It’s natural that friendships change over time, but I have never before experienced such a shift in friendships as I have since our daughter was born. That was one part of parenting I hadn’t really expected.
In the past two years, there’s been an exodus of friends; sometimes the ending of the friendships has been dramatic, sometimes subtle. Here are some of the types of friends we’ve lost:
The friends who couldn’t have children: It makes sense that people who wanted children but found themselves unable to might be jealous/hurt/uncomfortable when their friends reproduce. Some are able to cope with it and be pleased for their friends, while others, well, not so much.
My wife and I were good friends with someone for years, often having him over for dinner. We knew how much he longed for children, but fertility and relationship problems got in the way. He congratulated us by email on the birth of our daughter, but then never again mentioned her. As in, for nearly two years, he has never asked to meet her, never asked about her, never acknowledged that she exists. Other people have told me that they’ve also had envious friends who dropped them in the same way. Of course I understand they are in pain, but we shouldn’t have to stay childless in order to stay friends.
The friends who don’t like children or who don’t mind children but are relieved not to have any: Unfortunately, I no longer have the time to meet up with people for leisurely, child-free meals or coffee dates. For the most part, where my wife and I go, our daughter goes. That means that we might be able to spend an hour at an outdoor café or a park, watching our daughter play while also chatting with a friend, but some people—understandably—don’t like the divided attention and don’t find it amusing to watch a toddler try to climb up a slide. So our social visits with the happily child-free have dwindled.
I know some people miss the partying and the liberty that they had pre-baby, but for me sometimes it’s a relief; recently, a colleague I’m friendly with was telling me gleefully about a party he was at and how drunk he got and how late he was out, and I just felt glad to have been home, sleeping next to my wife and our daughter, rather than at a noisy, dull event filled with drunken workmates.
The friends who are against breastfeeding: I’m not exactly sure why people take it so personally, but some appear to find it upsetting that I breastfeed our daughter; perhaps they feel I’m implicitly criticizing their decision to give their child formula, or perhaps they just don’t understand why you would breastfeed a child to natural term.
A few friends began posting virulently anti-breastfeeding articles and comments to Facebook, and seemed to be doing so in response to me posting pro-breastfeeding pieces, which often were simply about my own experiences. What was probably oddest of all were the women who didn’t even have children themselves and yet felt the need to argue against breastfeeding, and who were even rude about me studying to become a breastfeeding counselor; it’s fine for them to think that breastfeeding doesn’t matter, but why would they find it problematic that other people do care? When one insisted that breastfeeding is just about men trying to control women’s bodies—though I’ve made it clear that I find it a feminist and empowering choice—I knew I’d had enough of her.
On the other hand, some friendships have gotten even stronger since my wife and I had our child. I think, for example, of one child-free woman who is wonderful with our daughter; they play together while we also manage to have an adult conversation at the same time. And with our friends who already have children, we now can have discussions about parenting in a more informed and experienced way, and our connection has deepened.
And luckily, we’ve also gained friends, probably more than we’ve lost. Those new friends include:
The friends who are parents of our daughter’s friends. The friends who are also same-sex parents. The friends who support breastfeeding and/or breastfeed to natural term. And the friends who also lost friends when they had children.
It’s important to find your community, and also important to recognize that communities change over time. I’ve been saddened and puzzled and sometimes hurt by the way certain friendships have ended, but I think I learned something important about those people and about myself in the process. I’ve also understood, in a way that I perhaps didn’t before, that it’s OK for things to change, and OK for me to let go.
And I’ve been really excited by some of our new friendships. While many of the new relationships started mainly on the basis of us both having a child, we don’t forget that there’s a world beyond parenting, and we’ve been able to talk about many topics—literature, politics, vegetarianism, and travel among them.
I feel as though I’ve found a metaphorical parenting mishpacha.