Friendship, Motherhood, and Dog Years

You know how dog years work, right? For every one year they are alive, it equals about seven years in human years. I often think of this truth in reverse as it applies to my “mom friends,” as I lovingly refer to them.

You see, when you have young children, it sets relationship-building with female friends into spasms, and takes roughly seven years to equal one year of normal girlfriend bonding relationship time. Let me explain. For the last twelve years, I’ve hosted playgroups, attended MOPS at church, had many a play date as my family grew from one to four wee ones.

Yet despite all this activity, it seems nearly impossible to finish a sentence in the span of an hour-long engagement with another mom-friend and her brood. Between helping toddlers share, administering snacks, escorting kids to the potty, and breaking up fights, it usually feels more like running a preschool than an opportunity to develop relationships.

It’s no wonder that after living in the same town for over twelve years and knowing most of the same friends, that I still sometimes feel like I hardly know them they way I feel I should. As our children grow and begin developing their own BFFs, I remember my own girlhood best friends and how we spent hours together, uncovering so much about one another during play dates and sleepovers.

How does this translate? I don’t want it to take another 20 years to get to know my friends better, is that selfish of me? There have been a few times where we’ve gone on overnight trips, on scrapbooking retreats, or church women’s retreats, and it is during these  trips that I find it so pleasurable to complete thoughts and really listen to my friends, getting to know them outside (and inside) the bounds of motherhood.

I recently watched the movie, “Eat Pray Love,” and as I watched it, I realized why the book and film were so wildly popular. It’s because most women unintentionally neglect this side of themselves, the side that nurtures the girl and woman we’ve become. Instead, we serve others to no end, meeting everyone else’s needs but our own, and are left—on most days—spent and completely void of anything in reserve – for ourselves or even our husbands.

I know the “zone” of having small kids will pass, but I find myself for the first time in many years recognizing that I cannot continually go on for years in a stretch of neglecting myself. I really don’t like that feeling of being so consumed by wifedom and motherhood that I don’t know who I am anymore and find my desire to enjoy my life depleted. Consider this point a big warning light: “Caution! Danger Ahead!”

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Like our children, we’re born stubborn and we want our own way. For me, my own way included doing too much, saying yes to too many work and volunteer projects, and saying no to myself and the inner voice leading me to step back.

As the years in which I raise my small children passes by (sometimes not quickly enough), I can’t keep giving myself excuses, hoping that gnawing feeling will go away – that feeling that says, “you’re losing YOU. She’s almost gone, catch her before she goes on right out the door!”

So often, we do let that girl, that woman inside, escape so that the only way to win her back is to do something drastic – like leave your husband and flee to Italy, as the main character did in “Eat Pray Love.”

If you find yourself asking, “When is it MY time?” or “When will I get a turn to be number one on my list?” it’s important that you don’t wait any longer, that you don’t delay. There will always gunk under the toddler’s chair on the kitchen floor; there will always be a carpet that needs vacuuming – some things are constants. But there will not be another moment in which you can say, “I loved myself today and spent some valuable time nurturing my own spirit.”

Personally, I let this get so far out of hand that I thought I wanted to scrap my consulting business and leave it all behind. I felt there was no other way to “get off the hamster wheel.” But after identifying these feelings through the help of a life coach, I realized that there were ways to honor the work that I do AND find a way to get out of the race so that I could find myself again.

The lyrics of a poignant song entitled “Remind Me” by Blue in the Face play over and over in my head:

“Could you remind me who I am
I think I forgot again
I’m always looking down at the sidewalk

Could you remind me who you are
Cause even though we’ve come this far
I have a nasty habit of forgetting”

I’m not quite sure why us women seem to lose ourselves so quickly and easily in the relationships we have; in our children; in our work. Thank goodness I know a God that knows me intimately, a God who “formed me in the inward most parts of my mother’s womb,” as Psalm 139 tells us.

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Before I look to the world, before I even look in the mirror, I need to ask my God to remind me of who he created me to me, and what his desires for me are. Not that we are so dumb that we can’t figure some of this out on our own, but trust me from experience, it’s easy to fall off the path and get distracted by lots of other things that might not be a part of the plan.

We might seek to find recognition in a job outside the home, or to get noticed when volunteering in a child’s classroom – but so many of the things that we say “yes” to mean that we’re saying “no” to ourselves, and to really listening to what God has for us.

Whoever you are, wherever God has placed you, that’s where you need to be. “Bloom where you’re planted” – I love the idiom for seizing the here and now to make the most of your situation, whatever it might be.

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Thinking back to my childhood best friend, Helen, I ache for her, or the idea of having one true best friend I can always count on. We’ve lost track of one another, but I still crave a BFF like I was 10. It’s so much easier to define yourself through the eyes of a close friend, you look at them and the similarities between the two of you, and you fit in, you belong.

As adults, it’s often so hard to develop these same kinds of bonds because of work and family commitments, yet the yearning to be known fully doesn’t escape us. We can try to fill this void through our husband’s love, but that won’t cut it; we can try to surround ourselves with as many close friends and acquaintances as possible, but trust me, that won’t work either. However, when we look to our Father in heaven who created us and “knows every hair on our head,” none of us will be disappointed—I promise.

People will let you down, but the steadfast love of God endures forever. Although I know this intellectually, I still look to friendships as water to live. I’m grateful to have so many faithful women in my life who remind me to stay focused and keep on moving in the direction of understanding myself in relationship to my Creator.

Now we’re off to a play date . . . trust me, no sentences will be finished, that’s for sure, but I promise you I will still be encouraged and blessed by the relationships I have with my friends, despite the fact that we don’t always get much accomplished in the way of learning more about one another. Perhaps by the time our kids go off to college we’ll have found a way to connect on deeper levels and learn more about one another, or maybe not, and that’s okay too.

2 thoughts on “Friendship, Motherhood, and Dog Years”

  1. Mary Henderson (Mom)

    This is a beautiful essay, Lauren. I can related to those feelings even at my age. You have a lovely gift of putting in to words meaningful feelings we all share. Thank you.

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