How to Make Better Friends (When You're a Busy Mom)
Updated: Mar 13
Photo by Emily Henrie
Two sturdy oaks I mean, which side by side,
Withstand the winter's storm,
And spite of wind and tide,
Grow up the meadow's pride,
For both are strong
Above they barely touch, but undermined
Down to their deepest source,
Admiring you shall find
Their roots are intertwined
- Henry David Thoreau "Friendship"
When I was eleven, I asked my mom for money to buy a Coke at recess every day. She was surprised and even a bit disappointed. Didn’t I know that was a waste of money?
I did know, but I didn’t actually care about the Coke. I just wanted to fit in at recess, and in my eleven-year-old mind, I thought that was the way to make friends. I’d been saving my pennies to buy lemon drops, the cheapest snack in the vending machine, so I could stand in line and buy something like everyone else did. Most of the time, the lemon drops ended up in the bottom of my backpack, covered in pencil shavings.
It was silly, I know. And in time I realized, with a little loving persuasion from my mom and dad, that if I had to act like everyone else to be their friend—if I had to buy Coke and wear name brand jeans and watch Dawson’s Creek—they weren’t the right friends for me anyway. I’m thankful for that now, because I learned that I didn’t need to fit in to feel good about who I am.
Being able to stand on my own has been a beautiful thing. But it took becoming a woman to realize that making friends is an art worth mastering, too—especially because I have tendency to keep to myself rather than reaching out. Maybe you can relate. If you’re a mom like me, you might feel like making friends is mostly coordinating schedules, and trading off playdates and carpools. What we need is deep connection, but it’s not always easy to take time for a lunch date or girls night. (Although, it’s certainly worth it sometimes!)
Not to mention, most of us are still carrying around the same old insecurities we picked up as kids. I still feel like that shy, awkward girl on the playground sometimes, wondering who wants to play with me. I’m much more confident than I used to be, but I find myself feeling self-conscious about my frizzy hair, skinny arms and breakouts, just like I did as a preteen.
Q&A: Do you feel like it’s easier or harder to make friends as an adult?
So what’s the secret to making friends? To me, friendship means more now than fitting in or feeling accepted, it’s about seeing the best in ourselves and others. That’s what good friends help us do, and so I’m sharing six lessons I’ve learned over the years about making friends.
1. Make friends with people you want to be like (even if it’s intimidating).
A few weeks ago, I went to the Adore Photography Workshop hosted by my friend Hannah Mann and her colleague Jennifer Johnson. Spending a weekend with so many incredible women was humbling and inspiring. It helped me get outside myself in a way I never had before. Still, I can’t tell you how nervous I was to be there, and when I first met Hannah, I was completely intimidated. These women are talented photographers, smart business women, and above all, generous and kind—everything I want to be. It’s easy to feel that friends like these are “above me,” but I realized, that’s exactly why they make life better. They make me want to reach for something more.
Not surprisingly, they poured out kindness on my family and me while we posed for photos as part of the workshop—and I was able to put aside most of my shyness so I could truly enjoy myself. Here are a few of my favorite shots. (By the way, we’ve kept in touch via Instagram—go follow these talented women, you won’t regret it!—and those of us here in the Treasure Valley are looking to get together again soon.)
2. Remember the rule of five.
It’s been said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. We can’t prove it scientifically, but I think it’s a good thought to consider. What kind of influence are you surrounding yourself with?
Let’s be honest though, I’m not spending my time in meetings or social scenes. I’m surrounded by kids—my kids, my kids’ cousins, my friends’ kids—all day, every day. And like any kids, they can be demanding and moody at times. So here’s a secret for making that kind of influence into a positive one: I choose to see it that way. I used to spend quite a bit of time feeling frustrated and disciplining kids, but I’ve changed. Instead, I try to enjoy being with them, talking with them and teaching them. I'm not perfect, if I’m looking for the best in the people I love (including my husband), I believe they naturally become a good influence, and they make my life better for being in it.
More to Read: Six Simple Ways to Enjoy Your Kids More
I also try to be conscious of the time I spend on social media. I’m pretty careful now about following only people I look up to, whose influence I welcome. I love to hear their thoughts on everything from minimalism, to parenting, to money. Jodi Mockabee is one of my favorites! I read the books they recommend, and listen to talks and podcasts by people who inspire me—that’s how I “spend time” with them, and some of them have become friends in real life, too (like Hannah Mann).
As for those I spend time with in person, I find myself seeking out friends who fascinate me, make me laugh, and who are confident and optimistic. Typically, I feel awkward around other people, so it’s easy to focus on my own self-consciousness, or overcompensate by being too talkative. I’m trying to learn to simply listen and learn from people, to appreciate their experiences and ask questions. That way, I don’t have to wonder what to say, and I open myself up to their good influence.
3. Be strong as your own person.
It’s true that others can influence us for better or worse, but it’s also true that, in the end, you get to choose what kind of person you’re going to be. That means taking ownership of your own moods, attitudes and behaviors. Friendship can bring out the best in us, but only when we stop expecting others to make us feel good about ourselves. I love the concept of interdependency, which I write about more in this post on marriage.
And it’s proven true for every relationship in my life—friends, fellow church-goers, neighbors, in-laws—even my kids. I can let go of all the expectations and desire to control others when I know it’s up to me to feel confident and peaceful, no matter who I’m with. And that’s when I can begin to truly connect. I enjoy these people much more when I'm comfortable being myself and allowing friends to be themselves, too. Thoreau says it so well in his poem:
Two sturdy oaks I mean, which side by side…
Grow up the meadow's pride,
For both are strong
4. Have the courage to go out of your comfort zone.
A couple weeks ago, I woke up in terrible pain. It was a kidney stone (my sixth, oi!), and I was forced to drop almost everything until I could pass it, which took a few days. At first, I was scared to ask for help, because I didn’t feel like I knew anyone well enough to ask them to take five kids (I was watching two neighbors, too). But after praying desperately for God to send someone to my front door, I knew I had to be the one to reach out. It was a lesson in friendship that God knew I needed.
And what a lesson it was. Friends rushed over, took my kids to their homes or with them on errands, brought meals, and even came over through the week to make them lunch and play with them. I’m so grateful God helped me put aside my pride and insecurity to reach out, because now I’m able to appreciate these friends even more than before. It was an unexpected blessing in more than one way.
The older I get, the more I realize that feeling like we belong is a choice we make. How can we feel loved if we’re always waiting for someone else to act first? If we don’t reach out and bring people into our circle? If we don’t let them know we want them in our lives and welcome them as they are?
So, invite that single friend over for lunch. Get to know the refugee family down the street. Sit and listen patiently to that family member you don’t always understand. Let them know the good you see in them. I’ve never regretted going out of my comfort zone to make a friend.
5. Don’t forget the people from your past.
My very best friends are the ones I’ve known most of my life. But I haven’t lived close to them in years, and at times, we’ve lost touch. Lately I’ve been working on rekindling some of those friendships, and some of them have reached out to me, too—not only friends, but siblings, aunts, in-laws and cousins, too (who, in my opinion, make some of the best friends). I can’t tell you how healing it’s been to surround myself with people I love and who love me, even if it’s only through letters (this pressed-flower stationery is my favorite), emails and video messages. You know you have a good friend when you can pick up right where you left off.
6. Be willing to let go of some friendships.
The older I get, the more I meet people who are struggling with overwhelming insecurity, frustration, resentment or negativity. I often feel drawn to be a friend to people like this, maybe because I feel like I understand and I don’t want anyone to struggle alone. Maybe part of me wants to help them change too, although I’m learning I can’t make that choice for them. I don’t want to change this about myself either. I believe friendships like these can make life better, because they make me more compassionate, patient and resilient.
But, I’ve also seen how it can bring me down and demand too much. And with three little kids to raise, I have to be intentional about the time I give to friendships. I don’t have it all figured out, but I know that sometimes it’s the right thing to let go. If anyone’s feeling obligated or simply uninterested, it’s likely not a friendship that’s serving either of us. The way I’ve handled this in the past is to step back and allow these friends to take the lead. Sometimes they will, but if that’s where it ends, then naturally, it ends. (Unless I feel moved to keep reaching out, as God might ask me to do.)
I also draw the line when people make a habit of pointing out what I’m doing wrong or taking out their frustrations on me. This is different than a loving friend who helps you see when you might need to make a change. If someone is codependent (dependent on you for approval or support), critical (prone to talk down to you), or manipulative (unable to allow you to have any opinion different than theirs, by arguing, making fun, or guilting you), then these are people to limit your time with or avoid completely. Again, I think it’s necessary to realize that as much as you want to help someone, you can’t change them or make their choices for them.
I believe every person deserves patience and compassion, but not every person will help you reach new heights. A true friend loves you the way you are and sees the best in you.
Being part of the Adore Workshop allowed all these thoughts about friendship to come together for me in a beautiful way. I’m so grateful for that experience, and for new friends like Hannah, Jennifer, Adrianne, Kaity, Denise, and Emily, who intimidated me at first, but ultimately inspired me to reach for more. And I’m grateful for friends who’ve always been there for me, who have a special way of making me feel loved and maybe not so awkward after all—you know who you are!
If anyone needs good friends, it’s moms. We have a hard job to do, and we need all the encouragement we can get. That’s why I believe good friends are worth having and holding onto, and some are worth letting go of. I know it can feel complicated and intimidating, but at its best, friendship can be beautiful and simple. To tie it all up, here are twelve tips for making friends:
Make friends with people you want to be like, even if it’s intimidating or you feel like they’re “above you.”
Surround yourself with uplifting and encouraging friends, in real life and online.
Sign up for a class or workshop that interests you, or join a group of some kind to get outside yourself every once in a while.
Be willing to put aside your pride, insecurities and expectations rather than waiting on friends to make you feel “good enough.”
Happily invite friends into your home and make them feel welcome, even if the house is a complete mess. (No need to apologize or make excuses!)
Look for the best in friends and point it out. Ask questions and listen. Allow others be themselves, say what they need to say, and feel no fear of judgement from you. Don’t take things personally.
Learn to relax, be yourself and be happy, no matter who you’re with.
Ask for specific help (like a specific day and time, a project, or advice) and offer specific help.
Make friends with people who are different than you—different ages, backgrounds or family situations. Invite them to your home or to work together on a project of some kind.
Confide in friends rather than complain to them—be open, honest, and ask for advice.
Do what it takes to hold onto good friends, and let go of others, especially those who are disrespectful or disapproving. You can choose to love and accept others as they are (always a choice worth making, I say!), but you can’t make others love and accept you. Likewise, you can love people without necessarily choosing to spend your time with them.
Remember friends who’ve always been there for you. Make time for them, enjoy them, and let them know you appreciate them.
I believe good friends make life better because they make us better—at least, they make it easier to choose to be our best. They have a special way of making us feel good enough, but also motivating us to be happier, more hopeful and more loving. Good friends help us relax and let go of insecurities, too. But I think the real beauty is to be that kind of friend to someone else.
Here’s to more good days—and good friends!
P.S. What do you think makes a good friend? Tell me in comments!