I’ve been lucky to have strong female relationships most of my life: coaches who cared about more than just winning; friends who stuck with me through thick and thin; a grandmother who was a true Southern lady; and a mom who isn’t afraid of anything.
When I became an adult, relationships like these became even more important, providing motivation and support. Female managers taught me how professional women can be tough and earn respect, while still caring for their staff. Older and wiser female colleagues took the new girl under their wing and made me feel welcome – and confident.
Great friends reminded me I was strong enough to stand on my own feet and were there to listen to my rants about my boyfriend, then my fiance and then my husband. My girlfriends were there for the tears, the fears, the laughter and the fun.
Science backs me up on the value of strong relationships with women. A UCLA study showed that women’s bodies respond to stress by releasing the hormone oxytocin, which actually encourages us to create and maintain friendships with other women. This is different from men’s “fight or flight” response to stress and helps explain why we turn to our girlfriends in tough times.
Friendships are beneficial to our health, too. Another study found that women with breast cancer who had a strong, supportive circle of friends lived many years longer than those who lived in relative isolation. The Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School showed that the more friends that women have, the less likely they are to develop physical impairments as they age. The study determined that not having friends is as harmful to your health as being overweight or smoking.
Certainly in this season of my life, juggling a husband, two kids, my own business and my own expectations, my connections with women have become a lifeline. Fellow moms have given me tips and pointed me toward resources for dealing with everything from sleep training to child care. When I have had it with the craziness of my kids, my friends are just a text away, pulling me back from the brink of insanity.
No one else can fully appreciate the joy of a full night’s sleep or the agony of a traveling husband than another mom. My girlfriends understand the challenge of having a coherent phone conversation and have learned to talk over the screaming children.
Female colleagues, associates and clients have helped me build my business, helping me make connections, sending opportunities my way and talking me up to others. Mentors have helped me navigate tricky situations and who have encouraged me when times are tough.
Daily I’m inspired by the great thing that my fellow women are accomplishing. Some are creating businesses from scratch; some are leading the charge to make our schools better; some are creating new paths to make our communities better. All are doing their best each day for their families, their life’s work and their communities.
Women are changing the world – one relationship at a time.