During the past decade, I lost my village.
After I graduated from college—a unicorn-esque time that has no shortage of life-on-life social interaction—my best friends and I dispersed to vastly different parts of the country. I moved to Chicago, and for much of my twenties, I was once again surrounded by constant opportunities for friendship. I shared apartments with friends, and we often walked to church on Sundays, explored new neighborhood coffee shops, and went for early-morning runs or late-night dinners together.
In my midtwenties, as is to be expected, many of us started pairing off and getting married. As we did, we moved to farther and more affordable parts of the city or out to the suburbs. Our visits had to be planned weeks in advance rather than by text message mere minutes beforehand.
Then the babies started coming and the visits turned into phone calls and then text messages and then, eventually, silence.
I loved these friends dearly, but even still, I’m okay with the fact that these relationships ended. I would love to have these sweet women living on my tree-lined suburban street, our kids growing up running through sprinklers in each other’s backyards, but I know this isn’t reality.
Our paths diverged, and I see this as a natural part of life.
What I don’t know how to deal with is this: How do I go about building a new village when I barely have enough time to live my normal life?
How do I create a shared history with a new set of friends when our conversations are punctuated by needy children, when our coffee dates are few and far between given busy family schedules?
In the first year of motherhood, I was too tired and too busy surviving to even think about friendship. I went back to work full-time at three-months postpartum. Because of our schedules, my husband and I are often more like passing ships, handing the baby off to the other for some solo parenting while the other heads to work. Learning new rhythms for our family and trying to steal precious moments together left little time for anyone else.
But I can feel an internal stirring now that we’ve settled into a routine, now that we’re all sleeping, now that I feel like myself again. It’s as if space has started to open up in my heart, but as quickly as it’s opening, it’s filling up with loneliness.
There are a few things you should know about me: I’m an introvert and a homebody. I like to go to bed at 9:30. And I hate wearing a bra. So, even though I technically have more breathing room in my life these days, you can see why it would be more desirable, in my mind, to stay home than to go be social. Not to mention how desirable it is to avoid the complicated group texting, schedule checking and childcare securing that comes with trying to make plans with other moms.
Still, I can’t quell this desire to know and be known by women, to surround myself with a village of people I can love and be loved by, to be part of a community that brings meals when there are new babies and drops in unannounced and doesn’t expect a clean house.
This all crystallized in my mind as I was listening to the first season of Jen Hatmaker’s podcast, which coincidentally, is all about girlfriends. In the very first episode she talked with Shauna Niequist, a people gatherer and friendship champion. She made a comment that has been rattling around my heart since then: “The returns don’t come early in the process.”
I tend to want the quick path to friendship, because it’s what I’ve always known. In grade school and college and young-adult life, friendship springs up naturally and quickly, again, because there’s an unmatched abundance of face time and a breadth of shared experiences. I’m not yet used to the lifecycle of forming new adult friendships: planting seeds in one season, watering them in another, tending carefully to the tiny sprouts and protecting the plants at all costs when storms or cold fronts hit. I’m not used to reaping a harvest months or years later, but for the sake of community, I have to give it a try.
If I want rich friendships a year, five years, 10 years from now, it’s going to take some daily work on my part.
I’m still at the beginning of this—and I feel a bit like I’m about to throw some spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks—but these are a few things I’m going to try now, hoping to see a return someday.
I hope these ideas feel accessible for you, too, and that you’ll join me in this attempt to rebuild the village so many of us are missing.
1. Be consistent
Text encouragement to one friend each day, starting over every week or two. Ask simple questions about what’s going on in her life, and then follow up on those things.
2. Start where you are
Invite a friend to come along when you need to get out of the house—whether it’s to take your kids to the park or make a Target run.
3. Go first
Offer up a part of your week that was hard or a struggle you’re having at work, not as a means of venting, but as a means of being vulnerable and inviting your friend into your mess. Ask for her perspective and wisdom. Then thank her for it.
Do you have maternity clothes that are collecting dust or some baby toys you’re ready to donate? Offer to lend them to a friend. It seems so small, but as my friend Rachel says, these offerings build a truly shared life.
5. Create an open invitation
Routines and regularly schedule plans are a mom’s best friend. The first Sunday of every month (or whatever works for you), have an ongoing open invitation for dessert and wine at your house (or pasta or games or adult coloring with soothing music and no kids). Thanks to my smart Instagram friend Emily for this tip!
Finally, in whatever you do and wherever you interact with people—on Instagram, at the park, at school pick-up or at work—make it your mission to encourage someone everywhere you go. Each life-giving word is a brick as we build our village.
This post originally appeared on Motherly.