The other night I was reading some sanctimonious bullshit… *ahem* article, entitled Having Children is a Public Good, which was some utter dribble about why everyone should procreate. And if you don’t want to it’s because your parents didn’t love you enough (yes, it does say something along those lines in there).
I ended up clicking through to related articles, the first from a child-free woman talking about the loss of friendships due to friends becoming mothers, and the second (which sparked it) was mothers talking about the loss of friendships due to their friends NOT being mothers.
It’s all a bit messy really, both sides assigning blame, both sides hurt. I can’t speak for everyone, (in one case at least one woman just sounded like a bad friend) but I can speak from my own experience and what I think may be the miscommunication on both sides. Most of the articles I read talk of the drifting apart but not what gets them to that place so I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve ended up here.
Changes of life circumstances can be hard on others, whether it’s new relationships, kids, divorces. It forces a re-shuffle of priorities. Things naturally have to change over time but that doesn’t mean it comes without the grief of losing what was. I have certainly lost most of my friendships along the way and not a day goes by when I don’t think about them. I am obviously coming from the non-mother-but-want-to-be side, and I have had some poor friends who have coloured my thinking, but I hope I’ve been fair in my assumptions.
Here are some things I think would have helped:
Meet Me Halfway
The thing with meeting up with parents, and I’m sure parents will agree with me here: it’s tricky to find the right place. You don’t want to come to us due to our house with our things around, cupboards to get into, a lack of child friendly entertainment (a childless house is stressful, I’m told!). So we come to you, or we meet at a place you want to meet – maybe a child friendly cafe so your kids can be loud and can play on the equipment supplied. Maybe it’s somewhere we wouldn’t pick ourselves but we go there anyway. Not to mention we are fitting in between your schedule: naps, snacks and nappy changes take priority.
Physically, there isn’t meeting in the middle. We have to go somewhere that is suitable for both you AND your kids, and you are the one that is going to deem it suitable or unsuitable.
But it would be really great to meet metaphorically half way.
If we are coming to you both where and when suits you, it can feel like we are the entertainment: showing up when you’re bored or need adult company, shooed off when we get in the way of the schedule.
Here are some ideas:
You be the instigator – contact me so we know you want to see ME, not just the first person who shows some interest.
Show that our meet up is important to you too. Have you done some baking? Invite me to share and I’ll bring the drinks! Going to the park? See if I want to come for an impromptu catch up while the kids play. Who would ever say no to a park visit? Going somewhere for the toddler where they might need your assistance? We are capable of holding the baby and won’t begrudge being part of your world.
Take Note of Your Audience
With the mum-club entry, your everyday conversations have change. Brands of nappies and wipes, the next playgroup and toddler milestones are conversations you’re having regularly.
If you start talking about mum-specific conversation topics, you start talking *at me* not with me. Let’s be honest, you don’t want to hear my opinion on your brand of baby carrier because I haven’t used one.
If we cross over into mum talk, it starts creating a wedge. It alienates me. You are still your own person, we still have shared past experiences, funny memories and shared interests. What netflix shows are you watching? How was the beach? Yes, tell me about your kid chasing seagulls, I won’t bite! Do you need any relationship support? Want to vent about a friend? Here I am! Ask me how I am! (You would be surprised how often this doesn’t happen). Yes, talk about your kids, talk about what you’ve been doing and how funny they’ve been, but maybe keep toilet training stories for someone who can commiserate.
I’m Not Judging
If your kid comes up mid-converstation and interrupts me talking, I don’t begrudge them. I’ll wait, and not in a passive-aggressive way either. I’ll wait until you have achieved whatever it is you want to, either listening to what they have to say now, or asking them to wait until I have finished.
Is your house full of toys? Cool! Hand prints on the glass? I have dog noses instead, what’s the point in cleaning them just to have them get smeared again, right!?
If your place is a proper dirty pig-sty I might judge you on that, but I’m judging your cleanliness, not your parenting 😉
Most of us have been around children plenty, yelling and crying and interruptions do not matter to a good friend.
Don’t Assume Someone Else is Filling a Role
When your titled changed to mother, no doubt your relationships did too. The person you are in contact with most is probably a mother. Maybe during the day you commiserate about the baby not being asleep at nap time, you send little messages and snapchats to each other during the day to fill the time and ‘talk’ with adults.
Maybe you think that your childless friend has someone else to talk to now. Maybe you two drifted apart a bit and you think she’s filled your void with someone else.
But maybe not.
I know in my case this isn’t true, and I can tell you that on top of the hurt of losing friendships, the lasting sting comes from the fact that I’ve lost them because I can’t have the baby I long for. This is especially true for people with whom I have shared things I’m finding hard. If it’s not public knowledge, don’t assume that I’m receiving support elsewhere.
Yes, I Do Know Things Have Changed.
In reading these blame filled articles, one of the common themes is, “they don’t understand that my world shifted and my kids are my only priority”.
No, actually I do get it.
In my wildest dreams we have a kid or two, and we spend our weekends doing family things. My thoughts are of our nuclear family unit and friends don’t factor into it.
But here’s what else I know:
If I don’t ensure that I am an individual person outside of being a mother, I know I would be doing a disservice to myself and my (theoretical) kids. I would want my children to see me as their mother, who is also a hard worker, a small business owner, a loving wife, an animal lover, a loyal friend.
Is it a lot to bear? Sure, we all have to wear many hats. But is having friends detrimental to your life or do you actually gain something by sharing your life with trusted friends who are both mothers and non-mothers?
I know if any mothers read this, especially those in the baby toddler stages, they will still argue that I don’t get it. I’ve read the things, I’ve seen the articles and the rantings and the justifications. But what I’m telling you is, from the outside it says: you aren’t convenient to me. You are not worth my time or effort. I don’t care enough about you. I can only have friendships where people swan after me, for me to pick up and put down whenever I feel.
That is not a real friendship. It’s really about the love you share with your friends, its about the intimacy of sharing tough things and knowing someone has your back. It’s about fostering relationships where you can give support, but also receive it back in abundance. It requires give and take. I’m not saying your friendships should be to the detriment of your family, I’m saying it can enhance your life, even the ones that take a bit more effort.
I Haven’t Communicated Well
Here are some things I could have said that could have changed the trajectory of my relationships some years ago. This is a lesson to myself for the future:
“I’d really like to see you soon, let me know when works for you”
“It’s so sunny today, want to meet at the park? We can feed the ducks?”
“I know you realise your pregnancy/new baby brings up a lot of feelings for me, ask me over anyway. I want to be in your life but I’m sorry if I cry”
“I want to make it to your baby shower but it’s a bit much for me. Can we catch up next week instead because it’s not a reflection on how I feel about you and your baby”
“Please don’t try to protect me by excluding me”
But here are the things that have stopped me communicating clearly: I don’t want to be annoying, I feel like you’re too busy and I have been brushed off in the past because of a ‘daily schedule’ clash.
There Are Some Exceptions
A bad friend is a bad friend. People that tell you they don’t like kids are insulting to you for good reason.
People who don’t give your kids the time of day are bad friends, because if they loved you they would also love those that you love.
Don’t tar all childless or child-free people with the same brush of being anti-parents and anti-children. Some may be, but many are the total opposite and don’t have kids for their own reasons.