Confession: Most of us intend to accomplish more relationally than what we do. Somehow, there is always something going. Maybe we’re investing in our families, or running our many functions-and-ministries, or picking the green beans that needed our attention yesterday.
Here are some practical ways to carve out space for people in busy seasons – with a special slant toward moms.
1. Take a look at what you can cut.
Is it really crucial to spend ten days fall-cleaning the house, or could you give that up this year and spend more time with people instead? Tending well to our responsibilities is important. Teaching our children to work is important. But I have never met an old woman who says, “I just wish I had spent more time with a cleaning rag in my hand.”
What is critical to your job and your sanity, and what could be relaxed to permit space for what is more important?
Do you really need the dustless living room? The huge garden? The extra Thursday night activity for the kids?
For me, I need the toilets and kitchen clean, but I can live with streaky windows and a few weeds. I can say no to the summer reading program at the library so I can do more interactive things with my children and our friends instead.* I don’t mind giving up cooking the five-star meal tonight so I can talk with an old pal on the phone, or stop by a neighbor’s house to cry because my fostering relationships took a downturn. Soup will be fine, just don’t ask me to pronounce it.
*I’m not knocking the summer reading program. Usually, I’m a big advocate. But as my children grow, so does the complexity of the program, and I’m already trying to drag them away from books to do other stuff. So just saying.
What are you putting time into? Are you doing what you want to be doing?
2. Allow friends into your ordinary work and play.
I confess I’m not much good at the former. It’s easier for me to do the latter – “Hey, we’re heading to a park on Thursday. Want to join us?” Or, “Come on over; we’re doing a family campfire and s’mores tonight.”
But I have friends who rock the shared-work aspect.
- “Want to can our pizza sauce together this year?”
- “Do your windows need cleaning like mine do? How bout I come help you for two hours, and then you come help me?”
- “Wait, you’re exercising in the mornings too? Shall we meet up and do it together?”
- “Let’s do a sewing afternoon together to work on our girls’ school dresses. I’ll make a snack.”
- “Are you good at flowerbeds? I need some help thinking through where to plant stuff. Want to come over and dig with me?”
You wouldn’t believe how much talk time fits around chores, and conversely, how the work flies with a friend. But you’ll have to let it be a little messy.
3. Make use of child-friendly activities to build friendships with their mothers.
Children don’t need to keep you from relationships. They can be an excuse for creating them. “Hey, my boys are missing your boys. Shall we indulge them with a bike ride sometime this week?” I’ll hazard a guess we won’t see the boys again till the end of the trail, and I and my friend will get uninterrupted talk time. Oh wait, the toddlers are whining because they can’t pedal their tricycles this far. Never mind; it was a nice try.
My point remains. Interrupted talk time is better than none at all. Park playtimes, potluck snacks, takeout pizzas, sand by the lake – all of this has comprised my adult relational life while I have little people in the house. And it has built a surprising number of disrupted chats and lost trains of thought warm relationships with women I love.
4. Make peace with impromptu and imperfect.
When you try to mesh multiple women’s schedules, you quickly realize there is no optimum time for getting together. One mom’s toddler will always need a nap just when the other mom is returning from her child’s dental visit and could be free to meet up. Working women have an even trickier time coordinating schedules. How to plan ahead, when we don’t know how Baby will be sleeping by then, or how much homework my teacher friend will have to grade that evening? Who knows what I’ll have going next Friday?
Sometimes you just gotta jump in. If today the sun is shining and a friend is nearby, let the laundry list ride till tomorrow. For busy people, last-minute and fortuitous often works better than painstaking and pre-planned.
I’m a structure-and-schedule lover, so this has taken me a while to learn, through the nudges of flexibility-loving friends. Thanks to them, I find serendipity: the happy coincidence of things coming together that I didn’t plan ahead for.
In addition, my friend Shaunda taught me something specific about hospitality. A few years ago, she said, “You know, I’ve found that hosting people takes three things: having a reasonably clean house, having food you can serve, and being in the mood. I’ve learned that if I have two out of three, to just go for it.”
It’s a very, very good rule of thumb, and it opens you to saying “Come on over” at times when you wince because the bathrooms aren’t spotless, or you have nothing to serve but ice water and pretzels. It’s not that you don’t care about things, or that you’re not making an effort to please. It’s that you are laying down your demand for the pristine, your insistence on presenting only your immaculate effect.
The same with leaving home to enter another’s space. If you combed your daughter’s hair that morning but it’s frowsy again, let it go. If Junior has a few small stains on his shirt, it’s okay. Basically dump his drawer of clean clothes into the back of your minivan and LEAVE HOME. It will be fine.
Friendships are made over imperfections.
6. For tête-à-tête opportunities with friends, use the time no one else is using.
If you, like me, need some relational time to occur when there aren’t preschoolers howling everywhere, don’t wait till they’re grown. There is always something, some slot of time not spoken for.
Try very early in the morning, or late at night. I have a few friends who tuck their babies into bed and rendezvous with me at Perkins by 9:00 pm for pie and coffee. It’s a winner for my friends with day jobs too.
One threesome I am a part of likes to go out for early Saturday breakfast every few months – 6:30 in the morning, when our eyes are hardly propped open. The first times we tried it, we laughed at ourselves and felt like we were impersonating our husbands, off to important meetings at the crack of dawn. But then we loved it. NO INTERRUPTIONS. HOT BREAKFAST MADE TO ORDER ON A PLATE. NO GUILT. Because it’s Saturday, and our families aren’t even up yet, and no one misses us until about 8:30, when we reappear.
Another threesome I love takes long walks on Sunday afternoons, when our families are dozing or relaxing. About once a month, we schedule a two-hour slot to chat about what’s going on in our lives, what books we are reading, and what happened since the last time we met.
There is always something.
More ideas? How do you carve out time?