Why I’ve Prioritized Career and Family Over Friends
Filed in: MM Forum
Welcome to the MM Forum, a new series in which we invite readers to share the challenges, triumphs, and paradoxes of their lives as professional women. Every week, we will choose a new theme, and ask people to send us stories and musings that stem from it (you may choose to be anonymous, if you like). We will then publish a selection of those submissions here on The M Dash. This week: maintaining friendships after children.
For our inaugural MM Forum, we were inspired by our recent feature with sisters Elizabeth and Lindsay Burton, in which they discussed the challenges of letting friendships take a backseat as motherhood and work became all-consuming. Three other women in the MM community have weighed in on this topic, below.
For next week, we are exploring the complexities of mentorship: Have you ever had a mentor, and how did the relationship develop? Have you felt pressured to find one? What happens if you can’t? Are you currently a mentor, and how did you find your mentee? Please send your stories and thoughts (however brief) to TheMMForum@mmlafleur.com by Wednesday, December 28.
Accepting the Lack of Good Female Friends
Thank you so much for the recent interview of sisters Elizabeth and Lindsay Burton. I’m especially grateful for this quote from Lindsay: “You can only do two of these three things well: You can have friends, you can have family, or you can have your career. Which two do you want?” I’ve been lamenting my lack of good female friends and this put it into perspective—I think most women in my age group are likewise choosing career and family. I’m a single mom (by choice) and a partner in a small, woman-owned biotech patent law firm (we have five partners and 18 employees total). Focusing on a career can also produce a different sisterhood of friends. Even though we live in different cities, my co-managing partner and I are great friends and I am better friends with my colleagues than any other women outside of work.
-Rebecca McNeill, Partner at McNeill Baur PLLC, Cambridge, MA
Not Living Up to the Friendship Ideal, and Feeling Guilty About It
I once read something that said, “Motherhood, career, or sanity—pick two!” I don’t like that women feel like they have to cut entire categories out of their lives in order to reach certain standards in others, but I can certainly relate to it.
As a mom with a career, I’ve realized that friendship has become the equivalent of leisure time, and that gets pushed aside when work and child-rearing take up so much of your energy. My sister once told me, “It’s hard to have time for yourself when time for yourself feels selfish,” and that rings true.
From a logistical standpoint, having children also puts you on a schedule that’s less conducive to socializing. I had my first child when I was 28, and I just couldn’t line up my calendar with friends anymore; they’d want to have dinner at 9:00 p.m., and I wanted to be in bed by then. The time when I most wanted to socialize was 8:00 a.m., when my baby was most energetic and we were looking for adventure! But most of my friends weren’t even awake at that time. As a result, I stopped participating in a lot of group plans.
The combination of career and motherhood, particularly at a phase when both of those roles are as intense and demanding as they’ll ever be for me, often leaves me feeling very overstimulated and exhausted. For that reason, I don’t want my leisure time to be stimulating, too—being around a large group of people, having multiple conversations at once, often feels like more than I’m up for. And I’m an extrovert! I used to juggle a bunch of friends, and I’d go out for drinks two nights a week and then have group gatherings or parties, and now that’s too much. I’d rather stay home with a glass of wine.
I definitely cherish my friendships at work—and my co-workers are the friends I see the most. I often feel like my days are divided between kid time and adult time, and the office is where I have adult relationships and adult conversations, which I value a lot.
I do get FOMO, and sometimes I’m sad that I’m not constantly hanging out with a pack of friends, like when I was in college and was a young professional. There’s something about not living up to an ideal of female friendship that makes me feel guilty. I believe that life is episodic, not linear. In the future, when my children are older and my career is less demanding, I hope to recapture that time for friends.
– Marketing Executive, New York, NY
Missing My Mom Friends
When I was in my mid-twenties, an older colleague said to me, “When your friends have kids, you can’t just grab drinks together anymore—you have to go to them.” And now I know exactly what he meant. I just turned 32, and a number of my closest female friends are becoming moms. They all have demanding jobs as well, so it’s become increasingly difficult to see each other. I’ve found that the best (or only) way to maintain these friendships is to physically go to that friend’s home, bring a bottle of wine, and catch up with her while the baby is either sleeping or hanging out. I cherish those hours, and I love my friends’ children, too. But the onus is on me to make the effort—and that can be tough, especially when I’m incredibly busy with my own career, too.
It’s also a bit lonely to know that I occupy less room in my mom friends’ lives and thoughts, even though I can’t fault them for it. Of course, I miss the days when we could stay out late on a Saturday night or meet for an impromptu glass of wine after work, even though I don’t take it personally that we can’t do that anymore. It’s simply part of a new life phase that they’ve entered into, one where we all have to try harder. I know that if I want to stay present for my mom friends, I need to step into their world, not expect them to remain in mine.
In the back of my mind, I also know that some of these friendships may fade as we all become more preoccupied with parenthood and our jobs; even now, the ease with which they could drift away troubles me sometimes. Perhaps some of them will grow stronger again if I have children someday. For now, I just have to double-down, as I know they are, too.
– Editor, New York, NY
Taking the Long View
I’m in my mid-sixties, at the pinnacle of a long career in education policy and looking forward to the professional work I’ll do next. When I look back on the times I’ve lost track of friends (owing to career moves, relocations, and raising children), I realize there was not enough at the core of those friendships to sustain new challenges.
If you crave female friendships (and I think we all do), you will have them—they will just look a little different from what you might have had in your 20s, or when you were unmarried, or before you had children. Keep your mind and your heart open to the possibilities.
I made a friend, Kay, in my early thirties, and although we only lived in the same city for three years, she and I have remained friends ever since, for 35 years now—sometimes more in contact than others, but always there for each other. When my family and I relocated to Silicon Valley in 1990, I made another friend, Rosa; we both worked full-time, but enjoyed volunteering in the same elementary school activities. 26 years later, our children are grown and I’ve moved to San Diego, but Rosa and I stay in touch through Facebook and occasional visits; we can share anything with no judgment and lots of joy.
I know that managing a young family when you have career ambitions is very time-consuming. But take the long view—your life will evolve through phases. Hold on, in whatever ways you can, to those female friends where the bond is based on something deep. Know that you will have opportunities to make new female friends throughout your life, and those friends may become even more important when you’ve finished raising your children.
– Trish Williams, member of the California State Board of Education, San Diego, CA
Want to weigh in? Send your comments to TheMMForum@mmlafleur.com. Feel free to suggest other themes you’d like us to explore in the future, and share your two cents on next week’s theme: mentorship.