People like to paint parenthood as the great divider. When you have children, you create an invisible line between the “haves” and the “have-nots” – or so the myth goes. But the truth is a whole lot more nuanced.
I never set out to be child-free in life. Like many people my age (early 40s), it’s just something I’ve fallen into. I know, too, that other people in my position have not always had the privilege of a choice. And, to complicate things further, I haven’t ruled out having children. It’s just not where I’m at right now.
Like I said, confusing. But if I’ve learnt anything from sitting on the side lines of other people’s baby journeys, it’s this. Having kids – or not – is not a deal-breaker in friendship. And our tendency to portray it as such plays into a broader narrative that’s both unhelpful and untrue.
People like to paint parenthood as the great divider
Those who do become parents shouldn’t feel the pressure to be “perfect”, anymore than those who don’t will “regret it forever” or “die alone” (something, by the way, that could happen to anyone). These mindsets pile on pressure to an already vulnerable transition, creating needless drama and division.
In reality, the difference between a friend who has kids and a friend who doesn’t can signal the start of a whole new dynamic between you both. Yes, something will be lost along the way. But like all the best changes in life, something will also be gained. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Friendship vs parenthood is a transition
Your friendship won’t change overnight, but by degrees – and generally, the early baby months are the easiest part. Of course, this isn’t necessarily true for new mums and dads, who’ll be going through the mill on the sharp end of hormones, sleep loss and new born demands.
But from an outside perspective, friendship habits are easier maintained when a baby is still small enough to be bundled into a carrier – versus a toddler careening about and reaping merry chaos. And this gradual timeline gives both friends time to adapt.
But things will inevitably change
And it’s unrealistic to imagine they won’t. Friendships must shape-shift through many different moments in life, but parenthood is one of the bigger ones. The leap is simple enough – as long as you both learn to cut some slack.
Friendships must shape-shift through many different moments
Think of it as speaking a slightly different dialect. As someone without kids, you can’t possibly know what it’s like to navigate the challenges particular to parenthood; sleepless nights, cabin fever or the anxiety of a young baby with colic. And, equally, as someone with kids, it’s hard to retain perspective on what life is like without them.
You’ll both have things you envy or simply don’t understand about one another’s lives. But that gap is also an invitation to lean in, ask questions and know your friend more closely than ever before.
Three’s a (great) crowd
Or four, or even five. While it’s tempting to try and get your friend “by themselves”, their little people will be central to the vibe you share from the moment the newbie arrives. They’ll determine where you meet up (coffee shops), what you do (playgrounds or walks) and the presents you exchange (splotchy finger paintings).
Things will change as time goes on, and your friend seeks out windows of time alone – if they can – beyond parenthood. But that move has to come from them, not you. So, rather than resist this new chapter, it’s best to make the most of it.
Embrace the aunty role
Speaking of which, if you end up in an honorary aunty or uncle role, you’re onto a truly good – and underrated – thing. This basically means you can enjoy all the perks of having children around (Toys! Halloween costumes! Bedtime stories!) minus the harder realities.
Having kids – or not – is not a deal-breaker in friendship
I never imagined that being an aunty in this way would be as fun or rewarding as it is. And I’m also moved by the generosity of my friends in letting me take on that cameo. It’s great to be the one who swoops in with treats, to share surprisingly deep conversations (about the solar system, life in the Victorian age or alien vampires, to name a few) or to chase around the garden – outside the wider commitment of parenthood.
There is still life beyond kids
It’s a cliché that after becoming parents, all people want to talk about is their kids. Naturally, there’s a lot to chat about and celebrate when a new baby arrives – and at any milestone, like a birthday or first day at school. But equally, mums and dads want escapism. I’ve had parent friends say to me, “Please can we talk about something other than my children. I love them but it’s all I’ve done all day.”
Life with kids is amazing. So too is life without. Either way, I think we need to get away from the highly-charged narrative that too often coats the topic of parenthood in controversy. Just as happiness itself doesn’t rest on the decision (or not) to have kids, nor should friendships be levered around that choice.
Life with kids is amazing. So too is life without
The truth is, you don’t have to echo other people’s life choices in order to feel connected to them. And, better still, there’s a whole new level of connection that awaits in the difference between having kids or not. It all comes down to meeting one another in the middle, to grow and rekindle what you already have.
Flash Pack is a group travel company that specialises in small group adventures for solo travellers in their 30s and 40s. Find out more about how we work, and our mission to build a global community of friendships.
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