real life

While you're leaning into your career, don't forget to lean on your friends.

Working women with children are not just time poor, they’re also neglectful, neglectful of the friendships that supported them to the point where they could dare to lean in as far as they are.

Whilst a text from a nanny or a call from their child’s school will receive an instant response, one from a friend might take a day or two, even a week for a working mother to return. If the friend is in the same boat then they’ll understand. In fact that’s probably the only type of friend left, the ones that understand, or would if they had time to think about someone else’s situation beside their own.

At the encouragement of Sheryl Sandberg, many working mothers are now leaning in so far they can only see their own reflections. They quite simply do not have the time nor the energy to be good friends. Yes they will make the birthdays, remember some special occasions – that’s conditioned – especially for friendships from school but all the little things in between that a really close friendship makes are no longer. There’s no impromptu drop-ins instead catch-ups are scheduled months in advance with deliberations over dates going for weeks and last-minute cancellations the norm.

Are they selfish? Some may say yes and certainly to the friends on the end of those unanswered messages it would seem so, however others may claim not. These women are keeping households humming, tummies fed, home’s presentable, mortgages met and careers advancing.

They know all about their children’s schedule, their child’s friends, upcoming carnivals and parties but can they gaze at their baby or admire a finger-painting without thinking about what else needs doing? Probably not. Even a holiday is not really a holiday – there’s bags to pack, medicine to remember, nap times to consider.

Friends, and now me, have slipped into this vortex. I used to think when someone announced a pregnancy that was them gone for five years, texts would be unanswered, messages not returned, a constant glazed look, a ‘you have no idea’ feeling to their responses. I’d seen enough women come through and then return back to themselves when their children got to school. A few years into primary school and they were ready to put the heels back on and claim a bit of their own life back. But now that I’m in this phase of motherhood I realise how much living there is in these years where children are young and how lonely, friends wise, it could be.


As Quentin Bryce wisely stated, ‘women can have it all, not just all at once.’ It all presumes a career, a relationship, children, friends, a home. See the friends bit in there, that’s the bit we should be holding on to, guarding and valuing as much as the rest.

It is our friendships that sustained us through school and everything after. Friends can make us feel normal, grounded and understood, often more so than we ever are by our partners.

For many of us we gathered large and varied circles of friends. Friends from school, university, college, different workplaces, courses and sports teams – to sustain them all or even just a few seems impossible and perhaps overwhelming but we give up to our own detriment.

Children will be tended to, we will ensure that but we must also tend to our friendships along the way, for eventually it is our friends that we will be left with as our children grow and leave our homes.

We must resist becoming islands where we keep only our own counsel, where we just get by each week, where we don’t share the emotional details of our lives, where good catch-ups are left till we are absolutely burnt out and therefore filled with a deluge of complaints rather than any smelling of the roses or giving of a sympathetic ear.

New friendships are good, and perhaps easier because expectations may be less but an old friend can nourish the soul like no other.

As we invariably spread ourselves thin across our home and professional lives, perhaps it would be good to consider who can lean on you when they’re not strong, for as the song goes – chances are it won’t be long till you’re going to need somebody to lean on.

Mavis is a Sydney-based writer. She commenced her career as a lawyer, has two degrees and lives the proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. 

Who do you rely on in times of stress and change? Do you still make time for friends?