A close friend of mine and I love to retell stories about how she often gets mistaken for my sister. We look nothing alike — she, a darker skin brunette; me, a blonde. She is a social worker, yoga instructor, great listener, and deep thinker. How different my life would be without her in it? She is the ultimate “check-in” friend, and there are so many qualities about her I want to implement in my life. This type of relationship as we get older — dare I say it . . . “middle age friend group” — is extremely valuable and deserves investment, especially as we enter 2021.
I grew up with two brothers whom I bossed around, dressed up, and made perform in various plays. Although I love them dearly, I always wanted a sister who would graciously love to participate in my theatrical acts, someone to share clothes and secrets with throughout my life. There is nothing that upsets me more than the two of my daughters fighting. I always tell them in typical mom fashion, “You don’t know how blessed you are to have one another.”
Although I do not have a blood sister, what I have found in my 40s has become a lifeline for the second half of my life. As you enter your 40s, you deal with more than job drama, breakups, and decorating decisions; but the loss of family members, difficult situations with children, marital issues, career changes, serious health problems, and the list goes on. What is so valuable at this time are devoted girlfriends who will speak truth and keep you grounded.
Here are some tips that I am working to implement in my own life regarding friendships this year and how I am hoping to mold my daughters through the process:
6 Tips for Building Friendship Bonds that Last
1. Work and surround yourself with women who build each other up.
More important than what you make or how much you enjoy your job or a volunteer opportunity are the females you can work with and learn from. Chisel away at the opportunities you are seeking to create new lasting female friendships with the time you have in 2021.
2. When things are uncomfortable, make the phone call and drop off the food.
During 2020, showing up in person became harder. There were less funerals and gatherings to comfort those who were hurting from loss. Don’t let being uncomfortable and busy be the reasons you aren’t available to ease a friend’s heartache. Get creative and on a mission to invest in those who are upset or going through a difficult time. Talk about grief in your home and how to cope with the hard things in life now. Work with your kids to write a simple heartfelt sympathy or “get well” note. Learning empathy early in life helps children gain broad perspective.
3. Give your girlfriends a pass.
Women are very emotional beings. We take things too personally; we create scenarios in our mind, and we hold grudges if we think we have been wronged. In decades of knowing my girlfriends, I never saw so many of my friends angrier or more upset about what was going on in their lives or around them than last year. Between the pandemic and politics, it was hard to have a clear head during deep conversations. Create the opportunity to have serious discussions in person if possible, and move on if you disagree with a friend — life’s too short.
4. Invest in relationships and seek out friends who are genuine straight shooters for wise advice.
If there is anything that 2020 taught us all, it was to spend time with the ones you love. Take the walk and have that cup of coffee. At the beginning of the shutdown in 2020, I met a friend almost daily sans kids to walk and talk. These exercising chats with another small business owner helped me vet out big decisions and feel at peace about important choices I had to make quickly. Without this precious time with her, I am not sure I would have made the hard determinations I needed to keep my business afloat in 2020.
5. Explain to your daughter the best ways to be a solid friend by not letting her emotions or personal challenges impact others negatively.
This past fall, my youngest daughter confessed to me in the carpool line that she had not been kind to one of her closest classmates. I had never seen her so upset and although I was disappointed in her — it was a good opportunity to discuss that sometimes those we love the most get the brunt of our bad days. We created an action plan for apologizing and being a devoted friend.
6. Share stories with your daughter about the women in your life and how they have impacted the way they are being raised.
When my middle daughter was born, I had a horrible health scare and was in the ICU for over a week with blood clots in both my lungs. My sister-in-law and my college roommate, who had both recently had babies, donated their milk to feed my newborn until she could get acclimated to a new diet. This selfless act to share their own liquid gold is such a heartfelt story for my daughter to now reflect on.
People who don’t know me well often approach me and say, “I think I saw your sister picking up your kids the other day.” The first few times this happened to me, I was embarrassed that I needed the help — “How many sisters do people think I have?!” But now, I am extremely thankful. When I correct them, I often say — “Actually, I have only brothers. Who you probably saw was a precious, can’t-do-life-without sister friend.”