Are We All Just Too Tired To Be A Good Friend?

Recently, as I found myself digging through my closet for a sweater clean enough for a moms’ dinner out, I considered canceling. A weeknight 7pm get-together had sounded great the week before, but now I was worn down by planning dinner, sibling battles, and a work-life balance that is rarely balanced. The daily grind, in other words. I picked up my phone to bail several times before finally getting in the car, and I waffled the whole way there.

I am an extrovert; I like people. I know my mailman’s life story. I used to look forward to languid dinners around a table of apps and drinks while getting to know new friends or catching up with old ones. What happened?

Here’s one theory: I’m tired as hell. And so is everybody else, for that matter.

It’s not that I don’t have close friends. I’ve been really blessed to have one lifelong best friend who has weathered life’s storms with me for over three decades. I have college roommates I remain tight with, and I also have a stable of women I can text about nearly anything. I have a friend I text about IEP woes, another who’s my what’s-for-dinner-tonight buddy, and a group chat of adoptive moms I’ve been loyal to for nearly a decade. It’s not a lack of amazing women in my life. It’s an understandable lack of effort on all of our parts. Because all our get-up-and-go is going other places.

Friendships take time and energy, and those are the things most mothers find in short supply every single day. When I do actually put on hard pants and meet a friend for lunch, I always enjoy myself. But it’s hard to outrun the thoughts of everything else I could be doing: I could be using this hour I carved out of my work day to catch up on laundry — or to lay on my couch and binge Ginny & Georgia. I could be scheduling those errant dental appointments or sewing badges onto a scouting vest. Most American mothers get less than an hour of alone time each day, and it’s tough choosing where that time goes. Sometimes, when I do manage to get out of the house alone, I feel guilty.

It feels fraught to all of us, I think. That’s why the playground chatter and vague promises of coffee dates rarely come to fruition. Most of us have the desire to commiserate and connect about our shared motherhood experiences, but lack the social supports to actually prioritize time for that connection. It’s also easier to use social media to recharge that social battery. The CDC analyzed data from Pew Research and found that, as a whole, parents use social media more than the average adult.

Whether venting about spouses or seeking validation for our lived-in houses, most of my mom friends told me that connecting with one another online just feels… easier. We aren’t sure if it’s better, though. It’s harder to read someone’s tone, every online group seems to have some sort of daily brawl, and internet parenting advice often feels more like a fire hose to the face than a cup of coffee with friends. Faced with a lack of support and free time, though, most of us take what we can get. And that’s why so many of us feel lonely.

I wish I had a solution. I wish I could say I will set a goal to meet friends in person twice a month and not compromise on it when life gets too busy. The truth is, I’m just not sure. It’s nearly impossible to make new mom friends in your 40s, and most of the friends I do already have are in the same boat as me. Some quality time with a trusted friend — the very thing that may save us from the burnout — is out of reach. It feels like a math equation without a clear answer… which of course just reminds me that homework packets are due.

When I returned home that Wednesday evening at 10 p.m. — yes, I said 10 p.m. on a weeknight — I sat on the edge of our bed and reflected for a few moments. The time out of the house was worth it, but those intrusive thoughts creep in. “You’re going to be so tired tomorrow… you missed bedtime… you could have finished organizing school papers while watching TV.” All of those things are true.

I was tired the next day. My 5-year-old did comment on my absence at bedtime. Our school papers are still a mess. I don’t think I can stop those thoughts, and I don’t know that most mothers can. I think sometimes we just need to ignore them and force ourselves out of the house every once in a while.

Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed., is a journalist and essayist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a mom to four kids via adoption as well as a twin mom. She loves to write about parenting, education, trends, and the general hilarity of raising little people.

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