I am a terrible friend.
There. I’ve said it.
And I know that several of my friends will be reading this and thinking, “Of course you’re not! You’re a great friend!!”, and whilst I thank you for your kindness, in truth, there are times when I have been a terrible friend.
Sometimes we get so caught up in our own lives, in the stress of every day life, in our children and our relationships that we neglect the friends who are dealing with their own stresses, their own issues and problems.
Every now and then I will speak to a friend and they will tell me about an issue with their child, or a problem in their relationship and I will say, “How long has this been going on?”, “Why didn’t you mention this before now?”, and they will tell me, “I didn’t want to bother you!”, “You have enough on your plate!”. And I feel like a terrible friend. I beat myself up that I failed to notice that they are struggling, that life is hard for them at the moment, that they are treading water with the rest of us. And I tell them that yes, my plate is full but I have a side plate, I have dishes, I have a whole array of crockery that they can load on to whenever they need it!!
I will bump into a friend who I haven’t seen in a long time, usually in Tesco, and they will tell me that we must catch up, that it has been months since we shared a coffee or a glass of wine. And I will promise to call them, to send them a text and sort something soon. But weeks will pass, even months, and by the next time that I bump into them again, in Tesco, we will have the same conversation all over again.
And even when we do meet up, maybe over a meal or a night out, my mind is only ever half switched on to the conversation. We can be talking for several hours, a whole evening passing by, and although I am engaging with them, listening to what they have to say, laughing in all of the right places, in the back of my mind I am thinking, I hope that the children went to sleep okay, I hope that Gaz remembered to make the sandwiches for the morning, I must remember to pack Lewis’s P.E kit for tomorrow, iron him a shirt, find out what he’s making for Food Technology this week.
And its worse when we meet up with the children in tow, impossible at times to engage in any kind of adult conversation when the children are screaming in stereo and we are surrounded by fellow Mums at soft play. Our conversations are continuously interrupted by, “I need a wee!!!”, “I’m hungry!!”, “That boy just pushed me over!!”, “I want to go hoooooome!!!”. We find ourselves leaping up mid conversation to rescue one of them from the ball pit, pull up their socks or pants, feed them Pom bears, re-fill their juice cups and sniff their nappies when the stench of poo drifts in our direction.
Some days my friends will phone me, and I will be so grateful for adult conversation that I will spew out every single thought in my head. I will rant about my lack of sleep or the attention seeking status of a mutual friend on Facebook. I will moan about the fact that Gaz left the dirty pots in the sink this morning, that Megan hasn’t stopped screaming all day, that I have to take Lewis to boxing, football and then to his Dads house that evening, “And I told him, I’m not your own personal taxi service!!”. And then the children will resume their cycle of screaming in stereo, or the doorbell will ring and the dog will bark, and I realise that we haven’t even got round to discussing their day, their own struggles, the fact that they too might need a moan or a rant of their own.
Sometimes my phone will ring and I’m knee deep in nappies, or my in-box will ping and I’m cleaning up another spillage, and I tell myself that I will return the call later, reply to their message when I get a minute. Only there is never a minute, some days there is barely a second, and it can be weeks later when I realise that I forgot to call, and I feel terrible.
I forget birthdays, special occasions, plans made well in advance. I have a whole stack of birthday cards sitting at the side of my phone that I have forgotten to deliver, that will sit there until another year passes and I can forget to deliver them all over again. My diary is bursting with appointments, special dates to remember, plans to meet up and little notes scribbled in the margins. And yet when I finally find the time to open up my diary, having had to rescue it from the pile of junk mail, paintings from nursery and newsletters from school that have been discarded on top, I realise that I’m running a week behind, that I’ve got the dates all wrong, that yet again I owe someone an apology and a belated Happy Birthday!!
And I’m notorious for cancelling plans, usually last minute due to one of the children being un-well (which is at least once a week!), my own health issues flaring up or even just that I am absolutely knackered. Mid week plans to meet up at 8? I’m in my pyjamas by 6 and prising my eye lids open by 7! Nights out on a weekend? After the week Ive had, I want nothing more than to get in bed, watch the X-Factor and sleep!! Lunch with the kids? When Megan is in the throes of one of her melt-downs, its impossible to even leave the house, let alone eat a Panini in peace!!
And sadly it seems that for some of my friends, although thankfully not all, sooner or later they just stop asking. The one time when my children aren’t poorly and I’m bright-eyed and ready to party, I see on Facebook that they are enjoying a night out and I didn’t even get an invite. And that’s fine, it’s the down side to Facebook, witnessing a social life that you are no longer part of.
I guess I am lucky that I have some pretty amazing friends, a lot of amazing friends actually, who realise that I am struggling at the moment and who are willing to take the rough with the smooth. They forgive me my absence, understand my silence and they are happy to pick up where we left off when things are a little easier. My best friend and I can go weeks without seeing eachother and even on the days when we don’t speak (admittedly we usually speak at least once a day!) she will text me, “Are you still alive?” or hilariously, “Don’t bother trying to phase me out!!” and I know that she is there, just on the end of the phone, willing to listen to my dramas and my whinging, day or night.
It’s very hard to maintain friendships when you have young children and yet at the same time, my friendship group is ever-expanding due to the mums I meet through our playgroups and school. With every friend that fades into the background, unwilling to accept that my children are my priority, a new friend comes along and tells me that they completely understand it, that they struggle with just the one so god knows how I cope with four, that we can catch up whenever I’m free.
So yes I’m a terrible friend sometimes, infact I think that many of us are guilty of that, but that won’t always be the case. In a few years from now, when the children are at school and I am clawing back a little of my social life, I am safe in the knowledge that my true friends will be right there waiting, ready to pick up where we left off, with a welcoming hug……………and the biggest glass of wine in the history of man!!!