My childfree friends are a balm to my soul: In praise of childfree women

April 4 | Guest post by Nikki Mayeux
One of the many rad childfree women in my life lovin' on Eleanor. (Originally posted on The Neutral Ground)

I know that ever since you turned twenty-five, there have been questions — well-meaning prods and probes about the current state and future plans of your uterus. Even more if you're married. I know you can't complain of nausea or light-headedness without someone's elbow nudging your shoulder, asking if you're "sure you aren't late for something." I know it gets fucking obnoxious.

I know the reasons that you're childfree are numerous.

You may consciously choose it. You may want kids later but not right now. You may be grappling with infertility. You may be looking for the right partner or not sure what you're looking for at all. I know that you are single, dating, married, straight, queer, neurotypical, neuroatypical, and scattered across the economic spectrum.

I know that media and culture tells you that the clock is ticking. That motherhood is the ultimate feminine destiny; the next epoch. I know it can feel like everyone is boarding the train but you, regardless of if you've chosen to stay on the platform or if you're running desperately to try to hop the rails.

I know we're not supposed to stay friends.

My motherhood is a peninsula whose connection to you is supposed to erode with each baby milestone, each additional child, each year of more nights spent at home than at our favorite bar with the breezy courtyard and the $9 duck fat fries.

I'm supposed to start feeling at home with the other moms who can understand my daily child-rearing grind with an innate empathy, and less comfortable with your eight hours of sleep and candlelit baths and complaints of being bored on a Sunday afternoon.

I'm supposed to resent you a little and, at the same time, feel superior to you.

And eventually we're supposed to only see each other at weddings and grocery store run-ins.

But you know what, Childfree Woman? I'm a mom and think that's absolute bullshit.

…Because I need you in my life.

My childfree friends are a vital part of my community, and their role is unique and irreplaceable. My childfree friends invite me to adult social events that I sometimes forget exist and pull me out of the parenting bubble at regular intervals — a healthy practice I rarely enact on my own.

They text me about things other than toddler bowel movements and field trip permission slips.

They come over late at night to drink beer on my porch after my kids have gone to bed. They are honorary aunts — something I particularly cherish as an only child.

And they spend time with my children, giving them energy and attention and guidance when I am depleted of all three. 

They support my family in ways that would be impossible to sustain if they were raising young children of their own at the same time.

My childfree friends challenge my expectations of motherhood, and keep me from becoming a hermit. They suggest bringing my kids to crowded festivals, and herbalism workshops that parents instantly recoil from because they know how much of a pain in the ass the whole thing will be.

And I agree because I love their company and I haul the kids in the car and go! And you know what? It's not that big of a pain and everyone has fun.

My childfree friends are a balm to my soul.
Motherhood can be consuming and I am prone to being consumed. My childfree friends are a tether to a world beyond the joys and trials of shepherding tiny humans through life.

So Childfree Woman Orbiting Thirty, if you've ever felt out of place among your mama friends… if you've ever sensed the subtle, relentless tides of culture tugging at your sense of identity, I want you to know that I see you, I honor you, I appreciate you endlessly.

You kick major ass, and I hope you know it.

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  1. So much THIS.
    I can't tell you how tired I am of people hinting or even stating very strongly that children are the only thing that gives your life purpose. I'm 32, my bf broke up last October, I'm in a very undefined thing with a guy who is in the middle of a divorce and already has 2 kids. Even HE says I need to find a better guy than him and have kids. I'm about 80% sure that I don't want kids, and I don't have the right guy for it anyway, so people please just leave me alone with this. Plus I have 3 nieces (soon 4), and it may sound harsh but it showed me again that I don't really like small children – once they're old enough to have proper conversations it gets better 😀

    9 agree
    • It's SO TOTALLY OK to not want kids, or not particularly enjoy them, or not harbor a deep desire to stain every shirt you own with Capri Sun and peanut butter. =P Live your best life, friend!

      6 agree
    • So true. I'm child-free by choice, have many nephews (and a great-nephew), and they really did drive it home for me just how much work children are and how completely they affect your life! At least having siblings who have reproduced means there's less likely to be pressure on me to reproduce too.

      People who know me know I don't like kids and don't want any myself so I don't get the problem of people even hinting to me that I need children to complete my life. Good luck coping with the hints and nagging (I'm not sure why people think it's their business to stick their noses in to such an important life choice, but oh well…).

      2 agree
  2. Speaking as an honorary aunt to a different family, thank you for sharing your children with us and allowing us to be a part of your lives. It truly is an honor.

    13 agree
    • My kids have an abundance of incredible honorary aunts that I'm so thankful for. I'm sure you're friend-family feels the same way about you!!

      1 agrees
  3. Where is this eight hours of sleep per night that I am entitled to? 😉 I will claim it…

    2 agree
    • I think we're supposed to steal the hours from teenagers on Saturday mornings. They've got more than enough to spare.

      1 agrees
  4. Is it weird that reading this made me feel bad? I'm *so* close to being that friend but I haven't quite got the 'actually spending significant time with your friends who have kids and/or their kids' part down. I need to work on that.

    It also made me wonder if there's some type of "rent a kid" scheme I could join – something where you can take other people's kids out (or stay in) for a day or a few hours or whatever to give the parents a break. If there isn't then it seems like there should be. (I'd probably need to be able to drive first…and get my DBS check updated.)

    1 agrees
    • I was just talking to a childfree friend in France about this! She was feeling a bit sad about not having enough kid-energy in her life, and I was like "Dude, as a parent I can tell you that any of your friends with kids are going to be FREAKING STOKED if you're like 'hey, can I take your kid to lunch and a movie on a Saturday?'"

      Her question (and yours!) amounts to "…is there an app for that?" and I think the reality is that the app for that is community. You have to actually, like, get out and talk to your friends.

      …I KNOW!! As a nerd, this offends me too, but I think sometimes the way to have more people in our lives is to… make more time for people in our lives. 🙂

      8 agree
    • If you're in the U.S., look up your local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. It might be a great fit for you!

      14 agree
    • No, don't feel guilty! I'm childfree by choice and while I love my friends' kids, I am not the "babysitting friend" and my parent friends know and understand this. I'll accompany the family on a day at the museum or pool, come over for dinner and play on the floor with LEGO before bedtime, all that jazz, but I don't feel comfortable nor do I have any desire to be left alone with them or care for them in that capacity. I'm the friend who will help pay for a sitter so we can all go out and get beer and chicken wings, they have other friends who will take the baby for a couple hours.

      If your parent friends truly accept you, they should get your limitations with kids. Also, and super importantly, as their kids age your relationships with them evolve. Right after the babies are born you may feel like a bad friend as you never see them. But they may not want to hang out right now anyway, they are tired and finding their groove and are in mega-family mode. But after the first year or so? Come over with a six pack and a pizza and you are a GOD!

      I may not reach "honorary auntie" status until they are in their tweens/teens and need an adult that isn't mom or dad, and that's cool, that's when I will be at my best for their children and can flex my skills. Just send your friends funny memes, invite them to things even if you think they are going to decline, and in general treat them like fun, varied people they are who still have interests outside of their kid and listen with sympathy as they repeat over and over how tired they are.

    • You can always be a nanny/babysitter. It's a great way to "rent" kids and have them feel like your own, but you get to leave at the end of the day. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED my girls and I always will, but 10 years of being a nanny absolutely cured me of any desire to reproduce myself. I've already raised several children from infancy to childhood, and my first client from when I was in college is now a teenager and we're still friends. I did toilet training, lost teeth, bike riding, school projects, "where do babies come from" questions, learning to read, learning to manage feelings, tantrums, friend troubles, sleep problems, you name it– and now I'm free to do whatever the F I want because once I moved away and left the job, I am no longer a daytime mommy.

      4 agree
      • I also was a PT nanny and babysitter to several families for several years, and am also convinced this is why I solidly do not want children. Ever. I loved them all, but they also drove me to tears sometimes, and that was even considering that I got to go home without them to my own bed at night (AND that I was being paid to put myself through that). It's my favorite response when people ask how I know I don't want them if I've never had them… I have lots of experience!

        4 agree
  5. I'm in the category of this made me feel ick too. But for a different reason. Although I'm unencumbered by children by choice (and at 44 that is unlikely to ever change) I don't have my primary identity as "childfree". I hope people just see me as a friend, not a "childfree friend". And I don't need those who chose to have children to tell me I rock, I know I rock. I think they rock too, and that has nothing to do with their choice to have children. Articles like this seem to reifiy the childfree/childed dichotomy.

    13 agree
    • Thanks for saying this, because I knew something about it made me feel weird too, and I say this from the opposite side of things being 26 and happily pregnant by choice. I agree that too much is still placed on this dichotomy as part of identity for women, regardless of their status and their choice in that status.

      3 agree
    • Thanks for reading, and for the feedback! I definitely agree that there can be an unhealthy dichotomy of mom/childfree, and it wasn't my intention to suggest that being child-free is anyone's primary identity marker, merely one of many. I think we speak about different parts of our identity depending on the subject at hand. When I plan a backyard cookout, I group my friends into "meat eaters" and "vegetarians." When I think about who to ask to accompany me to a burlesque show, I group them into "people who are made extremely uncomfortable by having boobies in their face" and "people who are not." This piece originally appeared on my blog where I write about parenting a lot, hence the "mom" and "child-free."

      Super important things to think on. Thanks!

      18 agree
  6. I really like this post, but on the other hand, it makes me feel weird. Like… I'm currently childfree and likely going to stay that way (who knows? Always in motion is the future, and I really wanted kids desperately up until I became repulsed by the idea a couple of years ago), but I don't feel like I fit in to the lives of my friends with kids anymore.

    It might just be my circles, but it seems to be a certainty that once a friend of mine gets pregnant and has her first kid, I will basically never see her again. This keeps happening over and over, to the point where when my husband and I see yet ANOTHER friend announce a pregnancy on Facebook (which happens a couple of times a week now), we roll our eyes and go "well, okay, who's left that we can actually still hang out with?".

    It's not their fault; I get that kids take a lot of work and it's a huge change and their lives aren't going to allow them to randomly go out for drinks at 10pm on a Wednesday anymore or whatever.

    But I don't want that particular change in my life because I enjoy having freedom, and I was a nanny for a very long time and know how hard it is to raise kids, and have no desire to do it when I don't get to go home and sleep at the end of the day… and I do get the impression from our friends with kids that suddenly "we don't understand" and they'd rather hang out with other parent friends– again, makes total sense, but it does get frustrating when it seems like being 31 is a constant stream of "another one bites the dust".

    My BFF and his wife are discussing the idea of starting to try to start a family, and to be honest, that idea does not thrill me– I can potentially see a future where I could be a fun "aunt", but past experience tells me that they will more likely no longer have any use for my friendship because I "don't get it" since it's not the path I've chosen.

    This is a great article, but I'm not 100% convinced that my friends with kids feel the way OP does.

    7 agree
    • I know what you mean. My husband lost his best friend when he became a dad. During the pregnancy, the BF refused to leave his wife alone. His expectation was that my husband leave me alone because I can't have kids and therefore don't require his presence. I do have MS but that's nothing compared to pregnancy apparently. Flare-ups often come with nausea from Hell and that can only mean one thing… Once the kid arrived, same thing. My husband should drop everything because the kid requires the BF's presence and fuck my MS and my husband spending time with me. The BF was against our marriage because I was in my early 30s and that means menopause is imminent, according to the ignoramus, and my husband will never know the joy of fatherhood. Joke's on him because my reproductive system never worked right. I could be 18 and it's still not happening. As for my husband, he's gone from being onboard with adoption to wanting to keep it just the two of us thanks to his ex-BF.

      5 agree
    • Just another comrade here to admit (somewhat ashamedly) that my first thought when a friend gets pregnant is usually not "congratulations!" but "damn." These words never leave my lips of course. I joke with my partner that I've started mentally cataloging the other friends in our life who intend on staying childfree for future reference.

      11 agree
    • I've also found this. Heaven knows I've tried to be that friend that sticks around, but when you go to hang out with said parent friend and every topic of conversation gets brought back to their offspring (and hilarious poo anecdotes) there's only so much one can take.

      Joke's on me, I guess now – at 6 months pregnant myself I'm going to have to make a concerted effort with my childfree friends because I KNOW I'm going to want adult time, based on how deeply boring I find talking about pregnancy and hearing baby advice. Some people want their lives to be about their children; I want my children to be but one aspect of my life. And I don't want those people to disappear because they no longer feel a part of my life.

      6 agree
    • I debated a long time about if I wanted to comment on this post at all, because I remember all too well how ugly the comment section of a previous child-free themed post got… But, I just wanted to say, I totally get you. My two best friends are planning their own kids within the next 3 years or so, and I'm honestly terrified of how it will change our friendship.

      It's all well and good to say that nothing will change, and that we'll always be this close. But in my experience, every time another friend announces her pregnancy, I make the appropriate congratulations, and then withdraw and grieve another friend I'll never have the same closeness with. Because, in my experience, without exception, every one of my kick-ass ladies who swore she would NEVER become one of those 'mombies' has done so by about the third trimester.

      I know it has to change… that it's the nature of becoming a parent. But it's still hard, and it's still a loss. And when it feels like everyone around you is drifting away, it's hard work to keep your own emotions about it in check and respect that you have no control over it. Because every baby means a new journey for that family, but it's also the end of wine-bottling weekends, the yearly shore trip, midnight movie premieres, drives to nowhere, and board-game nights on a whim and 20 minutes notice.

      Another hard aspect of it is that all of a sudden my worth as a friend become directly proportional to how much I'm worth to the child. "I can't wait for you to teach her all about theatre! I can't wait for you to take him to his first broadway show!" I don't find spending time around kids rewarding… it's terrifying and exhausting. But I'll do it to see my friends. But I hate my perceived value being tied to it. Sometimes, I don't want to be the quirky childfree Auntie… sometimes I want to just be a friend.

      There's no right or wrong here… on any side. Just a lot of loss.

      12 agree
      • This! I'm also not interested in being the quirky childfree auntie role. I struggle with it even with my nephew and nieces. I just want to be a friend. I recognize that the nature and expectations of the friendship have to change and that is ok. I can accept going out with my friends less often, plans cancelling last minute if the kid is sick, hanging out at my best friend's house so she doesn't need to get a babysitter rather than going out for a night on the town. But I don't appreciate the expectation that I'm going to take on this totally different role of quirky childfree auntie when that just isn't who I am and has never been me.

        9 agree
    • Sometimes friends drift apart! You can lose friends to any sort of intense lifestyle or hobby, and it seems like parenting is the most intensive 24 hr a day "lifestyle." People tend to talk about what is taking over their lives.
      But… it's possible to stay friends with a few adjustments in my experience. For example, the person immersed in the NEW THING has to be able to self-regulate. Eventually you get to a point where they can share specific stories and anecdotes about the NEW THING that interest their friend. And that friend can ask questions like "What makes it special to YOU?" or "What is your favorite part about x?"

      Another way to stay friends is through compartmentalization. You will have your movie friend, your hobby friend, your shopping friend, whatever. Create ways to hang out based on a specific common interest that goes way back and reminds you both of why you are friends in the first place!

      Just some suggestions… I hope they are encouraging.

  7. Thank you! I love being part of my best friend's kids' lives. I know my bestie appreciates me the way you appreciate your child-free friends. I think that's a win-win-win, for mom, friend, and kids. So much love and experiences you wouldn't otherwise have.

    1 agrees
  8. My husband and I are dealing with infertility, and I've found my childfree friends to be the most supportive and refreshing. When facing infertility there's a possibility that none of the treatments will work, and the choice to pursue adoption is not as simple as people often think, so being around people who WANTED to be childfree, and are incredibly fulfilled in life is extremely helpful. One of them, who get's the question of "when are you having kids" then all the bullshit arguments following on a highly frequent basis, has started educating people on the fact that a decently high percentage of people who you ask that too, is childfree willingly, and how getting asked those kinds of questions is incredibly heartbreaking. Makes me emotional typing that, since she's doing that for me, and others in my situation. I can't have those conversations, since it's such an emotional subject for me, so she's my warrior.

    Besides, before all of the emotional aspects of infertility were in my life (the ignorantly-blissful years, as I think of them), I always respected the choice not to have children. Many people want to do different things with their lives, and children aren't necessarily part of it. And all those bullshit reasons people throw at the childfree, are fucking AWFUL to the childless. The thought that you will never know true happiness, have no one to take care of you when you're older, and never be a family with your life partner are FUCKING DEVASTATING to someone dealing with infertility. So let's start respecting people's choices in life and stop perpetuating untrue ideas that hurt both childless and childfree.

    10 agree
    • Your second paragraph – SO true. I think infertility is really misunderstood by a lot of people and we definitely don't realize how commonplace it is. I'm so glad you've had the support of some rad childfree friends to share that journey with. <3

      2 agree
  9. This is so encouraging to read. As a married woman who is childfree by choice, I don't always know how to be with friends who have kids. I have one friend with a toddler who is always talking about how obsessed she is with her daughter, how her daughter is her whole world, and the few times we did hang out it was non-stop talk about car seats and diapers and her daughter's cute mannerisms, which I totally get. I'm sure the vast majority of parents' lives revolve around their children. And I'm happy to have those conversations as best I can as a person with basic human knowledge about babies and children, but after a while I just can't relate at all and feel a bit uncomfortable. This same friend also wrote a blog post saying how incredibly RUDE it was for some of her childfree friends to stop asking her to hang out after she had her baby. Which again, I can understand to some extent. But this woman also constantly says things that are borderline offensive to the childfree like "my life didn't have meaning before my daughter" or "you don't know real love until you have a child" or "I can't even remember what life was like before my daughter, I don't know what I was even doing with my life!" So I was kind of taken aback by her anger. I'm not going to assume all parents are the same way, and in the future I will continue to reach out to my friends when they have kids, both to do things with their kids, and occasionally without their kids if it's possible for the parent. Your post highlights how important it is to bridge the gap between parents and the childfree, and how both sides maybe need to step out of their comfort zone and compromise in order to do that.

    6 agree
    • Wow, it appears your friend needs some perspective. Obsessed is right! Good for you for trying to be supportive; it sounds like it's tough for you and this woman's other friends. Good luck.

      2 agree
  10. Thank you. Just thank you. I'm married and 36 and I've been being asked when I'm planning to have children since I was 25. I love spending time with the kids of my friends. I wish I had more opportunity to do so. It can be really difficult to feel like the only one without children when everyone else has them or is going to have them. I won't be having children as I had intended. I desperately there was something between childless and child free. I am without children by circumstance. There isn't a word for that, and it can get a bit lonely out here. So thank you to all those who see us. We so appreciate not being invisible.

    1 agrees
  11. What I'd like to know is if dads feel the same way. As someone who befriends men much more easily than women, I struggle because a lot of men I meet tend to change more drastically after becoming parents and seem to significantly reduce (if not outright eliminate) all contact with other women once they become parents. This has made finding new friends more of a challenge than anything I've encountered (especially since I'm living in an area that strictly defines family as a group with children while excluding married couples without kids).

    1 agrees
    • Interesting question. I think it depends on the dad. I have to admit, in my experience dads seem to be able to keep a bit more of their independence than mums. That doesn't mean the men are bad parents or the women are clingy and over-protective, it just seems it's easier for the dads to go off and do something with their friends, whereas if the mums ever meet up with friends they come with the child attached.

      But admittedly more of my friends with children are women (as in the woman is my primary friend, even if I'm friends with both parents) so maybe I notice it more. Also the dads I'm friends with have less child-friendly hobbies (like martial arts or going to the pub) where I can see them without kids around.

      And obviously all that is assuming there are two parents you can compare to each other. A single parent likely has less freedom and independence regardless of gender.

    • I too would love to see a post about or from a father about what it's like to be friends with childfree women (whether those women are single or partnered). I think there may be different concerns, and I'm curious about them.

      1 agrees
  12. I'm late to the party, but this post was lovely. I'm really not in the lives of my friends with kids, but a lot of that has to do with living in different cities and such. What I like about this post is that it reminds me that my friends who are mothers are just as confused as I am about what our friendship is all about and also (in some cases) their own identities.

  13. I loved this! It made me wish I lived nearer to my friends who have children.

    Also, where did you get that adorable beaver backpack?!?

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