Meaningful friendships are hard to find these days

For me, I find it hard to have meaningful friendships lately. I didn’t used to. I had a lot of friends at different intellectual levels than I and I could easily adapt to all of them and feel quite fulfilled. Many of my friends loved me and loved what I brought to the table. I got many areas of need met.

But the motherhood aspect has greatly changed things. For one, not working anymore has removed a great deal of that connection to highly intelligent people. Another thing is that anyone who is a mother around here is mainstream. So when they talk about CIO or reward/punishment systems for good or bad behavior it makes me really cringe and I walk away from the conversation. It ultimately separates me from them.

I belong to a mother’s group and I don’t feel free to be myself and offer my opinions about my parenting practices. I never had a great problem with how others did things – “to each his own” I always said. But now that I’m a parent, and I view things through an attachment parenting/positive discipline lens, I see so many things wrong with the way others parent. I keep quiet, because what I know is a little too complex to share in little chunks with people I hardly know.

I also know from experience, they don’t want enlightenment, even when I try to convey what I’ve learned. I see the child of one of my friends hurt by their practices – things are getting worse, not better for that child. I also have come to accept that some people just don’t want to be enlightened, no matter how hard I try. It’s not my fault, I did what I could. Some parents want obedience without taking the age of the child and the developmental needs of the child into consideration. Some bad behavior is created or made worse by the tension between parent and child due to the expectation of compliance. Some bad behavior is a simple reflection of what they see in their parents. I know this first-hand as things get worse when I fail to be empathetic and want compliance. Reading The Explosive Child confirms it. I have yet to meet a parent in real life that accepts their culpability in the matter. They don’t realize (or don’t care) that the way they are interacting with their child is preventing the very emotional growth and maturity in their child that they so desire.

For a while I was developing a close friendship with two other families. But I managed to mess it up because of some differences in parenting practices I had with one of them and it changed things for all of us drastically. In my need to defend my children and in my need to prove I was “right”, I was unduly harsh – but it was because I was deeply hurt. Like a wounded animal, I strike out when I’m hurt. It’s an undesirable legacy of being brought up in an emotionally abusive, controlling and rigid family.

I can’t even begin to describe the loss of comfort and kinship I have had with these two families. Everything is different now and I don’t think it’s ever going to be the same again. I only have myself to blame.

I do try to seek other friends out but it’s not easy. The simple fact that 3 having closely spaced kids is a different experience than having further spacing. I don’t think I have found anyone who has 3 kids who’ve been spaced 20 months apart like mine (and I realize a mother of triplets would have it even “worse” than I do). But it is a distinction that severely limits most mothers’ understanding of what life has been like. Most women around here have 2 kids or less. Not one of my neighbors or friends have three or more under the ages of 7.

But then on the flip side, when I have a string of bad days with my middle daughter, I have no one to cry out to that something is not right with my child and I just don’t have an ounce of energy to cope anymore. There is no one to turn to. I have 1 husband, 4 sisters, 1 brother, a mother, 20 women in the mother’s group, 4 neighbors who are also mothers that I could talk to if I wanted to, and 3 male friends of different ages and in different stages of parenting.

And yet not one of them could say they know what I’m going through because none of them have. So I don’t bother sharing.

All I just want is someone to sit with me, hear the pain in my heart, and tell me, “I know this is a rough patch, but you are strong and you are a great mom, despite how it looks right now and you will get through it” or some other such affirmation.

But mothering is just one part of me that keeps me separated from others. The other is intellectual.

I spent 3 years ignoring my intellectual needs while simply being in survival mode. Having 3 kids in under 3.5 years sufficiently drained my resources to the point I had little energy to devote to stimulating myself intellectually. I found, for a time, when I was around other people who were halfway articulate and intelligent, I found I’d lost my own ability to communicate. All of a sudden, I’d become tongue-tied around others. I used to be able to string together comprehensible sentences. All of a sudden, I lost the art of conversation, let alone a friendly debate. I’d been so out of practice, practically being a hermit for 3 years in the middle of suburbia, I simply couldn’t be articulate any more. I was mortified at times that I simply was at a loss for words.

Finding intellectual challenge has been, well…challenging. Before it was always supplied through work. My brain and tongue was always nimble. After I came home from my 12 year career, my abilities slowly eroded against my will.

I have suffered a great loss for awhile, and have been clawing my way back to competence.

And yet, I can’t even practice certain types of conversations with the friends I do have, because they don’t have the same intellectual interests. I can’t practice much with my own husband, because he sits there listening passively and it’s not worth it for me at times (yeah, he’s a mechanical engineer, so he is probably as “smart” as I am but in a vastly different way). Half the time I have no idea if I put him to sleep. It made me irked sometimes, because I know he used to be capable of thoughtful contributions to conversations, but mostly it made me sad. Parenting has changed him too and it has a lot to do with my 5 year old’s intensity, having 3 closely spaced children, and the changes that have occurred with me and my inability to cope at times because my own intensity gets in the way.

I think that is my greatest sadness. I love my girls and would go to the ends of the earth for them, but parenting has taken so much away from us that I’m struggling to restore. I know there are many bright spots, but still…the balance has overall tipped to the negative side of things and many, many people do not understand that.

It’s been a long while since I’ve had a meaningful friendship. I also don’t know if I have the energy to try for them. I hope this changes, but in the meantime, I try to make do with the internet. Thank goodness for compassion found from others online, because without it, I’d really feel lost.

I’m sending out my eternal thanks to those who’ve commented on my blogs, to those who may have contributed to my posts on Mothering.com. I don’t feel quite so alone because of you. You’ve helped me in so many ways with your kind words. I’m grateful to those who’ve reached out to me. I hope I’ve been helpful to you as well.

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12 Responses to Meaningful friendships are hard to find these days

  1. Maha says:

    I recently started following your blog.

    I could have written this post–From the three little girls spaced about 18-20 mos. apart (my eldest just turned 4), the secluded, overwhelmed life stage, finding myself tongue-tied (and even disinterested!) when around peers, even down to the mechanical engineer husband. I find myself increasingly delving into myself, striving to become a better mother and try to create a nurturing and more creative home for my daughters–which I suppose is one upside of this loneliness.

    There *are* women out there looking for a friend like you. Thank you for sharing.

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Maha – thank you for your reply. Seems like a small world after all, doesn’t it?

    It really helps to be calling out to the blogosphere and it really does help to know that I’m not alone in how I feel. I find all my desires to be a better mother than I ever had complicated by many different factors, including those qualities that make me who I am. Blogging about them does keep those desires and my values in clear sight.

    I do appreciate each and every comment I have gotten from other women on this blog. The warmth and compassion I have felt online is nothing short of remarkable.

  3. Sarah says:

    I ached as I read your article.

    I too have closely-spaced children as you’ll know from my signature at Mothering (I’m Preggie). They are 14, 16, and 22 months apart, respectively. It’s a very intense situation overall, I think, but then when I see families with children spaced 3 years apart, I’m glad for the small mercies of having babies whose siblings are babies too. They learn to be with smaller people before they feel displaced by them. There is no sibling jealousy or rivalry with a baby when they are still babies, and if they keep expecting a new baby, they don’t out-grow that understanding. Our oldest three have for most of their lives had a baby sibling and they’ve been asking for a few months now when we’re going to have another, lol. I’m not pg; they’re just accustomed to me being rotund, and presently I am not. 🙂

    I have read with interest about your daughter’s selective mutism and have marveled all just how many variations of expressions of need there are amongst the basic human list. It is apparent though that along with OEs, there is a subset of expressions that is just not common, and you have been experiencing that. Me too.

    Our eldest boy is brilliant. He’s a philosopher, deducing infinite regression and profound truths about the universe regularly. But he also regularly forgets to empty his bowels in appropriate receptacles. He’s almost 6 yrs old and we have to put a pull-up on him at night and when we go out. He is happy, well-adjusted, and has raging inattentive ADD. It affects everything, of course.

    Ds2 is hyper-emotional and can read any human being he meets within a minute, accurately. He is a fabulous singer and composer and general ham. He also can have hours-long melt-downs if he can feel mucus in his nose that he can’t get out by some implement or blowing. He has a sense of humour very much like Jon Lovitz, a beautiful belly-laugh, and ADHD. Affects everything, of course.

    Ds3 is sweet, stable, and angelic by most perceptions. He has a mental age of between 7 and 8 years old. He’s three, and he has obsessive-compulsive issues. He is so capable and self-regulating naturally though, that he has it under decent control on his own, without meds of any sort, which is why it isn’t a dysfunction or disorder for him personally. We’ve discussed the markers and worked out strategies with him for coping and stopping negative loops. He’s a joy to be with and very diligent in everything he does.

    Ds4 is a baby still. He had the markers of OEs, like all of his brothers right at birth. Actually the first two boys had them in utero. Anyway, he is also very advanced, but unlike his brothers, doesn’t say much at this point which is weird for us. By this point, we would usually be having two-way lengthy conversations. With ds4, we do all the talking and he listens and clearly comprehends, but doesn’t say much. He’s lively and extremely energetic while being also extremely sympathetic. Even as an infant, he would smile while crying; he would seek to comfort the people around him even in his despair or upset. It took until he was 11 months old to frown, and he practiced for a month before it started to come out as a natural expression of dismay. He has unusually acute social anxieties that I’ve helped him mostly surmount with St. John’s Wort. He still cannot be apart from me without severe distress most times, although today my dh took him out for a few hours with his brothers and he was fine (what a relief for both of us!!!).

    My dh has inattentive ADD, as does his dad. If you’ve had the pleasure, lol, of watching how that works out in real life, you’ll know it’s not just a diagnosis- it’s a life-style. I have struggled with OCD and other cingulate issues no doubt relating to my upbringing and particular brain chemistry as well. Our home is a circus.

    I actually put my dh to sleep when I talk. I remember in high school when I had boyfriends and we’d be out late or on the phone, and I’d put them to sleep too. They have all said that it’s my voice and not boredom. My dh calls it the ‘lilt’ in my voice and he loves it; he feels comforted by the sound. I just feel frustrated that even when I do talk to the one person I have hope with listen and communicate, he can’t help but fall asleep.

    I don’t know what comfort you will derive from knowing that while I don’t know all the intricacies and macrocosmic forces that affect you in your life, I do know what it’s like to have a string of bad days and have nobody to tell about it who won’t give me string of ‘why don’t you just…’s and parenting tips or insinuations about what I ought to have done so that this wouldn’t now be a problem (potty train with rewards, only read easy-reader books, spank, hold my dc down forcibly until they sleep, CIO, punish, stop nursing, vaccinate, live in the city, etc…). So, I don’t discuss much at all with most people.

    I have found a mother and daughter who are open to me sharing the mothering aspect of my family’s life, and I am thrilled about that. I tread carefully and not mentioning all the behavioural challenges and advanced development idiosyncracies isn’t a hindrance at all. The daughter is grown and doesn’t have children, but it doesn’t matter either because she’s very aware and spends her time with young children.

    After six years of constant advice-receiving, it is very relieving to have this relationship. I don’t know what it is about having more than two children, but once that happened, people all over, strangers in parking lots, began pouring out all sorts of cautions and advice at us- and they all had no more than two children. The ones with more are more likely to empathise than instruct, it seems. Strange thing.

    Anyway, it’s 11pm, and this is when ds4 wakes up and has an hour-long melt-down, which he has begun in my lap, followed by an hour of running and interaction, so I have to tend, but I sincerely appreciate your candor and courage in posting this. Thank you. 🙂 I know that many women will be comforted by you and that is no small contribution.

    xo

  4. Jen says:

    Oh. This post so resonated within me. I only have one daughter, who I don’t always understand, because I don’t always understand my own self.

    Meaningful friendships are *always* difficult to find when you choose to parent in a different way, which my husband (also a mechanical engineer!) and I have done. Homeschooling, a democratic family structure (if it’s a family vacation, why should just the parents get to decide where to go, shouldn’t the child/ren have input as well, once the economic/financial structure has been determined by the adults who provide the finances?), a non-religious atmosphere, an a place where research and questions, rebellion and perversity are the norm?

    Oh yes. I so resonate with your struggle.

    I am not a biologist, in fact, I am a musician, but I know your struggles. In that, you are not alone across the Web.

  5. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Sarah –

    I have to say thank you for being so open with yourself. I do appreciate it so much that you shared what you did. It is so relieving to know that someone understands that there is so much more going on when you have children who are blessed with sensitivities and other unique characteristics, who want to meet their needs without pathologizing them and wanting to rush to medicate them. Not that medication is horrible, but the benefits need to outweigh the risks for children (like in the instances where the child could harm himself or others).

    As you know, there are no “quick fixes” with our children. Even if you were to find them, most likely they would intrinsically change who the child is. I know I don’t want that for my children. I do want to help make things better, and sometimes I get it right, but I also know, there are times when we just have to ride out the storms and there is no predictive clue if we are going to experience a minor storm or monsoon season.

    I think we, as sensitive and intuitive and researching parents (and in light of our personal upbringing), know that taking the non-standard path to helping our children comes at a personal cost. I know, for me, after having dealt with the meltdowns for a few years now, it doesn’t take much to burn out the personal resources I have, so I try to force myself take better care of me (I’m just talking simple rest and eating and finding expression of my feelings through writing) because I tend to forget to do that.

    I’d love to hear what you are doing to make sure you are replenishing your energy reserves, because I know mine get depleted often.

    I was going to say I don’t know how it is with more than one child who needs a lot more, except, my littlest one has had her issues too, though I tend to forget about that because dd2 has the most overt issues (the squeakiest wheel in our home). But dd2 is definitely not the only one that needs more from us.

    For a long while, my youngest had delayed speech, and extreme frustrations borne out of that so I actually had for a time, two children that would take turns screaming around here in their frustration. Although lately, even though her speech issues have resolved, she’s beginning to be very hyper-emotional to things as well.

    She will burst into tears over the littlest things, mostly related to her sense that she did something wrong, and she is becoming very sensitive to adults and will often just fall apart.

    I don’t think she will have the same issues as dd2, but I don’t know. I will see what happens in preschool in the fall. She is the only one to appear the most extraverted of the three girls, and yet she is less resilient these days. It seems like she’s going backwards at times, especially since she was the happiest one of them as an infant, and the silliest one of them, and can hear bits of songs or books and sings or recites them with the proper inflections. She used the be eternally happy and cheery. But then I have to remember, for dd2, things weren’t too bad until about 3.5-4.5. Dd3 is 4 now.

    Of course because the other two need more, I have to remember not to neglect the oldest one because she doesn’t overtly need as much.

    One thing more I wanted to say is that for as difficult as it is to be raising three closely spaced girls (even with special needs), I still realize it is not anywhere near as hair-raising as four closely spaced boys. I don’t think I could keep up with the energy of boys. I have some wonderful nephews and I do like the neighborhood boys around here, but they are distinctly different creatures.

    Some day I hope in the future we will see our children grow into self-confident individuals, content with themselves and their place in the world. I believe we are laying the groundwork for that, even when it doesn’t seem like it is now.

    I just wish I could remove some of my own automatic responses that I have when my personal reserves are tapped out. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been working on the anger issues that I didn’t realize I even had until I became a mother myself (that has everything to do with my own upbringing). I am working on that.

    xo

    Best wishes to you and many good vibes sent your way!

  6. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Jen –

    Thank you for commenting. Struggling against the stream of current popular parenting practices is a difficult (though not impossible) task. What I do find is that doing what is right is often not easy, but it has the most rewards in the end.

    If I were to believe that we reap what we sow, then I can’t wait until I see the fruits of my labors. Because even though I do things imperfectly at times, I do know that this is worlds better than the treatment I got at the hands of my family of origin.

    My children stand a far better chance of developing healthy self-concepts because I work so hard to understand how to do that. That is not to say I don’t screw up. I do, and sometimes royally so and I know where I had the breakdown. But I do something my family never did – apologize when I was out of line and work to make amends.

    At any rate, thanks for sharing, and I hope you’ve come away with something worthwhile.

  7. Spacemom says:

    My girls are 23m1d apart. The first 4 years were an incredible challenge. We are just about to enter year 8 of being parents. Year 7 closes out in July. We have learned alot about shutting up and letting other parental decisions go.
    I too, have lost a friend because her parenting style was completely undisciplined in some aspects and demands for obiedance in others situations.
    I am learning to find people who are intellectually my peers. This helps me a great deal to have people whom I can discuss parenting and we DON’T judge each other and then have these same friends dicuss politics and modern life in a simular vien as I do…

  8. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Spacemom – you are one of the ones I think about when I think of getting those supportive vibes from across the internet. You were one of the first ones I remember saying such positive things.

    I always think about you and what you do for a living. My husband and I love watching the Big Bang Theory Show on TV. I love that we “get” the references to what they are speaking of. I love that we get the jokes. I love that they are intelligent and funny. I love that one of them has selective mutism and one has Asperger’s. Even though it pokes fun at them a little bit, I do like seeing them overall being treated in a positive light.

    We are also starting to do some experiments on space related concepts (we’ve done 1 so far), and I think of you when we are doing them.

    In some ways I’m glad not to speak on parenting issues and open up a can of worms. It’s just easier not to, even when I want to impart some wisdom to them.

    I just wish I could invite some of the people I’ve met on the internet into our real lives. I know we’d have have a lot to talk about. The internet is great for bringing us closer on one plane, but dammit, I’d love to go out for coffee and interesting conversation that wasn’t about kids, shopping or where they are going on vacations for a change!

  9. kyraanderson says:

    oh my sweetness, forgive my intimate greeting but i SO KNOW HOW THIS FEELS, at least my own version of it. even though i have only ONE child, i get the sense of loneliness and apartness i feel, the thirst for connection and intellectual/emotional connection and the meeting of the minds/souls/hearts. it’s not that our husbands aren’t dear or that the people we meet aren’t well-intentioned. the parenting can sometimes asks so much of us that we are left temporarily bereft in areas that are desperately important to us. but i know it will happen for you. i know it is on the way. i know it. i do!

    sending xxx

  10. el burro says:

    Your post spoke of sadness and facing hard truths and trying to sort things out. It sounds like you feel isolated, and cut into pieces. I identified with much of what you said, having had a very similar experience (4 kids at one point 7 and under but now thankfully 8 to 14, out of the workforce and at home, craving intellectual challenge but barely managing to cope with physical demands of mothering, an intellectual without anyone to talk to, and a marriage changed by the realities of childrearing).

    So much of my own confusion and pain came out of the situation that I was in, but there seemed no way out of it.

    I still don’t have answers for any of it, and I have regrets about the way I coped, but I am getting better at realizing that my feelings were justified and that I did the best that I could.

    I used to compare myself with other, more satisfied, mothers, and wonder why I couldn’t just be happy, darn it all, thinking that it was somehow me, and my fault.

    Now I think that it was very, very hard to be in that situation. I still find it difficult, but interestingly, with the kids getting older, I have found solace in seeing how they are turning out, because it validates the way I chose to parent them. Also, I see a lot of my self in them, and have a lot more compassion for myself based on the struggles that they are faced with.

    I am trying to accept the fact that it will always be difficult for me to find friends with whom I can relate in ways that are soul satisfying for me, but that it is not a fault within me, just the way it is.

    I admire your courage in speaking about this…

  11. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Kyra – I know you only have one child, and having read your blog, I know that the simple number doesn’t always matter. Because the struggles you go through with your child’s circumstances are just as draining as having multiple children.

    I love that you got some rest and renewal in your retreat. I think that is something all mothers need to do periodically. I know I ought to go on one too. I know I would come back with renewed spirit as well.

    Thank you so much for your kindness and compassion. It feels so wonderful to have mothers who “get it”, who understand, reach out.

  12. raisingsmartgirls says:

    El burro –

    I do see some of the fruits of my labor when we go out. I do see their strengths and their beautiful sides and others do too. I know the research backs up the parenting decisions I’ve made (because I’ve taken the time to look, especially since my own family didn’t model healthy parenting to me). In fact, though I don’t have time right now, I was going to post a little something about my children and their strengths – the positive side to their unique temperaments.

    It’s not all bad stuff that happens. There are truly joyful moments, even if they are far and few between sometimes.

    When my husband and I have breakdowns, we work to patch them up. It may not be right away, and sometimes we just stew about things out of stubbornness, but usually not too long. In the end, we know we have each other and we do try to help each other through the rough parts. Forgiveness is key to getting past them.

    We both feel badly too when we know we didn’t cope well with something with the kids and even worse when we forget to extend each other some slack. We do try to work on that. It’s just hard in the heat of the moment. I wish I knew where my own off button was at times because I’m not always as tactful as I need to be.

    In the end, we always work things out, but I do wish there was a safer outlet that griping about what went wrong.

    As far as the intellectual aspect of things – blogging definitely helps, reading tons of what others are blogging about and doing plenty of research of my own is at least something. You should have seen me a year ago, it was way worse before I started blogging and researching things. So there have been positive improvements!

    Thank you so much for your thoughts.

    ***
    Thank you all who have responded so warmly. I can feel the love and I do appreciate it so much!

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