The Privilege of Friendship
Gathered around the familiar multi-purpose, formica folding tables, I was the youngest of the group by at least ten years. Thursday Bible study had become a treasured time because of the insight, wisdom, and humor that these wiser women shared with me. One day, as a new session began, some younger women invited me to join their study to be with people closer to my age. I thought hard about this decision because making adult friends is a challenge, but I ultimately chose to stay and be nourished by the women whom I had been enjoying so much. At the time I remember feeling like I had made an anti-social choice to decline their invitation. But in hindsight, it was a nudge of the Holy Spirit to make friends with those whose days and weeks were shaped by different rhythms than mine.
While I do have friends in my same stage of life that I see in passing all week long, our children are usually all ears when it comes to our quick updates, which can make for a rather bland check-in. I can count exactly one time that we have gotten together just for fun in the past year. One. The blame is on me as much as anyone else, though when I bring up the idea of an extracurricular hangout to other women, they scoff at the frivolous idea of spending time (or money) for no particular reason. “But wouldn’t that be nice,” they add, wistfully, leaving me to wonder if my desire for nurturing friendship is an isolated one. I am left to feel sheepish about naming the desire for connection that these other mamas perceive as so luxurious.
What We’ve Lost
One of my favorite comedians has a schtick about the way we were never intended to raise families, wrangle kids, or exist as a single unit:
“On the one hand, they know they’re fortunate to have critical modern conveniences like dishwashers and pre-made margarita mix,” she said. “What they don’t realize is that it is very psychologically difficult to raise kids in today’s world where we don’t have the support systems that women have traditionally had. I always tell moms: ‘If this feels hard, it’s not because you’re doing something wrong — it’s because you’re trying to raise children under very unnatural circumstances.’” 1
And yet, here we are. The normalization of that construct has done immeasurable damage to our sense of connection, not to mention our mental health. It is justifiably crazy to believe that we can do it all on our own, without consequence.
There are cultures in which intergenerational living and sharing common spaces or resources still exist. They always have. In these contexts, there are other adults present, family members, and other children around at all times, allowing not only opportunities for children to play and be supervised by others, but also a community that fosters adult interaction outside of work or spouses.
That we have ever scoffed at this notion of extended community and saw ourselves as somehow having advanced beyond it, is still a little mind-blowing to me! The benefits for both adults and children having access to a community are innumerable. Culturally I lament that it feels a bit like swimming upstream to build this kind of community rather than the isolated household units that have become the norm.
“In the thick of it”
My peers are maxed out. My husband is gone all day. “You’re in the thick of it,” I hear from well-meaning passersby at the grocery store while my headstrong one and a half year old walks ‘by self’ as I push the empty car cart intended to corral her. Opportunities for this introvert to see friends for any meaningful amount of time feel like they have been moved to the back burner in this season, alongside the opportunity to go anywhere without carting my whole gang with me. I am surrounded by people, yet I feel myself thirsting for connection.
“The kids have practice tonight. We’ve got a tournament this weekend. I took an extra shift to help cover the costs of speech therapy.” On one hand, how wonderful for our children! On the other hand, how difficult we are making it for them by modeling lifestyles that approach connection as a frivolous luxury.
Different than I expected
While I anticipated finding my ‘village’ amongst women whose experience mirrored my own, what I most needed was relationships with women in a different place than mine; generally older. The retiree in my bee club, a writer friend, a friend’s mom, and a former colleague. To be clear, I am not staying out late with these women on a Saturday night. However, when I connect with them, they have something to offer that very few people in my life do: time. They are interested in me and my family and have wisdom to share, alongside time to absorb my worries or my joys, the ones that often don’t get mentioned in passing conversation on the sidelines at soccer practice, over a hurried dinner, or in the hallway at parent-teacher conferences.
These older women have great insight and good instinct–gifts I hope to cultivate within myself.
I am learning not just to seek out these friendships but also the importance of fostering them. Often these friendships with bonus mamas, aunties, and grandmas in my life are different from what I was taught to look for in a close relationship. And, I am learning that it is okay and even deeply good.
A sweet friendship refreshes the soul (Proverbs 27:8).
So I look to Ruth and Naomi, Mary and Elizabeth, who also seem to have taken great comfort in one another, while for better or worse, the world around them was spinning wildly out of their control.
The Privilege of Friendship
As a recipient of the gift of being seen and known amidst the hectic pace of life, I feel the invitation to be generous with my own time where I can. Although we are often unpracticed in the art of recognizing our gifts, seizing opportunities to offer our strengths or encouragement to those younger (or older) feels less intimidating as I realize what a precious experience it is:
“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” ― Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness 2
The women I know in this sphere, whose children are grown, love the opportunity to know and love my children alongside me and have offered much-needed perspective and encouragement to me as a mother. Women with wisdom learned from long years of mothering, working, writing and keeping bees are deep wells of insight from whom I feel privileged to learn. As much as I crave friendships with in-the-trenches peers in the season I am in right now, I am beginning to understand what a nourishing gift it is to have the privilege of friendship with those who have seen more than I have and are willing to accompany me here and now.
I have never forgotten the invitation from Marianne to ‘treat’ me and my girls to breakfast out, despite (or because of) their squirreliness. I love that it was Midge, my friend’s mom, who taught my eldest to knit. When I didn’t know how I was going to recover from surgery with a new baby at home, the offer from Mary Frances to help me at home was such consolation. The phone call from Bernice who remembered the surprise (and fears) of a pregnancy later in life, was pure balm. Kathy, who has sent notes of encouragement anytime she sees something of mine get published, has been one of my biggest cheerleaders. Naomi at 9 o’clock Mass, answers my bee questions, checks in about my hives and my daughters. I hope to be just like them. I am so grateful to be surrounded by these women who model friendship and community for me so effortlessly.
Katie Cassady is a wife and mom to three girls in Denver, CO. A beekeeper and avid gardener, she believes stewardship, Catholic Social Teaching, and the practice of Sabbath, hold untold potential for the Church and the world. She holds a Masters degree in Pastoral Ministry and published Sunday Fun as a tool to help families intentionally integrate the practice of Sabbath. She blogs at Blessed Is She and unexpectedhoney.
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