Brianna Heldt is a writer, speaker, and radio show host. She blogs at www.briannaheldt.com, has been a featured guest on BBC Radio, and her work can regularly be found in other online publications as well. A convert to the Catholic Church, Brianna explores topics ranging from faith and social issues to adoption and large family life. She and her husband make their home in Denver, along with their eight children.
Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with some close girlfriends about socializing and parish life.
We were discussing the types of things we make time for, and how we decide when to skip.
For me, personally, time is at a premium. I’m an introvert, and so admittedly need a lot of margin to recharge and decompress at home. This need only seems to have increased as my children have gotten older, no doubt because they talk more, ask harder questions, and necessitate a fair amount of shuttling to and from friends’ homes, babysitting jobs and activities like swim team practice and music lessons. Parenting teenagers is an all-hands-on-deck type of situation.
I am also, however, a person who enjoys and values deep and meaningful friendships. Growing up an only child, my close friends mattered a great deal. Though as an adult (living hundreds and hundreds of miles away from my hometown) I no longer get to see those friends too often, I have a number of beautiful friendships that I’ve developed in more recent years, built primarily through my Catholic parish.
Word on the street is that not all parishes do such a great job of facilitating authentic relationships. I’ve belonged to the same parish since becoming Catholic six years ago, so I can’t really speak to whether that’s true or not. But it has certainly not been the case for us.
From the moment we showed up for Sunday Mass, at a fairly nondescript parish in an even more nondescript residential neighborhood, we were introduced to a number of delightful families who would go on to become some of our dearest friends. Our kids are growing up together, we camp and laugh and mourn together, and there is never a shortage of godparent choices when a new baby arrives. The best thing is that these are not merely superficial, “one-day-a-week” relationships, but they’re “our people.”
Maybe it’s the combination of having these friendships, coupled with being stretched thin parenting nine children ages 14 and under, that has led me over the years to be more and more selective about what I attend. My girlfriends and I observed that we generally only seek out time outside of the home when it’s a social occasion, with relatively established friends—we don’t necessarily seek out new groups, for example. We’ve invested in our local parish and look there for our community.
This is why I love both meeting new people and spending time with close friends at our parish, for example, but I don’t necessarily participate much (or at all, if I’m honest) in the local Catholic homeschooling community. I recognize that saying “no” to one thing is really saying “yes” to another, and that whether we want to admit it there is a finite amount of time for investing in friendships.
Being a mother has the potential to be incredibly isolating. I believe this explains the enormous popularity of Facebook, particularly online Catholic women’s groups, which seem to occasionally supplant in-real-life community. And it’s probably no wonder, if it is indeed true that the average parish struggles to facilitate friendship. But I think face-to-face, doing-life-together camaraderie begun over coffee and doughnuts on Sundays and continued on into the week is something worth working and fighting for. Where it does not already exist, it is possible to grow.
When we first began attending our parish, there was only a relatively small handful of families with children. It didn’t matter. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, and we were able to quickly meet and get to know not only those families but also parishioners of other ages and stages. Now our parish has grown a bit, to the point where I don’t personally know all of the families, but I hope that they too are finding their people.
Motherhood in particular is a bit of a marathon. A long game. Particularly if you remain open to children over the course of your marriage. And if you’re like me, deep in the trenches of parenting, then you crave real, genuine friendships with other Catholic women. The kind that become comfortable and “easy.” They take time and effort to build, require vulnerability, and necessitate an investment in your local parish. You may have to be the one to get the ball rolling, but with a little planning, it can absolutely be done. Supper clubs, bunco nights and occasional parish dinners and breakfasts are things my parish does. Weekly coffee and doughnuts after Mass are a must, and a good way to start. The idea is simply to facilitate conversation and connection, in a low-pressure and consistent environment.
Everyone has different needs, certainly. Perhaps you don’t live in close proximity to your parish. (Thankfully, I’m within 10 minutes—usually less, depending on traffic lights.) And some women may indeed preferto build their primary community online, or among local groups based more around education philosophy or something else. But as for me, I’m a big proponent of seeking out that community within my own parish. Because I’m a mom, I just don’t have a ton of extra energy for dabbling in various groups. And I don’t feel guilty about it, either. Pursuing close friendships, and a limited number of events at my parish, allows me both the space to be the mother and wife I want to be at home, and to enjoy the wonderful parishioners God has placed around me.
I’m grateful for it every day.