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Ask Amy: Child-free woman struggles with her friendships with parents

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Dear Amy: I am a woman in my late 30s. My husband and I don’t have children. Almost everyone we know does. We have demanding jobs with little time during the week to unwind. I love my friends’ kids, but I’m both exhausted from maintaining those friendships and deeply unsatisfied with their quality.

On the weekends, in a search for some connection and rejuvenation, I find myself driving hours or taking expensive trips to other cities to visit friends, essentially expending a ton of effort for an hour or two with a friend, during which we have a few minutes of an adult conversation. These friends don’t have any capacity to travel to me because they have young kids, and although I don’t expect that, I’m feeling sad and neglected.

I’ve stopped making the effort as much as I used to; I need time to recharge, and these visits are really depleting. We have tried very hard to make new friends nearby, as well. This is going okay, although even these friends are also having babies and cannot engage easily with others. My husband and I feel exhausted all the time, and I’m so lonely. My husband thinks my low mood and loneliness are affecting our marriage.

I’m writing because I just canceled a trip to go to a city four hours away for dinner with a dear old friend to meet his new partner, because I was sad that a trip that long didn’t warrant any additional quality time. But the more I pull back to try to feel less exhausted, the lonelier I become. Your advice?

Exhausted: You do sound exhausted, as well as depressed. Your take on the challenge of maintaining faraway friendships with people who have young children is accurate: You can spend hours of effort for a few moments of adult connection. This is one reason parents of young children tend to clump together: Their moments of mutual distraction dovetail well at this stage of life.

I think you would really benefit from clearing your calendar — temporarily — to focus on taking care of yourself. You and your husband are in the shank of life — at your busiest and most productive — and although this activity level is genuinely tiring, at this stage of life you should also have the energy and capacity to rise to (and even thrive) through your challenges.

Take two months to devote to getting some answers. Get a thorough medical checkup and accurately describe your energy level. Ask your physician for a referral to a psychiatrist or therapist to talk about your emotional challenges and depression. Go to the dentist; get a haircut. Start an outdoor walking program with your husband on weekend mornings. Look for an in-person or online book club (or another organization corresponding to your interests) to join.

Mitigating loneliness can be hard work, but it starts with essential self-care.

Dear Amy: My husband and I have three (adult) kids. For years, his brother has always been a problem for me. He is pushy, arrogant, pretentious and a classic narcissist. I have for years looked the other way. Now he is on his third wife. She and I do not get along.

Recently, she accused my kids of lacking family values because they weren’t able to attend their cousin’s wedding. This argument exploded. She wrote me a (so-called) apology letter where she referenced that “family is so very important to me.” We went round and round on this and have not seen each other or spoken since.

Naturally, she sent us her annual Christmas card — where she misspelled our daughter’s name — yet again. Would it be wrong to send a card back with a note that points out that her family importance was selective? Or that she lied when she said family is important to her? Just wondering how hard I can push that button.

JP: You can push this button as hard as you want — but this will extend an increasingly ridiculous dispute with someone you claim not to want to have anything to do with. What does this do for you?

Dear Amy:Uncharted” was dealing with teacher reports that their bright and curious son was disrespectful in reading class. Wow — that sounds familiar! I had similar behaviors, especially in reading. I was labeled as “disruptive” until I was finally diagnosed with ADHD. That changed everything.

Student: I agree that this boy should be evaluated. Thank you.

© 2023 by Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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