How can we stay friends? What moms and child-free women want each other to know.

You used to climb mountains together. Now you can't seem to climb over the mountain of diapers to answer the phone when she calls.

So your best friend from elementary school–the one you’ve been tight with ever since she plunked her tray down next to yours when you were a lonely new girl in the cafeteria in fourth grade–called you at least six times to ask you to go to lunch last month…but you always let the call go to voice mail because the baby was napping. Now, she’s stopped calling. Does she think you were snubbing her on purpose? Should you invite her over for a lunch date at your house with the baby, or will she think that’s lame and sad?

Or maybe you’ve made a new friend at work and you really click, but you aren’t sure if it’s OK to invite her to a party where kids will be running amock, or wonder if she’ll understand that your Friday nights are reserved for family movie night.

How can mothers and their child-free friends maximize the common ground they share? And how can you hang on to tight friendships–or nurture budding ones–when your lives seem so, well, different?

I asked a bunch of moms and non-moms alike this question, and got a lot of (passionate!) responses. And while the specifics were different, common themes came up:

What moms want their child-free friends to know:

  • Our kids are least, to us. Remember when we used to talk to each other endlessly about our hoped-for boyfriends, or actual boyfriends, or fiancees, or new husbands, and the other person would listen patiently even though the conversation was sometimes repetitive and usually sappy? This is kind of like that, only the “boy” can’t wipe his own rear yet. We don’t want to bore you, but it would be unnatural not to talk about the small people who make up such a huge part of our lives. One  mom I spoke to compared talking about motherhood to talking about a job– you wouldn’t roll your eyes at a friend who was complaining about her boss, even if you couldn’t quite relate, would you? If you find your mom friends gravitating toward topics you don’t personally find appealing or relevant (like, say, episiotomies) try steering the conversation toward something still kid-related, but more palatable. Your friend will get to scratch her “gotta talk about my kids a bit” itch for a bit and you won’t have to try to hide your grimace.
  • We want to talk about stuff other than kids, but our knowledge of current events might be a little…uh…rusty. Think of us as a sort of foreign exchange student: we might not know what you’re talking about sometimes, but as long as you’re kind and not condescending, we’ll eagerly lap up any information or gossip you can feed us.
  • We need prep time. Gone are the days when 5:00 on Friday night was ample time to warn us about a girl’s night out or a great band that’s playing downtown. You can still try us, of course, if you find out about some fantastic last-minute event (in fact, please do!) but don’t be surprised or resentful if we can’t make it. It usually takes at least a few days to pull together child care or to make sure the other parent is available–not to mention figuring out what we’ll wear. And when our babies are little, we might not be so keen on leaving them to go out–even if it is just a few hours. One mother of many–I’ll call her Kristy–shared with me a story about a non-mom friend who kept dropping by unannounced, staying all day and all evening, and not taking many hints that the mom was having a hard time attending to her family while also trying to play perpetual hostess. The friendship ended when Kristy asked her friend to please not stop by unannounced anymore. The friend was so offended she stopped calling altogether. “I wish that she had understood what a difficult relationship mothers have with “time,” and that many of us cannot skillfully throw something unexpected (like a friend’s unannounced visit) into the mix,” said Kristy. “I wish that she had understood that even though it sounds harsh to “schedule” my friendship with her, it was the best I could do at the time.”
  • This won’t last forever. The early years of motherhood can be totally overwhelming, and maybe we’ve neglected you. Right now, unfair as it might be, we might be having a really hard time poking our heads out of our home-kids-family cocoon. But kids don’t stay little forever–or even very long–and before you know it, we’ll have more and more free time and brain space to share with you. We really hope you’ll ride this out with us that long. Because…
  • We need you. We love how you remind us of our more carefree selves, the way you can keep us connected to the outside world or fashion, food and/or cool music when the Wonder Pets and boxed mac and cheese threaten to eclipse our previous identities. Plus, we just like you, and want you to stay in our lives. We just need a little understanding, because our worlds have been turned upside-down and it might take us a little while for us to figure out how to juggle it all again.

What child-free women want their mom friends to know:

  • There are certain mysteries of motherhood that just don’t make polite–or particularly interesting–dinner conversation. Those would include: vomit, poop, any body parts that leak, and possibly fingernail clippings, depending on the circumstances of the narrative.But don’t feel like you have to remain mum on the subject of being a mom. Just choose the funny stories, the sweet stories, or anything that includes your child accidentally cussing because they pronounce “TR” like “F”–those stories are beloved by parents and non-parents alike. Then, change the subject. There are other things to talk about as well, like your friend’s promotion at work, love life, or upcoming appearance on Jeopardy.
  • Non-kid-related accomplishments are important, too, and deserve to be celebrated. One non-mom shared with me that she’s thrown lots of baby showers for her friends, but only one (male) friend attended her graduation from journalism school. Ouch. Even when we moms are totally caught up in our kids and the whirlwind of early motherhood, that’s no excuse for ignoring our friends’ notable accomplishments and milestones.
  • Moms don’t have a monopoly on troubled and tired. Child-free people’s lives aren’t all sipping fancy drinks by a pool and then skinny-dipping in said pool with interesting strangers. They have job woes, family troubles, money worries, relationship issues…you know, all the same stuff we moms complain about, just without the kids. Please don’t act as though your life is more important or valuable, or inherently harder, than a non-mom’s just because you have kids and she doesn’t.
  • Just Try. Most of the child-free people I spoke to acknowledged that their lives are usually more flexible than their mom friends’ are, and they don’t mind shouldering more than their fair share of the scheduling burden for a while. But…it helps if you recognize the effort they’re making, don’t take them for granted, and try to meet them somewhere along the path…even if it’s not always quite half-way. (Check out this hilarious article by Ceridwen Morris for a list of tongue-in-cheek ways not to lose all your friends after you have a baby.)

What do you wish your child-free or child-full friends knew about you, your life, or your feelings about your friendship? Please share!

Tomorrow I’ll be putting up my last post on the “friendship” theme–how to keep all your relationships strong, with moms and non-moms alike. Be sure to check back! Want to read more about nurturing friendships as a mom? Check out my posts on how to be a good friend to a mom and getting past mom cliques.

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