“I made dinner reservations for 8. Is that too late for you guys?” My heart only sank a teensy bit, because I expected to hear something like that. It was my fault for bringing a toddler to a bachelorette weekend. His bedtime is 8 p.m. on a normal night, and he was jet-lagged to boot. So that was definitely too late for us. I delivered a convincing, “No worries, I’ll rejoin the party when you gals return,” but the familiar gripe hid just behind my smile. Accusations of their thoughtlessness and poor planning mingled with visions of the spontaneous cocktails, uninterrupted sleep, and elegant brunching I couldn’t have.
Of course I didn’t voice those thoughts: They were ugly, not to mention untrue. My friends had assured me beforehand that my son was welcome if that helped me attend the weekend—it was going to be laid-back, full of chatting and many meals at home. They let me choose the best room at our Airbnb. They took turns keeping an eye on my son so that I could have a break. The bride-to-be even secured a portable crib for him so that I wouldn’t have to worry about traveling with one.
So spontaneous cocktails, yes. But poor planning, no.
The barriers that come up between new parents and their friends without kids are real—and they’re not only about bedtime schedules. I think the greatest obstacle for me and many women I know has been the “Us vs. Them” mentality that sometimes creeps into our relationships: when I mentally accuse my amazing friends at the bachelorette weekend for being thoughtless, when someone repeatedly differentiates between my parenting style and the way she intends to raise kids one day, when a group of mothers fail to ask the single woman about her job or her boyfriend, when the couples without kids stop inviting the couple with kids to gatherings. It’s easy to blame each other and drift apart.
But our communities are made up of single people, couples without kids, and parents, and I think it’s better for everyone if we don’t segregate. I vote that rather than letting our friendships die, or even putting them on hold for a decade, we remain in each other’s lives throughout the changes. Yes, it will be very different from other seasons of friendship. But staying close is worth it because we each have a lot to offer in our various life phases. Here are a few of the benefits I’ve witnessed in maintaining those friendships.
01. Friends without kids remind me of who I was before children.
And who I still am underneath the endless stream of mundane caregiving tasks I repeat so often that I forget my name. They knew the side of me that read for pleasure and had goals besides a daily shower. Simply being in their presence and sharing laughs resurrects that buried self.
02. They’re often more flexible than my friends with kids.
So they’re more likely to accept an invitation offered at the last minute or that extends past bedtime. Recently my husband and I invited a couple over for pizza but they weren’t free until… gasp… 9 p.m. It wouldn’t have worked with other parents, but this couple was free to casually add us in after an evening commitment. Everyone had a grand time while my son slept. (He didn’t get any pizza.)
03. They help me remember that my kid isn’t actually the center of the universe.
Yes, keeping a tiny human alive is a big responsibility, and for the first few months of my son’s life, he was rightfully the center of my world. But I had trouble recognizing when my newborn wasn’t so new. My sister came to spend a week with me shortly after my son turned one. Although we normally get along easily, she and I clashed repeatedly over how to spend our time. Once I took an honest look at the situation, it was obvious that I was too rigid about staying on a schedule—and I grew as a parent because of the conflict.
04. I get a dose of adulthood without babies.
Mom friends, I love you, but mom groups often get stuck gabbing about potty training, sleep loss, and tantrum management. We don’t like that we do it. But we do it. Which is why I love getting the chance to hear about my other friends’ professional endeavors, hobbies, and love lives. It’s a breath of fresh air. Literally. A life without diapers is literally a breath of fresh air.
05. They get a dose of adulthood with babies.
Whether or not my childless friends want kids of their own one day in the future, most of them want the occasional opportunity to cuddle newborns and chase giggling toddlers. One friend who volunteers to watch my toddler without pay said that “babysitting has been a joy of [her] life.” In a few years when my kids are school-aged, I’m sure she’ll hold conversations with them about things that really matter, you know, like volcanoes and Vikings.
06. We both grow in the art of friendship.
Sometimes we meet in the middle and other times we meet where it works. Both parties need to be willing to talk about the other person’s current “thing.” We celebrate each other’s victories and avoid trivializing each other’s hardships by focusing too much on our own. I need to call my single friends even when it’d be easier to talk with a mom friend who “gets it.” My friends without kids sometimes need to work with my limitations to find a time we can catch up. A college friend who came to visit a few months ago followed my routine by going to bed early and rising early with me and my toddler every day of her trip. She doesn’t normally keep that kind of schedule, but her effort showed me she valued maximizing our time together.
A different girlfriend put it this way: “A lot of parenting is training in selflessness; and being friends with a parent can be training in selflessness too.” When we sacrifice for each other, our friendships grow deeper.
There are challenges between friends in different seasons of life, but let’s do the hard work of overcoming those challenges. And let’s also have more pizza after 9 p.m.