Making Mom-on-Non-Mom Friendship Work
Dear Child-free ladies: So you’ve decided children are not for you. In fact, shows like “Nanny 911” and “Supernanny” make you want to retire those fallopian tubes indefinitely. But even as you laugh cynically at stories of “mombies” and “helicopter parents,” your good friend just had a baby. She may be exhausted and full of enthusiasm for her Diaper Genie, but she has also never, ever shamed you or pressured you to follow her lead. In fact, the same smug jerks who tell you that you’ll never be self-actualized unless you breed are the ones confronting her in the market for daring to buy 2-percent milk (Children need full milk, you know. And it better be organic!). You owe it to her to support her choice and try to get to know her kids. Most of all, you have to realize she is now a package deal. Spouses may come and go, but parenthood is forever.
Child-free friend: Some CFBCers have experience taking care of kids, but many don’t. I’m one of them -— I’ve never even been a babysitter! That’s why I’ve never offered to sit with your kids or change diapers (though I’m pretty sure I could feed them). Do you resent me for never offering? Should CFBCers offer, even if they have zero experience and not a lot of desire?
Mom friend: I have personally never had the expectation that any of my friends would babysit -— including those who have children. The same goes for changing diapers. And I don’t think friends should be expected to offer. A babysitter is a paid position, someone you can freely ask to respect your parenting whims, like microwaving the milk in the Pyrex glass instead of the plastic sippy cups. It would be awkward for me to put a friend in that position.
That being said, I am very appreciative of an extra hand if I’m out with a friend and my kids are with us. Doing anything in public with children is overwhelming and exhausting, and it makes it more stressful when you’re with someone who gets twitchy when your baby cries in a restaurant or doesn’t offer to watch the kids for five minutes so you can go to the bathroom. But I realize that this may not be intuitive for people without kids.
Child-free friend: Okay, so the worst has happened; I don’t like your kid, and your kid doesn’t like me. Is that a friendship deal-breaker? I realize this comes up between friends who are parents, too, but somehow, not liking someone’s kid when you don’t have kids yourself immediately makes you feel like a child-hater.
Mom friend: This would definitely be a deal-breaker for me. I think it’s impossible for parents to be completely objective about their children. Many of us kind of see them as extensions of ourselves and reflections of our parenting -— particularly when they’re very young. I would be deeply hurt if a friend disliked my child.
However, I think all children annoy adults at one time or another, and it’s a parent’s job to be sensitive enough to try to mitigate it or make the behavior stop. If your little darling is being rude or disrespectful to your friends, he or she needs to learn that such behavior is NOT OK. But if an adult has an issue with my child’s basic character, I would hold the adult responsible for not being mature enough to find something to like about my child for the sake of our friendship.
Child-free friend: So you just had your baby a few weeks ago, your parents are back home and you’re fairly recovered from the birth. However, baby’s colicky and won’t nurse and spouse is cranky and you’re exhausted. Do you even want to see or hear from child-free friends? Should I keep in touch regularly, even though I may be calling when you finally have a chance to nap? How much contact is too much contact? And if I haven’t met the baby, is it uncool for me to push for it to happen sooner rather than later?
Mom friend: Sure, I want to see you and hear from you! Just don’t expect me to cook, clean, or do anything remotely host-like this soon after I’ve had a baby. Drop by for half an hour. Feel free to bring food. Ask in advance when “nap time” is, and please don’t stop by then (it’s generally anytime from 2 or 3 p.m. until dinnertime for a new mom). But new parents often feel disoriented, alone, and depressed, and it’s reassuring to share this big life change with close friends.
In general, I would say take your cue from the parents. Ask them if they are too exhausted for visitors, or if they’d appreciate a quick drop by. If they don’t respond to phone calls, try e-mail. If they don’t return emails, maybe check in once a month. And remember that part about nap time? Please don’t call then. It’s a 100-percent guarantee that you will catch your friend at her worst.
The other thing is to try not to feel abandoned immediately after a friend has a new baby. It usually takes at least six months -— but sometimes up to a year, if she’s got a particularly demanding child -— for a new parent to figure out how to balance her needs and relationships with those of her baby. She will be more exhausted, cranky, and forgetful than she has ever been in her life. When things calm down she’ll be back, and she will be totally appreciative of the fact that you were there for her.
Child-free friend: Even though you would never say so to my face, do you think I’m being selfish for not having children? Or do you pity me for never being what one parent I used to know defined as “a complete human being”?
Mom friend: Absolutely not! Becoming a parent is a huge life change. It’s a decision that no one should be pressured into. I don’t think people who choose not to have children are selfish at all -— you have to do what is right for you. And for the record, having children never made me feel more complete as a human being -— it’s just one different experience among the full range of possible experiences that make up a life. It has also been my experience that the parents who make a big show of pitying people who don’t have kids are secretly jealous of them.
Child-free friend: Though I don’t want kids of my own, I really would like to get to know your kids (even if it results in the scenario from Question No. 2). Are you OK with that, and how would you be most comfortable with making that happen?
Mom friend: I’d take my cue from the friend who doesn’t have children here. I think it’s awesome when a friend wants to get to know my kids. But as a parent, I’m going to err on the side of trying not to force my children on my friends, unless they indicate otherwise. Are you interested in accompanying us to the pumpkin patch? Do you find the idea of a kiddie birthday party fun -— or horrifying? Does the idea of curling up on the couch and reading my kids a bedtime story appeal to you? Let me know!
Dear New Mothers: You’ve had a baby. Congratulations! While this may be “the end of life as you know it” (according to the irritating lady in the check-out line), it doesn’t have to mean that it’s time to trade in your child-free friends for a lifetime membership to Mommy & Me. Sure, it may be hard to relate sometimes. But when you spend your afternoons watching Elmo, you’ll realize anew the value of an adult conversation with a treasured friend. Just don’t start badgering your pals about when they’re going to have kids, too.
Mom friend: Does it bore you to tears when your mama friends share anecdotes about their children or go on and on about parenting issues?
Child-free friend: No, because you’re my friend, and I am genuinely interested in your life and what is going on in it. I also confess I get a certain vicarious thrill out of hearing about obnoxious parents bugging you, so by all means, continue!
I’m happy to serve as safe harbor -— as a CFBC, I’m not going to give you a hard time for not following the latest co-sleeping trend, or get competitive, like that mom who loves to brag, “Well, MY schnookums said HIS first sentence at eight months!”
However, do keep in mind that certain info is TMI, like how many bowel movements little Bobby had today. I mean, if little Bobby has been really sick and his bowel movements are part of his recovery narrative, and I’ve been worried and asking about him, that’s cool.
Then again, if you were a good storyteller before you had kids, you are likely to be one after -— only the theme has changed. And never forget to return the favor, and listen to your CFBC friends’ stories, even if they may be going on and on about their crappy boss or annoying landlady. Or gushing about their dog or significant other. Fair’s fair, right?
Mom friend: Do you secretly feel sorry for us when you’re out at dinner/at a party on Saturday night/sleeping in on Sunday morning and, you know, we’re at home, haggard and covered with barf?
Child-free friend: No. I mean, you chose to have children every bit as much as I chose not to, and the barf is hopefully mitigated by the joy of seeing your kid turn into a cool person. Besides, the likelihood that I am on my couch watching a “Law & Order: SVU” marathon on Saturday night is high, since I am likely exhausted from a busy week. I’m not sure who these active and glam CFBCers actually are, but I imagine they feel sorry for both of us!
Mom friend: Are you ever interested in going on “kiddie” outings with your mama friends and their children, or is it more fun to do grown-up things with your friends without the kids in tow?
Child-free friend: Absolutely! Trips to the pumpkin patch, or amusement parks, or whatever, are fun for me because I get a chance not just to hang out with you but to get to know the kids.
That said, there are some places I refuse to go. Chuck E. Cheese is one of them (or any cheesy theme restaurant). This also brings up the kiddie birthday party. Yes, I realize it’s going to be a dozen sugar-crazed toddlers, their frazzled parents, and a creepy clown. But if I haven’t seen you in months -— or even met the baby -— that’s a great way to tackle it (and it’s likely to reinforce my decision to be CFBC). So don’t hesitate to ask. If it’s at Chuck E. Cheese, however, it’s up to me to politely decline.
And balance is everything -— let’s try to mix the kiddie stuff with the grown-up stuff as much as possible. I get the feeling sometimes you need that grown-up stuff more than I do!
Mom friend: Does it seem like your mama friends have completely changed as people once they have children?
Child-free friend: Happily, none of my close mama friends have changed in any marked way. They’ve just added another facet to their character, and I really enjoy seeing them in the mama role. But I do know that’s not always the case.
I’ve had acquaintances turn into smug individuals who act like becoming a mom is the only thing in the world a woman does that is worthwhile, and therefore they seem to believe they should get special treatment wherever they go. This includes me having to do all the work in keeping the relationship going. But then again, these same people showed such tendencies before, like when they got married and pitied single people, or found some new interest and couldn’t relate to anyone who was not as into it as they.
Mom friend: When parent friends bring their kids to your home, are you tortured by visions of their children breaking your things? Are you more comfortable seeing your friends and their children in their natural habitats?
Child-free friend: That is something I determine on an individual basis. I have to confess I do some stealth observing before I issue any invitation to a friend’s kids. How do they behave in stores? Restaurants? Other people’s homes (like, say, at a mutual friend’s kid party)? If little Sally is in a destructive phase at the moment, I am loath to extend an invite, even if I’ve cleared away all the breakables and cleaning supplies.
And I’ve had experiences where kids have gotten into stuff I thought I hid well or put somewhere really high. Well, OK, I was guilty of that, too, as a child -— I was quite the little ferret.
My main concern with all of this, though, has less to do with the kids than with my own recollection of visiting the homes of my my parents’ child-free friends. They always seemed very boring (and full of stale candy), and I hated going there. And when kids are bored, they let you know it!
A good solution, other than making sure the parents bring plenty of activities and toys for the kids, is having a stash of stuff for these kids they get to play with only at Auntie A.K.’s house, or an activity they get to do only there, like baking a special kind of cake or watching a certain kid movie. That makes going there special. I remember my granddad had this fish toy he showed us on special occasions. Of course, doing such a thing would entail getting to know your kids’ likes and dislikes, but I have no issues with that!