I saw a sign last year that said something like, “Adulting is hard…come in for a latte!” Now I see “adulting” on t-shirts and bumper stickers. “Adulting” is the new “parenting,” I guess. It’s something we learn to do, to become an adult=adulting.
I get how adulting could be a challenge for some, but it’s such a relief to me to be an adult. Now that I’m trying to guide my oldest children safely through their teenage years, I’m very grateful to be on the other side of adolescence. Please let me tell you my favorite thing about being an adult: you get to decide who your friends are. You get to walk away from relationships that are hurtful or one-sided. You get to choose to surround yourself with people you adore and admire. You get to forge new friendships with people who are different from you and learn from them. You get to laugh until you cry with friends that you have known for decades. You get to decide who you want to spend your time with…even if it’s only a stolen hour to reconnect. You get to pick your fellow pilgrims.
I suppose this has always been true, that we’ve always been able to choose who our friends are, but I didn’t really know it until I was an adult. I didn’t have the confidence or moxie to sometimes walk away. I didn’t know how to be fully known and still loved outside of my family. I didn’t know until I had kids of my own that other moms were going to be my parachute, my joy and my sanctuary.
And I have some amazing friends. When Katie was four she said to me, as I was getting dressed in my own room, “We can see your bottom, Mommy, and it is scaring us…right, Elizabeth?” Elizabeth nodded solemnly. When I told my friends, they said, “Send her to me. After she sees my bottom, yours won’t scare her anymore.” My friends didn’t say, “Have you thought about Pilates?” or “Do you do squats?” because that’s not how friends treat one another. Friends are appropriately outraged on your behalf.
But friends do tell each other the truth about hard things. Over the weekend, I was at the beach with some of my best friends for our annual getaway. It is like a military operation to evacuate four busy moms. We plan months in advance to find a time that we can all be gone for a few nights. There have been years where one of us has to be almost kidnapped to make it happen.
While these trips are great fun, they are also a chance for us to finish a conversation without a child asking for snacks or goggles. One year, I was talking about how I wasn’t able to give my oldest the attention I thought she deserved because the other kids needed me more. One of my girlfriends went into the kitchen to get us more wine. In the 30 seconds that her errand took, she came back in the room to find me crying and saying, “So, it’s pretty clear to me that she’ll either turn to drugs or become a teenage prostitute.” It escalated that quickly. My friend looked around confused and asked, “How long was I gone?” This is when friends tell you truth: “Anna, you are acting insane. Your kids are fine. She is not at risk for teenage prostitution just because you adopted twins.”
Friends know your heart and can tell you in a loving way to stop your crazy talk. Friends are on the front lines with you, not just offering post-game commentary. Friends know what it is like in your house, the funny parts and the sad parts, and they march right into that chaos any way.
Friends protect each other.
Unfortunately, sometimes our lives intersect with people who are either so broken or so careless that they hurt our hearts. I had a situation recently where someone really mowed over my heart. As it was happening, I thought, “Huh, so this is who she is. She keeps showing me who she is and I think I finally believe her now.”
Everyone makes mistakes and sticks their foot in their mouth. I’ve done it more times than I can count and I’m always embarrassed when I do. But if I know that someone has a tender spot, a place that is hurting, the last thing I want to do is add to his or her pain.
Sometimes, we can’t walk away from people because of work situations, church entanglements or family arrangements. Some people will always be in our lives and we can’t do very much about that. We don’t have to buy what they are selling, though. You get to decide what you want to absorb. I sometimes imagine myself holding up a Wonder Woman wrist band to block out hurtful things. Feel free to borrow this mind trick. It’s kind of fun.
We are allowed to be careful with our own hearts. I used to worry that this made me ungenerous, but I’ve come to believe that I get to decide who has full access to my heart. If someone intentionally pokes at your sore spots, you can distance yourself…either physically or emotionally. Just because someone is in your orbit doesn’t mean you have to give them your whole heart. You are the boss of your heart.
I know I’m overly sensitive, especially regarding my kids, but if someone knows how much trouble my kids are having in school and still brags about how brilliant their kids are…well, my heart hardens a little. I’m not talking about strangers…I’m talking about people who should know better. It’s the smugness that really sticks in my craw. Plenty of people with brilliant kids handle this with grace. We have some dear friends who have two daughters that were each the valedictorians of their school, three years apart. Nonetheless, our friends act bewildered by the giftedness of their kids. They marvel at their daughters’ accomplishments, but don’t take credit for them.
On the other hand, when parents treat their bright kids as walking report cards for their own parenting skills, I have to disengage a bit. For a gathering that I couldn’t get out of, I even invented a drinking game that I like to call, “Your kid is how gifted? I’ll drink to that!” Every time the giftedness of their children was mentioned, I took a sip of wine. Gifted was mentioned a lot. No one but me was included in this game. It helped make the evening more bearable. (Feel free to borrow this, too. You can even substitute the things you are weary of hearing about again …”Your kid is how athletic/how artistic/how agricultural?”)
We all have painful things in our families and households. Find people who will carry your heart with great care. Find people whose
hearts you are honored to help carry.
There is no greater privilege than sacred friendships. True friendship is noble and important work. Thankfully, it’s also joyful and life-giving. It’s how we all get by: with a little help from our friends.