The early years of motherhood are beautiful, messy, fulfilling, and challenging, but navigating the new waters of being “mom” can leave us feeling unseen, unheard, and alone.
The good news? It doesn’t have to be that way.
Lauren, one of our Outreach Coordinators, recently sat down with Shasta Nelson, a leading expert in creating healthy friendships, to ask her advice on how to surround ourselves with strong support systems, even when it seems impossible in the midst of sleep deprivation, toddler tantrums, and hectic schedules.
Lauren: Shasta, thank you so much for joining us to share your amazing insights into loneliness and friendship. So many of us feel disconnected as we journey through the days with our little ones, what can you tell us about that feeling of isolation?
Shasta: Our world is fractured by an epidemic of loneliness. We often think: “I know more people than I can keep in touch with.” Yet we report feeling largely unknown. Modern-day loneliness isn’t because we need to interact more, it’s because we need more intimacy. That lonesomeness is your body saying “I want more connection,” which is one of the most beautiful messages you could ever receive.
Lauren: Yes! So many of us have tons of people we “know,” but we still feel like no one truly understands us or knows us deeply. In your book, Frientimacy, you speak about intimacy in friendship. Can you tell us a little bit about what that means?
Shasta: Frientimacy – friendship intimacy – is where two people feel seen in a safe and satisfying way. To build Frientimacy, you need positivity, consistency, and vulnerability. Positivity - laughter, kindness, and validation- leaves us feeling accepted and satisfied. Consistency – time spent or “hours logged” – builds trust and makes us feel safe. And vulnerability – letting people in, being able to articulate what we’re feeling, and feeling comfortable asking for what we need – makes us feel known and seen.
Lauren: These three factors are so important for healthy friendships. Do you have any advice on how we can find the time to nurture these things in friendships, especially with our busy mom lives?
Shasta: The easy answer would be to wave a magic wand and give you extra hours in your day, but even that probably wouldn’t solve the problem. This comes down to an issue of priority and the understanding that relationships matter more to our health and our happiness than any other factor. We have to do it frequently in order for it to be meaningful. The more often we step into something, the more meaningful it’s going to be, and the more we’re going to see the results of that. If we make it more of a routine or “ritual” – something we do every Tuesday at 7 o’clock – it’s easier on us, easier on our kids, and easier on our partners because everyone gets used to it and expects it.
Lauren: Speaking of our partners, some of our BraveMoms have asked how their partners can help them when they feel lonely or isolated. What are some ways that we can bring our partners along on the mission to build more intimate friendships?
Shasta: One of my favorite examples is how one of my friends kept coming back to our weekly girls’ night even when her baby was an infant. There were so many reasons to not go, and it was challenging for her husband the first few weeks, but they hit their rhythm, and Tuesday nights became a new ritual of daddy and daughter night.
Lauren: I love that her prioritizing of friendship helped to build daddy’s relationship with baby. What about moms who feel like they barely see their partners already? How do we also fit building friendships into the mix?
Shasta: That is definitely challenging. We’re all at a place where we feel time-crunched on everything; we don’t feel like we’re getting enough alone time, or romantic relationship time, or one-on-one time with our kids. I think we just have to sit down and ask ourselves “are friendships important to me?” If the answer is “yes,” it becomes a question of which friendships are most important and how you can focus on those.
Lauren: That’s great insight. In addition to how our friendships will affect our partner, a lot of us wonder how it will affect our kids. It’s easy to feel guilty setting aside time to build friendships if it means leaving our kids home.
Shasta: How we frame it is so important. A lot of moms feel bad saying they’re going to be out with friends. I know a lot of moms who tell their kids “I have a work meeting.” But we don’t need to lie or act like going to work is a more credible reason to be away from our families than maintaining friendships. It’s important to model these friendships to our children. Have the friendships now that you want your kids to have when they’re your age.
Lauren: That’s a wonderful point; we definitely want our children to treasure their friends! Do you have any advice for those of us who have a hard time making connections to begin with? Some of us have gotten so used to being on our own that we need help breaking that cycle and stepping out of our comfort zones.
Shasta: Building relationships has so many parallels to our physical health, and this is one of them: the less activity we do, the less activity we want to do. It’s the same with making meaningful connections. If building relationships is a priority, like working out, we don’t wait until we’re in the mood to do it, we go do it because it matters and because it is our priority. We simply have to do it and trust that it will start feeling more comfortable and we’ll get more energy back from it as we do it more.
I know so many people who have said, “I hired a babysitter, I went out, and it was fine, but it wasn’t that meaningful.” So they start wondering “was it worth it?” We weigh how much energy expenditure one outing takes and we think “I can’t do that on a regular basis.” But just like physical movement, the more regularly we do it, the less energy we expend and the more we gain, because routine and expectation get developed. It’s an investment. You have to remind yourself: “this is something I’m building up to because I value what’s on the other end.”
When you become a mom, you don’t have to replace all of your existing relationships. It’s not a blank slate where you have nobody until you make a bunch of mom friends. It’s holding that space to let yourself be loved by the people you’ve developed relationships with, while you find out what other support you need that will feel meaningful to your life as a mom.
Lauren: Once we figure out those other friendships we’d like to work to build, how can we get started building them?
Shasta: The best advice we can give to most moms is build relationships around the times that are convenient for you and with the people it’s easiest for you to get together with. Consistency is the goal, so ask yourself “who do I want to be consistent with, where can I be consistent, and when can I be consistent?”
For many of us, joining something that is already established, like a mothers’ group, is easier than creating something brand new. Join something where you don’t have to initiate, you don’t have to plan, you don’t have to invite - you just have to show up.
The other choice is to create that consistency yourself. Just step in with the understanding that you will have to initiate, invite, schedule, and keep making it happen.
It’s good to remember that getting together doesn’t have to be face-to-face. You can connect through video or on the phone. What we’re aiming for here is consistent interaction. The more interaction we have, the more supported we feel. Whenever we can increase our communication – even in little ways – we feel like our friends are there and more available to us. Even a simple text message can help. If we’ve heard from someone via text recently, we’re more likely to reach out to someone we’ve heard from recently than someone we haven’t connected to in a long time.
Lauren: Thank you so much, Shasta, for all of this incredible information. You are such a wonderful voice of encouragement and hope to all of us moms in need of connection and friendship. We are so grateful for your time and insights; you definitely inspired us to make the time to find those connections.
BraveMoms, let’s go build some healthy friendships!
Be you bravely!
Shasta Nelson, M.Div., is a leading expert on friendship. Her spirited and soulful voice for strong female relationships can be found in her books Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness and Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of GirlFriends. She is Founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, her tribe of women committed to creating more friendship in this world and teaches monthly friendship skill-building classes at The Friendship University. She also writes at ShastasFriendshipBlog.com and in the Huffington Post, speaks across the country, and is a frequent contributor to the media appearing on TV shows such as Katie Couric and The Today Show, and in countless magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Health, and Forbes.