Can We End the Weird War Between Parent- and Non-Parent Friends?

This is your buddy, remember? You became friends for a reason. Your respective reproductive choices shouldn't get in the way of that.

Dec 28, 2013 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

Once they had kids, most of the parents I know slowly lost or broke up with their childless friends, but for me maintaining connections with non-parents became supremely important. I needed dialogue that did not involve poop, except in the form of a stupid joke. And I actually wanted the perspective of my childless friends on the occasional kid topic -- I wanted to know what kid behaviors they found particularly appalling.

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Friends.

I maintained friendships with other parents, too, and because I've been spending about equal time in both camps, I've seen first-hand how entrenched both sides are getting in their opinions of each other. And I think it's time to let that shit go. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, revisit that August 12, 2013 Time story, "The Childfree Life," or this  New York Times' Motherlode post which asks, Can Parents Stay Friends with the Childfree?)

What happens is no one's fault: When people in any relationship are going through vastly different things, or are suddenly at very different stages in their lives, there's a transition period and, usually, a certain loss of closeness. That loss is especially hurtful in friendships, and particularly so around the kid thing, because it tends to literally happen from one day to the next. One day you're on the exact same page and the next you're reading from completely different books.

Which is why I thought a few simple guidelines could really help -- on both sides. Here goes:

Be Understanding of Each Other's Schedules. Hey, childless pals, I love you but could you please stop suggesting that we meet for drinks at 5pm on a weekday? Oh, what's that? You'd like me to stop suggesting 7am Sunday coffee dates? Roger that.

Here's the deal: parents and childless people are almost certainly on different schedules, but that doesn't mean they can't find times that work for both parties. Parents, if you put a tiny bit of effort into it, you can probably remember what your schedule was like when you were without child, and childless folks, you can probably imagine what a toddler's schedule looks like. Just try to be understanding.

That said, if your childless friend suggests happy hour drinks, she is not intentionally flipping the bird to your dinner-bath-bedtime routine. Similarly, your suggestion that she spend every Saturday night going to dinner with you (because that's when you can get your partner to stay home with the kid, wheee!) is not intentionally disrespecting her desire to get laid sometimes. I found myself annoyed at a childless friend recently for suggesting coffee at 9am on a Tuesday. Here's how I initially took that completely benign request: Don't you understand that I pay for childcare between the hours of 9am and 2pm every day, and I need to work during those hours to pay for that childcare, not spend $15 an hour to have coffee with you? Fortunately, instead of saying that, I took a breath, asked myself if I know what any of my friends' (or even my husband's, or really anyone but myself and my kid's) daily schedules are, realized the answer was definitely no, and calmed the fuck down.

Discuss the Details of Any Plan. Remember when you were 19 and you had that one friend who assumed that any plan also included her boyfriend? Yeah, people do that with kids too and it's annoying. When I was pregnant and having endless morning sickness, a friend with two toddlers asked if I'd like to go to the grocery store to get out of the house. I said sure because I was hungry and really needed to get out, but she showed up with both kids in tow. Despite the fact that her husband was at home, doing nothing. Had I known that "going to the grocery store" was actually "going to the grocery store with two toddlers" I would never have accepted the invite. I wouldn't accept that invite now! You could not pay me enough to go to a grocery store with two kids under the age of 5.

So. Parents, don't assume that every plan includes your kids. Ask your childless friends if this is a family-friendly thing or not. If you're having them over for dinner, give them the option of showing up after the kids have gone to bed, and don't assume that if they take that option they hate your kids. Remember how much you liked hanging out with little kids before you had them?

And childless folks? If you're inviting your parent friends and their kids to a play, please disclose the information that it's actually an erotic puppet show. If you're inviting them to a restaurant, mention that it's a place that serves 9-course lunches or always has an hour-long wait for a table. That way you can either discuss alternate plans, or at least help your parent friends to be prepared. That's the key, really: Preparation.

Stop Bragging. Parents, the only person you can say things like "Tommy fell asleep in my arms last night and it was the best thing in the world," to are a) your spouse, b) your mom, or c) a handful of your other parent friends. Do not say shit like this to your childless friends, and be prepared for a (deserved) eye-roll if you publicly post photos of Tommy falling asleep with captions about how beautiful it is, too.

Similarly, childless people, no texts to your parent friends at 1pm about how you just woke up and are nursing a hangover with a greasy lunch. Ditto any reference to laying around all day, doing whatever you feel like doing, or watching hours of TV ... really anything that entails lolling about, rest of any kind, or not having a schedule. Are you trying to make us cry? Yes, most of us chose this path, but that doesn't mean we like getting up at 5am or don't miss 1pm hangover brunches like crazy. 

By the Same Token, Stop Misrepresenting Each Other's Lives. Guess what no one likes? To be told that her life is easy. Before you had children, did you spend all of your nights partying and your days lounging around? Most likely you did not, and your childless friends probably don't either. All of your childless friends did not suddenly become club kids and models overnight, and they have plenty of responsibilities and stress, too. On the flip side, don't turn me into an old lady just because I had a kid. I hate it when people act like I'm a mental patient on a field trip if they see me out at a club at night. These are the sorts of things that get people's defenses up, and that's not really what you ought to be doing with your friends.

Talk Mostly About Stuff You Can Both Relate To. Don't let this one thing that you now differ on ruin your friendship -- you still have ALL the other stuff in common. Sure, parents should feel okay talking about their kids occasionally to their childless friends, and childless folks shouldn't have to censor their "God, I hate bratty kids" stories in front of their mom friends. Censorship is not a good addition to any friendship. But there are also lots of other topics of conversation centered on things you have in common, things that make you feel close and not distant.

But Don't Assume The Other Side Can't Understand. Sometimes I get really good insights into parenting from my childless friends, but every single one of them is prefaced by, "I mean, I know I probably don't know what I'm talking about because I don't have kids." Which they feel they have to say because there's this whole us-vs.-them thing going on with parents right now, but guess what? Sometimes they do know what they're talking about. My childless friend who basically raised her baby sister and brother? Yeah, she knows a thing or two about toddlers. My friend who decided to have her tubes tied? She's more empathetic about mom woes than almost anyone I know. If you assume your childless friends have nothing to offer you on the parenting topic, whatever divide you feel between your life and theirs is only going to widen. In the reverse, childless people shouldn't assume that their parent friends have no idea what the best new restaurants are or can no longer offer good relationship advice or have no empathy for a really stressful work week.

Mind the Noise Level. This seems like such a small, inconsequential thing but it can become a real problem -- and a real reason for parent-childless friendships to stall out -- over time. So, parents, here's the deal: Even your kid's "cute" happy noises can be irritating to the ears of the uninitiated. I'm not saying your child(ren) has to be mute and smiling during every outing with friends, but just be aware. When your angel is shrieking with glee and your pal is cringing, an apology and request to the little one to turn the volume down a notch goes a long way. Childless pals: When you come over to your parent-friend's house for dinner and their kid is already in bed, don't decide it's the perfect time for a dance party. You don't have to whisper all night long, just be aware. If you're not sure of the appropriate volume level, just ask. Your thoughtfulness will be very much appreciated.

In sum: This is your friend, remember? You became friends for a reason. Your respective reproductive choices shouldn't get in the way of that. **

** Unless of course your friend really is a model who parties all night every night, hates kids and finds your mom-body repulsive. Then by all means, get rid. **