As much as I longed for intimacy and soulful truth telling, especially with other moms, I did not have the energy or freedom to nurture friendships in the ways that I used to. It was an awkward period -- a time of letting go of old friends (such as, alas, Anne) who could not accept or respect the changes in my priorities and a time of accepting my new limitations. As for my fledging friendships with other moms, at first they were indeed childcare outings. We would push our children in baby swings and strollers, sneaking in conversations literally behind their backs. With some women, such as Robin, we found our way into the self-revealing conversations that characterize what I most value about female friendships. With other moms we simply offered one another practical tips and playground companionship.
When my daughter turned 3, I found myself returning to my loyal, childfree girlfriends, finally having the freedom to join them for spontaneous movie nights or luncheon dates. Since that time, some of those old friends have become mothers themselves. Some remain my playmates -- the ones who bring out the adventurous, giggling girl in me. Others are my career cheerleaders and mentors, always checking in with my writing life, keeping me inspired and motivated in the midst of raising a family.
Motherhood has caused me to approach friendships as if they were branches on a life-sustaining tree. As a result, I've become ruthless about pruning the brittle, dead-wood branches, those friendships that refuse to bend -- draining my energy and offering no life in return. I now realize that careful pruning also makes room for new growth -- that witty, friendly mom in my son's first-grade class, the wise elder writer I met at a workshop. I've also learned how crucial it is to protect and fertilize the thick, sturdy branches of friends -- some with children, some without -- who are willing to grow and stretch along with me.
A therapist friend of mine recently conducted a survey with women who were facing the empty nest. When asked to identify what they wished they had done differently while raising young children, the majority responded that they wished they had cultivated their women friendships more. I don't know what the empty-nest transition will look like for me. My children are still young. But I suspect that when my children fly from my tree's nest, it will mark another phase of careful pruning. What I do know is that it will be those hardy and bendable branches of friends, like so many loving arms, who will carry me forth into the next season.
Seattle writer Gail Hudson is the wife of one, mother of two, and friend of many.
Copyright © 2003.