All My Friends Had Kids & I Didn't
I’ve always known I didn’t want to be a parent - I grew up the eldest grandchild on both sides of my family, so I have a long and rich history with every stage of children. While babysitting my dorky cousins certainly bears no comparison to actually living with and caring for a child, I knew enough about my experiences to realize I like the little ones, but simply was not interested in having my own.
I thought I had it all figured out - I would be cool Auntie Sarah; greeting them when they wake up from naps, hanging out with them while mom or dad runs to the doctor, attending birthday parties where they stuff their little faces full of cake - the usual. I was prepared to go the extra mile, to make the effort, to accept that things would change. These were my friends after all, and I wanted to continue to show up for them.
What I was not prepared for was when I just started to not hear from them at all - yes, sure, at first while they struggle with a complete life flip, but more so when the silence carried on well beyond little Marcus’ 2nd birthday.
What did I do wrong?
Losing Your Friends? Or Just on a Break?
There are plenty of resources from parents who lament how many friendships they lost when they had kids, but in my sometimes lonely searches, I have not found many that come from the eyes and ears of those of us who remain childless.
I honestly thought when all my friends had kids that I would just become the de facto baby sitter, diving in when they needed to run to the store or to jump right in with diaper changes and bringing coffee over so I can grab a chat during nap time and help fold laundry (Or let them have a nap).
It wasn’t the people who needed extra time, attention and consideration while the babies learned to sleep and eat properly, or the ones who just had different schedules for a year or so, but came back around that hurt. It was the ones who still didn’t seem interested in spending time with me well after their kids were old enough to play independently and be left with Grandma for a few hours that hurt me the most.
I wasn’t prepared for how much this would hurt me. All the research I did to find common ground with others going through the same thing provided more articles on how the childless folks ditched the new parents, but not the other way around. We’ve all experienced break ups of some kind, people ghosting us, letting us down in some way shape or form, but there’s not a ton of help when you feel dumped by someone you treasured. I thought I was doing everything right?!
So, what happened?
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The “Relationships Change Over Time” Theory
Realistically, it could just be that we choose different paths around this time in our lives - ie. it was doomed to be finite anyway.
As we get older, our values tend to become clearer and play a larger role - it might not just be the kids, but the fact that the parents have sought out a more routine lifestyle or one where they want to focus more on home, nesting and going to bed early, where others are doubling down on travel, longer hours at work or long distance relationships. This isn’t to say the roles aren’t reversed either - it’s simply a thought to highlight varying types of focus as we get older.
People who may have been more dependent on the attentions of their adult friends may become resentful when said focus is turned to the new children in their lives. This perspective would drastically alter the core of the relationship - and set you both in a new direction.
The “I Have Different Worries Now” Theory
There is a natural culling of the herd as you get older and realize you may not have ever had anything more in common than your desire to write each other’s term papers or your mutual obsession with orange-flavored vodka and house music. So maybe losing this friendship was inevitable and having the children and the responsibility shift is a convenient backdoor exit?
Maybe it’s just that having kids is such a life-changing event, that you can’t sustain both friendships and being a parent, according to Psychology Today.
Perhaps we just don’t share the same problems anymore. The once juicy and fruitful telling of sex lives, problems with the jerk at work and arguments with our siblings may not compare in the same way to providing for a baby who won’t sleep or to a new mom worried about how her body has changed and how she’ll deal with that.
New parents may be concerned about losing one of the needed incomes in the household, about who’s going to take care of the kid when they go back to work, and the ever-present feeling that one wrong move will screw up their kid’s life (or so I’ve heard).
As someone with a double income household, lots of free time and no kids, it might not be appropriate to brag about my new high-end snowblower when my friend is clipping coupons. It’s not that one is better or worse than the other - it’s just that our experiences are so polarized in that moment.
“Why Don’t You Want to be My Friend Anymore?”
I thought I was doing everything right.
When the first group of friends started having kids, I developed my absolute favorite gift-giving tactic - for birthdays, special occasions, the 3rd Thursday of the month, whatever - I would do a double offer - the parents get treated to dinner/lunch/a movie and I take care of Junior. Double win, right?! This only works with my closest friends of course - I have to have a pretty solid relationship with those little punks so they don’t run from me in terror, begging their parents not to leave.
I have been turned down for these offers a few times - and yes, at first I did take it personally, but I have since asked some of my friends who’ve said it’s not necessarily about me - they may not be ready to break up a routine. Jojo might be in that ‘strangers are going to take me,’ phase or maybe their house is a disaster and the free meal isn’t worth cleaning the damned living room. They all appreciate the offer though - and that’s really the point, isn’t it? By just thinking about them, it shows them I love them and want to be a part of theirs and Jojo’s lives.
I asked some of my friends with kids to help me with this dilemma and I got 3 helpful responses.
“They don’t always want your help.”
They have a lot going on already and it may seem like they’re admitting they can’t do something. Me offering to do their laundry may make them feel like there’s just one more thing they don’t have time to do.
“They don’t like leaving their kids.”
This was a surprise to me as well, and one that was very hard to work past - everyone needs a break, right? Apparently not.
“Don’t mess with the routine.”
Disrupting a carefully crafted routine is a big no-no. Anything beyond a slight distraction in the day can mean a week of not sleeping.
So now what?
What I Did
In general, I definitely had to start planning ahead - and to not be upset or hurt when those carefully made plans changed last minute because Bobo has the flu, or the nanny got stuck in traffic. It’s easier for me to be flexible, after all.
Also, I am now much more clear about how we are going to spend our time. Setting healthy boundaries is a huge part of creating successful relationships in general, and it definitely applied here because expectations had changed so much.
Most of my friends are more than happy to leave Junior with Parent #2 so we can grab a quiet lunch and talk about something other than Sam’s inability to poop on the potty, but sometimes that’s not the case! I can’t expect them to focus on me when the munchkins are around - and I know enough that when they are, that’s fun Auntie Sarah time, building a relationship with the little dudes. My break up news/family issues/existential problems will have to wait for a phone call or brunch alone.
Lifehacker has a great article on this - A Guide to Friendships Between Parents and Non-Parents, where they talk about how the non-parents will have to do more work when the kids are teeny tiny. I knew this going in, but I’m still unclear where to draw the line between when to push my girlfriend to let me come and sit with 2 month-old Daphne for an hour so she could take a freaking shower already and when to respect that they really don’t want to see another human being right now.
I guess in the end, it’s like anything else - we all have different values, preferences and goals - and sometimes, people just end up floating past each other as they sort through them.
There’s one friend in particular who I have felt I have been shot down by over and over again - and the more I think about it now, I see that we were growing apart well before baby bear came along. Despite my efforts, maybe I was one of those people who were destined to be culled out of their life - be it based on dissimilar values, or that I simply wasn’t high enough on their list of priorities.
At the end of the day, I think if I expect to have any kind of relationship with my pre-baby friends once they procreate, I have to be a little more understanding of how much their world has changed. Yes, they chose it, but I compare it to an amazing job I sought out and got after so many interviews.
I couldn’t know every aspect of it going in - yes, I got a great office and title and a sweet raise, but I couldn’t predict the longer hours, the dysfunctional team and the receptionist who always chews her gum with her mouth open. It takes time to adjust and reset. I need to be patient.
They are now responsible for this helpless human being - that alone is enough to make me bite my tongue! If there were underlying issues between us going in, then yes, this could be the perfect time to drift apart without confrontation. But if we really are the great buds we always thought we were, now’s a good time for me to step up and show it.
For all those friends out there with kids I ask this: don’t write us off. Some of us want to be in your life - messy house, dirty diapers, toddler tantrums and all. It’s YOU we love now - we’ll probably learn to adore little Peanut once they stop screaming their heads off - just let us into your new world and give us a chance to find a place there too.
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