The Johnson and Johnson commercials have made popular that saying that “having a baby changes everything”, and while this statement rang true from the moment I got that little plus sign on the stick, what I didn’t expect were the ways that having a baby would change my life outside of my own home.
I reasonably expected my home to be taken over by a baby: my sleep to be disrupted, my wardrobe and style tastes to change to accommodate said tiny human and their tendency to spit up on my shirt or try to climb a bookcase (on which occasion you’d better be wearing comfortable shoes so you can sprint across the house fast enough to catch them without breaking an ankle).
What I didn’t expect to change was my ability to connect with women who were not mothers. As another old saying goes, “Like attracts like” and before I realized what was happening, for one reason or another, most of my female relationships were comprised of other young mothers. (Not that that is a bad thing. After all, motherhood is a team sport and there is a need to connect with someone who shares your perspective and can say “me too”. ) Friendships outside your current life stage are so valuable. However, it’s not been easy to connect with those that no longer share my schedule (which involves getting up with the dawn and a forced afternoon homebound time for naps) or affinity for restaurants with play spaces. But as I have travelled along this path of motherhood, my desire, and need, for connection with women who have a different perspective, who see me first as Amanda and then “Noah’s mom” has also grown. Admittingly, I do not know what it’s like to be on the childfree/less side of things. My friend, Krystal, has written a blog post from that perspective, which I will link here when it is published and I encourage you to check it out. She encourages friends to respect boundaries and needs, but to not let that stop you from engaging with one another and being a life-giver.
What can it look like to maintain a friendship with a childfree/less friend? This is something I am still working on, but here are some thoughts I’ve had about making it work.
- Make sure to let childfree/less friends know that their friendship is still valued. I have not been great about this. It can be easy to get swept up in all the changes that a baby brings and it can be really hard to rise above those waves and grab on to any semblance of normalcy, especially during that first year. I could do a better job of letting my childfree/less friends know that although I am overwhelmed by this change right now, they are still an important part of my life
- Check in with your friends about how things are changing and how it makes each of you feel. Change is never easy, but it can be made more difficult when we are unwilling to accept it. When changes come, as it so often does when kids enter the picture (and keeps changing as they grow through the stages of life) relationships have the potential to grow and change, too, if you let them.
- Keep the line of communication open and think the best of one another. All too often, relationships fall apart because communication becomes difficult or because of a perceived hurt. I may not speak for all moms, but I think most of us would say “please don’t give up on me.” We need adult interaction. We may not be able to go out the way we once did or meet up at the same times or text back in the same time frame (or at all), but please don’t stop trying. It’s not you, it’s my brain. Express your concerns over a cup of coffee, offer to meet me in a kid-friendly place, adjust expectations, but please don’t give up. We may need you now more than ever. There are several apps out there for sending messages besides just texts, Voxer and Marco Polo are two of my most-used apps now that I can only seem to communicate with others in fits and spurts in between wiping butts and noses and countertops (there’s a lot of wiping going on these days…). I could do a better job of reaching out (and know that I am so hoping my childfree/less friends will reach out to me, but I fear imposing on their ‘cool’ lives).
- For my mom friends: don’t give in to the temptation to shut people out. Express your needs to your friends and you might find them more receptive than you anticipate. Also, try to remember that you are sleep-deprived and your needs may have changed. It’s okay to communicate that to your friends. This isn’t forever, you are in a new season. It’s okay to ask friends to meet you at your house during nap time if that is easier for you. It’s okay to suggest a girls’ night in or a spa day. Things are changing, but that doesn’t mean you have to figure it all out on your own. Prioritize friend time. Schedule it if you need to, but don’t fall prey to the lie that you’ve got to go at this alone.
- Allow people to see your mess. This is tough in general, but when you become a parent, I feel like a whole other layer is added to the desire to hide your mess. When we invest in one another’s lives, our ‘real-selves’ are exposed, but my real mom-self is also unrested like never before and constantly forgetting one thing or the other. Not only that, but I feel like there is more to be self-conscious about than before. Now, I have the added pressure of measuring up to everyone’s ideas about what a mother should look like and prioritize and do. Will my childfree/less friends be shocked by how messy my floors are? Will they not want to sit on furniture that has spit-stains and an inexplicable layer of stickiness? Will they want to try to come over for a chat when we will be frequently interrupted (where at least 50% of the time it will involve a bodily function) and we will need to tune out the noise of tiny children playing pretend at the only volume they know how: loud? It makes me nervous.
Life with kids is a beautiful adventure, but it’s also an in-depth study on the messiness of humanity. Will my childfree/less friends want to be a part of that?
Honestly, I wish I had more childfree/less friends. Their perspective is refreshing. Currently, I can get pretty saturated in the stage of life that I am in (raising children) and the risk is high that this stage will become all-consuming. I miss having conversations that are not all about what the kids are up to. It would be nice to connect with other women as a woman myself and not just as a mother. Simply having a friend come over and share a meal with my kids and I, especially when my husband isn’t able to make the meal, like lunch times or when he is working late, would make such a huge difference to me (and my kids!)
What do you think? Do you have children? Has the make-up of your friendships changed because of that? How can we make more of an effort to develop meaningful friendships with women who are outside of our life stage? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!