The Great Divide: How Friendships Change After Kids
I'll never forget visiting my friend Susan after her eldest was born. She was the first of my friends to have a child. Her apartment was a mess. There were rattles, blocks, and binkies everywhere, and this weird crustiness on the kitchen table. The sofa had a sheet over it and Susan's blouse was stained. As I tried to spill my guts about my most recent hypochondriacal escapade, I kept getting interrupted -- by a crying baby, a spilled bottle, a smelly diaper -- right when I got to the part about the results of the unnecessary biopsy.
At the time, I thought, "What happened to Ms. Perfect with the immaculate apartment? I'm never going to let my apartment get like this. And what happened to my friend, the good listener? When I have kids, I'm going to be so much different than her."
Well, you can guess the outcome of those thoughts.
People without kids just don't get it. I know. I was one of them. It's like being war buddies -- you can't relate unless you've been there. The exhaustion, the ruined dinner plans, the public tantrums, the money, I mean the no money … But then there's the unconditional love -- that no matter what I do or say, they still adore me -- and the hope that they will grow up and pluck out my chin hairs while I'm drooling at the Hebrew Home for the Aged.
I hate it when my friends who have no kids tell me how tired and stressed they are. Stressed? Try fielding calls from the school nurse's office while you're in the middle of an important audition. (I'm not being mean; my older son can be a bit of a hypochondriac. I have no idea where he gets that.) Admittedly, sometimes my friends and I play this game called, "What would we be doing right now if we didn't have kids?" The game is most depressing on Sundays. I mean Saturday mornings, no wait, Friday nights.
Here's the twist, though: Having kids has actually improved my social circle. Some of my best friends now are parents I met at day care, Hebrew school, soccer, or the playground. We hang out while the kids are in the other room destroying everything. We commiserate about all sorts of parenting issues, teachers, other parents, and of course, our kids. It's nice having friends who get it.
Type 1: "I love kids and I'm really close to my nieces and nephews." These are people who act like they love kids, but actually want nothing to do with them. Here's a message left on my answering machine the other night: "Hey Judy! We're having an impromptu dinner party followed by a game of Texas hold 'em. We really want you and Elysa to come. No kids."
Okay, first of all, there is no "impromptu" when you have kids. Do they think I'm living in The Courtship of Eddie's Father and I have someone at my beck and call ready to take the kids whenever I want to do something? And do they honestly think I need to be told, "No kids"? So, wait, we're going to eat dinner, drink alcohol, and gamble, and you don't want my kids there? Why not? That would be so much fun for everyone.
Type 2: "Let me see pictures of your kids and I'll show you pictures of my 'baby.'" I don't want to see pictures of your stupid pet. Okay? They all look the same. Beagles look like other beagles. Calicos look like other calicos. It's hard enough acting interested in pictures of other human beings, let alone your labradoodle. Kids are not lazy pets that take three years to housetrain. Do you think I leave a bowl of water and some food out for my kids and then go for a jog? I love animals, but they are not children.
Type 3: "Anytime you need help with the kids, let me know and I'll be sure to be busy." I have a lot of friends without kids. This is probably I have a lot of friends without kids. This is probably because I live in New York City and I happen to be gay. (I don't know if you've heard, but it takes a lot more work to have kids when you're gay.) I am lucky enough to have friends who can help out in a pinch, but the majority of them don't really want to, even though they "volunteer."
"Oh, what time do you need me to watch him? Crap. I have a spin class and then Bikram yoga. Could you possibly change your Pap smear appointment (or your parent-teacher conference or divorce hearing or mammogram or your tickets to Oprah) for a little bit later in the afternoon?"
Type 4: "Let's split the check, but do you want to take care of the tip since Ben ordered a kid's meal? This really needs no explanation except get this person out of your life immediately. I hate cheap people.
Type 5: "I don't have kids. Can I pretend that yours are mine?" These people mean well but can be a bit overbearing. Look, they definitely come in handy when you're in need of a break, but sometimes it can get a bit creepy. For example, when they say things like, "We had a wonderful time. He was so well behaved. He wanted grape juice, but I had just read an article about the sugar content in fruit juice and how it affects children, and with his tendency to not pay attention to what people are saying, I thought it would be best to keep him calm and focused."
What tendency to not pay attention? Maybe it's because a Gregorian chant concert isn't the most engaging thing for a 6-year-old boy! If he shouldn't drink something, I would've told you. It's not like he asked for a triple short mocha cappuccino. Calm the heck down. Oh, and thanks for taking him today.
So here it is in a nutshell: Yes, we can still have great friendships and good times after we become parents. And it's okay that some of our friends choose not to have kids. The truth is, parenting is the hardest job in the world, and having the hardest job definitely changes a person. So, if you think it's your friends that are different after you have kids, think again. They are as selfish and self-centered as you used to be. And come on, you can't deny that even with the stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and poverty, we parents have a pretty good deal. Could you imagine your life without someone calling you Mommy or looking to see where you are at a soccer game or needing that special hug that only you can provide? Did you have any clue how much love you had in your heart before you had kids? Admit it. You may be poor and tired, but you've got some nice, new, exhausted friends to hang out with.