Although I am married and have four kids, I often feel that modern society over-celebrates parenthood, marriage and children too much and often at the expense of those who are single and childfree by choice or by fate. My post is a little inspired by the episode, “A woman’s right to shoes” from SATC where Carried Bradshaw loses a pair of Manolo Blahnicks at a friend’s baby shower party. When she sashays down the street with glee and affirmation about her single life wearing her pair of heels that her married friend replaced has stayed with me a decade after I watched it. I was single then and I thought if I remained single throughout life, I hope my married friends and friends with children will still treat me nice. But then I got married and had four kids over the span of two years and obviously so much has changed. I actually spent quite a bit of those two years reaffirming my friends who aren’t married or do not have children that I still love them and want them close. In fact I want them close more now than ever. The thing is after we become parents, we may find our single and childfree friends start to fade away, sometimes by their own volition. And then we as parents start gravitating toward other couples who are married and have children. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. I will make an argument why your single and childfree friends are important to you even after you have children, and how you can keep them close.
When you get into the bubble of parenting, you really start to lose major perspective. You start to feel like you deserve more rights than a person who is single or childfree because now you have another dependent whose life is entirely your responsibility. And while its true that you might want a lot of affirmation from fellow compatriots during the journey of parenting, especially in the early years of parenting, you also want a balance of perspective from people who are not in the same journey. You need individuals to remind you that the world does not always revolve around parenting. And that it is okay, and I would argue crucial, to actually spend a few hours with a fellow adult and have adult conversations that does not revolve around diaper stories. Why? Because motherhood does not have to be all-consuming. It shouldn’t be and you should not let it.
While I was in knee-deep in newborn parenting the first few months the triplets came home, the people who offered me the best support were my single and childfree friends. Their conversations about world affairs, gossip, fashion and what was on TV and film, got me through those long, dreary newborn days. And they still do. They make my old self feel alive, especially on days when I felt that I failed at motherhood. One of my professor-friends would actually visit me at home every time he was in town and talk to me about what went on with academic publishing. The girls would be screaming for my attention and I would be patting them away while I listened attentively to my friend talk about the stuff he was editing for a journal. It was such a welcome respite. I wasn’t really interested to hear another mother’s diaper stories. Why would I? I was already living through mine, why would I want to listen to another mom’s complaint about the lack of sleep.
I do understand why parents and couples with children do gravitate towards each other, so you can swap stories and tell each other that you are not alone. I don’t understand though when someone would only want to listen to diaper stories and lose interest in everything else. There is a time for mummy talk and there is a time for adult talk, and a healthy life has both. We should always fill our lives with diverse people and have friends of different walks of life.
It would also seem hyper hypocritical of you to suddenly reach out to your single and childfree friends the moment parenting is no longer all-consuming for you. You will look like a fair weather friend. All friendships need maintenance. Your friends probably start to feel distant, maybe even abandoned, because his/her life have stayed the same while yours have changed dramatically. They suddenly do not know where they might fit in. Maybe they don’t even like children. But a lot of things other than becoming a parent can tear friendships apart, but a lot of things can just as easily re-seal broken rifts. Its just a matter of whether you want to make the effort to reaffirm your friendship with your single and childfree friends. And in this digital age, sometimes all it takes is a simple text message or a birthday wish. I keep in touch with my friends through chat rooms. Obviously I can’t leave the house as much as I like to meet them, so I take full advantage of online chatting. Through regularly chatting them up, I hope to show them that hey, its still me you know, just sometimes I have these four other kids who need me. But if you need me, just holler, I’ll try my best. The great thing about online chatrooms, they can leave messages for me and I can respond at a time of my convenience. They key is to keep the gears of friendship moving with intermittent greasing.
While its great to have playdates with mummy friends, your children also benefit from meeting your single and childfree friends. Then your children get to see all the kinds of people that are in your life, even before you became a mother, and the kinds of personalities mummy can be when she’s not a mummy. Of course first establish if your friend is comfortable that you bring your child along, and as much as you are tempted to, never ask them for their help like to look after your kid when you need to go to the toilet. I usually wait for my friends to offer me help but if they don’t, I find a way to manage without help. I don’t feel comfortable imposing. 4 out of 5 times, they always offer help, especially those friends who love children. And that 1 time they don’t might be because its just too hard for them to since childminding might not be their field of expertise.
And when you are spending time with your single and childfree friends, do not keep harping on how your lives are SO different. And worst of all don’t treat these friends like they are your mummy friends, and go on long rants about how painful breastfeeding is, how you wish your baby could hold up its head already, and what a genius Junior is now that he can do puzzles. They probably don’t mind hearing a few snippets from your life, but not a whole documentary of it, just as much as you would like hearing about the snippets of their single and childfree life, but not the whole shebang about their month-long backpacking trip all across Europe.
So far my close friendships with friends who are not married and do not have children have remained intact post-children. They have been so supportive of the huge changes that happened to me when I had my first-born and then when I had my triplets. Especially after I had my triplets, I felt really appreciated how so many of them embraced this crazy woman triplet mother I was going to become and kept encouraging me to this day. So just the same, I want to be supportive of them and the things that happen in their lives as well. We should celebrate their singlehood and childfree life just as much as they celebrate our marriage and child-full life.