Tina Rodia shares how her relationships with her friends has changed as more of them become parents.
Friendships born in frivolity either mature or are let go. As I grow older, I want comfort instead of recklessness, and friends who are like family in all respects, including its challenges. I’m 35, unmarried but in a committed relationship, childless, and living in a city that allows me the freedom to live a younger lifestyle than my years. Mine is a much healthier lifestyle now than in my 20s, save for a penchant for afternoon bloody marys, and I have shed friends I was close to a decade ago as I settled down into a far less wild lifestyle. The few friends I remained close to, and grow even closer to as I get older, are all mothers, which I am not, and all have vastly different life circumstances than I, as opposed to my 20s when my friends were a more homogenous cross section of personalities. How have I kept these friendships despite our differences in lifestyles, experiences, histories, and trajectories?
As in a romantic relationship, our expectations and needs become much more realistic. And life experiences become more challenging. When our friends face challenges, it is up to us to put aside a continuation of fun and frivolity and truly be supportive. The same is true when friends have kids. Nothing changes relationships more than having a child. A good friend must accept that once their friend has a child, for years the ability to meet up at the bar, go to a movie, or stop by late at night is greatly challenged if not impossible. And for the beginning of the child’s life, the mother’s (and father’s) main focus is the new experience of parenthood. Most other topics of conversation and focus are trumped. Time spent together becomes time spent on the new parents’ terms. Small details, such as a complaint about work or a movie you saw last night, the typical kinds of conversation that would flow endlessly over drinks, no longer seem relevant or welcome in the face of new parenthood.
I think the greatest glue of my friendships is the fact that I like kids, and was genuinely excited about the birth of my friends’ kids. If childless people only want to spend child-free time with their friends, I anticipate the relationship would suffer due to an unwillingness to take part in the biggest aspect of their life. The same can be said for loss. As we age, the loss or sickness of an elderly parent becomes an eclipsing event. When a friend loses a parent or has a family crisis, regardless of what age we are, we need to hang up our own complaints, our day-to-day minutiae, and just be present for our friends, or understand that they want to be alone.
Aging and maturing brings into perspective our own romantic relationships. When relationships mature they either settle down or end. Thrilling details of relationship progress and matriculation become mundane when you are in a committed relationship. Bonding over boys or dating just isn’t relevant when you are not dating, or are not in any relationship. Friendships with regard to romantic relationships must mature as our lives do. When I’m with my friends who are happily married, and myself being happily coupled, we rarely dish intimate details of our romantic lives, nor do we partake in endless bitching about our significant others. Perhaps we are just lucky—I certainly have very little to complain about—or maybe we have accepted our relationship challenges.
My friend, who is divorced, is single and rarely dates. When she does, she goes out on nights her ex-husband has the kids, a night she often spends with me. I suppose if I too were single, we would have much to commiserate regarding the world of dating, but I have nothing to offer. I listen to her stories and the same thread runs through them every time she brings up the topic, which isn’t often: Her kids are the most important focus in her life, and nothing else compares. Loving a friend means having a realistic understanding of your friend’s loyalties. I know my friend loves spending time with me, but if I wasn’t equally enamored of her kids, and didn’t like being with them like I do her, our friendship would not be nearly as close. Having an ex-husband take the kids for a night certainly helps our friendship, and we both recognize if she were in a marriage with a workaholic or less supportive husband she would never get time out of the house. But if weeks or months have gone by and all our social time is spent outside of her home, I feel like a bad friend for never going over there on a night that she is “in” with the kids, to play with them, to be a part of their lives as much as I’m a part of hers.
All this is not to say that having friends with kids is never fun. It is a realistic and more holistic approach to being a part of their entire lives. And grown-up fun still exists. When my friend from the East Coast flew out here with her husband for a wedding, their separation from their 2-year-old son was approached with such ease that for two days, conversation never once went to the parenting place, and they never seemed to mind. It was nice for our friendship, admittedly, although I would have loved to see the baby boy I rarely see in person. But it reminded me that this person, now a mom, and her husband, also a parent, are my family too.
Tina Rodia is a freelance writer and small business owner in San Francisco. She grew up in Connecticut, and has a B.A. in creative writing and women’s studies.