If you’ve been anywhere on social media in the last week or so, chances are you’ve seen this article making the rounds: “Once We Become Parents, We Don’t Want to Hang Out With You Anymore (But Not for the Reasons You Think).” It’s just the latest in a neverending series of sanctimonious screeds from a particular breed of self-important parents who feel the need to condescendingly explain to people without kids why the life of a parent is so hard and why those without kids could never possibly understand. Here’s the thing, jackasses. We understand. We get it. It’s not actually a complicated concept.
These types of articles always seem to boil down to: “Parents’ lives change once they have kids, and if you don’t have kids, there’s no way you have any idea how or to what extent.” Are you kidding me? Do you know who knows that your life changes after having kids? Literally everyone. Everyone gets it. So when you smugly go on and on about how your life has so much more meaning at such a great sacrifice because you now have kids, it’s like being trapped in a room, A Clockwork Orange-style, forced to listen to the same tired bleating everyone has already heard a thousand times before.
What never seems to occur to these “It’s so haaaaaaard” parents is that parents and non-parents are perfectly capable of maintaining friendships, if both parties are willing to put in the effort and make some compromises. I’m at a point in my life where more of my friends have kids than don’t, and yet, we still manage to navigate changing circumstances to keep the friendship alive, even though I don’t have and will never have kids. Hell, I don’t even particularly like kids.* However, because I’m not a self-absorbed clueless asshole, and my friends are not self-absorbed clueless assholes, we make the friendships work.
Here are some things that the types of parents who write and identify with articles like that posted above should know about people without kids and how to maintain friendships with them:
- Don’t assume we’re total idiots. We know you’re sleep-deprived, adjusting to a new schedule, getting used to major changes in every part of your life and just generally overwhelmed. If we are making an effort to try to see you or get together, you can just say that you’re exhausted, or Tuesday’s not good for you, or that you’d love to get out of the house but you need a nap more. A non-asshole way to respond to a request for hanging out when you just can’t is: “I’m not up for going out, but I’d love it if you could come by one night after [kid] is in bed.” Or even, “I think I need a little time to adjust. Can I call you next week when I’m thinking a little more clearly?”
- Don’t be condescending to us. “Oh, you have no idea how exhausting being a new parent is.” Um, yes. I do. Because every mommy blogger gets 15 minutes of fame by enumerating all of the various ways that life now makes them tired. Seriously, we get it. Just say you’re wiped out and leave it at that. “Do you know how hard it is to find a babysitter?” Yes, I do. Did you not?
- Don’t be a martyr. We all get that your life is irrevocably changed now that you’ve had a child, but that was an obvious result of your totally voluntary choice, so don’t act like having to say “no” when your friend wants to catch a movie with you means that you were forced against your will to give up all frivolity and entertainment and the entirety of your social life. Lots of non-asshole parents still hang out with their friends, and when they can’t, they don’t act like they’re carrying the cross to Golgotha.
- Don’t imply that your life is now more important or meaningful than ours. We may not have kids, but we have jobs, families, obligations, and responsibilities. When you start telling us that we don’t know what real love is, or that a life without children isn’t a valuable life, you’re making the choice to end our friendship, because someone who can’t see the value in someone else’s life isn’t a person worth being friends with. We understand that your priorities have changed and that new things have importance to you, so do us the favor of not devaluing our lives just because we made different choices.
- Make at least the slightest effort. No one’s asking you to leave your toddler home alone so you can go do Jäger shots at the club. And frankly, I’m not sure where this prevailing notion came from that the childfree spend all their leisure time at the club, because, well, we don’t. But keeping up with texts or phone calls and managing a coffee date when you can or switching off nights with your spouse or significant other, if that’s an option, so that you can each have a night away goes a long way to showing people you’re still interested in their friendship. If you’re a single parent, trust me, we get that it’s more difficult, so your flexibility will be extremely limited. If your significant other won’t stay with the kids so you can grab appetizers and a glass of wine, well, your spouse kind of sucks and that’s a different issue and all the more reason you might want to try to keep your friendships alive.
Here’s the thing: your kids will eventually grow up and not need you around 24/7 at some point. And at that point, you’ll probably want to hang out with friends and go places and do things that interest you with people who you like and want to spend time with. But if you’ve been a sanctimonious, condescending jerk to your friends without kids, you’re probably going to find that you don’t have many people left who want to spend time with you. Those friends without kids who you devalued and insulted simply because they didn’t have kids are probably going to laugh in your smug face on their way to dinner with the people who had kids and didn’t treat them like crap when they were still figuring out parenthood.
It’s not hard. There’s no need for continuing to perpetuate this parent/non-parent divide. We can all coexist, be friends, even. It just takes compromise and respect on both sides. If your definition of friendship doesn’t include any flexibility for changing life circumstances, then I’m left wondering what exactly you think friendship is.
[For a parent’s perspective with 100% less condescension and a whole lot more honesty than the post that inspired this one, check out Susan’s reaction to that post and others like it.]
*(Yup. I just committed the biggest sin possible when writing an article from a childfree perspective. Hey, people without kids: you don’t have to qualify everything you say on the subject with, “Don’t get me wrong, I love kids!” or “I’m really involved in helping raise my niece,” or “Kids are wonderful and I love them so much!” There are reasons people choose not to have kids, and for many of us, one of those reasons is that we don’t much like being around them. It’s OK. All the choices are valid.)