Maintaining friendships without losing yourself in Mommyland

May 14 | Guest post by Katie DePasquale
By: Dmitry BoyarinCC BY 2.0
I recently spent a night out with some of my girlfriends that consisted of pizza followed by some quality time at a coffee shop where you can also play pool. (This isn't as strange as it may sound, given where I live.) These are friends I've had for ten years, give or take, and despite our busy lives and the fact that two of the six of us now have kids, we try to hang out every few months.

There were some complications to planning this outing, however, because I am 7.5 months pregnant and feeling both tired and whale-like. When we started our email conversation about possible activities, I had to shoot a bunch
of stuff down because I physically cannot do it right now (i.e., roller skating, going to an hour-long standing-room-only play, hanging out at a bar where I would be super jealous of everyone else's delicious stiff drinks).

Amidst all of the discussion, I started to feel a bit irritated that most of them didn't seem to understand the limitations of late pregnancy. And then I took a step back and realized that a few short years ago, I was the one who didn't understand. I remembered that what I should focus on was the fact that they wanted to include me enough that, in the end, they had me pick the activity so I'd have fun and be comfortable, too.

This got me thinking about the nature of my female friendships and how most of them have changed since the spawning has begun (or not, as the case may be). I find that I can now divide my friends into two categories: mom friends and mom's friends. I have just a small handful of friends who fit into both categories — that is, they were mom's friends before becoming mom friends — but for the most part, my friends are one or the other.

It's not that what I'm looking for in a friend has changed, but once you add a kid to the mix, it's basically like inventing a second (or third, fourth, etc.) personality to contend with in the relationship. A similar sense of humor is still as important for mom friends as for mom's friends, but the ability to go with the flow is a vital addition to the friendship equation these days.

I will admit to being a bit close-minded about the cultivation of mom friends initially, which I think is really due to the fact that transitioning into motherhood was quite difficult for me. What I've come to realize is that both kinds of friends are crucial. The fact is that both pregnancy and raising a kid are things that can't be fully understood until you're in the situation itself. In the same way that I used to call one particular friend for dating advice and another friend for career advice, I need to have one friend I can talk to about freelancing as a mom and another I can call for advice on kids' crafting projects. Contrary to what I thought when my son was born, it does matter that you have some friends with kids, because no matter how well-meaning and understanding your childfree friends are, there are some things they just aren't going to get on a gut level because they haven't been there. This isn't a dig at those friends — it's just reality.

However, those awesome friends? I need them now more than ever. They are one of the tangible links to my life as me, just me, before my big picture included a kid or a house or a spouse, or even a job in some cases. Our shared memories remind me of who I still am beneath all of these crazy adult responsibilities I've taken on. And these women will be around when my kids are grown and gone, and we'll be planning our retirements together.

I'm not saying that I've remained close with everyone I was friends with pre-baby. A few of them were not as interested in sticking around as others, but I've been lucky enough to keep most of them. I think that in general, keeping mom's friends who were really friends to begin with is not that complicated. It basically boils down to not talking about baby poop all the time. I know that I'm possibly in the minority in that I find baby poop simultaneously boring and disgusting, but really, if I don't want to discuss it, I can't expect my childfree friends to care.

This sums up my approach to hanging on to these friends: don't make everything about your kid. Make time to see them without the kid in tow, and make sure you talk about things other than your kid. That being said, I'm not interested in maintaining a friendship with someone who visibly checks out of the conversation if I take fifteen minutes to tell her what's happening in my three-year-old's life. His life may be filled with smaller things, but it's still important.

I've had more trouble connecting with mom friends, but what I've found is that if I can imagine being friends with the woman (not necessarily BFFs, but better than acquaintances) without having kids, I'm happy being mom friends. This assumes a couple of things: one of which is that we talk about things other than our kids sometimes, and the other is that we have compatible enough parenting styles that I'm not horrified by how she relates to her kids.

My other big realization, which I know goes against some of the advice floating around out there, is that you should not treat finding mom friends like you treat(ed) dating. I understand why people say that (nerves, how to find each other, how to approach without seeming needy), but honestly, I believe that is over-thinking it. It gives too much importance to the innocuous act of setting up a play date. And if you take it that seriously, it's hard not to be offended if your hang-out time gets repeatedly canceled because someone's kid gets the flu and then she gets sick and then her baby gets sick and you don't get to see each other for two months (yes, this has happened to me). If a date had ever done that, it would've been the end; if a mom friend does it, I shrug it off and we try again later.

Doing these things has allowed me to slowly build up a network of mom friends I truly like and relate to. And while I recognize that I will likely not be friends with all of these women twenty years down the line, that's okay. We can still have fun together with our kids now, and there is nothing wrong with that. And if ever a day comes when I do need to talk about baby poop, they will be ready to hear it when I call.

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  1. Thank you for this, I am 14 weeks pregnant and my only local girlfriend is moving away with her fiancee and my friend of 10 years, one of the reasons is because she has known me and my husband want to start a family and she doesn't want children and repeatedly tells me how much she hates them and babies. She has got a new job and is moving away in a month. I've found this increasingly hard to deal with as her attitude hurts me a bit, but I'm trying really hard to understand her point of view as I desperately want to maintain our friendship when she moves away, but I can't help but feel there's a wedge between us and I fear as my pregnancy progresses it will get worse.

    So it was heartening to read this about mom friends as I can't imagine making friends with new people, but your post made me realise I need to re-evaluate this view!

    • Sorry to hear your friend is reacting that way! I hope she comes around in the end, but if not, she is not worth hanging on to. You will definitely find other people, both with and without kids, who are able to be happy for you about your growing family, and you deserve that.

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  2. Well said. My one friend and I were the first to become moms (10 days apart) and I'm not definitely closer to her than my non-mom friends. While I get that you can't fully grasp parenthood until you experience it, some just seem clueless or don't make an effort. I hosted a recent gathering at my place so we could hang after the LO was asleep, but no one seemed to get the concept of a bedtime routine or that hanging out in the basement lime I repeatedly requested might be helpful. I think all types of friendships change over time and you just need to be understanding with those that don't understand.

  3. I agree with so much of what you have to say here. I just want to add that some of the people who started as "mom friends" have really evolved into close friends that I hope to still be friends with in 20 years. Instead of thinking of them as people I'm friends with because my kid likes their kid, I try to reframe it as people who I was lucky enough to meet because my kid liked their kid, and now I get to be friends with this awesome person.

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  4. Thank you for posting this. I know I will have a hard time with this but I really want to make sure that I don't lose my best friend that doesn't have kids. I need her to be normal so I can be normal and a woman and a friend, not just a mom.

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  5. I'm a currently childless woman (by choice); at the moment, it looks like my husband and I are not going to have children (we've both been on the fence, leaning toward no, and that hasn't changed over the years).

    I loved reading this, but it made me sad, too. Whenever I hear that a friend is pregnant, my initial quick shot of "Yay! Happiness!" is immediately followed by sadness and, yes, resentment. I've yet to have a friend have a baby and maintain good friendships with childless friends.

    I'm still friends with all of my friends-with-kids… but I'm getting worn out by the insistence that the kid be a part of all our activities, that we hang out at friend-with-kids' house and spend our time watching the kid be adorable. Man, I wish I could, with my friends, play a boardgame, talk without interruption, or eat a meal without having ketchup thrown at me.

    I don't know what it's like to be a parent, but it pains me that people seem to disappear into that role. I miss my people!

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    • This comment really resounds with me! My son is 16 months and I don't have much help with childcare, so I tend to have to bring him with me to gatherings on evenings and weekends. And I KNOW that he is irritating to my friends (all of whom are childless), I am agonisingly aware of that, so I feel really bad and tend not to go out at all. So I am hardly seeing my friends anymore and am losing contact with them!
      I do meet friends at lunch, if they work close enough to where I work, but that's only a couple of them. I think I just have to accept that my life has to be about this child, for a while, and I have to give up stuff.

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    • I can imagine that is frustrating, Victoria. Just remember, your friends also miss being able to play a boardgame, talk without interruption (oh, that would be heavenly!), and eat without ketchup being thrown at them. It's not that they _like_ those things, it's that it's a reality. To go out without a kid is ex-pens-ive. Even if your friends have babysitting available, they might not want to spend their hard earned dollars to just "hang out." Think about it – how many of your friends would you want to drop an extra $70 with just to chill?

      The fact is, children are their new reality. It's like saying "I wish that my recently disabled friend in a wheelchair could go skiing with me. It was our thing and I really miss it." Major changes mean that friendships have to evolve; or they don't and the friendship ends. The good news is that, unlike becoming disabled, this phase in your friend's lives is fairly temporary. You can either wait it out or not.

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      • I agree re: the expense! That can be a huge complication, and is always a factor.

        But that being said, I do know people who disappear into the parent role and never seem to emerge. If you are always expected to show up and hang with your friends' kid(s), honestly I think that is not fair to you. Maybe some of those friendships are not worth preserving while you wait out this phase.

        I do think though that the friends you stick around for will really appreciate your efforts and be ready to get back to a more typical state of things as soon as possible.

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      • Hi I get that there is a comparison between used for an example but it's important not to rule out skiing for people who use a wheelchair, it's called a sit ski and can be heaps of fun. Just don't want people to get carried away about assumptions of what disabled people can or can't do, bit simliar to this overall discussion about being a parent really, best to have the conversation first than make the assumptions.

    • Victoria, thank you so much for your post. You have made me very grateful for my child-free friends.

      My son never really took a bottle and I take him everywhere with me because I have to feed him. It's hard for me, too, but I manage.

      I have a few close friends who are childfree by choice. They have come over to my house to play board-games or watch movies and sat through the occasional interruptions. Because they know I still want to play and hang out, even though it means I may have to stop for a few minutes every once in awhile. And, because they love me, they still want to see me even if I have to stop to latch on a crying child every once in awhile. They said, hey, don't worry, I can wait for a minute to be with you.

      My son fussed through a key scene in a movie once and my friend said, hey, no big deal, we'll just rewind it.

      They've gossiped about their lives and let me live vicariously through them, over coffee or a drink during the afternoon because evenings are hard for me for awhile. They said, hey, don't worry about it, this stage won't last forever.

      I had a very good friend who is a 'toxic bachelor' and we have a shared interest in scotch. We were planning an event and he said, "Ugh, don't invite that person, she'll want to invite her kids." I was devastated because I had just found out I was pregnant, and saw the end of a very treasured friendship, and there was nothing I could do.

      Well, you know what? That friend surprised me. He has made the effort to stay my friend. I came to meetings of my scotch tasting club (he and I are members) while pregnant and sniffed the scotch. Then, when I had a newborn, I thought my monthly social evenings with my club would be done. But they said, hey, we love having you in the group. Let's meet at your place for a few months. All these bachelor gentlemen patiently waited as I latched my baby on to my boob, and pontificated over the peatiness of in the scotch we were tasting over baby gurgling sounds. Now that my baby is older and more social, he still comes to tastings (which are no longer at my place) and hangs out on my lap as we take notes. When he is tired, I put him to sleep in my friends' beds and continue the party.

      My baby puked on this friend once, and he said, hey, no big deal, I'll just put the shirt in the laundry. And so we kept going with our Godfather marathon.

      I loved going to bars but now sometimes me and my baby get kicked out. I was so sad that I couldn't go out and party anymore, but the next outing we planned, my friends planned it at a bar/restaurant whose liquor license allows babies. I was so touched. So my son slept in his carseat in the corner of the bar and I partied on with my friends until about 3 AM.

      Going out and staying in touch with my friends has been so easy. But they've made it easy for me. And as a new mom, I'm just so grateful and I know the friends I have are forever friends.

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    • I appreciate all the responses to my comment. You've made me think!

      Jane, I especially appreciate your point likening the situation to a friendship in which one person became disabled (and unable to continue activities the friends did together). That took me aback, which was good . My initial thinking in response: There are some friendships that are grounded in activities (more superficial friendships, based on shared interests, etc.) and others that are grounded in deep relationship. That helps to clarify my thinking regarding friends with kids who "disappear." Which kind of friends are they? Thank you!

      Your reminder about the cost of childcare was also helpful. That's easy to forget (and I've definitely found myself, exasperated, thinking something along the lines of "Is it THAT HARD to leave the kid home occasionally? Sheesh!" – obviously, yes, it IS that hard).

      … but: Of course parents wish they could talk to other adults without interruption, eat a meal without dodging condiments, and play games or read or whatever. I cannot imagine how much that must wear parents down. As you said, that's their new reality. But it's something they chose, not something I chose. I think it's incumbent on all sides of a friendship to be generous with each other.

      I try to live generously with my friends with kids: I babysit (without pay, because duh, I'm not taking money from my friends), I peacefully wait through interruptions, I derail kidlets from sending their parents over the edge with walks around the restaurant (or whatever), I continue to come over and watch movies/play games/whatever. I do all of that. But I still miss my friends, because our relationship isn't the same – and yes, in many ways, it is diminished – and I wish they would do more to stay in relationship with me.

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      • I'm glad that you were able to hear my comments in the manner that they were intended. I completely agree with your point that both sides must remain invested in a friendship for it to work, and that can be especially difficult when one person has a major life change and the other doesn't.

        I also think that we would all be better off if we didn't think of having children as a "choice." While yes, we can control it on some level, I think on another level the decision to have children (or not) is deeply a part of who we are. I think of it on a kinsey scale – some people are 1s – passionately, desperately want to have children, some people are 6s – wouldn't have children if you paid them a million dollars, and some people are in the middle. But saying that they made the "choice" to do all of the crap that comes with having children is a little like saying that people who "chose" to be gay should just deal with the crap that often entails. I think if you think of how desperately people try to have children, or how earth-shattering infertility can be, it becomes easier to see that the "choice" to have children isn't like other major life choices.

        That isn't to minimize at all the fact that you are experiencing a real loss – when friendships change, it hurts. I try very hard not to minimize the life choices of my child-free friends, and to be accommodating of the ways that their lives are different from mine, but not less than mine. We all need to live our lives in ways that are best for us and those around us. I just think it's sometimes helpful to see that while my children are a fundamental part of who I am, I didn't exactly consciously sign on for the endless treadmill that is actually parenting.

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        • You make an interesting point; but I would ultimately disagree with it. My parents, for example, always wanted many children (in a way that could be applied to your Kinsey scale example). But after 2, they realized they did not have the money or time to support more, and so chose to stop procreating. I feel like this kind of attitude, that we're "compelled" to have children and don't have control over whether we fulfill that urge, is what leads people to have children long before they are emotionally and financially capable of taking care of them.

          I will give you that most people probably truly don't realize the extent of the "treadmill," as you brilliantly call it, until after children are born. That's probably something that takes everyone by surprise (everyone says, I knew it would be a lot but I didn't REALLY know until…). But regardless, if someone failed to thoroughly think through their decision to have children and then holds their child-free friends to unrealistic standards and expectations because of that, I think that person should be asked to recognize that this is a situation they ultimately created for themselves.

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          • I think that a more appropriate analogy might be that of getting a job you wanted, but which turns out to be more demanding than you thought, and then being dumped on whenever you complain that you have to work overtime or weekends that "well, you chose to get the job!" That's true, but you don't get to dictate the circumstances of your job; you just get to try to negotiate them gracefully and graciously.

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    • Yeah, I have some very close mama friends. They already had kids when I met them, so I didn't experience a "loss" from a previous dynamic. I play with the kids, babysit, stick through the crying and screaming and fighting etc., and in the same vein, my mama friends are sure to set the kids up on some other activity (so they will mostly leave us alone) and talk to me about everything under the sun, with the kids being a pretty minor topic. They are great friends. The only problem for me is that it almost always has to be at their houses, on their terms. It wears me out as a friend to always be in someone else's life and not ever have them in my life. Yet, they are doing the absolute best they can to be my friend. When I realized this, I just had to start spending some of that time developing other friendships, to find people who could come to my house, go hiking, etc. I think it is like moms needing to find mom friends–I just had to find some other child-free friends to fulfill those needs. It's no one's fault, and it's your responsibility to take care of your own needs.

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  6. Oh thank you for offering this perspective!! I'm due in early August with our first child and while I've developed many great Mom relationships since I became pregnant, the realtionships with my friends without kids have suffered. We are active-duty USAF in Guam, share one vehicle, and live quite a ways from both military bases… So my entire pregnancy has been spent at home. While I feel very lucky to have this time and ability to enjoy my growing daughter, my friendships have suffered because Activities require so much planning and understanding on their part due to my fatigue, back pain, my husband's work schedule, etc. I've felt so helpless in this and wished so many times I could make my childless friends understand, but I understand that they don't and hope that one day when it is their turn, they'll realize where I was coming from. thank you again for this, I'll be sharing the link so maybe more will gain this understanding.

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  7. It is amazing how things change! I have an almost 10 month old and we just had a catch up with our childless friends on the weekend and I was just thinking about how I felt like the odd one out, listening to stories of all the things they have been doing like going to a show and out for lunch and off on adventures on bikes for a whole day! I'm not jelouse although it sounds fantastic but I actually love being with my family, I don't want to miss a minute of my daughter growing up! Having a whole day to do whatever I want is so foreign to me most of the time I just wish to simply take a shower or go to the toilet by myself (yes it really is that hard). Before my daughter was born I was just like everyone else, I thought I knew how hard it was going to be, I thought I was really thoughtful and supportive of my friends that already had children and I thought I knew how to bring my child its easy just say no right? it really is true that you just don't know until the baby arrives. And now it really is two worlds family and your baby and your friends. At this particular dinner there was another table with a family with children who were making a lot of noise and playing, my friend turned to me and complained about them, and I was sitting there thinking it was so nice to hear happy children playing. It is deffinately hard and having a 10 month old means she's not really at an age where we want her to be looked after so for now she is our shaddow :0) also if there are childless friends wondering why thier friends can't come out and spend some adult time with them, when they do finally do get child free time they are probably…. sleeping :0)m

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  8. It seems to me that similar things happen because of other life changes. Having a child is extreme. Everything changes super, duper fast and it's relentless. If you're a single parent or with a "reluctant partner," or if your child has certain needs or is in a phase where he/she really needs you, you cannot run off for coffee or a movie. It's really hard to get across until you've been there.

    But I've had friends go through similar things without children involved. Writing their dissertations, recording an album, going on tour, writing a book, starting a new business, becoming a chef at an important restaurant. Sometimes I got petulant. I think the main thing is communication: "You're important to me, I love you, and yet I've made this life choice. Now that I am a mom, I realize how hard this is going to be on my friends. I hope you'll be patient with me and that if our friendship doesn't stay active while Junior is still little, we keep the door open for re-igniting it later on." Something like that? Would that help people be patient and not take it personally that a primary parent (mom, dad, or other) suddenly can't act free?

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    • That's a really interesting point. Sometimes life just gets in the way. I have a friend with chronic illness and sometimes she will just vanish for months to care for herself. So I made a conscious effort not to get annoyed if she cancelled plans at the last minute because that is her reality. Recently she gave me a thank you note saying how much she appreciates that. I guess we just all have to respect each other's different life situations and realize that we can't always know the extent of what someone else is going through.

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