Building Authentic Relationships When You Don’t Have Time

June 30, 2024

We crave deep and authentic relationships with other people, but developing them takes time and emotional availability. So how do we build authentic relationships when we’re running scarce on time or energy.

Today we’re going to cover this in three main points. Number one, we’re going to talk about who we are giving our time to. Then we’re going to talk about quality versus quantity. And finally we’re going to talk about making friendship the new romance. Yeah, I said it. 

So ladies, how intentional are you in building friendships?

Well, we were laughing before we hit record because I think Marissa and I are probably on the same level here, so I’ll just answer for both of us. We’re not great at it. In short, I really do have to be thoughtful and mindful, and I think probably in the last few years I have done just that. I’ve tried to be a little bit more intentional, but if I am honest, I’m just going straight to my old habits and I can tend to isolate or I can tend to be there for other people, but I don’t really have a lot of friendships that are give and take, if that makes sense. So I end up being the one that’s taking in all the information, giving advice, doing the listening, but I don’t have a ton of friendships where it’s back and forth. Luckily because of Solo Parent, I do have some of those. Thank you, Robert. Thank you Marissa. Thank you, Amber, and so on and so forth. But I think I built a lot of friendships in my early days being the go-to person versus having someone to rely on myself.

That’s why I think this topic is really important because as single parents, we don’t have a lot of time, but it can feel kind of selfish for me at least in thinking about, Well, I’m going to pick and choose who my friends are. I’m going to be deliberate and intentional about walking through this. But if you have limited time, it’s really important to do that. But to me it feels I’m the same way. I don’t think I ever built intentional friendships. I’m going to pursue this because of X, Y, or Z. So it’s just a little foreign.

And I think the more you heal from your life in general or whatever sets you on your healing journey, it becomes more clear. At least it has for me. And I’ve heard other people say this too, it becomes more clear who the safe people are in your life and then the older you get and the more you realize you don’t have as much time. You want to spend time with people that actually bring that safety and trust and is there a self place to land and those sorts of things. You don’t want to waste your time on the people that are harming you more or keeping you stuck. 

Who are we giving our time to?

So I think who we give our time to really matters and we have to take inventory of that because time is not unlimited. Obviously as a single parent, first and foremost, it’s my kids. I spend a lot of time with my family too. So I just went on a vacation with 13 other members of my extended family because that’s really important to me. But honestly, none of them live in town. And so those other relationships of people who I’m spending time with, whether they’re work friends, even past work relationships that I’ve kept up or they’re Solo Parent connections that I’ve developed for several years or my neighbors, I have a great community of neighbors. In fact, I would say my best friend is a few doors down from me. So this week when I got hit with some pretty bad news, she was that first call that was like, “Okay, I know you’re out of town, but I need to hang out with you.”

We need to spend some time together because honestly,I do sometimes find it harder to be vulnerable in a relationship. I’m comfortable when people come to me and ask a question, but how many times when I need something, I’m kind of hesitant to go to somebody and be like, “Hey, I’m struggling today, I’m hurting.” I texted our Solo group team just this week and I probably debated about doing it for 30 minutes before I actually did it because it’s vulnerable, and I thought, Why am I doing that? This is a team that will pray for me that has lived my life out with me, that knows my son. They know this intimately. But there was this, “I don’t want to bother them with this issue” kind of mentality that I’m like, No, I need to get over this and I need to let people in. I think when your friends are close enough to say, “Hey, can I just let you know what’s going on?” I think it’s very honoring to share things like that. 

Let’s talk about a few other kinds of friends who we’re giving our time to. And I think the reason this is important is that we just kind of go through life and we just start collecting friends. And so taking the time to really kind of analyze what kinds of friendships we have is really important. 

What are some other kinds of relationships that we find ourselves in?

For me, acquaintances and casual friendships are probably the vast majority of the people that—I don’t know I would say that I spend a ton of time with acquaintances—but I’m just even thinking about our community. Our neighborhood pool, for instance, there’s enough moms that I’ve known since Jax was in kindergarten. That’s how we all met was being in school together. The other day we were at the pool and Jax had his friends he was playing with and I didn’t come to the pool with anyone, but there were enough moms around that I just went over and plopped in the middle of everybody. We had a great conversation and caught up, but those aren’t people that I’m calling if I have an issue or calling to go get dinner or something like that. But it’s nice for the time we’re at the pool, someone to converse with, talk about whatever, nothing deep. It passes time and that’s kind of like a common-interest friend. You all have kids, it’s summer. It’s something that brings you together and that can fill your life. It’s not like you’re going to go to them with the deepest darkest things, but it is a connection. And the more connections we as single parents can have, I think the better—if they’re not toxic.

I know that anyone in my community (and by community I mean my subdivision, my neighborhood), because we’ve been around each other so much, even in those casual transient-type situations, [are there] if something did happen: “Hey, there’s an emergency, can Jax come hang out with you?” Or “Hey, there’s an emergency, I really need ____.”  They’re probably not the first call I make, but if I’m in a bind, there’s at least people a few houses down or a couple streets over I’m able to call and depend on at least someone. So that’s helpful. I’ve lived in the same house for almost 27 years, and I would say 50 to maybe 70 percent of the neighbors in our cul-de-sac have been here almost as long. And so the whole cul-de-sac used to get together once a month and have parties and stuff. We don’t do that as much now, but I’ll tell you that at least three or four times a year, there is a neighborhood gathering. We all go and it’s always so good. They’re not the people that I would tell “I’m really struggling with X, Y, and Z,” but they are there—you’re surrounded by people that are in tune with you. And there’s something really reassuring about that. There’s a text thread with our neighborhood that [we let each other know] “So-and-so just found out they had cancer.” And so everyone’s praying. Or “Someone’s mom just passed away.”Those are common-interest friends; they’re not the closest, but they’re really, really stabilizing for us as a family.

My oldest is going off to college in the fall and he’s going to have two roommates, both of them who are in his close friend group. And so just today I texted their moms, not them (my son could care less about what anything in his dorm room looks like). I was like, “Hey ladies, when are we going shopping?” Just to kind of drive some of that connection for me. I have to go shopping anyway, so it was a “kill two birds with one stone” situation. I can build connection while I’m doing something I have to do.

And you guys are experiencing this thing together as far as sending your kids off to Mississippi and far away. And this is your first time doing it. So I’m sure it’s going to be really helpful. One of them—it’s also her first time sending off a common-interest friends can be really, really helpful because you don’t have to go out of your way. They’re already where you are. And so that can actually be a time-saving hack.

And those high frequency friends—I have several friends from the kids playing baseball together. We were together three and four times a week at games or practices; we became friends over time and we’ve kept that up. Jax doesn’t play baseball anymore, but it’s because of that high frequency. I even have some of those high-frequency friends that are past friends now because the boys don’t play soccer together anymore. They live all the way across on the other side of town, so we never see them. And it would take a lot of intentionality on my part and theirs to keep the relationship going, and it’s really hard to do that. 

The other thing I’ll say is: work friends. Just by design you’re basically living life together, doing more life together than probably anything else. And I’ll say no matter what stage of life I’ve been in, work friends have become “work family” more than anything. And I’m really grateful for that with Solo Parent, of course. But even when I was in my corporate job, we did a lot of life together and it was a pretty big company, about 1,000 employees. And I got made fun of quite a bit by my team because I would just disappear for an hour or two at a time. If I had time in the afternoon or didn’t have a lot going on, I would disappear. And they’re like, “Where’s Elizabeth? Where did she go?” “Oh, she’s wandering around talking to people.” I was the social butterfly. I would just go walk the different departments and not interrupt people, but just have conversations that came up.

But you know what, every time somebody on our team needed something, I knew who to go to. I had an “in” with them. I didn’t have to go through the process. I didn’t have to wait a week or two to get something done. I could go straight to my “contact” if you will, and get stuff done. And because of the nature of the work that I did back then, I had to act quickly because I was a publicist. “Good Morning America” might call and need a B-roll video by that evening. I didn’t have time to go through all the hoops and bells and whistles that they have put in place to request a B-roll package; I got to go to my friend who can get that for me quickly. I’m kind of combining two here, work friends that become work family, but then also the idea of friends that can be beneficial in a way that can help you out and you can help them out. There are people that are beneficial to our lives. 

I do hear you saying yet another hack. I’m picking up on some of these things you had when it’s like “I don’t have time for people.” Well, if you only have time for people when you need something, that’s going to be a lot harder for you to have a good authentic relationship. So sometimes what we don’t think we have time for is the very thing we need to make time for and a small investment. It’s just a small investment of talking to people and finding out who they are, getting into their lives. And that goes a long way.

We did a podcast on this, but a few years ago, I started being more deliberate about who I spent time with. And I recognize that in my life right now— beneficial friends. I have a dear pastor friend that, from a spiritual perspective, if I’m wrestling with anything, he’s someone that I can call and he always has tons of wisdom and stuff. We’re not the closest friends. I don’t call him every week, but it’s beneficial for both of us. But spiritually, I kind of was deliberate. I need that in my life. I need accountability and that kind of thing.

There’s also friends that I know that I can go deep with. I do have a circle of friends that I can go to. So they all serve a purpose and I believe I serve them in the same way, but I want to talk for a second because this is all leading somewhere. As we’re looking at inventory, I think we have to be honest with ourselves that there are also relationships that are not enriching our lives. And that’s painful sometimes to look at, but I think it’s important to address what I’m talking about. They’re not necessarily bad people, but it’s just that some friendships are transient, some friendships are just seasonal. When I was going through my divorce, there were some friends that were mutual friends of myself and my ex-wife and they were closer to me. But honestly, over time, it wasn’t serving. It wasn’t support. It was more like, “So what’s going on?” “What does she do now?” “What happened?” It was more gossipy and kept bringing up the same hurt and pain that I was trying to move on from.

And I realized that as much as I cared about these people, that was a season of my life; that relationship was grounded in the relationship that I had with my wife. And so I had to start pulling back from that. Not in a “get out of my life” kind of way, but just realizing that I was giving my time and focus to these people.

I was actually talking to one of my best friends from college the other day about this. We were just talking about who we give our time to, what friends we hang out with, and that sort of thing. And she was mentioning how there was this group of friends she would do game nights with, and she realized every time she went for what was supposed to be a “fun night,” she felt like she was the butt of somebody’s joke or something felt negative or felt off and she didn’t feel included. And she was like, “It just stopped being fun and I felt bad every time I left. And so she was like, “I stopped going. I stopped spending time with them. I didn’t want to do that anymore. I’m just being way more mindful of who I’m spending time with now.” You were talking about the toxic relationships or the friends that are not as great for us, but that we’re still giving time to. I think it’s a good point to really pay attention to. How do they make you feel when you’re around? Do they make you feel at peace? Do they make you feel on edge? Do you just feel bad when you leave? And every relationship is going to have ups and downs; that’s not what we’re talking about. But if there’s a consistent pattern of “Every time I leave this game night, I just feel bad,” then why would you go? And we’re also not talking necessarily about giving ourselves away. It’s not just measuring what you get out of it.There are some relationships that you give yourself to without an expectation of reciprocation, right?

I was talking to a friend of mine who has a huge network of people that she hangs out with. And I’m like, “You’re always super busy.” She and I are really close. And recently one of the people in her network did something that was very backstabby to her daughter. And she was saying to me, “I have all of these relationships, but not a whole lot of relationships that are quality, not a whole lot of relationships that are the kind of thing that I want. Why am I investing in something where [backstabbing] could be the end result instead of a quality relationship in which people are willing to forgive and move past stuff. The number of friends is not going to save you if you end up in a crisis. I mean, the reality is if you end up in a crisis, you’re only calling one or two people. So there are people whose quality of their character may not warrant significant investment. 

It’s hard for me. I had a best friend from just out of high school, and when I started a record company, he worked there. We did a lot of life together. And when I went through the divorce, I was growing and I was trying to move into a healthier place. And it was like he was kind of stuck in this old party mentality or just surfacey kind of thing. And it was heartbreaking. We had so much history but had to realize that I needed to start letting go of that. It was kind of holding me back and I had changed and grown. And this person is not a bad person. It’s just that I only have X amount of time and I’m holding onto this relationship for history reasons. I’m not holding onto it because it’s beneficial on either side. I don’t think I’m giving anything that necessarily is meaningful to him, but we’re holding onto it because it’s like “He’s my best friend.” And that was hard to recognize. And that’s why we’re talking about “defining friends” because it’s important to look at our time and be thoughtful about editing or downsizing some of our friends. But you can’t do that unless you identify who you’re giving your time to. 

So let’s talk now about quality versus quantity in regards to friends. What do we mean by that? 

I know the three of us have talked about what authentic quality relationships look like. And it’s really hard to do if you’re not willing to be vulnerable. And that’s where I’ve found myself. There are some people that I’ve built enough trust and safety with to be able to show up vulnerably. I feel like you two in particular know me fairly well, especially you, Robert. I come to you with all my problems.But it’s really hard to do that when there’s not authenticity, acceptance, vulnerability, trust, respect, all of that on both sides mutually. I’m just not a very vulnerable person; I don’t talk about some things. And then also, Marissa, you and I were talking about this the other day, how small talk is the worst. It’s so exhausting. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to tell you the details of my day. But then on the flip side, it’s pretty hard for me to be vulnerable. I guess I need to open that door more so, because I feel like once you have built the safety and trust, I actually don’t have trouble. I feel like being completely open and honest. But that’s taken time. You don’t lead with that. I mean, you have to make sure that there’s safety.

So, quality vs. quantity. If you have little time as a single parent, you probably don’t have a lot of time for quantity anyway. I think recognizing the fact that the important part is not how many people you’re collecting or how many people are in your friend group or how popular you are. And this ties into the first point of taking an inventory and going, “Okay, which of these relationships is really quality?” And again, it’s not just what I get out of it, but what do I feel like? Because we all know that when you give, you get something too. So if I’m feeding into you, Elizabeth, it may be beneficial to you. It’s also beneficial to me. There is something that happens from that. I think it’s important to talk about the quality of our relationships and it can look different. 

Going back to that work point I made earlier when I was at that corporate office and when I was going through the divorce and I had a plethora of “friends.” And then as I went into counseling and figured out what was going on with me, I realized just how lonely I was even surrounded by all those people. So shallow. I got invited to go out and do fun stuff on the weekends. I would go on girls’ trips, I would go on couples trips. We’d have people over for dinner when we were married, all those things. Always. I was a social butterfly, like I said, so I didn’t even know what depth meant, and I couldn’t even spell vulnerability—it was just not a thing. I could viscerally feel the loneliness in my body, I really could. It was in my throat. Once I realized that the knot in my throat was from the extreme loneliness I was feeling, it was like, “Okay, I need to get some of those quality friendships going.” And that meant me finding the safe people and being more vulnerable.

I think for a single parent, quantity can be the enemy of quality because you’re balancing so many people and having to remember all these little details to keep those relationships going and those plates spinning in the air—and you can never dive into that next level to be known where you need to be known. I think our heart craves to be known like that. And we need people in our lives who we can safely say things to that won’t think we’re whining to them because life is hard. For me when texting you guys, I was like, “Well, they think I’m just whining.” There’s just this perspective. We need to realize that vulnerability drives depth, it drives conversation. And it’s not just me saying, “Hey, I have this problem. My son got this diagnosis that I don’t want to deal with.” It’s also being willing to dive that one layer deeper in quality and in-depth conversation. When Robert walked in this morning, he’s like, “How are you doing?” And when he asked that, I knew he cared. I knew you weren’t just saying, “How’s it going?” You really cared how I was doing emotionally. And we need people in our lives that are like that. But I think we also need to be recognizing who those people are and then interacting with them appropriately to drive that quality.

And I think finding quality friends requires being deliberate. It doesn’t just happen. Quantity does happen just by collecting. I had a huge circle of people that knew me from my music business days, and I still know a lot of them and I still appreciate all those people. I love seeing them and have great relationships. But when I started going through the solo season, I had to start being more deliberate. It’s hard for men to do this, so if you’re a man listening to this— I need you to hear that. Here is one of the things that I’ve changed in the last two years: I have a number of people that I meet with once a month, and they’re quality friends like my pastor friend. We try to talk once a month and get together. I walk with David Smallbone every single week. And there’s dear friend of mine who I respect immensely. I went to him almost a year ago, and I said, “Listen, I want to be deliberate about my friendships and you are someone that I value and would you consider getting together once a month?” And it’s been great. But making time for quality time with friends is not something that just happens. Because you’re being intentional about surrounding yourself with people who can give to you, you’re actually able to pour out to other people as well. 

It feels weird for men—to say, “Hey, would you get together once a month with no agenda, just to spend time with each other?” But it’s been so rewarding to me for both of those reasons: what I’ve gotten out of it, and what I feel like I can contribute as well.

What do we mean when we say to “make friendship the new romance”?  

So to me, this has to do with when I first dated either of my husbands, I was texting them throughout the day. You’re looking forward to seeing them. You’re wondering what they’re thinking about and you’re trying to insert yourselves into their lives. You’re not making work the ultimate end all be all and diving in and saying, “I have no time for you.” And I think we as single parents can get so busy with everything that we’re juggling and friendship becomes the last thing on our plate to do and we don’t prioritize it. And it’s kind of a “Hey, every seven months I might reach out to you and we’ll go for a walk, but I’m not really diving in and engaging like I would.” But if we are recognizing that this is a lifeline as a single parent, because I don’t have anyone else, then it completely changes the dynamic of how I should be interacting with those people. Should I almost be romancing in a relationship? There’s tons of books out there on date nights and conversations and how to connect with your partner, but what if we were more intentional about the way that we connect with our friends as well, picking up hobbies with them, etc. Especially in the season of being a single parent because we’re probably not all ready to jump into a romantic relationship. But when we do, and we have in the past—from a hierarchy standpoint, that [relationship] was so consuming. It was everything.The intention is to be with someone, build that relationship and build it fast so you can see if it’s going to go somewhere. If you take the idea of treating friendships like a romantic relationship, there’s actually so much you can learn and heal from in being in a relationship with other people on a very platonic level. You can practice or notice how you’re interacting with people. What are some triggers that are coming up for you? It can be a really healing thing. 

And then you can mess up with lower stakes because you’re messing up with a friend that may or may not turn into something, a lifelong friendship, as opposed to messing up on your next romantic interest because you just haven’t been practicing, right? And, if you don’t allow yourself to go there with people, you’ll get into a romantic relationship and those trigger floodgates and that trauma floodgate tends to open. But if you’re not getting vulnerable and building a relationship the right way with friends, it’s really hard to figure out what still needs healing. And we’ve said it before, that relationships are where hurt happens, but it’s also where healing happens.

These relationships that you’re forming here are critical. It’s interesting to have been married once and have that relationship, share kids, and be like, “Okay, this is a main point of stability for me.” Bree McEwan, associate professor in the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information, and Technology at the University of Toronto, would say that as our structure goes from being family with our parents to hanging out with our friends (16-24), and then as we get married, we go back to that nuclear family with a lot of structure. When that breaks, you end up with a great need to still have that structure. So you have to go back to that friend structure. I’m remarried and Matt loves my boys. They have amazing relationships. In fact, Matt probably has a better relationship with my boys than their dad did with them because he’s a relationship builder and getting to watch him has been fun. But when Hunter got that diagnosis this week, there was a part of me that was still extremely lonely, and I missed Bill because I wanted to share that with Hunter’s dad—the other person who loved Hunter from the moment he was born. And I didn’t have that. And then I’m like, well, but I wrestled with it, not that Matt doesn’t understand. So I reached out to a friend of mine whose child was also born with a congenital heart defect, way worse than what Hunter has, because I knew she understood it, and it made me feel less alone, even though it wasn’t about my child. I knew that was a mother who knew that pain and who just connected on a different level for me. So once you become a single parent, you can’t get remarried and go away from needing these relationships because we have to restructure this forever essentially.

There is a study done by a California-based social scientist. Did this whole study, and I’m not going to get into the whole thing, but he says this, “We need friends to be socially healthy as adults. It’s all too easy to feel like we don’t have enough bandwidth to make time for our friends, but connection is as important as exercise and sleep.” It has to be a priority. And in saying that, we also need to be mindful that we have limited time. We need to take inventory of what kind of friendships we have, then moving into making sure that we’re being intentional about building quality.

Once we’ve identified [the relationships] we want as a part of our lives, we need to prioritize as if it’s a romantic relationship because it’s what we desperately need. And this is what happens with Solo Parent when we come together in our groups. It’s amazing how healing it is to just find people that you can connect with who share the same experience. So many friendships have come out of Solo Parent. I was on one of our Zoom calls, and at the end of the call, this woman said, “Pretty much my entire friend group now is from Solo Parent.” Because we make relationships a priority.

One study we found mentions that people judge a hill to be less steep when they’re accompanied by a friend, and you can take that at face value. The struggles of life and of being a single parent are going to feel like less of a struggle if you’re doing it with other people around you. 


  1. We need to be aware of who we’re pouring our time and energy into and even do some thoughtful editing so that we’re able to invest in friendships that really enrich our lives.
  2. Quality friendships are always more important than the quantity of friends we have. You may have existing friendships that can grow into an authentic and deep relationship, but it requires some intentionality.
  3. Friendships are essential to our wellbeing, but too often in the hierarchy of relationships, we put friends at the bottom. It’s kind of ancillary. We need to invest in our friendships with the same priority mindset as developing a romantic relationship.

I would say I even had three other takeaways. 

  1. The vulnerability drives the depth and quality of a relationship. 
  2. You can have friends where you are and do dual duty. You can totally kill two birds with two stones (ie Find a grocery shopping buddy).. 
  3. Pre-investment also matters. You need to invest now so you have friends when you need them.

Listener Question

Sometimes the self-doubt I feel as a single parent can be almost paralyzing. Did you experience this and how did you deal with it?

I think we can all relate to it. I had so much, and how I dealt with it ties into this conversation: I was honest about it with a friend. We got together once a week and I would share anything with him. And it wasn’t like he was pumping me up or whatever, but when you can get those self-doubt voices out of your head, out your mouth, it loses some of its power. And so that’s how I combated it, is relationship. It is absolutely the thing that helped me. You can’t quiet those voices on your own. I read Jenny Allen’s book, Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts. The book is about the lies that we tell ourselves and how we spiral out of control. It drives all these different things. Me trying to take every thought captive, as it were, was not a thing. I couldn’t do it on my own. I would pray about it. It would still come up. Robert and I did a group called Plumb Line several years ago, and inside that group we did an exercise: We replayed a lie we believed—one that a lot of the self-doubt was rooted in. And we spoke that out loud. And then we had other people come back and tell us, “That’s a lie. That is not true. You’re actually this” and replace that lie with the truth, with something uplifting. And it helped with becoming aware of the lies that fed into the self-doubt and insecurities and having someone else replace that lie. Because as much as I was trying to have a tennis match in my head of replacing a lie with a truth, I don’t know that I truly got to the root of that. The exercise helped dig up the root of the lie and get rid of it.

You could call me “Thomasina” referencing Thomas, who doubted Jesus. But I mean everything: I can’t raise my kids. My kids are going to go to prison because they have to rely on me. I can’t do this job. I actually have a [decorative] sign of birds coming out of a nest. It says, “what if I fall?” “Oh, but what if you fly?”  There were times when I would say, “You’re right. You can’t do this. You’ve never done it before and you have no proof that you can, but guess what? You have to. So figure it out and move on because that whining isn’t going to help you.” That’s kind of my “pick up your bootstraps and just do it.” But sometimes that’s what I needed to know—it’s not a question of whether you can or you can’t. Right here in the moment, you have to. So put one foot in front of the next one and keep forging on and keep moving on.

We love hearing from you. If you want to send in a question, go to our website and you will find instructions on how to email, call, or leave a voice message. You can also head over to Instagram or Facebook and send us a question there as well.