How do childless couples deal with parent friends?
My wife and I are now in our early thirties. It was over 3 years ago that we first started talking about adoption, and we asked your opinion. But as you probably guessed, we haven’t proceeded with adopting, fostering or having a child biologically. We’re still a “childless couple”.
Well, we kind of got sucked into our careers. Stacie got a new job last year as an outpatient pediatric dietitian and she’s really into it. Not long after, I left federal contracting and began work in the IT department of an area university. We’ve both finally found jobs that we enjoy, and we’ve also decided to do a lot more with our church such as teaching kids and leading charity projects.
But any of you in your late 20’s/early 30’s know that there’s mainly 2 things happening in this time of our lives:
1. Having kids
2. Getting divorced
Unsurprisingly, we know many friends involved in either of these life events, and sometimes unfortunately in both. Of course, we also still have single friends and single-parent friends, but let’s focus on our “parent friends” for now.
How do we relate to our “parent friends”?
Well, this is an unanswered question for us as well that we’d like some help with. Assuming we’re not having kids anytime soon, how do we relate to our friends who are parents? These friends are from our childhood, college days and even in the last 10 or so years since moving to the D.C. area.
You would think that having friends is the same whether those friends have kids or not, but I’ll admit something changes when something as big as having a child happens in your life. As a parent, your main focus becomes your kid. You begin to find new friends who you can relate to more easily, and those are generally other parents. You talk about kid-raising stuff…your schedule changes to your kid’s schedule…your finances focus on your kid’s needs.
Some parents (rarely brand new parents though) are able to transition into parenthood while still maintaining their own “self”. There’s a balancing act, and some people are better suited to being an adult AND a parent, while others can only handle being a parent and are unable to even contemplate doing things without their kids. We have friends of both types, but I can get into a commentary on this so I’ll leave it for another time.
My Own Experience
Throughout my life, I’ve tended to only have 1-2 really close friends at any one time. I would focus on doing things with these friends and let them invite THEIR friends as “secondary friends”. My two best friends since college are now parents though, and I didn’t really plan on how this change would affect our friendship.
Perhaps my friends aren’t even aware of the change in my perspective and feel like I’m still the same friend. However, here’s the biggest challenge both Stacie and I face when relating to our “parent friends”:
We worry that our concerns, problems or life experiences are now inconveniences to our parent friends.
Think about it from our view please. When you become a parent, your life isn’t put on hold so you can figure out how to raise a child. You go through the same exact things that us “childless couples” go through, but now have one or more dependents to take care of.
Previously, when none of us didn’t have kids, we could complain about things in our life, and get counseled without feeling like our concerns were bothersome to our friends. We were all on “the same playing field”. But now, I know how much time my friends are spending with or on their kids, and how many issues they’re going through in their own lives, so I feel like the concerns of my life are minuscule compared to their concerns. I feel like I’m being a bother or a pain to my parent friends by asking for their help or advice.
For instance, something big happened in our lives over this past year. I alluded to it in an article a few weeks ago, but we’re working through it. I can’t comment on how Stacie is handling it with her friends because that’s for her to tell, but on my part, I basically withheld this problem from my best friends until the last couple weeks because I didn’t want to add yet another concern to their lives. Maybe it’s just me and a stupid way to think of life, but I didn’t want my friends to feel a burden and worry about me during all their other burdens in life.
I dealt with the problem by discussing it with a few of my coworkers (one is a friend of almost 10 years), but they’re both parents as well. However, one is in his 60’s and the other’s kids are pretty independent, so they seemingly have freed up mental and emotional time to listen to my issues and help counsel me. I basically went to my friends who were local because I could speak with them in person (at work) and know that I’m not interrupting their dinner time, play time or bed time with their kids.
But I felt I couldn’t do the same with my long-distance best friends because I would always worry I’m taking away from their few hours of special time they can get with their kids outside of work and other social obligations. I went through about 9 months of personal pain and suffering without telling my best friends because I needed someone daily to help me, and I didn’t want to burden my friends with my neediness.
How do you deal with these situations?
I’d like advice from both parents who have childless friends as well as those in our situation. How do you perceive friendships…and how do you REALLY treat these friendships in real life. It’s easy to comment that you treat your friends the same before and after kids, but I want your honest answer on how you parents feel about hearing from your childless friends. Feel free to answer anonymously because there’s little chance your friends will read this article, much less your comment. Am I being silly with worrying about being a burden on my friends? I don’t want to just hear “that’s what friends are for. If your friends aren’t willing to hear your problems, then they’re not good friends” because this is more about my perception as a childless friend, not on what really might be happening.
Cathy @ Chief Family Officer says
Wow! Speaking as a parent, I hope that my friends who don’t have kids don’t feel that they can’t talk to me! Scheduling is something of a difficulty, I’ll admit, but a quick call or email saying, “Hey, there’s something I want to talk about, I need your advice, what’s a good time for you?” would always get my attention. And I would always make time for a good friend.
When it comes to friends, I think what becoming a parent does is maybe clarify priorities – I ended up losing touch with friends who, at least from my perspective, are more self-absorbed than most people and make bad choices. The kind of people I don’t really want to spend time with anyway. I don’t know you personally, but I’m guessing your friends don’t feel that way about you, so please, don’t cut them out of your life. And if your friends’ kids are super young, know that they will start to have more time for you as the kids get older. Now that mine are 3 and 5, a couple of my girlfriends and I actually schedule a mom’s night out once a month or so. If just so happens that the other women are moms, but it could easily be with childless friends too.
Hope that helps, and good luck!
Actually I appreciate you reminding me that the world does not revolve around me and my family. You are certainly NOT a bother to your friends, especially if you also take the time to listen to their issues.
I think couples with children have the opposite problem– they think they are bothering their childless friends with silly problems about poopy diapers, daycare, the I-made-the-choice-to-have-kids-and-now-I-have-to-live-with-the-consequences kind of things, etc. So it goes both ways. I know you said you didn’t want to hear it, but for true friends it really won’t matter.
I also think the thing I learned as a childless couple that I plan to carry into my life with children is to not let your kids be an excuse for being disrespectful with your friends’ time. I really hate when people show up an hour late for something and blame their kid’s nap, etc. Sure, it’s understandable, but showing up an hour late is never acceptable without a pretty big apology. You were late because you didn’t plan well. It’s not your kid’s fault. Off-topic, but a big thing for me.
we’re DINKS too and we don’t do much with our child bearing friends, because it is all about the kids, whether discussing or them having to control them when they visit. that’s the natural course, i think. we don’t mind the kid factor, but it can’t be the only point, and folks with kids ought to know that just as much as the DINKs need to know that kids are an important part of their parents’ lives.
One of my best friends has chosen a childless life and I have two kids. I’ve never felt that her problems were a burden–it made me feel better that I could be a “sounding board” for her since I KNOW I told her about my struggles. We seem to have plenty to talk about other than kids but she also enjoys hearing what my kids are doing. I will say, however, that when my kids were babies, our friendship was definitely on the back burner. It wasn’t intentional and I think she understood–once they were preschool age things went back to normal. We still talked during that time but it was mostly by email that way I could respond at any time. Of course, now that my kids are teenagers it’s getting hard again. They’re old enough to be super busy but still need someone to drive them around. We still get together but not as often. There are seasons in our life that it works that way but truly good friends always make it through.
As a parent, it sometimes easy to forget that the world doesn’t revolve around our kids.
I’ll admit that I’ve beem pretty lax calling friends — I normally wait for them to call me. However, I’m always willing and able to be there for someone when they need it. It may not be right that moment — I may have to wait till I’ve put the kids to bed. That’s not because I put them first; rather, it’s so that I can give my friend my undivided attention.
I’ve had a situation recently where a friend was sharing something with me and my daughter was running around. Every few minutes I had to interrupt the conversation so that I could keep her safe. In hind sight, it probably would have been better for me to ask my friend if it was ok for me to call back later that night.
Clever Dude says
@Shawn, I’m sure the friend was just glad to have your ear.
I should have also mentioned I hate talking on the phone, so I also tend to save up enough to talk about before I call people. With facebook and email, it’s gotten to the point that I just don’t call people unless I’m forced to!
I don’t have kids, but I’ve heard some friends and relatives who are parents say that sometimes it gets tiring for them to spend all day with kids and/or talking about kids. They actually like getting the chance to talk to adults about something other than kids once in a while. At least that’s what they say 🙂
Debt Kid says
It sounds like you’re forgetting the greatest part of friendship….being there for a friend in a time of need. Even when I’m going through crap, for my close friends, I would always want to be there for them. In fact, I would feel really bad if they withheld something from me because they thought I couldn’t take it.
I think it goes both ways, as someone who doesn’t have kids, I don’t mind helping out in times of need (picking up a stranded child or an extra set of hands at a birthday party) but I do like when I still feel like I can call when I’m in need as well, extra set of hands for a home improvement project or a home cooked meal.
Doug & CheapScholar.org says
My wife and I have 3 kids now (age 3 and under) and we have friends in both categories (with kids and without). Our friends are our friends and we will do whatever we can to maintain that friendship and be a support for them when needed. In our situation, it usually means one of us stay home with the kids while the other one goes and has coffee with the friend in need.
We feel very fortunate to have all our friends. All of them are like extended aunts and uncles to our children. Yes, it is true that we don’t get to go out for a spur of the moment evening with our friends like we did in the past but we still make time for them and try to plan time with them whenever our schedules allow.
Lastly.. Facebook has been the new social outlet for our family (more for my wife than me). It helps us to maintain our friendships even though we may not get as much facetime as we were used to getting.
Cleverdude- Your friends are your friends, regardless of whether they have children or not. You should reach out to them because my guess is that they will be there for you and will jump at the chance to provide support. And, if they are not there for you, just come to us – your faithful blog readers – after years of reading your posts, we may be primed for providing just the feedback you need. 😉
First Gen American says
You know, when we were dinks, I thought it strange that once certain people had kids you never heard from them anymore. Now that I have 2, I understand how tired we get, so I empathize.
But the weirdest thing was that once we had kids, the other kid couples wanted to enter back into our lives again. I can see it’s easier to relate, but it’s just strange if you ask me. Everyone is welcome in my house as long as you don’t mind me multi tasking. It doesn’t matter if you’re married/single, childless or lots of kids.
I also had friends that warmed up to us once we got married. Odd.
Donna Freedman says
I agree with those who say that it’s all in the way you ask. “Stop doing what you have to do with your children and focus ONLY ON ME” wouldn’t cut it. But the “I would love to get a little bit of advice, when’s a good time to call?” might get their attention.
These might work, too:
“While your daughter is at preschool, could I come over and help you fold laundry while I ask your advice?”
“Suppose I bring over some takeout from that great Thai place and we can talk after your kids are down for their naps?”
“I’ll make you a deal: You listen to my problem and give me your usual helpful advice and I’ll stay with your two boys while you make a run to the library and have a coffee all by yourself for a change.”
The thing about children is that they really CAN be all-consuming. Knowing that your friends aren’t judging you for being tired is helpful. So is having them do something that takes a little of the burden off — because, after all, you are asking for some of their most precious commodities, i.e., time and attention.
Incidentally, a lot of people prefer the term “child-free” over “childless.”
Well I have only been a parent w/child for under 2 years. I actually do not have that many “parent” friends. When I did not have a child and I socialized with those who did, I found it was a welcomed break for them to have some adult conversation and get away. I must admit, you do get slightly wrapped up in the new baby stage for a little bit. It is a pretty dramatic change. However, once you have things under control, I welcome conversations outside of the mommy realm. I guess that is what facebook is for. lol
I would kill for some of my childless friends to actually want to be friends.
I mean, they just want to go out. The idea of coming to my house or going to a family friendly restaurant is just out of the question for them. So I never see them. I love being a mom. But we are not rich. And unfortunately, parenting is a full-time job when you can’t afford a babysitter all the time. But I would LOVE for my friends to call me or come over and hang out with my family, or after 8:00 bedtime for some dinner and adult drinks. I just can’t be doling out 50 bucks to a babysitter every time I want to see my friends.
I hope that my friends don’t think they are being a burden. However, I find it easier to be friends with other parents, because almost everything I do outside work has to do with my kid. I assume people don’t actually want to hear about her every time we talk. I think I’M the burden.
well im a single mom… an from my side i would hope my friends would never feel that way.. i on the other habd feel the way you do.. i dont feel i can really talk to my friends about anything at all… they always seem to be botgered by the fact i just need to talk sometimes. i have my daughter half the time and emotionally its hard…. so i do the same as u i confide more in my co workers than my friends of 10+ yrs… so i understand in a different way ha
Here is my story, just to give you some “food for thought” as you and your wife figure out the best plan your family:
My wife and I waited until we were 34 years old before deciding to start a family. Not knowing whether the biological route would work, we began the “natural” and “adoption” process at the same time. Well the natural process was quickly successful, so we now have a 1 year old at home and will be bringing our adopted child home late 2011. We couldn’t be happier. But now the questions have changed from “when are you going to have children” to “why are you adopting when you could have another child of your own”. Sigh…people will never understand your specific decision making process on how to build a family, so just do what you feel is best.