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Friendships: When another one bites the dust

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When I was a kid, I once got in huge trouble for writing in the family’s address book in pen. I’d specifically been instructed by my mother to update it in pencil and both she and my stepfather were forthright in expressing their disapproval of my actions.

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An address book with details of old friends crossed out. It’s a consequence of having a busy family life.

It took me many years to appreciate there might be a good reason why they’d told me to use pencil. It’s a rule I don’t follow with my own address book, although I probably should.

Why have I come to the awkward conclusion my parents were correct? Well, there are certain times of year I receive a brutal reminder that I’m a parent. Christmas is a classic time, as is summer when I try to arrange to meet people socially with the kids.

As I flick through my address book or my mobile phone contacts, I come across names of people who were once very good friends. As time has passed, there’s been so little contact between us I feel slightly awkward getting in touch.

I’ll usually come across one name that makes me frown. With a forlorn shake of the head I’ll quietly and very sadly agree with myself this is a friendship that has run its course.

Christmas cards may have been sent every year for three years, but nothing received in return. I may hear through the grapevine or via a Facebook update they’ve had another child and come to the conclusion that it’s not personal, merely that life has become too fraught for them.

Loosing friends is a common compliant among new parents, but it seems to be an unexpected outcome of having older children. While babies take up a lot of time, they will attend whatever social function mum and dad take them to, although they will inevitably be the first to leave. Babies also don’t need ferrying around to their own social engagements and activity clubs.

If you need to travel to see friends, cost definitely becomes an issue. It costs to take older children on trains and flights and this, I think, can make it harder to maintain friendships with those who live further away.

Babies unquestionably make it hard to socialise. Older children, in my experience, make it harder still.

While old friendships can wither, having kids also presents opportunities to make new friends and form new social groups. I have benefited from this and made a number of great friends simply because my kids have been to the same nursery or school as someone else.

While such friendships have blossomed over time, I think any man who, like me, is the main carer for his kids faces some particular challenges when it comes to socialising. You very often hear about the support women receive from their mum friends.

Alas, dads often struggle when it comes to making mum friends. As for making dad friends, sure, I have many but they are usually working full time so are not available to have coffee at soft play on a Wednesday morning.

That said, the mum friend / dad friend thing is a whole different issue (I vlogged about it if you’re interested, click play on the video below). I merely find it a little sad how some very good friendships can peter out over time, largely because family life gets in the way.

I was well into my thirties when I became a father, later than many people. Some friends of mine had established families when I became a dad myself.

I’d seen friends with children go through similar. I had my eyes open and was realistic to the fact some long-standing friendships would suffer. Knowing it was going to happen however, hasn’t made it any less painful.

Back to that address book. Believe it or not, my parents still use the same one. When I was guilty of my transgression, it was a beautiful, rectangular book with a pristine, Liberty-print cover.

The cover remains, but it’s very grubby and the pages are held together by Sellotape. The pencil-written contact details have been rubbed out and replaced many, many times.

At the time, I thought my mother and stepfather had over-reacted. Maybe they were simply giving me a valuable life lesson?

 

10 thoughts on “Friendships: When another one bites the dust”

  1. As the mum of two OLD children I would definitely agree with this. I think partly you just don’t have as much opportunity to socialise – people go back to work and don’t feel the ‘need’ to meet up with other adults so much, but what you say about travelling is true as well. I’d add, having been through the teenage stage, that it definitely gets harder too as children begin to be more vocal about what they do and don’t want to do. When they are small you can drag them about anywhere and they just have to lump it, but it’s much more of a chore to take older children somewhere they don’t want to be, so I think you naturally do it less. I was having a think about this whole subject the other day actually, and feeling like I had got to the point of not having ‘enough’ friends – whatever that means!

    1. Oh great, so what you’re saying, Jo, is that it’s going to get tougher still? Just the news I needed!

      Interesting comment you made about having enough friends “whatever that means”. Do you perhaps mean having enough social connections, be it family, a partner, community groups and, yes, friends etc? I’d never really considered this too closely until I started doing some work with Movember about improving men’s “social contentedness”. It’s one thing to know people who you kill time with over a beer or coffee, but quite another to have strong, supportive social connections. I’d better stop there, it’s a subject that fascinates me. I could be here all day writing a response!

  2. So true about older children! Their sporting commitments don’t allow us the flexibility to see friends. I have a handful of friends I can pick up with after months and even years apart and one or two friends who’ve come into my life through the kids, but I could definitely have rubbed out a fair few addresses over the years!

    1. I have a few friends like that as well. It’s good to have such positive social connections. It’s just very sad that we drift apart from people we have so much in common with after having kids. Very sad indeed.

  3. My mum still has the same address book from when I was a kid. It’s next to the telephone. Always makes me chuckle when I ask for a number and have to wait till she gets home to find it, because heaven forbid she store them on her mobile.

    Probably shouldn’t mock her, will only be a matter of time before my kids do the same when I reach in my pocket for my phone and they’re laughing at me for not being able to send it to them by brain wave or some such nonsense.

    1. Yeah, I see what you mean Mark. I think some friends of mine have ditched their paper address book! I simply don’t like all data being stored in one place. As for my mother storing addresses on her mobile phone, it will never happen!

  4. Gareth Torrance

    This has happened to me with a number of my friends from school… Over the past 2 years, I’ve been spending my time with my daughter because I don’t get to see her much during the week (she’s often in bed by the time I get home, and I leave before she wakes up)… So, going to social events with my friends (that I’ve known for up to 23 years) ends up becoming an after thought…

    I know it’s my own fault, but in the end, I want to make sure I get as much time with my daughter as possible… And my friends all want to go out drinking, or to the local rock club… They aren’t interested in family-friendly activities…

    1. Gareth, I think this is such a common story. Who are you going to spend you time with, your kid or your friends if given the choice? Just make sure you do look after yourself though. I think men can be particularly bad at maintaining friendships.

  5. John,
    Thanks for writing from the Dad perspective. As a lone parent from when my son was 8 (he’s 25 now) any kind of social life while juggling a full time job (including night shifts) was almost impossible.
    The guilt of being away so much, and the subsequent overcompensation, put paid to any aspirations of dating.
    As for your concerns about it being more difficult to socialise when they’re older, my experience was entirely the opposite.
    As my son matured, and our own friendship blossomed, he was very understanding about the need for social interaction and he’d give me a pass whenever I asked. Or maybe the fact that we both have introvert tendencies meant that we understood one another and were more than happy to hang out together for the most part..
    For us there was mutual respect and consideration, never conflict. In the end we became each other’s best friend, so you could say ‘here’s one I made earlier!’

    Regards

    Phil

    1. Thanks for commenting Phil and providing a perspective from someone who has really lived this. Maybe it is simply the age of my kids that makes it a little more challenging for me. The two of you clearly have a wonderful relationship. Hope for us all yet!

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