Why Parents Should Have Child-Free Friends

I love having people around to remind me that, no, the world doesn’t actually revolve around my diaper change schedule.

When you have a child, you prepare for the fact that your life will change. Throughout the joys and tribulations of your pregnancy or your partner’s pregnancy or waiting to bring your adopted child home, you’re not only dealing with what’s immediately in front of you but how different everything will be months, years, even decades into the future. You start saving for your child’s college fund, or rearrange your house so your little crawler won’t be able to electrocute herself. If you’re me, you very seriously intend to work on swearing less, sometime soon, probably. And you acknowledge that between the sleepless nights and the baths and the feedings and generally tending to every physical and emotional need of a tiny helpless being that can’t even pass gas unassisted, your free time—and particularly your social life—are bound to take a hit.

Most of us remember a time when a friend who was newly parenting dropped off the face of the earth for a while. It’s hard to have people over when you don’t have the energy to clean your house, but you don’t want your guests to find out the kind of squalor you’re actually willing to live in for the sake of going to bed half an hour earlier. Going out, on the other hand, requires diaper bags and car seats and either bottles or breastfeeding, either of which might get you glared at or worse, plus the ever-present possibility that someone will scold you for allowing your child to make noise in public. You could try to get a babysitter, but by the time you’ve finished explaining the precise ritual combination of songs, back rubs, and rhythmic motion that will result in the baby sleeping for a solid eight minutes, you already owe them $30 and you’re ready for bed.

So parents tend to congregate with other parents—people who understand, who don’t mind that your kitchen is a mess because theirs is too, who won’t judge because they’ve been there. People say that after you have kids, your non-parent friends fall by the wayside. I was determined to not let that happen to me, but I could certainly see how maintaining a relationship across the dramatic divide of parenthood might be difficult to do.

Then my daughter was born, and I fell all-consumingly, head over heels in love with her. She has become my whole world, which is why I desperately need my non-parent friends, more than I ever have before.

It’s wonderful to bond with fellow parents over the excitement of watching your child learn something new and the virtues of cloth versus disposable diapers, but sometimes you (by which I mean I) need a reminder to look at the universe beyond your child’s perfect little button nose. My baby should be the center of my and my partner’s universe while she’s newborn and helpless, but as she grows and learns, she’ll need to develop her independence in ways that won’t be possible if we’re constantly smothering her with attention and affection. In order to parent her to the best of our abilities, we have to be functioning people with lives and identities outside of her.

And to that end, friends without kids are crucial. They are a new parent’s window to the wider world. They remind you that on the other side of bottles and diaper changes and middle-of-the-night burp emergencies, there are still books to be read and politics to be discussed and social change to work toward. Hanging out with no one but other parents is just like limiting your social circle to any other group with something in common—your conversations start to revolve around what you share, and eventually you realize that you’re basically living in a fishbowl.

I love having people around to remind me that, no, the world doesn’t actually revolve around my diaper change schedule. I appreciate my non-parent friends for their willingness to be patient when I need to adjust plans at the last moment, but I also appreciate their ability to regale me with their dating mishaps, workplace woes, and synopses of the new Star Wars movie. Sometimes, as much as I cherish my partner and every conversation we have about our baby, I feel like we’re treading conversational water. Getting together with a childfree friend is a breath of fresh air. (No, that’s not a mixed metaphor! OK, fine, it is. I’m TIRED.) Left to my own devices I would talk about nothing but my child for hours, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I WANT to. I welcome the folks in my life who will engage me about books and the news and the Golden Globes red carpet and even the weather. (When was the last time I went outside?)

Sure, my childfree friends are often fascinated by my kid. Who wouldn’t be? They want to snuggle her and kiss her chubby cheeks and sing her goofy little songs, and it’s lovely to see the affection they have for her, even—or maybe especially—those who don’t ever plan to have children themselves. But after 20 minutes or so of This Little Piggy, they generally hand her over for a feeding or a diaper change and move on to the next topic of conversation. I love that they remain more interested in me and my partner than in this adorable little being who sleeps far more soundly in her sling at 2pm than in bed at midnight.

I love my friends who are parents, too, obviously. I love that I can go to them with questions, that we can exchange advice or at least commiseration, as well as occasional hand-me-down toys. But maintaining a circle of non-parent friends is crucial to my long-term emotional health—which, since a melting-down mom is no one’s idea of a good time, means it’s crucial to my daughter as well.

I need to have a life outside my kid, so I need people in my life who don’t have kids. Of course, I’m sure that someday at least a few of my friends without kids will cross over to this side, and I hope that when they do I’ll be able to offer them the same support and reassurance they’ve provided me. We all benefit from keeping each other sane.

Lindsay King-Miller is a queer writer who lives in Denver with her partner, an ever-growing collection of books, and a very spoiled cat. She is the author of Ask a Queer Chick: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life for Girls who Dig Girls (Plume 2016).

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