”) and in the Huffington Post, speaks across the country, and is a friendship expert in the media appearing on such shows as “Katie Couric” and the “Today Show.”