I’m writing from a place of pretty intense emotion, so forgive me in advance when when some things don’t make sense. I have two major points to make: The subtlety of semantics, and the relationship between people with kids and people without.
First let me hit on the word choices: People who choose not to have kids refer to themselves as childfree, however other people (usually those with kids or those who want kids) refer to those people as childless. It’s pretty interesting, when you really stop to think about it, how we choose certain words and phrases and how much power is actually behind them. Someone who uses childfree feels that their life is complete without kids, and in fact, kids might be a burden in their life. But then the person who tells them that they’re childless, is projecting their own beliefs that life is somehow incomplete without kids involved. Until #1 came along, I was childless. My best friend, however, was childfree. And she remains that way to this day.
When we were 29 (no, I am not telling you how many years ago that was), she had to fight her doctor into tying her tubes. The doctor (a woman) gave her all kinds of push-back about how she might change her mind, she’s still young, et cetera. T knew what she wanted, and her then-husband did too (their split had nothing to do with kids, for the record), and she even faced the doctor down with the fact that a tubal ligation is reversible, although she hadn’t actually looked into it because she had no intention of reversing it. The doctor kept throwing out the term childless. T actually had to change doctors and was finally able to get the procedure when she was 30. Why do so many people have a hard time accepting that some women truly do not want kids?
So, that’s that. Childfree and childless, while on the surface mean the same thing, are actually very different. Be careful how you use them.
Now… during all my childbearing years, T and I were always thick as thieves. I always had time for her, and she always – ALWAYS – had time for me. When I hear women with children bitching that their ‘childless’ friends have ditched them, how they never invite them to do anything, I always wonder if it’s really the other way around. You’ve all seen the pictures that go around facebook, about how ‘My idea of fun is no longer leaving the bar at 2am, dancing all night, etc, now it’s pillow forts in the living room, snuggling at 9pm with a cartoon’ or some other holier-than-thou thing. You know what? Yeah, it’s true, there were a few years where I really wasn’t able to do much of anything other unless it involved my kids, but there comes a point when all you want to do is have a night for you, and the people that you have always depended on to remind you exactly who you are.
So when T would invite me out to catch a new band, I would leave the kids with my husband and go out. I might not have been able to stay until closing time with her, but I was able to get some face time with her. When she would organize girls night out, I was there – and for those, I sometimes made it a point to stay out late. Let hubster do the heavy lifting. Now, I know there are single mothers out there, but you know what, there are babysitters. Not all of them are expensive. If you have cousins, nieces, nephews, etc, particularly if you babysat them back in the day, put them to work. Make it a point to get to know the younger people in your neighborhood. Be a little nosy and figure out who doesn’t go out a lot, because those are the kids who are going to be available when you need them. Expose your children to them so they’re not strangers. Befriend them early, let them know your situation, they’ll be willing to sit for less than the “going rate” if they’re not total douchebags. I’ve done it for free on occasion. If your baby sitting money cuts into your night out money, big whoop. Meet at a friend’s first and pre-game, if you’re worried about being able to afford drinking money. If your friends are truly your friends, they’ll understand that you don’t want to bar-hop, that you just want to go to one bar because that’s all you can afford.
On the flip side, a third friend, R, never accepted any invitation to do anything that began after 7 pm. Not even to go to a movie. A movie? You can’t leave your child at home for two, maybe three hours max to come and sit on your ass with us in a theater? Every time she wanted to get together, it was always with kids in mind. She’s say, hey let’s take the kids to this place on Saturday, maybe T can bring her nieces. Yes, T adores her twin nieces, but why should she have to procure some kids to be allowed to hang out? Oh, and T always felt like this was a dig at her worthiness. You are only allowed to join us if you have kids with you, you can’t come by yourself. Sort of the opposite of an adult-only party.
The thing is, maybe your childfree friends aren’t ditching you, maybe they’re just tired of always being turned down. What’s that line about insanity? Doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome? (Which isn’t the actual definition, but whatever) T stopped inviting R to anything, eventually, and then R always got pissed off that “her childless friends never ask her to do anything anymore.”
My fellow parents: Your friends without kids can only take being turned down so many times before they just stop bothering. But pay attention: They attend every single birthday party you throw for your kids. They might spoil your kids as if they were their own. They celebrate every milestone with you. They’re there when you want a night out. Your childfree friend’s idea of fun isn’t sitting around with an Elmo party hat on watching a bunch of short humans pin the tail on everything but the donkey, but she does it because YOU asked her to be there. She does it because it’s what YOU want. But you’re the one who passes the subtle message that your life is more important than hers when you can’t be bothered to take part in anything she’s interested in. Compromising and doing things like meeting for dinner or lunch are one thing, because that’s something both parties have a mutual interest in. But when you are only inviting her to things that involve your kids (and then getting upset at the times she declines) and then declining all of her invites that involve just being yourself, an adult who is still her own person and not just a mother, the relationship becomes one-sided.
So like I said, yes, there were a couple years when I did fall a bit off the grid. #1 and #2 were born way too close together and I got a bit overwhelmed. I turned down pretty much everything T asked me to do, mostly because every moment the girls weren’t in my sight, I promptly fell asleep. We did a lot of lunches with babies in tow, we did a lot of hanging around her apartment for an hour at a time (many of which I’m guilty of being half-asleep though), but we tried. It wasn’t until #2 was nearly three years old that I realized T’s invites were coming less and less. I did get angry at first, but then I thought about it, and I realized there would be no point to her asking. It’s like when you have a Tupperware party or something along those lines. You know who to invite and who not to waste your breath on.
Once the girls were old enough to be less of a drain on my mental health, I was able to re-establish a lot of the fun times that T and I had enjoyed over the years. As I said, I’d suck it up and get dressed up for the club, even if I had to call it a night less than two hours in. But that was more about being a responsible adult than anything else. I knew I’d have to be up at 7am, so I knew I had to get to bed by midnight. It didn’t matter that I had to be up at 7 because of the kids. I’d made similar decisions years back when I had to get up for work early.
Why would I begrudge her idea of fun. She gets to do whatever the hell she wants because she can. And if she wants me to be a part of it, then I’m going to do what I can to be there. I know she absolutely hates the whole gift-opening part of kids’ birthday parties, all the kids screaming about what they got and how cool it is, or some other kid yelling about how much he wants it too (at least she’s stopped conveniently getting a phone call right when it starts, for which she has to go outside) but she’s there with the giant garbage bag grabbing the wrapping paper, because she knows how much I hate cleaning that shit up. She manages a band, whose music she knows I don’t particularly like, but I still go to their showcases and important events because I know how much it means to her.
I’m probably rambling, but I just saw a rant on facebook from a parent friend pissed at her single, childfree friend over this. This parent friend is also one of those moms who’s entire facebook page is all her kids. Honestly, it’s so much about the kids that one of them could probably take the account over as their own when they get older and no one would notice. This woman clearly has no idea how much she’s lost herself in her kids. When you become a mother, motherhood should enhance your womanhood, not replace it. You’re still an individual, with you own interests, your own desires. Your idea of fun isn’t really a Dora marathon; it’s simply seeing your child happy. But your child isn’t going to be happy if you’re not happy, and I don’t see how you can be happy if you don’t have some semblance of a life of your own.
Maybe that makes me sound like a sanctimommy, but at least this sanctimommy has friends that aren’t my kids. And my facebook page has pictures of me.