How to stay close to friends without kids

Staying close to friends who don't have kids isn't easy. Here are tips for making it work

When Sarah Ferris* went to visit a friend who’d just given birth, the new mom looked up blissfully – and immediately started lecturing her on how she better hurry up and start making babies.

“I’ve always appreciated her candour,” says Ferris, “but considering I was going through a breakup, it was a bit patronizing.”

It didn’t help that the next time they saw each other, the new mother suggested that 35-year-old Ferris harvest her eggs, just in case. Ferris knows she wasn’t trying to be hurtful, but it was a definite sign their friendship was shifting.

After you have a baby, it’s difficult to maintain a relationship with the person you live with, let alone friends who aren’t on a similar hamster wheel of diaper changes and sleepless nights. So it’s no surprise that sometimes friendships between people with kids and those without can feel like they’re slipping away due to a lack of time and a change in priorities.

Make adjustments
Lainey Lui, the creator of the entertainment gossip site laineygossip.com and a correspondent for eTalk, has written candidly about her choice not to have children. The 38-year-old says she’s worked at maintaining relationships with her many friends who have families. She credits her willingness to be flexible with her time (and opinions!) for keeping the friendships strong. “You both have to make adjustments and acknowledge that things have changed,” she says. “I know that my friends with kids aren’t as spontaneous as they used to be. And they know my decision not to have children is locked down.”

Acknowledge jealousy or competition
Psychologist Barbara Bresver says people shouldn’t give up just because the day-to-day interactions have changed; the key is acknowledging to yourself that envy and judgment may be getting in the way. “Some unspoken competition may be at play. Friends may ask themselves: Who has made the better choice?” she says. Avoid a bad cycle by acknowledging it on both sides and finding the things you still have in common.

This is especially true when mixing family life with a friendship when one person is childless due to circumstances or infertility, and needs to be handled with sensitivity. Ferris admits that envy does come into play. “I have mixed feelings. Of course I would like to have had kids at the same time as my best friends.” Unfortunately, her friend’s indoctrination into the “cult of motherhood” has made it difficult to talk about these things openly, she says.

Deb McCain, 41, has two daughters, ages six and three. In hindsight, she admits she may have been a bit smug with her childless friends. “I felt like I had a higher purpose and what I was doing with my day was more noble,” she says. “But that’s typical of a first-time mom; you eventually re-emerge back into the world.”

Compromise
McCain maintains her relationships with her friends by inviting them over. “It’s not as exciting or as gourmet as they’re used to, but at least after the kids go to bed, we can have a conversation.” She says it’s a compromise that most of her friends are willing to live with – up to a point.

Ferris says she’s logged way too many hours at the homes of mothers trying to socialize while kids whined and took up most of the time. “Sometimes I wonder why they want me over. They seem so stressed, you can’t have a conversation.”

Avoid assumptions
But the real issues are the assumptions that underlie each visit, she says.  “My friends with kids expect you to work around their feeding schedule. They assume you don’t have a life that’s important, that also needs attention and organizing,” she says. “I’m willing to be extremely flexible, but at some point, my timetable and issues are important, too.”

Next: FRIEND 411: Tips for saving fading friendships >
Mutual support
The basis of friendship is mutual support, says Bresver, and good friends should be able to find ways to negotiate through different life stages. “Friendships go through many, many changes over the years,” she says. “Having babies is just one of them. All friends have something to offer each other.”

McCain says she always appreciated the small gestures from her child-free friends – the phone calls, care packages and coffee dates. “In the first year, not all the conversations were completed, but I always appreciated the lengths that my friends took to see me. Even if they didn’t understand exactly what I was going through, they reached out. And that’s a sign of true friendship.”

Tracy Lee, 42, has seen both sides. She had her daughter at 41, a decade after many of her friends had kids. She realizes now that she may have had misconceptions about her friends with kids when she was single. “I thought they didn’t really want to see me and hear about my life. But now I’m thrilled when one of my friends without kids talks about what’s going on. I’m tired of talking about babies!”

Lui, for one, has learned that if you hang in through the boring playdates, there is a great payoff. Now the time she and her mom friends spend together is much more appreciated: “Going out is a special treat and we really savour our time together.”

If you feel relationships with your friends without kids are slipping away, try these tips:

Be flexible. Both sides have to recognize that their schedules may not match  and compromises may be necessary on an ongoing basis. What’s a skipped bath time
in the scheme of a long friendship?

Get the mundane conversations out of the way. Try to limit talk of the challenges of daycare drop-off and how little Sophie won’t eat anything other than fish sticks. There are still some similarities in your lives (stress, relationship challenges, self-image problems, etc.).

Book a date. Do something you’ve always enjoyed together –  or something totally different. Visit an art gallery or walk in a new neighbourhood so the focus will be on something other than the two of you. Try to find a babysitter, but if your child does come along, do it during a time when she’ll nap in the stroller or where she can play and you can chat easily.

Make a call. Resurrect that ancient communication device called the phone! It’s more
intimate than email or texting.

Talk about the changes. Sometimes feelings of competition between friends can escalate when they’re living different lives. Friends should acknowledge there may be jealousy on both sides and empathize with one another’s problems.

*Name changed by request.

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