Meet a workout buddy at the crack of dawn
Not only will you make use of the peaceful hours when everyone else is still asleep, but you start the day on a positive, energetic note and get in some great girlfriend time. (Also, knowing that someone is waiting for you is a huge incentive to actually get out of bed when it still feels like the middle of the night.) I used to meet my sister-in-law at 6:30 every Saturday morning at our local YMCA for a long session on the stair climber, followed by breakfast out.
Invite them along
Don't automatically exclude a single or childless friend from every trip to the zoo or swimming pool, says Donna Smallin of Phoenix, author of The One-Minute Organizer. "Think outside the 'it's a kid event' box and invite a friend along," she says. "You'll get a chance to catch up, and she'll appreciate being included."
Run errands together
Whether it's walking your dogs or pushing toddlers to the pharmacy in strollers, boring chores become more fun when you do them with a pal, says Marla Paul, author of The Friendship Crisis and a mom.
Date your friend
Who says nights out have to be reserved for your spouse? Once in a while, get a sitter and make plans with a pal (you can earn bonus points by encouraging your husband to enjoy a guys' night out at the same time). The glow you get from an evening at the movies or a dinner out with a girlfriend (no kids' menu, no saying, "You can't eat the crayons") will last for days. Plus, no doubt she'll be touched that you think enough of her friendship to make such an effort to get together.
Take a (short) road trip
When my older kids were toddlers, my friend Janet and I used to drive to an outlet mall an hour north of us. There were closer stores with similar bargains, but we relished the car ride. The kids would zone out on Raffi tapes and eventually sleep, and we'd get some one-on-one time to catch up on our lives. Okay, so we weren't exactly Thelma and Louise, but there's something liberating and joyful about being on the open road with a friend, even with snoozing 3-year-olds tagging along.
Hold a rotating feast
A few years ago, some friends and I had an idea for a dinner group: M.O.M. (Moms on Mondays). All of us were either single mothers or had husbands who worked nights, and we often felt overwhelmed facing dinner alone with the kids at the beginning of the week. So we rotated Monday dinners among our houses. The food was never fancy (sloppy joes and hot dogs were regulars), but the camaraderie of getting together and talking while the kids played made Mondays something to look forward to.
Yes, making time for yourself and your significant relationships does take some planning. But this is the kind of organizing that can truly save your sanity.