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Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Necessity of Maintaining Kid-Free Friendships

Moms are a lot like soldiers: besides the obvious parallels of fighting battles on a variety of fronts, there is a camaraderie of having shared experiences. If you've ever sat around and listened to a couple of soldiers swapping stories, it's pretty much the same kind of thing with moms, except the topics include teething, feeding schedules, childhood sicknesses, potty-training woes, struggles at school, and pre-teen moodiness.

"Oh God, I'm feeling another 'Nam flashback coming on!"
This Fraternity (or rather Maternity) of Mothers can be a very good thing; it reminds us that we're not alone, and we're not as insane as we think we are. When a woman has a kid, she becomes a part of this "Maternity Fraternity", and gains a whole new circle of friends. And for a mom, that's a good and necessary thing; we can support each other, share helpful suggestions and advice, laugh, and swap stories together. 

"Wherever two or more mothers are gathered together, the topic of children shall appear in the midst of them. 
 And yea verily, tales of poo and snotty noses doth follow soon behind."
--Maternations 1:23-4, from
the sacred book of the Parentateuch

However, in joining this new social circle, "pre-kid" friendships often deteriorate, especially if those friends don't have kids of their own. It's easy to see why it happens: as a new parent, you are overwhelmed with all the responsibilities of caring for someone that's completely dependent on you for absolutely everything. When the dust from your social calendar finally starts to settle (anywhere from 3-9 months later), you've had all the upheaval of starting a new job combined with the drama of entering new relationship... which is pretty much what happens when you have a kid. And what happens when you start a new job or begin a new relationship? 

Well... yes. But in this case, no. Definitely no.

You talk about it with your girlfriends.

But after such a HUGE change in your life, it's very easy to unwittingly dominate nearly every conversation with mommy and/or baby stuff. Not only that, but you've entered into territory that your kid-free friends can't relate to. And while they listen and do their best to empathize, the truth is that they're not part of the "Maternity Fraternity". It's easy for a mom to think that those friends can't offer much in the way of support; likewise, I think a lot of those friends are at a loss as to what they can do to help a close friend who's had a kid.

So, as a mom, what exactly CAN your kid-free friends offer you?

One of the best things my friends did for me was to give me a kid-free zone, a place where I could talk about anything but kids. And that was SO liberating! Here was a place where I could have adult conversation and talk about books, movies, video games, world events, science-y things... all the things we used to talk about before I had kids.  
Specifically because those friends didn't have kids, there was no danger that the conversation would devolve into talk of diapers, spit-up, or sleeping schedules. Spending time with those friends was a vital and necessary reminder that, although things had changed and I was now a parent, I was still the same weird, outgoing, nerdy, off-color person I'd been before. 
Pictured: weird, outgoing, nerdy, and very off-color. But definitely not me.
(Although I do have a Nintendo controller belt buckle.*)

But of course, part of this is that I had to check myself so I didn't dominate the conversation by talking about my kid(s). Yeah sure, I would always have a few funny stories to share, but I was always sure to steer clear of topics that were TMI or gross. (Some things that are perfectly normal topics in the Maternity Fraternity are not acceptable topics for general conversation.) 
No joke, when I was pregnant with V.2.1, I specifically told all my kid-free friends that if I ever got to the point where I wouldn't stop talking about baby stuff, they could give me one warning, and if I still didn't stop, they had my permission to slap me. 

The other thing I had to try to remember when I was hanging out with my friends was to ask them what was going on in THEIR lives. It may sound dumb that I had to make a conscious effort to remember that, but a major life change can easily dominate your perspective; there were times when I would think, "Okay, how long have I been talking about my kid? They don't seem to mind, but I've been talking about me or my kid for 20 minutes. Have I asked So-and-so what she's been up to? I don't think so. I should probably do that now..."

Friendship is a two-way street, and just because you become a mom does not mean that your pre-kid or kid-free friendships will fade away. Quite the contrary, they become even MORE necessary, because they can offer support that's just as essential as that offered by other mothers; yeah, it's a different kind of support, but it's no less important. So don't forget to contact those friends and ask to get together; yeah, you may not be able to hang out as often as you did before, but don't let those friendships die, because they still can have a lot to offer.

Extra big thanks to Jess, Tom, Monna, Chris, and SJ for being those friends for me; you guys were (and still are) awesome!

*- no joke, I really do have the same buckle Howard wears in some episodes. Fortunately, I never wear it with skinny jeans and a turtleneck.

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