When I asked Laura to work on this collaborative piece, discussing the challenges of maintaining our friendship after having kids, I thought it would serve two purposes. It would be cathartic for each of us to express our frustrations, and hopefully find some common ground; and it would help other women struggling with the same situation.
In reading Laura’s piece, I could relate to and agree with everything she wrote. But I also knew the flip side- why moms do the things we do. Therein lies the problem for Laura and me, and for I assume most women struggling with this issue- both points of view are valid. What do you do when neither side is truly right or truly wrong?
I really am unsure about how to go about this. This is not my usual style of writing, and it is touchy subject matter. Since this piece is supposed to be examining the issue from both sides, I guess I will talk to the points Laura made, and give the flip side. I’m going to use some pretty broad generalities to get my points across. However, I understand that not all moms and friends of moms are the same.
You like me for who I used to be, not who I am now.
Many mothers are unprepared for the drastic lifestyle change having a child brings. They hold on to some kind of fantasy that they will still be able to do all the things they did before, just not as often. Because they hold on to this dream, their friends do too. The friend patiently waits for the mom to need a night out dancing or to sing drunken karaoke. But the mom has gone through a life changing event, and thus her life has changed because of it.
The first logistic is the sleep schedule. Even after kids begin sleeping through the night, most are still up early- 5am early. Parents have no days off, no vacations. Sleep really is the foundation for any kind of social life. If a mom knows she has to be up at 5am, the chances of her going out party rocking until 2am diminish drastically. Nothing says old like a visibly exhausted woman fist pumping and yawning at the same time, checking the clock every five minutes to see if she’s officially stayed out late enough to still be cool.
The next problem is getting someone to watch the kids. Mommy and Daddy can swap this duty, but they are both exhausted. It is difficult to put that sort of burden on a spouse with any regularity. When there is more than one child, it gets even tougher. The bedtime routine is doable when it’s a one child to one parent ratio. Once that ratio flips in favor of the kids, the routine gets lengthier and even more draining.
“Hire a babysitter!” Babysitters are expensive- I mean $12-15 an hour expensive. Add that to the cost of an evening’s activities and you are looking at $100-200 for a night out. If I asked any of my friends without kids to shell out that kind of cash to hang out with me, they’d slap me in the mouth. Babysitters are reserved for special occasions- for a mom, that usually means for time with the hubby. Because even though she sees her spouse every day, the time she sees him without kids equals about a half hour a day, and is spent crashed on the couch in silence.
The final problem is going through birth changes some of your interests. I crafted before having my boys, but now I make a lot of kid related crafts that probably wouldn’t interest folks without little ones. I volunteer for my son’s preschool class and organize donation drives for family charities with a focus on small children. I worked out before having kids, but following my pregnancies, I wanted to prove to myself that my body was stronger than ever before. That’s when I started running. Pre-baby, if I had a choice between a run in the morning and going out dancing in the evening, dancing would win, hands down. Now, I really look forward to and need that run.
Most of the moms I know have similar experiences. Being a mom changes our focus. Our hearts are in new places now, and friends have to accept us as new people, instead of just longing for their old buddies.
Yes, moms should just politely and distinctly say “no” to invites. But it is fun to fantasize about going out sometimes, even if there is no way to make it a reality. Consider it the equivalent of drunk talk.
A “no” response is not always met with understanding, or at the least acceptance. We know there is talk behind our backs about how all we ever want to do is stay home. We know our repeated refusals are met with annoyance. If we say “no”, it needs to be met with “ok.”
I understand that you don’t want to hear about my kid, but I have little else to say
Your friends without kids do not care that your child went poop on the potty. However, other mommies will break into play by play commentary if you are kind enough to provide them with a video.
At first, friends are at least politely enthusiastic when a mom describes how their kid finally learned to breastfeed and beat that bout of wicked diaper rash. They feign interest and click the obligatory “like” button when another cute baby picture is posted for all to marvel at.
But over time, the interest gives way to invisibility. They don’t just come right out and say “enough with the kid already!” Instead, the friend without kids enacts this game where she pretends the mom doesn’t have kids, and for a short time, the mom plays along. The problem is, a mom’s supply of free time is in such limited quantities, that she really doesn’t have much to introduce to a conversation that does not involve children. She hasn’t seen the latest movie, she doesn’t even know the name of the hot club. She’s the last to know the details of current affairs.
It’s not just that people without kids don’t want to talk endlessly about kids. Whether they mean to or not, they make comments that come across as being downright annoyed about being in the proximity of children:
“I tried to take a nap before going out, but I couldn’t because the baby next door wouldn’t shut up.” (should I reiterate that I’ve been up since 5am?)
“There was a kid screaming on the plane, and the pacifier was right there. Just give it to him already.” (As if the parents wanted the kid to scream and probably hadn’t tried every trick in their arsenal. Not to mention you can’t force a child to take a pacifier.)
“Thank god she covered before feeding. I hate when moms just whip a boob out.”
“I was in Target and this baby was crying. I don’t know why the mom didn’t just leave.”
These are all actual quotes from friends. Doesn’t come across as the most kid-friendly attitude. People without kids generally adhere to the “children should be seen but not heard” way of thinking. Well, even the most well behaved child has tantrums and meltdowns. When it happens, the parent is mortified, frustrated, and doing the best she can- believe me. We need understanding too- not to be made to feel like social lepers because children are human beings with their own temperaments that we can’t control.
That’s why moms end up gravitating to other moms. It is a relief to not have to censor how much you talk about your baby, to just speak freely without fear of annoying your audience. Moms don’t get annoyed when you complain about your lack of sleep for the umpteenth time. They don’t think you are a flake when you cancel a hangout session at the last minute- rather, they call to make sure you are not feeling overwhelmed and need help.
Moms don’t mean to talk about our kids endlessly. We’d like to discuss other matters. But it is very difficult because parenting is a 24/7 job- not a lot of time to think up new material.
We don’t know how to respond to you wanting our problems
I recently spoke with a couple of friends who went through infertility treatments to have children. I asked them what it was like to hang out with friends that had kids while they were enduring this process.
“It was the worst. It was so hard to see them with their kids. I couldn’t listen to them talk about their problems, because I would give anything to have those problems.”
We don’t know what to do. We feel guilty for talking to you about the issues we are facing because we know it hurts. But as friends, we need to be able to speak about what is on our minds.
Our day to day lives require us to fix problems with our kids. We read books obsessively, we have forums to exchange information, we meet up to swap tips. So when we have a friend struggling to get pregnant, our natural tendency is to try to help, to share info. We forget to take a step back and just listen.
Where do we go from here?
Don’t I wish I knew? I really thought this talking it out thing was where it’s at, but in our case, it only made matters worse. I would like to believe there is common ground, and that if we could honestly communicate our needs to each other, it could be found.
To maintain the friendship, we have to deal with our lives as they are now. But that doesn’t mean we just give up. Because we need that other perspective. Especially as moms, we need people to remind us there is a life greater than the one outside of our homes, and that we have a purpose outside of being a mom.
It’s not easy. So little time, so many demands, how can I make it all balance? I don’t have the answers just yet, and surely the answers for each person are different. But hopefully we can come together in the journey, and help each other along the way.