Parenthood is a journey that so many of us are on, so why does it often feel isolating and difficult to maintain our relationships? I attribute this strain to, what I have dubbed, the “fragment conversation”.
Let’s break this apart.
Play along and recall the last time you ran into a friend while you were out and about. For the purposes of this example, you both had children in tow. What did your exchange look like? Maybe it looks something like mine. The conversation tends to take place in about 30 second fragments. This happens because one child is pulling on my arm insisting that there is something they need to tell me right now or they have suddenly gained an interest in playing a game of 20 Questions. The other child is putting something in their mouth that they have rescued from the ground, or has pinpointed the most unstable structure to climb.
I know this is par for the course because the friend that I am talking to is also mentally, verbally, and often physically stepping away from the “conversation” in order to address their own child’s needs. The result is usually disjointed, surface-level small talk, where at the end we vow to hang out more. The interaction ends abruptly when one of our children announces that they have to poop (or we can smell that they already have).
The “fragment conversation” is at its most extreme at a social gathering. There are so many people to catch up with at once and also a new environment for our kids to explore (or I am the one hosting which adds other demands). When the event has ended, I am exhausted. I will often check in with my husband to ask about his experience. He will tell me that he spoke with “Dan” and will describe, in detail, the ups and downs of “Dan’s” life, including current work opportunities and funny kid stories. When he inquires about my experience I realize I can barely recall who I talked with, let alone what we talked about. The one thing I am sure of is that it was nothing as in depth as what he is describing.
There have been times that my husband also wasn’t able to truly experience adult conversation. You see, we have young children who check-in regularly and require us to provide them with sustenance, assistance with wiping, help with regulating their emotions, or mediating a disagreement. However, I feel like I am more likely the parent who will sacrifice my enjoyment of an event in order to tend to those needs. Please do not confuse this statement with me taking an intentional dig at my partner, but instead it is meant to highlight something in me (and maybe in you, too). There is definitely more in that statement to unpack, but let’s return to the main point.
I love being with my children and bringing them on new adventures. Watching experiences through their eyes is what I live for. I do my best to stay present in these moments and not crave the days when my kids will be more independent. I know that this is just a season in our life right now; too soon our children will not need or want us as much as they do now. When those days arrive, I can only imagine how bittersweet it will be.
However, the “fragment conversation” leaves me feeling hollow and wanting more. I crave deeper connection and I miss my friends. Admittedly, I relish the moments where I can soak in kid-free time with my friends so we can reconnect and experience whole conversations. Finding time for these moments, however, can feel like searching for unicorns (nearly impossible).
I have found that I can sneak in kid-free conversations with my friends if we pair it with another activity, like going for a run or walk or attending a workout class where we can catch up in between those cardio moves. Other moments I can sneak in deeper connection is after my kid’s bed time (I have to get that extra morning caffeine to stay awake for this one) or an early morning coffee date. Non-fragmented conversations also happen when I set down my mommy guilt and/or my need to control their routine and I just ask my people to be with my kids so I can go out for that much-needed patio happy hour.
These moments can be found, but they require me to be intentional about connecting with my friends to make them a reality. Ultimately, when we are together, we often end up talking about the interesting, odd, and wonderful things that our kids are currently doing anyway, but at least it’s uninterrupted!
The Right Priorities
There are times when a “fragment conversation” is the best we’re going to get because not everything can wait for us to be without our children. Also, I think it’s important to teach our children how to step into conversations since they usually can not contain themselves when they have something to say. When I am engaged in conversation, I utilize a pro parenting technique (learned from another mom, of course). When my child has something to say, they rest their tiny hand on my arm to notify me. I then place my own hand on theirs to acknowledge that they are waiting. Then after I finish my thought, I invite them to share.
With all of this being said, I choose to embrace the “fragment conversation” because it means that I am also choosing my children. It means that I am looking when my child said, “Mom, watch what I can do!” It means that I am fully embracing them when they come in for a hug. By “stepping away” from my adult conversation, it means that I am saying to my children “I see you, I love you, and you matter”. It also makes for some good laughs with that friend as we try to remember where we left off but can’t, so we just drink our beverage and watch our kids play together before we part ways. We instinctively know that our friendship will see another season together.