I never wanted to be that friend. I don’t think any of us do, but we cool moms, we STFU Parents–reading moms, we self-proclaimed bad moms, we really didn’t want to be that friend.
You know that friend, especially if you’re child-free. Once she has children, she becomes thoughtless and boring and self-segregating and even smug. But I’m not like that, I told myself after I had my first child. I’ll never be like that. I worked hard to make time for my friends once I brought my son home from the hospital, tried to be the same person I used to be, and talked about motherhood like it was some gum I had accidentally stepped in. It felt like a badge of honor to hear a child-free friend say, “It’s disappointing how many of my friends fall off the planet once they have kids — but not you.”
But it’s happening. No, scratch that. It’s happened. I have two kids and work from my house in the suburbs. I can’t pretend anymore that I didn’t run face-first into family life. But it’s not about the size of my brood or that I prize my finished basement the way I used to prize my ability to do my own nail art. What has changed is how little I fight anymore against being labeled that friend.
I think some child-free people misunderstand why their new-mom friends ghost for a while. While there are certainly the odious sanctimommies among us who brag about how much more fulfilled they are, how much more they get done per day, how much more important their very lives are once they’ve replicated, the reality is that most of us are just simply tapped. That’s why we’re not the good friends we once were.
One evening over the summer my husband and I sat with our legs in the sprinkler, drinking cocktails when our 4-year-old called from the swing, “Can someone come push me?”
“Just a second,” we said. “Just hang on.”
We hoped he would go find a more self-sufficient form of entertainment. because we were too tired to get up and walk ten feet over and make a minimal motion with our arms. I felt like I had suddenly become a character from a greeting card: the hilariously exhausted mom.
Tiredness, and not pity or a lack of commonality, is probably the main reason most of your friends with little kids can’t hang out or FaceTime at night. Many of us have to wait until we are owed a favor by our spouses to go out before the children are packed away for the evening. You’d think it would be easy to go out, entertain, or, say, have a conversation after the children go to bed, but that involves a lot of action and decision-making (what to wear? should I drive and abstain or Uber and party? do I need some emergency caffeine?) at exactly the moment when we usually deflate and turn off.
At least once a week my husband and I are too tired to even socialize with each other once our boys are in bed and the dishes have been put away. He plays a video game and I watch TV or read and we cherish the time that comes with the knowledge that another day is under our belts, all obligations have been met, and soon we can go to bed. It’s a difficult time to instead switch gears and start up a whole new engagement with someone. (Weekend naptime is very similar: While technically it is “free” time, parents of little kids may resent having to use it for anything but some variation of fooling around on the internet while the TV is on.)
Then there is your suspicion, dear child-free friend, that your new-mom friend is spending more time talking with her other mom friends than she is with you. And you are probably right. But we are not saying things like “Don’t you feel sorry for poor Jane, so sad and alone?” or “My DH said the funniest thing last night while he was rubbing my feet and my DD was working happily on a craft!!” No, the reason we retreat into our mother-covens is because what’s on our minds is so banal, petty, or disgusting that we feel ashamed to discuss it with anyone who isn’t in the same boat.
Here are some of the topics we’ve discussed in one Facebook group I belong to: “Dropoff children’s birthday parties: what’s up with them?” “I was mad at my husband so I punished him by only putting one piece of cheddar on his grilled cheese instead of two.“ “I just blew my nose with my daughter’s sock.” We all have degrees and ambitions and yet a big part of our lives has been reduced to topics such as this.
We used to do cool things like take molly at concerts and go on shoestring trips through Europe and drive across the country to meet a friend who’d we only previously known online. And now we talk about things like how our kid shits too high into the toilet bowl and it needs to be pushed down in order to flush away. It’s easier to talk about this with people we know won’t judge us for our extreme turn into tedium. Plus, with the other moms, we don’t have to worry so much about the shame that comes with complaining. Each gripe comes with an invisible asterisk that reads, “First world problems, obvs.”
It’s possible that as my kids get older and need less constant attention, my relationships will start to look a bit more the way they did pre-children. But until then, I try to look on the bright side. Having kids has forced me to be straightforward about my social abilities — no more of that stereotypical female thing where you’re too scared or passive-aggressive to say what you really want.
“Good luck with your 10 PM show — I will be in bed but I know you will kick ass.”
“No, please do not bring your dog when you stay for a few nights.”
“I cannot come tonight — my kid was home sick all day while I was on deadline and I can’t even face the idea of putting on a proper bra, let alone leaving the house.”
And being honest has shown me that non-moms do get it. A few relationships have indeed crumbled since I had kids, which is normal — not just with children but with time. But I’ve got plenty of child-free friends who not only forgive my newly established lameness, but also encourage my acceptance of my current state. They’ve made me realize that it’s not really a betrayal of myself — or anyone else — to become that friend after all.