Can a Mom Really Be Friends With a Non-Mom?
I recently read a thought-provoking blog in The New York Times, which discussed different facets of femininity and fertility, and also asked the question, “Can moms stay friends with the child-free?”
It’s an excellent question that I ask myself quite frequently, because I don’t think there is one clear answer – and for reasons I can’t quite figure out, I love questions that don’t have simple answers.
As a single mom to a 2-year-old, I often feel like I am straddling two completely different worlds. On one hand, I am a mother shouldering the responsibilities of both a mom and a dad – so I find myself making parent friends with ease and, on occasion, urgency. We need one another to stay sane. Usually I become friends with the mom and get along really well with the dad – and then we all hang out, while the kids play. These friendships make me feel like I am not alone, make me feel like I am normal and give me a safe place to cry about the fact that my daughter refuses (with strong commitment) to brush her teeth, every single morning and night.
I love these friendships, but I am almost always a third wheel when we all engage. Granted, married couples don’t do that exclusionary love thing that new couples do…but, well, they have each other, they have a partner who can help out while they shower, and I don’t…so our ability to relate can go only so far.
Then, on the other hand, I have my pre-baby friends. I am the first of most of my close friends to have a baby, and while some of them are making the leap, I wouldn’t quite call it a trend yet – no matter how often I say, “Come on, don’t you want to join me in parental bliss?”
Of my closest four female friends, none have children – but three are in serious, committed relationships. I love these girls, and conversations with them make me feel normal…like my old self. And they give me a safe space to swear like a truck driver while at the same time pondering the universe’s greatest questions about the opposite sex. Before I had my daughter, I would talk to one of these friends (who lives on the West Coast) at least twice a week, and hang out with the other three (whom I worked with) at least three nights a week.
But then I had a baby, and while I was home breastfeeding, the three who live in New York settled down with amazing men…and now we see each other far less often. And even though my friend on the West Coast is still single, unfortunately, I am able to carve out time to catch up with her far less frequently. (Remember, I am busy chasing and tackling a toddler in an attempt to get her to brush her teeth.)
And I should be honest and admit that at times I get sad about the fact that I feel like I am hovering between different worlds, not fitting well into either of them.
Does this mean that I can’t be friends with my non-mom friends? No. Not at all. But our friendships have changed. How could they not? Our lives, our free time and our responsibilities have changed – and that’s…well, that’s life. It’s an adaptation and a learning experience – for everyone.
For example, the stars aligned the other night and I was able to get together with my three closest girl friends (sans any significant others) in a restaurant, for dinner. It was blissful.
Did we have to eat at 5:30 pm so that my daughter didn’t lose her marbles? Yes. Did that make the dinner any less enjoyable? No, not really.
After more than two years of their being friends with the post-baby Cara, I’ve explained to my friends that I can’t do really late nights anymore. Although I do miss being a true New Yorker and not leaving the apartment until 10 pm, my human alarm clock wakes me up at the crack of dawn every morning, and I need my sleep. So when my friends want to hang out with me – with or without my daughter – they accommodate my life and we eat early.
After our "early bird special" dinner, we weren’t done talking (we are really never done talking) and we decided to head next door for another cocktail at a less formal restaurant and bar. My daughter was on the fence about our plans, but this watering hole had crayons and paper placemats, so she obliged. We sat there for hours catching up and laughing harder than I have laughed in a while. At one point my daughter demanded that I get up and dance with her, so I stepped away from the conversation and accommodated the request, missing portions of the chat, but was still able to keep up with the overall gist.
At another point in the evening, my daughter started shouting over the music, “I NEED TO GO POOPY!!! NOW!!!! A BIG DINOSAUR POOPY!!!!” So I jumped up, swooped her into the bathroom and let her do her thing, while I sat on the cold, dirty bathroom floor for more than 10 minutes, telling her stories and jokes – trying to keep her entertained long enough for her to finish her business.
My parent friends would have totally been able to relate to the persistent potty demands of a two-year-old…and when I returned they would have likely shared stories related to me sitting on the a bathroom floor (while wondering what we had with our lives).
My non-parent friends, the ones that I was out with, asked if everything was all right, and when I said yes, they jumped right back into their conversation. I then took a large sip of my tequila and soda with lots of lime, and joined in on the theorizing about life and love. While we cracked one another up, I swayed to the music with my sleepy daughter on my hip.
Is either course of conversation better, post-potty trip? No. Different, yes. But better? No.
And is either type of friendship better? I don’t think so. In fact, I really don’t believe either trumps the other – at all. Just as I demand that I am not dismissed from life (personal or professional) because I have a child, I in turn don’t dismiss women as unable to relate to me just because they don’t have children. How could I? I don’t dismiss my friends because they have significant others even though I don’t.
We are all so much more than the roles we play to the people that depend on us – so to limit our friendships to only those that share the title of "Mom" would be really unfortunate, even when we take into consideration the legitimate and logistical differences in our everyday lives.
Yes, life changes in a huge way when you have a child and there are certainly things that my non-mom friends would never be able to completely understand unless they were in the parenting trenches with me…but that doesn’t disqualify them as friends. I mean, really…what fun would that be?