I’m of a certain age now where all avenues of my social media are blanketed with photos of my friends in various stages of parenting. Some who are trying, some pregnant, newborns, and school aged. You know the photos – the “first day of pre-school” or the “baby’s first hiccup” and so on. I’m also fortunate enough to have friends who are older than I am and whose children are grown and beginning their own lives. So I get the photos of “grandbaby’s first day of pre-school” or “grandbaby’s first hiccup.” It’s just the season of life we are all in and I can appreciate the excitement the parents feel and am grateful for their willingness to share it with their community – living so far away from friends and family, social media truly is my main way to keep in touch.
Over the last few years, this year in particular, I have felt a shift in the dynamics of my relationships with my friends who are parents. See, I don’t have children and I likely won’t have children anytime soon, if ever. So suddenly, seemingly over night, a distance has been placed between them and me. It is subtle at first – during the pregnancy we all can be excited together about the impending birth and the new life who will join our circle. I can still participate and, while not understand what she is going through during her pregnancy, I can at least empathize with her and buy her ice cream. As a friend, I still have a role to play in her life.
Once the baby comes, though, everything changes. As a friend without children your job in the friendship shifts, your ranking in that person’s life shifts, your ability to help and participate shifts, your time playing together shifts… and they develop a new circle of friends whom you have nothing in common with. All for good, understandable, and obvious reasons.
But this shift is tough to navigate – for both sides of the equation. Parents struggle to find time for their friends, making sure they feel included. It’s like we (the childless) are the first born child who needs to be reminded that mommy and daddy still love them just as much even though their little sister came into the world. While at the same time the friend without children might give distance, allowing their friend to find their feet in their new role as a parent. Or maybe the opposite.
It took some time getting used to these shifts and it took time getting used to the fact that I couldn’t have access to my friends and their time as much as I used to; at the drop of a hat. There is no drop of a hat for the friend anymore – that right, rightfully so, has now been handed over to baby. So we learn to become Auntie or Uncle. It’s a title which carries honor and responsibility. And it also means your friendship has shifted to something more – your friend has officially claimed you as family and loves you so much they want their children to know you as family.
Your role as a friend and as Auntie has become more, too. Yes, you’ve been there to support your friend getting their first tattoo, but now you get to practice what true support is. As Auntie it is your job to support your friends in the decisions they make (even if you don’t agree with them). It is your job to support your friends when they haven’t had two hours of consecutive sleep in 2 weeks. It is your job to find the humor in your friend being covered in a diaper blow-out and make sure they laugh about it rather than cry. It is your job to live your life without judging them for theirs. At first it might feel like your friends are going somewhere without you, but you need to remember that your timelines are different and your paths might be as well.
One of my best friends lives in Oregon, she has 2 1/2 children with her husband (see bottom feature), and we like to Skype whenever we can find time that matches up in our schedules. I remember a conversation we had exchanged during one of our 2 hours-long catch up Skype-dates. I had just finished telling her of my recent revelation of deciding not to have children (after 4 years of not being able to conceive) and the new future I was building in place of the old one. She listened as I explained how I was going to focus on my writing, go back to school for a science degree (maybe even get my PhD), and how I reclaimed a childhood dream for my future career aspirations. I explained how I was saving money to travel to Greece in summer of 2016 and probably Peru the following summer. Then it was her turn to unload the many updates of her life and she started by saying:
Well, my life isn’t as exciting as yours, but…
I had to stop her there. In the past this friend, this amazing friend, had been conscious of my struggles to conceive and protective of my feelings when she had spoken to me about her experiences as a parent. But with my path finally taking its own shape there was another dynamic shift and I was able to give her the permission she needed to tell me all, every detail, every happy or frustrating moment. No matter how big or small.
Her life is absolutely just as, if not more, exciting as my own and it’s perfectly OK that her excitement stems from new recipes she has found or her 2 year old showing interest in the potty. It’s OK that she gets excited that her babes are speaking in full sentences. Every milestone is exciting and worthy of my time to listen to. This is her life and she is allowed to be excited about it. And as a friend, an Auntie, I’m allowing myself to be excited about it as well.
These experiences got me thinking about the parents in my life and how the dynamics have shifted for them since growing and raising their babies. The question that particularly interested me was what they wished their single or child-free friends knew. Here are their thoughts:
Dan and Cheryl
The Skinny: I am 61 years old, married to Dan, and we have children who are 26, 33, and 36. We are a blended family. I am an Athletic Director, instructor, and Department Chair at our local Community College and Dan is the IT Director at the same school. We spend much of our time outdoors.
Parenting: We were crazy, had no idea what to expect. Dan worked while his wife was a stay home mom. I worked while my husband stayed home.
For Friends: We didn’t spend enough time with the kids. Work got in the way.
Dreams: We are looking towards retirement as our next dream. If Dan could have been anything he would have gotten his degree in Geology or been an astronaut. I wish Dan would have been my first husband. We would have made beautiful children together.
The Skinny: I’ll be 30 in November, am married, and have a 7 months old son. We live in Molalla, Oregon in a house with my grandma and mother. My husband and I work full time, but Hank is with my mother-in-law while I am at work. I am an office manger at a dental office and a dental assistant.
Parenting: We’ve wanted children since we have been together and had been trying for four years… and it finally happened! We wanted a family so we had children.
The hardest thing I have faced as a parent is now caring for another person entirely. And the actual giving birth process was SOO hard. But I’m so happy to have it behind me. I really thought it was going to be a walk in the park. I thought it would be easy and it would just be like the movies: a baby, a family, a fairy tale. But I love it more than anything in the world! It’s the hardest, most rewarding job EVER. Oh and that cloth diapers would be easy… it saves money but it isn’t “easy.”
For Friends: I wish my friends who don’t have kids knew that 10PM is staying up late for me. And I’d rather stay home with my kid than get a sitter and waste my money at a bar now.
From Society: The biggest pressure from society I feel is just that everyone IS judging me, always, when I am out and about. But I try to remember I need to do what I need to do for my child.
Dreams: My dreams are to provide ALL that I can for Hank. I wanted so long to be a mother, we tried for so long that he is a miracle and he deserves ONLY the best. If I could have done anything in the world I would be a dentist… someone once told me I wasn’t smart enough and CRUSHED it.
In Patricia’s own words:
I love being a mother and every moment of every day with him and my little family. But they don’t warn you about the weeks after giving birth, and when they say it goes by soo fast, IT DOES!!!
The Skinny: I’m 34, married, and have an 18 year old stepson (whom I’ve been involved with since we was 2 and who is just as much my son as my other children), 14 year old son, and 12, 7, 5, and almost 4 year old daughters. We live together in Arizona. My husband and I have been married going on 16 years. We are both, of course in the home. He works and I have a degree in substance abuse, but until all of the children are in school, we have decided it is best that I am home with them. Daycare was never an option for us and we are lucky that we can life off one income.
Parenting: My firstborn was a surprise, but just because he wasn’t planned, doesn’t mean he wasn’t wanted. The rest of my family were planned. I fell in love with being a mother and strangely, I was good at it. I never I would be. When I was younger I never had any experience with children. I never babysat or had any younger siblings and honestly, I didn’t think I wanted children. There was a time I even begged my mother to find a doctor that would tie my tubes so I could not have any. I was adopted and from what I could remember about my bio-mother, I was afraid I would turn out like she did. I was scared I would follow in her footsteps. I had/have a wonderful mother and think she influenced me greatly and shaped me to be the mother I am today.
My son is autistic and doesn’t do well in a school setting, so we do all of his schooling at home. It’s hard and most of the time I feel like I am failing him, but I give it my all. I just hope one day he thrives on his own, so I guess my another hat I wear is Teacher.
The hardest milestone we’ve crossed since becoming parents is losing a child. There is no greater pain thank having to bury a child. It’s a pain that stays with you and you never recover from it. You have guilt and always blame yourself for what happened and sometimes I think that experience is why I am such an over protecting, helicopter parent.
My most naive thought about becoming a parent was that I would eventually sleep again. I haven’t slept in 16 years.
For Friends: I wish my friends knew how hard I work. How much of yourself you give up when you become a parent and that every single bit of it is worth it.
From Society: I feel like I’m not doing good enough. My almost four year old still sleeps with me and sometimes my 7 year old still sneaks into my bed. Oh, and my almost four year old still uses a pacifier at night! Oh, the horror!!!
Dreams: My dreams vanished 16 years ago. I just want my children to be healthy and happy. I just want them to excel in everything they do. If I could do anything in the world it would be to sleep… sleep for like a month straight.
In Brandy’s own words:
Don’t look at other people and compare your parenting and/or life to theirs. If you do what you feel is correct for your family, then theirs doesn’t matter. Who cares if their house is bigger or cleaner. Who cares if they have a fancy car. Material things don’t matter; love is all that matters.
Adrienne and Nick
The Skinny: We are both around 30 and out children are two, one, and not-quite-here-yet. Nick works as a college professor nine months out of the year, Adrienne is a stay-at-home mom, but does freelance editing as opportunities arise. Outside or work, Nick is an avid hiker, painter, linguist and language-learner, geographer, and world traveler. Adrienne is a writer, quilter, pianist, homemaker, scrapbooker, and sometimes-blogger.
Parenting:“Deciding” to have children isn’t really how we think about it. We both always desired a family because we came from bigger families, and we knew we wanted to invest in the next generation. But ultimately we believe that children are a blessing (and a challenge, if we’re honest) that we are given more than they are a decision we make.
The hardest thing we’ve faced as parents is probably the constant fear of what could happen to them or what life would look like without them. But more concretely, probably the hardest hurdle we’ve faced was seeing one of them in serious pain and not being able to make it for them or fix it right away.
Adrienne’s most naive expectation of parethood was that there would be breaks. Any breaks, ever. There are basically none, and if you’re lucky enough to have some, they get exponentially smaller with each child. Nick’s most naive expectation was that he would have just as much time for himself before children as after, and that he would still have summers “off.” Ha ha!
For Friends: We would love for singles and couples without children to understand that you can never “shut it off” – ever – and that the blessing of children (or a spouse, for that matter) is almost as equally a challenge to put yourself and your needs aside in favor of someone else. Not 100% of the time, but at least 90%.
From Society: The greatest pressure we feel from society right now is that if we deviate from the general, politically-correct parenting “norms,” then we’d better not do so in public or else it will be assumed that the government can parent our children better than we can.
Dreams: Nick – I dream of learning languages and traveling the world to use them. I want a large family where we spend a lot of quality time together, and to be part of a community where I’m known and needed. Adrienne – I dream of getting good at sewing, quilting, piano, and a few other instruments. I want to learn Spanish and maybe French, and I want to publish a few fiction and nonfiction books in my lifetime. Also, I want to be one of those old people who hosts Masterpiece Theatre.
If we could do anything in the world we would probably sail the world on cruise liners and see everything and taste all the food everywhere. And, also, raise kids that will be the next generation’s leaders, because we all know they’re going to need some good ones.