Stop Alienating Your Non-Parent Friends
Updated: Oct 26, 2019
A lot of parents and non-parents want to be friends, but are having trouble navigating their new dynamic. And that’s fair! This parenting thing is hard! We are still trying to figure out how to get through the day and keep everyone alive and thriving. We often forget to take care of ourselves, let alone how to be a friend to others. And sometimes non-parents feel like they don’t know what to ask about or how to help.
Even having a conversation can get tricky. Parents don’t want to just talk about their kids, but they may not have interacted with anyone besides those kids in days and have about a billion funny kid stories. Non-parents want to tell you about their issue at work or their relationship woes, but might think you’re uninterested or consider it unimportant.
As we work to figure out the new lay of the land with our friendships, it’s important not to alienate those people who loved us B.C. (before children). One way to stop alienating them is to mind what we say. Here are a couple of examples:
“You think YOU’RE tired, just wait til you have kids!”
I’m going to get some eye rolls for saying this: parents don’t own tired.
Sure, I’m more tired now than I have ever been. But I bet I’m not as tired as someone who works a 9-5, then picks up night shifts waiting tables in order to go home and do online classes for their Masters degree.
Note: if you aren’t sure whether or not something you’re about to say is alienating, condescending, and/or rude, a good indicator to watch for is “just wait”. This phrase typically negates someone else’s experience in order to emphasize your own. It’s often unintentional, but it’s still a real effect.
“You don’t know love until you have kids.”
Parents also don’t own love. Yes, I love my child differently than I have loved anyone or anything else. But different is not a form of measurement. I can’t say I love my daughter more than you love your dad, because they are different relationships. You have no idea what anyone else’s love capacity is like and telling people that they’re incapable of understanding something--anything--is just hurtful.
“We have to deal with the stress of taking care of them.”
Taking care of little ones is a very important job that parents have. But other people can be caregivers. Some people care for their elderly parents, or a sibling with special needs, and have to use just as much energy. Looking out for another person’s wellbeing 24/7 is HARD, but parents aren’t the only ones to do it. (And as an educator, I could say lots about the challenges of taking care of 30 of them at a time.)
Some exclusive problems that moms can have are those related to pregnancy, breastfeeding or postpartum issues. Adoptive and foster parents also have exclusive problems that come with those systems. I'd say that parents also have exclusive feelings when they go through the loss of a child. Every other problem, though, is something that a non-parent can experience, and when we deny that fact we alienate our non-parent friends. We become difficult to talk to, because we [unintentionally] prioritize our struggles and trivialize the struggles of others. This sort of thing neglects empathy and can weaken friendships. A conversation shouldn’t be a competition of who has it worse. It should be a time to remember that we’re in this together.
This type of treatment can be especially hurtful for our non-parent friends who want to be parents. I know because for years I was that person. I desperately wanted to be a momma, and every time someone said one of these statements, it felt like a slap in the face--a painful reminder that I wasn’t in the club yet.
Listen: making any friendships work outside of text messaging is hard as an adult. Juggling work schedules, school schedules, nap times and bedtimes all contribute to the gap between us and our besties. But let’s try to make a conscious effort to remain inclusive and interested in the people that want to be in our lives despite the snot/spit up/poop stain on our shirt.