Friendship across the parenting divide

Someone recently shared with me a link to this essay on BabyCenter about the maternal instinct.  One paragraph jumped out at me with a vengence:

"My other fear was that the instinct would kick in fast and furiously, and I’d become a brain-dead turbo-mommy with a Kleenex tucked in my sleeve rattling on about nothing but constructive play and growth percentiles. I’d stop working and simply gaze all day at my miraculous progeny. I’d lose my friends and start hanging out only with other mothers who snacked Cheerios out of tiny plastic bags, smelled faintly of baby vomit, and carried fat wallets stuffed with photos of startled-looking infants."

The stereotypes in that paragraph made me grind my teeth.  I often have tissues in my purse or my pocket (both clean and used), along with crayons and a matchbox car or two.  I’ve been known to eat cheerios out of little plastic bags, and when my kids were at the spitting up stage, I probably smelled of it.  (One definition of maternal instinct: when your kid throws up, and your first reaction is to stick your hand out to catch the puke rather than to jump out of the way.)  But I dare anyone to call me brain-dead.

My experience is that motherhood doesn’t change people’s fundamental personalities.  People who were smart are smart mommies.  People who were cynical are cynical mommies.  People who were overachievers are overachieving mommies. 

But yes, your interests do change when you become a parent.  Things that you never thought much about (cloth v. disposible diapers, the quality of local schools, how little sleep it’s possible to function on) become fascinating.  Things that once seemed essential (first run movies, parties that start at 10 pm) become distant memories.

So, it is sometimes hard to maintain friendships across the parenting divide.  (I know some people complain that it’s hard to maintain friendships when one friend is partnered and the other isn’t; I never had that problem, possibly because when I first got married, I hardly knew anyone else who was married.  If I didn’t want to hang out with my single friends, I would have been awfully lonely.)

Friendships that are based on circumstances — you work together, you go out to bars together — often don’t last when those circumstances change.  Yes, stay-at-home moms often hang out with other stay-at-home moms, because that’s who’s available to take a walk at 3 in the afternoon.  Working moms often want to get together someplace that’s kid-friendly because after being away from their kids all day, they’d like to see them.  But if your friendship is important enough, if it’s not just circumstancial, I firmly believe you can make it work even when one has kids and the other doesn’t.

For me, geography has been the biggest problem in maintaining friendships.  My friends from college live all across the country, and I  just don’t hop on a plane for a long weekend the way I used to before I had kids.  Four of the closest friends I made in DC moved away within a period of just over a year.  And I’ve found it much harder to make new friends since having kids; if it’s challenging to make the time to be with people who are already your friends, it’s triply hard to make the time to develop acquaintances into friends.  And trying to have a real conversation while also taking care of an active toddler or preschooler is nearly impossible, as Helen Simpson so acutely portrays.  (Parents of older children assure me that it gets easier when your role is reduced to spectator at their games or performances.)

4 Responses to “Friendship across the parenting divide”

  1. Jody Says:

    Geography is my biggest problem with friendship, too. I’ve been very lucky to find sympathetic and like-minded fellow parents here in our new town, but at the same time, I miss the Connecticut friends I made pre-children. Somehow the basis of the friendships made before children feels more satisfying, although I’d be hard-pressed to explain why. Perhaps I suspect the new friends of being circumstantial only–we have children the same age, we therefore gather together–and it will take time for them to “prove their worth.” (The friendships, not the friends, who have already gone above and beyond on various occasions.)
    Like you, I was among the first of my friends to be married, and then among the first to have children, so the process of bridging those divides has been a little more invisible for me. It seems to become more pressing as my oldest friends and I enter our late thirties: people who are still single or still childless struggle more with their status, and my mere existence becomes more painful for them, at least in passing.
    And to return to your opening, the straw-horse self-presentation drives me wild. “I was determined not to become this particular out-of-date illusory cliche” has become the cynical sales point for any number of parenting essays. Find a new hook, please.

  2. Jody Says:

    I meant, the users of the cliches should find a new hook–not you.

  3. Suzanne Says:

    Chiming in with another lament about the geographic divide between me and several of my friends. Friends I had hoped to continue living close to when we both had children have moved away, and, like you and Jody, I have found it difficult to develop new friendships — part of the reason is that my time for nurturing a new friendship is a little limited right now. I’m hoping that as my children get older, I might have a bit more freedom to do that.

  4. SuzanH Says:

    Hi, just stopped in. I read this with interest because I’ve been wondering of late about friendships. I was the separated by geography from old friends when I married and almost immediately had my daughter. It was difficult to stay in touch, but we somehow persevered, even through major differences in lifestyles.
    I remember reading once that most friendships have a 6-8 year lifespan, and I think that’s true. Circumstances can (and do) change drastically, and what you needed then isn’t always what you need now.

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