To have children or not have children, it is a life choice and every person makes it, whether they consciously realize it or not. Recently, I was asked if I ever have difficulty relating to my childless friends now that I am a mom. The answer that I had to give was “yes”. But it is perhaps a wider yes than you are expecting. We value the relationships that we have with our friends but it is very true that those relationships – while we naturally expect them to change in some respects – can become strained when children enter the picture, and not only between those with children and those who do not have them. It was not something that I expected to happen, to be perfectly honest, so it’s been quite a striking experience. I think, along with several other assumptions, I just sort of supposed that things would be hunky dory, that my friends, new mamas as well as others, and I would get together and have playdates, coo over babies, chat, ‘do lunch’ and the like. That the parameters of my relationships would be largely the same as they used to be: Wishful thinking. I did not factor in for life getting in the way.
I have friends on all sides of this situation. There are several who got pregnant either right before or right after I did so our children are close in age. But, even then, I find that I have difficulty relating to them at times as I’m a stay-at-home currently and they have gone back to work. I am insanely proud of them for doing what they have for themselves and their families in starting/continuing their careers. As much as I love staying home with Elizabeth, I often do wonder if I am doing the best by our family. There are bills to be paid, renovations to our house that we would like to do, classes to be taken, etc. So it’s a constant re-evaluation process for me but not a clear-cut yes or no, right or wrong. That is immensely frustrating and confusing at times, leaving me in a place of questioning, even as I try to do my best in my current place as a mom-at-home.
I have another friend that has just started trying for a baby. She and her husband had a particular timeline to work from with school and such, and, now, the time is finally right, so she is hugely excited, far more than I was when we started trying. For Ben and me, it was a rather quiet decision; I stopped my birth control after seeking advice from our doctor, and then it became an idea of ‘wait and see’. The doctor had told us that it would take 3-4 months probably for the birth control to fully exit my system and it was the earliest that we could expect to possibly see results. Sure enough, five months later when I found out, I was five weeks along. Sometimes I feel badly that I wasn’t that excited about the trying or immediately elated about the actual news (was pretty freaked out when I found out, actually, and for several weeks afterward). But my friend’s excitement makes me smile constantly, and I want to encourage her if/when she gets impatient or frustrated and be there to rejoice with her when the time comes.
On the other side, I have friends who have recently been proclaiming their right to not have children, something that I never really heard them talk about before, even though I already knew that was the case. Of course, that’s their prerogative and I’m glad that they are doing what makes them happy and what is best for themselves and their families. At the same time, however, I cannot help but wonder if something I have done or posted or said has made them feel badly or if I am somehow threatening their right to their personal happiness. I will admit that, though I love my Elizabeth and I am so glad we have her, I feel a pang every now and again as I read my friends’ posts about traveling and nights out on the town and whatnot. I don’t get to go out very often, much less with friends, so I miss my friends and the freedom I used to have. While feelings are not always rational and often based on biased perceptions, I can sometimes feel isolated and like an afterthought when I hear stories about friends going here and doing this or that. But that is part of life change, yes?
At the same time as all of this, I do have some childless friends (they do plan on having their own someday but that’s down the road a ways) who make a concentrated effort to spend time with me, with us, and with Elizabeth. They check in on me during the day, invite us to do activities or have meals, and it means more than I can say. To know that I am valued and my friends are still interested in, you know, being my friends always strikes me at my core. And I want to work on reciprocating more often as well.
I think bridging that strange life divide that can be created by the introduction of children is difficult as there are issues of empathy, even between people in the ‘same’ situations. I try very hard to be aware of the people that I am with at the time and to catch myself if I am babbling on about Elizabeth unless I have been asked. It happens, of course, but I try to make sure to concentrate on their lives, too, because they have important things happening. New jobs, weddings, hobbies, all things that I want to hear more about. So I try to listen more than I talk, and in so doing to remind my friends that I am still here for them. A little more preoccupied than before, yes, but still here. It can be as simple as picking up the phone and asking, “How was your day? What do you have going on?”
If this is a situation in which you or a loved one has found yourself, what are some things that you have done to start bridging that relational gap?
Melissa Snyder is an introvert with a flair for the dramatic in her writing. She is a wife, mother, compulsive writer, voracious reader, and fierce defender of Imagination. She has been writing stories since before she actually knew her letters, developing stories that she would tell herself aloud while drawing. She likes to write about faith and self and emotion and society and hobbies, as well as revealing the myriad paracosms that inhabit her mind. These paper bullets of the brain live in her blog and on Facebook where she endeavors to write about life and Imagination boldly and share honestly. As a first-time mother, she is also recording her experiences, memories, joys, worries, and, yes, even whines in her Mommy-blog at I Have a Forever.