I'm a childless lady in her mid-thirties, yet since most of my best friends have children, I'm with little kids a whole bunch. I do love the kiddos, but they're part of a world that doesn't feel like my own. I don’t plan on having kids (and I’m not alone in this decision), and I sometimes worry that line I'm drawing in the sand will put an ocean between me and my friends, who are like my family and are also parents. Will we end up with too few things in common? Will the lifestyle choices force us to grow apart?
Not necessarily, say experts, who have tips for maintaining friendships when not everyone's a parent.
Shifting priorities don't ruin friendships—lack of communication does
If you and your friend(s) with kids had a rock-solid foundation before babies came into the picture, there’s a really good chance you’ll stay close. But like with any good relationship, you have to channel your inner Tim Gunn and make it work. “When there's a will, there's a way. With a little love and some direct communication, it's totally possible to carry our friendships with us through different phases of our lives,” says psychotherapist Rena Staub Fisher, LCSW. This life-phase disparity supports a lifestyle gap that can make everyone involved feel misunderstood and judged. "As children become parents' biggest priority, non-parents often feel sidelined and forgotten," she adds.
Everyone's feelings here are valid, especially since no matter how great your intentions may be, no one can understand what's going on quite like another mom or dad, leading parents to want to spend time with other parents. "It is certainly true that young parents tend to more naturally gravitate toward other parents who are sharing similar experiences,” says therapist Gary Brown, PhD. “Sometimes it is difficult to maintain friendships because you don't share the same life experiences."
"You may no longer be on the very same path, but that doesn't mean you cannot make a point to meet up on your own separate paths. It's all about finding some kind of balance of offering support and sharing on both sides.” —psychotherapist Sara Ouimette, LMFT
That said, a certain dose of "opposites attract" is also at play. “You might have opposite struggles and envy what the other has [or doesn’t have],” says psychotherapist Sara Ouimette, LMFT. “You may no longer be on the very same path, but that doesn't mean you cannot make a point to meet up on your own separate paths. It's all about finding some kind of balance of offering support and sharing on both sides.” Those different paths can converge by doing things you both want to do and that work for both of your schedules. (As much as you might want her to binge-watch Vanderpump Rules at the same speed as you, a fussy newborn baby or a tot who needs to get to T-ball practice may preclude that from happening.)
When you want to see your friend, make time to go for a walk with her and her kid(s) at the park one afternoon so you can all enjoy time together. Or meet at a favorite coffee shop or take a spin class together—anything that feels good for both of you. “I have found the best situations with friends to be when they both spend time with the kids, but also have some time to go to a movie, grab a drink, or have a night out with other friends as well,” Dr. Brown says.
Remember: Just because someone becomes a parent doesn’t mean they still don’t care about the things they loved pre-baby. “The things that brought you together in the first place are likely still there to be enjoyed,” Ouimette says.
Okay, but what if you don't even like babies?
Even though I don’t want children of my own, I happen to love kids. So hanging out with my friends and their super-adorable offspring isn't an imposition to me. The same might not necessarily be true for everyone, which can make the situation stickier than a kid holding a popsicle. “If you truly are not a ‘kid person,’ it is likely that your lack of interest in children will come across and your friend who has children will probably be able to pick up on that,” says Dr. Brown.
To avoid any awkwardness and be true to your pal, you’ve got to be honest with yourself. “Start by recognizing that your friend's kids are likely the most important people in their lives at this point, whether you like it or not,” Fisher says. “It’s still important to communicate directly with your parent friend about your desire to keep up your friendship with them. Share with them how much they mean to you and ask them what kind of hangout would be compatible with their new life as a parent." Even though you may not be first in line to babysit, your recognition of their new life phase communicates your support, which alone is sure to mean a lot to your friend.
Bottom line: It’s all about that bond
Friendships change with age, regardless of kids being in the picture or not. The question we have to ask ourselves, Dr. Brown says, is my whether the friendship is important enough to draw in extra effort on your part. “The answer to that may change over time, and there may be ebbs and flows. But the strength of the bond prior to children will likely be a fairly good indicator," he says.
Ouimette circles back and reemphasizes the importance of communication. "Each party needs to listen and empathize with the other person's experience, she says. "Changes in life can mean changes in friendships, but it doesn't have to be then end; it can be the beginning of a whole new beautiful chapter.”
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