It can be really hard for child-less or child-free friends (yes, to me there is a difference) to maintain a friendship when one of her best girlfriends gets knocked up. This is such a popular topic I see it almost all the time on TV. On the “reality” show Jersey Shore Snooki is pregnant, making it really hard to hang out with or relate to her roommates. If you watch How I Met Your Mother you know that Marshall and Lily just had a baby, and realized that they were totally ignoring Ted, Robin, and Barney (if you haven’t watched this episode check it out).
So, when Kat asked if I would like to share a little of my perspective as the child-less friend I was more than happy to dish on a couple of subjects. Kat and I are currently trying to navigate this new development in our friendship and it has not been easy, but hopefully we can make it worth it in the long run. Imagine us in 20 years, meeting up for crocheting and coffee, looking back on these years and laughing (are we laughing at our fashion choices or our arguments? I don’t know).
But I liked you for you! They just like you because you have a kid!
One of the hardest things I’ve had to struggle being the “friend without kids” is jealousy over the mom’s groups. To better explain this let’s go back in time for a moment. . . Kat and I met at a craft meet up years ago and quickly became good friends, we were both married with no kids and shared a lot of interests. Between meeting for workouts, going out dancing, watching America’s Next Top Model, and countless other activities I probably saw her 4 or more times a week. Once she got pregnant I knew that would change, she would be exhausted and have to prioritize her time for the little one. I figured when she got a free evening or afternoon she would want to hang out and that I would be the first to get the call. I imagined her needing a break and wanting to go out and let loose, maybe once a month or so. I was so excited for her and ready to be pushed aside for a while because I knew she would need a friend later on.
What I hadn’t planned on was that some moms just want to hang out with other moms. I know that when Kat started out motherhood she joined a breastfeeding support group. I thought that was great, as I couldn’t really help in that department (besides putting the kid under your shirt you’ve lost me), and figured she only would want to hang out with those ladies as long as she needed help, then she would be back. Soon though, the support groups turned in to play groups, which turned in to mom’s night out which turned in to mom’s book clubs which turned in to mom’s overnight trips. Okay, I may be exaggerating here, but you get the idea. Pretty soon, the child-free friend feels left out of the party.
I have realized this is inevitable in many situations, but it still can hurt feelings. What I think I’ve learned from all this is that both people need to be honest about expectations and reality. If I’m having a party, if you’re really trying to make an effort, get a sitter and stop by. If there is just no way that is happening then send a nice note of apology and offer for some other hang out time. Things not to do (these are hypothetical here-Kat did not do this):
-Make a big deal about how there is just no way that you are going to stay up late when you have to be up at 5am for feedings BUT then a couple weeks later go on a mom’s night out till all hours and tell me about it. If you can make time to go out with the mom’s group then you can make time for me, you are just choosing one over the other.
-Ask if you can bring your little one to the party (my answer is usually no, I just don’t think the kid or the adults will enjoy it usually).
-Drop in early to say hi since you can’t make it. If you’re anything like me, the hours before a party are spent trying to simultaneously bake cupcakes, apply mascara, burn a music mix, and spot-clean the floor. I had a friend do this once, she dropped in a couple hours before my holiday party with her two grade school kids. After seeing the children run around the glass art case in my living room and ask to eat some of the party snacks I quickly said “Thanks for coming over, now I really need you to leave so I can get ready!” I know she meant well, but didn’t think it through.
All in all, it is going to be hard to keep jealousy at bay-the mom is going to be jealous of the freedom to go out and sleep in late while the friend is going to be jealous of this new group of mom friends that she can’t join. I don’t know the answer to fixing this, but I know that trying to schedule time on the weekends to hang out is helpful. Not calling and saying “I’m leaving to go do this thing in 10 minutes, want to come?” but really making plans like a day or two in advance. I know it’s hard for parents to gauge when they are going to be able to get away-you can’t always time a baby’s nap or account for flaky sitters-but try. If Kat and I make plans for Saturday afternoon I have no problem with her calling once she is ready to go, whether it be noon or 3:30pm, if she said afternoon that is enough to plan the day around. If you’re a mom and when you think of a weekend hang out you only consider calling your other mom friends then that is probably a good indicator that you have started leaving out your old friends. Just remember, the friends you had before you had kids liked you for you, so they deserve some points for that. And, if you work on it, they’ll still be there once your kids are teenagers and don’t think they need you anymore ;).
Your job and her job are equally important-and can be equally boring to talk about.
I’ve seen countless articles on how being a stay at home mom is the most important job in the world (just Google it and you will see what I mean). Stay at home moms today have gotten very defensive, probably because they had to in order to not be under appreciated. While I totally understand how vital good parents are to raise a good society, be careful not to trivialize your kid-free friend’s lives. A pretty hilarious example of this is in the Pregnant Women are Smug video by comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates (watch it here). I think this has a very different laugh factor if you’re a mom versus kid-free. The best exchange is this:
Riki: Oh my gosh, I’ve got so much going on. I got my novel published, I moved, I got married.
Kate: Gosh, you know, everything seems so trivial now that I’m pregnant.
Riki: Well, I also helped end gang violence in Mexico when…
Kate: You know, I can’t even remember what I did before I was pregnant. Everything else seems so meaningless.
Okay, so my job is not molding the minds of the next generation (or ending gang violence in Mexico), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important! When stay at home moms are with other stay at home moms they can feel free to discuss how they can’t even imagine going back to work in a cubicle when raising a kid is so much more fulfilling and meaningful. Just be aware, if you say this to a person who currently works in a cubicle it is going to sound like a dig. I imagine it is also hard for working moms to hear that as well. Many women can’t afford to stay home and raise their little ones and have to trust the job to grandparents or daycare, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her kids as much, it just means she wants to be able to pay for their college fund.
Along those same lines, friends who have very different lives may have trouble not boring the other with her stories, rants, and raves. Just as you don’t want to hear me drone on for an hour about how I’m up to my ears in TPS reports and how my boss is a total Lumbergh (if you haven’t seen the movie Office Space we are going to have problems sharing jokes) I probably don’t want to hear every single thing your toddler ate that day or how difficult it is to keep up on laundry when you’re chasing a little one. That’s not to say you should never talk about those things, but moderation and humor is key. If you have a hilarious story about your little kid repeating a curse word I want to hear it! Just as I’m sure you would want to hear the story if I pranked a Dwight-like coworker. Just make sure once and a while you are both trying to have conversations about things you both understand. Whatever, music, movies, politics, just something that makes it an interesting adult conversation. I have some mom friends that are fantastic at this, and some that are not (that I rarely call anymore).
Your child-less friend versus your child-free friend
About 1 in 10 couples struggle with infertility, so if you have ten girlfriends there’s a good chance one of them is having trouble in that department. Looking through the most frequently dialed numbers on my phone, I say I’ve got a pretty even split of half of my friends have kids and half do not. Some of the kid-free are that way on purpose. Successful, interesting women who decided motherhood was not for them and I can definitely appreciate the choice. I am not in that boat . . . I’m in the middle, wanting to have children, but not yet at that point. Imagine two cruise ships-one is full of adults (singles and couples) having conversations, laughing, drinking Mai Tais. The other ship is loud-full of families with kids and babies in swimsuits, everyone running around, playing in the water, a little hectic, but they’re having a great time. Well, infertility can feel like floating on a little life raft in between the two. From the little raft I can clearly see that both sides have their pros and cons. Who wouldn’t like to get a tan while sipping on a drink that comes with an umbrella? BUT, just imagine the great family memories the little ones are getting on that vacation! You jump from ship to ship, trying to hang out with both sides, but you don’t really feel like you fit on either. There’s not really anything anyone can do for their friends adrift at sea . . . but I can give you some advice on what does NOT help.
Don’t say “Just relax and it will happen”-First off, everyone says this, so the person has probably already heard it a hundred times. Second of all, if your friend has been trying for years I highly doubt that they have been in a constant state of emergency that is causing the problem. The more helpful choice when talking with an upset or discouraged friend would be “I’m sorry you’re going through this-let’s go get ice cream/coffee/shots to take your mind off of it J.”
Don’t say “You can have mine! (said by the frazzled mom)” or “Just be happy you don’t have to wake up early/change diapers”-This helps no one. I seriously have heard this so many times I’ve come up with some great come backs. Unless you really are offering to give your friend a baby this feels more like a cruel joke. Also, your friend would probably gladly get up at 3am every day to change 20 diapers if it meant she could have a family. So I know it’s hard, but try to stay away from this arena of joking.
Don’t say “My friend couldn’t get pregnant for years and finally did, her secret was (sweet potatoes/vacation/standing on her head/etc)”-Really? Your friend found the magical cure to infertility that my very expensive specialists know nothing about? I kind of doubt that. I know some people may want advice and if your friend comes right out and says, “I don’t know what to do and I’m looking for advice” then go for it. Otherwise, most likely she has already spent countless hours and thousands of dollars researching what is going on and is trying new things all the time. I think the better option is to ask her how it’s going. This gives her an opening if she would like to talk about the crazy acupuncturist she just started seeing or how her new medication is giving her more hot flashes than a heat wave. She probably doesn’t have many people to talk to about that and it’s nice to spill once and a while and not be bombarded with judgment or advice.
There is a great article that goes more in-depth here. Everyone is different, and may feel comforted by different things. Some may want to babysit for you and get in some snuggle time with your adorable newborn, while others may stay as far away as possible from your kids to avoid getting depressed. You’ll have to ask her if she wants to come over or would rather meet at a bar, she will let you know what she’s feeling up for. Just like when you have a friend that has been recently dumped, this takes time and care to heal and you probably can’t fix it for her.
I’ll leave you with this video