How to build a friendship network

I could say I remember the isolation of single parenting.  The demands of parenting, working and keeping the household running squeeze out time for the parent to be with others and self-care. But it’s not just in my past. Now, still single and a part of the sandwich generation, working and keeping the household running, I need to deliberately keep building my support network, ensuring it has safe people in it.

Why is a friendship network important?

Described in the negative, loneliness is bad for your health, both physically and mentally1. Friendships don’t just boost your health, but improve your belonging, sense of purpose, self-esteem, and help you to change and cope with the hard times in life2. Friendships are good for you! You need to be proactive about building a network for friends.

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Building friendship networks

The blog increasing your support explained using the ‘support circle’ tool to map out who is in your circles of support, asked some reflective questions and linked to another worksheet to prompt your thoughts about where you can connect with people for the social circle.

Another way to grow you social circle is volunteering if you have the time and the energy. See article in the resources section.

If you look at building your support network using the visual of the circle – the social circle is where you meet people and from there you will develop an ongoing friendship that moves the person into your friendship circle. As you deepen the relationship the person may move into your inner circle.

Friends are an essential part of that support network. To be well supported you need 3 to 4 people in your inner circle, these are the close friends who are ‘there for you through thick and thin.’2 You need to ‘cultivate a diverse network of friends and acquaintances’2 in your friendship circle. When evaluating friendships ‘quality counts more than quantity.’2

The Mayo Clinic Friendship article in the resources has a section on ‘ways of meeting new people’.

In New Life in the Mourning (2010) I wrote, ‘I have a variety of different friends accumulated over the years and each provides or meets a different need. I have nursing friends with whom I can debrief about work. There are friends with whom I share common interests like church or dancing, and there are friendships that have grown from meeting the families of my children’s friends.

On Friday nights at a fast food outlet, we get together as a family with a group of friends. Our kids met in childcare so we have similar experiences as working mums. It’s great to unwind from the week at work with these women, who understand how hard the load is and how precarious its balance can be. We support and encourage each other while the kids play together and fulfil their own needs. This is an example of a win-win situation where more than one need is met at a time.

Surround yourself with positive, growing people. You cannot bear other people’s burdens when you yourself are overloaded. It is not selfish to choose uplifting people to associate with; it is self-protective. In time you can help others but now may not be that time.’

I may not meet on Friday nights at a fast food outlet with those families now, but we are still friends. A couple of years ago in a dark time with ill health I realised I was socially isolated, so I mapped my support circle and took action to grow my social support. I joined a book club and scheduled time in my calendar to invest in a few friendships both old and new. If I didn’t schedule the time and put the ‘date’ on my calendar I would stay home on my couch.

Safety

You need to evaluate your support circles for safe people. Safe people are not hurtful, controlling or destructive to you. They encourage you to grow and support you in times of distress. For some Christian based articles on safe people see Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Towsnend: Safe People 

Now here’s the warning. As a single parent you are at risk of being targeted by predators – aiming for you or your children. They can be in any of your circles of support. Be aware and trust your gut. If you have concerns speak up, check them out or don’t be friends. From personal experience trust your gut and act, even if others excuse the person’s behaviour.

This is problem in dating too. Predators target single women who put pictures of their children on dating sites4. There was a comment on an article about this suggesting all potential dates be asked for a ‘working with children’ screening certificate. Your thoughts – is this going too far?

So be careful and ensure you fill your support network and friendships with safe people.

Putting legs in it

Review your support circle.

Do you have a diverse range of friends? If not where can you cultivate them?

Evaluate your support circle and friendships for safety. Are they safe?

Are your friendships supportive or draining?
Do you want more than just to survive single parenting? Do you want to be your best and flourish as a family? Click here for ‘Successful Single Parenting’ chapter

Resources

Volunteering see Help guide: Volunteering and its surprising benefits, has tips for getting started

Protecting your children from predators see Parents: protect your child from a predator

How to’s of friendship see:

References

  1. Campaign to end loneliness: Threat to health http://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/threat-to-health/
  2. Mayo Clinic: Friendships – Enrich your life and improve your health http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/friendships/art-20044860
  3. Legge, V (2010) New Life in the Mourning, Sid Harta, Australia, pP146-147
  4. http://www.mamamia.com.au/news-single-mum-grooming/

Photo credit: Ganpathy Kumar unsplash.com

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