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Why Being a Mom Can Make Me a Bad Friend

A few months ago, I received a letter that ended a long-term friendship. In the letter, my friend outlined how I wasn’t there for her during a difficult time in her life, even though she had been there for me in the past.

She went on to say how she couldn’t get past the hurt and betrayal of my absence and, as such, it was time to end the friendship.

I was gutted. My emotions ran from sadness (losing a friend), then anger (as there are two sides to every story) and finally a sense of relief (once I let go of the guilt).

While I won’t go into the details of what happened, the quick summary is she was going through a personal crisis at the same time that my child (a toddler at the time) was undergoing a health emergency. The latest in a series of health emergencies in his short life.

She’s right —  I was not there for her when she needed me. I was in a space where all my energy was focused on helping my child and family get through a rollercoaster of health issues. My tank was empty and I had nothing left to give — to myself or others.

Mom guilt
Here’s the thing about going through a family crisis — all your energy is spent looking inward and it can be hard to lift your head and look outwards. When I reflect back at the period of time referenced in the letter (which was a few years ago now), it’s all a blur. I don’t even remember when it began and when (if ever) it finally ended.

Being the mom of a child with a disability has dramatically impacted my ability to have solid friendships. I am not good friend material.

My days are filled with my consulting work, juggling kids’ appointments, extra circular activities, supporting elderly parents from afar, and everything else on my plate. On a good day, I have very limited “me time” to pick up the phone and call a friend or go for coffee. Add a health emergency to the mix, and it could be weeks or months before I’m able to reach out and a connect with a friend.

Evolution of friendships
Not being a good friend is something that weighed on me for years. Having had children in my late 30s, my friendships were a main focus of my life for a long time. Being an extrovert and an empath, I loved spending time with friends by throwing dinner parties or connecting over coffee. My friendships kept me grounded and brought me joy.

This letter writing friend was the center of my friendship circle for many, many years.

And then I became a mom.

The spur of the moment coffees were a thing of the past, as were after work cocktails and leisurely weekend dinners. My life was dictated by sleeping schedules, meal times, and my demanding career. I was more exhausted than ever before.

When my second child was born with some medical challenges, I basically had to push everything aside to focus on keeping my job and family running. My children needed to be the center of my attention. Friendships faded into the backgrounds while we ran a child to assessments, therapies and provided emotional support.

Brave face
The letter I received was a reminder of how others can perceive moms. From the outside, maybe I looked like I was holding it together — good career, happy marriage, two amazing kids. I talked little about the struggles I was having, not wanting to burden others. But on the inside, I was struggling (and have moments where I continue to struggle).

I suspect I’m not the only mom who keeps their struggles to themselves. It’s not uncommon for parents and caregivers of kids with disabilities to feel isolated and alone.

Now in my late 40s, and a few years into parenting, I have very few friends. Lots of acquaintances, but few true friendships. You know, the friendships where you can be yourself — your true self. There just isn’t the time to cultivate these friendships, having lived in four cities in the last 15 years.

I know that raising kids is a small and precious window of time. But when your child has a disability, that window of needing your full attention gets extended.

I have come to embrace the life I have (even though there are still challenging days), letting go of my life before kids. As for the letter – I chose not to response, recognizing the friendship had run its course. We are on different paths, and that’s OK.

While I’m still working on the mom guilt and trying to keep everyone happy, I have come to accept that I can no longer sustain the friendships of my youth.

Maybe a day will come that I can enjoy a leisurely supper or drinks after work with friends. But that day is not today.

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Photo submitted by contributor.