How To Not Be A Jerk To Your Childless Friends In 7 Easy Steps
The friendship between that of a mother and her childless friend is a tricky one. We begin with the greatest intentions. Every pregnant woman has, at one point, sat down with a dear friend and nervously clutched a virgin cocktail in her hand while listening to her friend say “It’s going to be OK; nothing between us will change. Once you have that baby, I’m taking you out for a well-deserved drink and time to yourself.” In hindsight, we need to hear that. We need to believe that a part of us will still remain once our swollen and expanded bodies contract back to a more familiar form of ourselves. Life with a baby isn’t easy, we know that; it’s logic, right? We rub our bellies, shop with friends for adorable and unnecessary baby items while we dream of delicious brunch dates with a well-dressed baby in tow.
Then, baby comes earth-side and rewrites the very framework of who you are. That first year is one of the rawest times of your life. Your heart has multiplied and so has your exhaustion. You’re emotional and tired and grasping to understand this new role of Mother that has been bestowed on you. You naturally seek out other mothers; you find solace in being understood. The nap times, feeding routines and the struggle to merely exist cloud out everything in your life that isn’t your new little family. Your dear friend reaches out; “Is there anything I can do?” she asks. You’re not even sure where to begin. Thinking about how to communicate and organize the help you need can feel too overwhelming, so you say “I’m fine!” and leave it at that. Your new mama friends intuitively swoop in with snacks, meals, and an understanding ear because they don’t need to be told how to help.
The gap in your friendship starts small. It’s the size of that new baby in your life. The widening of this gap is completely up to you. Yes, you. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years on how to value your childless friends; some lessons were learned the hard way (read - I was a jerk) and some were learned through the advice of others.
- Don’t assume your life is harder. Yes, it is universal knowledge that raising children is not a cake walk. In fact; it is fucking hard work. However, the struggles of a childless friend are just as real to them as yours are to you. Besides, let’s not become people who compare hardship, shall we? Instead remember that everything is relative. Just because something might not seem like a struggle to you doesn't give you the right to downplay it. The whole reason we have friends and family is to play off each other's strengths. There are times they can help you through a tricky situation effortlessly and vice versa. Are they complaining that they're tired? Bite the urge to correct them. You don't need to show them what real tiredness is all about. Tired is tired. There is no award for The Most Tired Person. Talking about tired is boring. Everyone is generally tired. I’m tired right now. I’ve said tired like, 10 times in 3 sentences; isn’t that tiring?
- Just because it’s easier for them to come to you, doesn’t mean it’s right. I’m majorly guilty of this one. I used to always think, “I have the kids, it’s harder for me to leave. Why can’t they just come here?” Well, like every other relationship in the history of the world, you give what you get. Trust me when I saw that on average they are doing more than their share. They've patiently listened to you talk for hours about babies, boobs, poop, and vaginas. Try and be aware of the last time you went to their place or met them somewhere other than your house. You offer a different part of yourself when you show up on their turf. I know this can’t happen as much as it used to, but try and be aware of how much effort you put into visiting them. Notice where the conversation heads and be mindful to not constantly hi-jack it with the topic of your children.
- Just because you can bring your kids doesn’t mean you should. I know, your children are adorable and you love them and it’s hard to be away from them. It’s also terribly hard to find a babysitter and it’s expensive. Listen here, your children are most likely going to be with you for the rest of your life. You spend about 99% of your days with them by your side. Not only is getting out and away from them good for you; but it’s good for your kids too. Don’t underestimate what a couple hours of childless fun will do for your soul. We are people too, we need to be reminded of that from time to time. It's a hassle finding childcare but do it once in awhile anyways.
- Watch your words. Maybe your friend is single, or married and childless; either way quit the talk that assumes their lives will someday mirror yours. We are entering a time in our world where many women are choosing to not have children. When you have little humans of your own, it is so hard to imagine a life without them because they are all consuming. However, remember this: you do not understand the whole world better just because you have kids. People can have a completely alive and fulfilling life, full of love and community without having children. So no more "Someday when you have kids you'll understand..." sentences.
- Accept the challenge to be interesting again. I’ll give you a grace period of a year for this one. Because do I ever know how hard it is to care enough to attend social events when you feel like shit and don’t have any clothes that fit. Staying up later, getting someone to watch your kids and making yourself fit for public interaction can seem totally not worth it. Do it anyways. Wash your hair, put on some lipstick and find the cleanest top you have. Go out, drink a glass of wine and be the best version of yourself you can be, even if it’s just for an hour. Make small talk with people you don’t know. Learn something new. Be in the world. Your friend isn’t expecting you to stay out till 3am reliving your dancing, university days; she just wants her buddy back. You will be glad you went because being interested in the world makes you an interesting person.
- It’s OK if your friends don’t like kids. Let’s get real - we all know that the fastest and most direct way into our hearts is when someone is great to our children. It’s just science; paying attention to our kids is like paying attention to us. However, just because you have a friend who might not necessarily be ‘a kid person’ doesn’t mean they are being rude. I wasn’t really a kid person before I had children either. There will be people in your life who just don’t really invest in your children; it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t worth your friendship. We don’t expect our friends to be besties with our husbands, so why do we expect the same when it comes to our offspring? As long as they are kind to your family, they are doing nothing wrong. Forgive them if they skip out on the birthday parties or don’t jump at the chance to read your child a book. Some friends are just there for you, that’s not wrong, it’s just a different dynamic.
- Just because they don’t have kids doesn’t mean they are more selfish. Ok, I’ll admit it, it’s taken me awhile to come to terms with this one. I do think that becoming a parent brings you to a level of selflessness that you didn’t know existed until you get there. It’s not a choice - it’s demanded of you. You have no option but to give completely of yourself, every single part. That being said, no one can know the state of another’s heart. You just can’t. Just because someone may have more free time and a better ability to care for themselves doesn’t mean they are selfish. Martyrdom and selflessness are not synonymous. There are plenty of people in this world who give 100% of themselves to their friends, family, and community. Selfless means to be more concerned with the needs and wants of others than with one’s own. Most of my childless friends fall into this category. Let’s stop being so hard on them just because their version of selfless looks different than ours.