7 reasons why women need friendships with other women

amigas with bikesThe Three Amigas – my biking buddies!

Happy National Women’s Friendship Day! I’m so glad there is a day to celebrate the friendships of women, because these are some of the strongest, most important relationships in a woman’s life. In honor of my amazing, incredible girlfriends, here are seven reasons why women need friendships with other women…

Emotional Support – Women are wired for emotional relationships, and we communicate differently than men. Men want to fix things; they see a problem and immediately start thinking of solutions.  Women think with logic AND emotion – sometimes, I just want someone to understand how angry/sad/confused/frustrated I am feeling. If I say “Can you believe this just happened?!”, I’ll immediately get an understanding and sympathetic “AARGH!” right back. And sometimes that’s all I need.

Honest feedback  True friends act as a sounding board and help us figure out how to deal with troubling situations. If I’m tangled up with emotion, my girlfriends can help me clarify WHY I’m feeling the way I am, whether my actions in response to those emotions are reasonable, and which actions might make more sense. And when needed, they’ll just give me the brutal, honest truth, whether it’s “That was a crap thing to do” or “You’re being unrealistic in your expectations”!

women's marchShared experiences led these dear friends and I to the Women’s March in Washington, DC, Jan 2017

Shared life experiences  There are some things that men and women just experience differently, and sometimes we need to tell our story to someone who can understand every step of the way.  Feminine health issues, childbirth, working in a male-dominated field, sexual harassment/assault, or figuring out how to deal with the children and men in our life are just a few examples. To quote one of my dearest friends, “We love each other’s children as if they are our own, and gladly cheer when they triumph and support them and each other when they stumble”. Men can certainly support us and talk about these things with us, but our shared experiences with other women bind us together in a unique way.

Stress relief – Women are nurturers – it’s what we do. We make meals for friends with new babies, have coffee dates where we vent about our current worries, and organize each other’s linen closets (making sure they’re stocked with toilet paper) without being asked. When life is exceptionally crazy, my women friends help take the load off, whether by helping me decorate for a holiday party, pulling me out for a coffee break, talking through my list to help me prioritize, or reminding me to make time for exercise, nutrition and sleep. 

Rellies!Some of my favorite shopping buddies – my family!!!

Common interests – While men and women might share any number of interests, I don’t have many men in my life who honestly love spending a day shopping, chatting and enjoying coffee. I, however, love spending time this way! I like romantic comedies and dramas; my husband and children (both my sons and my daughter) prefer action adventures and westerns. I like to read different kinds of books and do different kinds of workouts than my husband does. I could travel 200 days a year and be quite happy; my husband doesn’t love it the way I do. My husband will do these things with me, of course, because he loves me; and I do the same for him. But doing the things I love with other women who are having JUST AS MUCH FUN adds an extra layer of richness to my life. 

IMG_5070My daughter will forever be my partner in fun!!

Fun, laughter and mental health – To quote a wise friend of mine; “Spending time with girlfriends, laughing and having fun, can be like a retreat and reinvigorate you and make you a better parent/wife/partner, etc”. Women need social connections and to feel part of a larger community; taking the time to be silly, have adventures and laugh with our tribe is a vitally important piece of life. When we do this, we are re-energized and can jump back into our daily life with enthusiasm and patience. 

amy and I keukenhoffThis woman has shared my life since the day I broke down crying from stress in grad school – so many memories we’ve created over the last 30 years!

Self esteem and empowerment – we women are hard on ourselves! We deal with self-doubt and insecurities on a daily basis. My friends help me see my strengths instead of my weaknesses. They will be the first to cheer when I do something amazing, without feeling jealous or competitive. I have learned to be more accepting and compassionate toward myself when I make a mistake, and to appreciate all the powerful things my body can do (bike 240 miles through Austria? Done!) rather than criticizing the things I can’t do (pull ups? no way – and that’s okay!). My women friends know exactly how to build me up when I need a boost, and how to encourage me to reach for a goal that I may think is unattainable. And let me tell you this; if you’re hanging around with women who like to tear each other down, you need to ditch those women and make some new friends – you deserve better!

**Thanks to all the women in my tribe, wherever you are! I treasure your friendship – you have added immeasurable joy to my life!**

Ten Tips for a Successful Visit with Your College Student

IMG_E4599.jpgVisiting my son in Rome was the highlight of his first semester in college (For me, at least!)

Well, it’s that time of year…college students are settling in for the fall semester and freshmen parents are missing their kids ever so much! I’ve sent three kids off, and love visiting my kids at school! I’m not an expert by any means, but over the years I’ve come up with a few tips to make visits with my children smoother and more enjoyable for all of us. I’m sharing them here in hopes that they might help some of you – if you have any of your own, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

**All of these tips are college student approved by my three adult children**

# 1 – Timing is everything.

Schedule your visit during a time that is convenient for your student and keep it to 2-3 days. Visiting during exam week won’t be fun for anyone!  Schedule your visit a week or so AFTER exams, however, and your daughter will be caught up on her sleep and happy to see you! Keeping your visit short also avoids disrupting classes, studying, extracurriculars, etc.

**If your student is studying abroad, the expense is far too great to go just for a weekend, so my recommendation here would be to arrive on a weekend, spend a couple of days with your student, then sightsee on your own midweek, meeting up for another couple of days before you head home.**

#2 – Be prepared to spend some time on your own.

Your daughter will be thrilled to see you, but she won’t have unlimited time…studying, club activities, socials, rehearsals, and other commitments may interrupt your visit. Be flexible and willing to spend time on your own while she’s in class. I’ve enjoyed many a peaceful hour in the gliders on the campus of University of Miami with a good book! I also once took a Segway tour of South Beach while my daughter was in rehearsal.

UM GlidersI spent many happy hours in these gliders while my daughter was in class!

#3 – Always let your student be the one to decide whether to invite friends to join the fun.

Don’t invite their friends along without checking with your student in private first. Sometimes they just want to be with you, and other times they’ll want to introduce you to friends or a new love interest.

eastman Quad at UREastman Quad at University of Rochester

#4 – Ask them to show you around campus.

My kids always loved showing me where they had their classes, the dining hall, their dorm, etc. I enjoyed getting that mental picture of where they spent their days.

#5 – Get a hotel room big enough for your student to stay with you (but don’t be offended if he chooses to stay on campus).

Sometimes your son will want to get away from the dorms or his roommate and stay at the hotel with you to chill; other times it may just be more convenient for him to stay on campus. Don’t take it personally. 

#6 – If your visit is for longer than one night, consider renting a place with a kitchen so you can cook some of their favorite foods.

During my oldest son’s first semester, we visited for a long weekend and rented a nearby cabin. All he wanted that weekend was home-cooked meals after two months of dining hall food!

# 7 – Take her on a Target run to stock up on snacks and supplies.

This is self-explanatory, but especially welcome if your student doesn’t have easy access to Target or her favorite stores. You’ll also win points if you bring her favorite homemade goodies (make sure to bring enough to share with her friends)!

# 8 – Family pets are always a welcome surprise if it’s feasible to bring Fido along!

Seriously…we visited our younger son when he was studying abroad, hosted nine of his friends for dinner, and they ALL said the thing they missed most was their pet (and Chick Fil A)!!

IMG_2544.JPGWho wouldn’t miss this face?

Tip #9 – DO tell their friends what to call you.

College is a tricky time; do they call you by your first name or by “Mrs. So and So”?  Your daughter’s friends will be much more comfortable if you tell them what you’d like to be called. The easiest way I’ve found is to say “You can call me Deanna” when my daughter introduces me as her mom.

Tip #10 – Leave some free time in the schedule to sleep and just hang out.

College students are so busy that they often don’t have enough time to rest and recharge. Go out for dinner, but then go back to your hotel and watch movies together in your pajamas. Or sleep in and have coffee and bagels in the hotel rather than going out to breakfast. Unscheduled time is a luxury for college students!

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Bonus tip: DON’T sleep through scheduled activities! Yep, been there, done that – I forgot to account for the extra noise of the hotel A/C unit and didn’t have my alarm loud enough…slept right through a scheduled breakfast with my son and his friends *Gulp* !

What tips do you have for great visits?? I’d love to hear them!

**Thoughts on Family Weekend**

There’s no right or wrong here. Some families love going to Family Weekend; some families don’t. My kids wanted us to visit when the campus was less crowded, hotels were less expensive, restaurants had shorter waits and we had more free time together. Other families love going to the football games, meeting the department heads, and all the other social activities that are planned. Ask your student and then decide together – some families only go freshman year, some families go all four years and it’s a fun annual event for them!

Mother’s Day gift ideas for someone who has recently lost her mom

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Mother’s Day is not the same for me since my mom died seven and a half years ago. The first year after she died, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I no longer had a mother with whom to celebrate (obviously, I still celebrate the fact that I HAD a mother, but her death left a gaping hole which I particularly feel on Mother’s Day), and the weeks of commercials leading up to the day only intensified my feelings of loss. That first year, I spent the Friday and Saturday before Mother’s Day in bed, crying. The actual day itself, however, turned out surprisingly well, because my husband and my three kids were sensitive to my grief and were so very sweet to me.

It’s hard to know how to celebrate Mother’s Day with someone who has recently lost their mother. Should I talk about her mom? Will I make her sad if I do? Should we even celebrate Mother’s Day? All these questions circle in the brain – but the answer is YES, you should talk about her mom and acknowledge Mother’s Day! I asked a few friends what gifts and gestures they most appreciated the first year after their mom died. In honor of the upcoming day on Sunday (in the USA at least), here are some gift ideas for any woman who has recently lost her mom.

A Mother’s Day card with a twist – One of my most treasured Mother’s Day cards from my husband is the one he gave me that first year after my mom died, in which he listed all of my mom’s best qualities and how he saw them continuing on in me. I’m actually tearing up as I write this, because taking the time to think about the things he loved the best about my mom and then write them down for me was such a perceptive, sensitive and loving thing to do. If you know someone who has recently lost her mom, and you knew her mom, a card or even just a phone call to say “I really loved this about your mom, and I see the very same quality in you” will make her so very happy!

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Stories about her mom – So often we don’t speak of the loved one for fear of making the grief worse. Yet, all of my friends said that they loved hearing stories about their mom from people who knew her. One of my friends said, “Recognizing she’s no longer here is important to me.  Ignoring her absence hurts.” So a short note or a phone call sharing your favorite memory or a funny story about her mom would be a treasured gift!

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Gift of your time – Now that my kids are grown and scattered, time with my kids is precious to me. I don’t usually get to see them on Mother’s Day, but I love when they call or FaceTime with me on the actual day. That first Mother’s Day, my children (who were in middle and high school at the time) spent the entire day with me – they made me breakfast in bed, helped me plant in my yard and played some of my favorite games after dinner. I also love to hike – there is something about being out in nature that is healing, so taking her for a hike might be just the thing! Your time can be particularly important if she doesn’t have kids of her own with whom to spend the day. Sharing a few moments, either in person or long distance, with siblings who share the loss can also be very meaningful. One friend stated that “Talking to and texting my sister on Mother’s Day are also part of my post-Mom ritual.  We both lost our mother and we’re linked by shared history since our births.” This is something I wish I’d been better at those first few years…I’m going to make it a point to call or text my brother and sister on Mother’s Day from now on!

Mom and Dad

A photo of her mom – Find a great photo of her mom, or the two of them, and frame it for her. Another friend, whose mom worked her entire life with preschool children, said she loved getting a picture of her mom reading to a circle of children.  I asked my dad for a copy of their wedding picture, and have it on my bedside table. I also have a fantastic picture of my mom and dad, on their last vacation before her cancer diagnosis, which I keep in my living room.  I love seeing her beautiful smile when I walk past her photos.

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Time to be alone – she may not be up for a big celebration this year, so let her make that call. Sometimes, the best gift you can give someone is time alone to rest, recharge and feel sad. My friend said it best…”Feeling sad is healthy – where there is great love, there is great grief.  I don’t want my family to try to jolly me out of this necessary, though brief, poignant sadness.” If she wants to be alone, you can send a text (with no answer required), drop a card with a treat or flowers on her porch, or send a short email to let her know you are thinking of her.

A gift of service – Is there a project with which she could use help? Maybe one she started before her mom died which has been laid to the side? Offer to help her work on it! I am always so grateful when my kids and husband help me with planting – I love my garden, but it’s time consuming to plant every spring, and the fact that they willingly pitch in, despite the fact that they don’t enjoy it, is so very appreciated!

A quilt made from her mom’s favorite clothes – One of my friends, who is a quilter, received a quilt made of fabrics from her mom’s closet. What a thoughtful, personal gesture! I have a piece of my mom’s wedding dress, which I will frame in a shadowbox with my mom and dad’s wedding photo. Another idea would be to stretch the front of a favorite souvenir t-shirt (especially if it’s from a trip she took with her mom) over canvas to be hung.

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Her favorite flowers – As long as she’s not allergic to flowers (my grandma had such bad allergies that we could never give her flowers) a bouquet of her favorite flowers is always a good idea. If her mom had a favorite flower, include some of those in the bouquet as well. Yellow roses were my mom’s favorite, and every time I see them, I think of her. I would love to receive some yellow roses on Mother’s Day in remembrance of my mom.

This year, I am spending the Saturday before Mother’s Day with my aunt, cousins, and sister. I’m so excited to get together with these incredible women, with whom I have a shared history and all of whom have lost our mothers. We are going to celebrate having (and being) bad ass moms, and we’ll probably tell lots of funny stories about my mom, aunt and grandma. Sunday I’ll get to see my youngest son and a young man who is like a son to me, and then on Monday, on my drive home, I’ll stop by Arlington Cemetery to say hi to my mom (as a 20-year Navy Wife, she’s in the columbarium there). I’ll tell her how my kids are doing and about my husband’s job search, catch her up on the extended family news, leave her a yellow rose, and somewhere up there, I hope she’ll know I’m thinking of her.