After I had my first son, I went on a quest to find mom friends. Since most of my friends didn’t have children yet, there was a fairly big difference in our lifestyles. I still loved and needed my childless friends just as much as before, but I quickly realized that I also needed friends who knew what being a parent was like.
Parenting can be a very lonely venture sometimes despite the fact that we might never technically be alone. We need camaraderie. We need people who get it. We need people who know the pain of sleep deprivation, who understand the anxiety and fear, who feel the complexity of loving your child so much your heart might burst while simultaneously not being able to stand being around them either. It’s a strange and unsettling feeling to love, but not always like, your children.
Parents need each other to make sense of the madness.
But we also need our friends who aren’t parents just as much as we need our parent friends.
By now, most of my friends are parents. Some of them are seasoned parents; some are new parents; and some are soon-to-become parents. They get it. We understand each other. We speak each other’s language.
But a handful of my friends are not parents. Whether by choice or circumstance, they do not have children and probably won’t have them. And these friends are just as important and valuable despite all of our very obvious differences.
Let’s face it, we parents aren’t always as nice as we could be to our childless friends. We talk about how it’s “cute” when non-parents complain of being tired. We pen “What Not to Say to Parents” lists. We complain about how “fur babies are not the same as human babies!” And we smugly talk about how being a parent is the hardest — but the best — job we will ever have. Honestly, we parents can be real assholes sometimes. And I’m sorry.
Because the truth is, hard is relative, and there are a million ways to live a beautiful life. A person’s challenges aren’t any less valid because they don’t have children. And being a parent doesn’t automatically bestow upon a person a gold medal of honor. Life isn’t a competition. There is no contest to see who’s more tired, whose life is harder, whose job is best.
Just like we parents need parent friends to commiserate with us about the horror that is toddlerhood and the mind-bending delirium of sleep deprivation, we need our non-parent friends to remind us of who we were before we assumed the title of “Mom” or “Dad.” We need people who will talk about things that have nothing to do with parenting — conversations about politics and fashion and whether to wax or thread our eyebrows. We need conversations that do not include descriptions of poop, complaints about new math, or humblebrags about little Johnny’s busy schedule on the travel baseball team.
We need friends who know us and love us for who we are, and not because our children are buddies and our paths cross several times a week at PTA meetings, swimming lessons, and dance class. We need friendships based on connections of substance, and not just connections of convenience.
A few months ago, an old friend came over to spend the afternoon. We’ve been friends for more than 16 years; he and my husband have been friends for about 30 years. For the better part of an afternoon, we cooked and talked and laughed. We reminisced about crazy stories from our younger and wilder days. We talked about work and family and his dating escapades. And we spent several long stretches in comfortable silence, talking about nothing at all.
At the end of the day, I felt calmer and more comfortable than I had in months. It was refreshing to spend time with an old friend without talking about sick kids and sports lessons and bedtimes. It was nice to spend time together simply because we appreciated the friendship, and not because we shared similar lifestyles. It was uplifting to remember that friendship can survive — thrive even — despite the glaring and obvious differences.
The older I get, the less tolerance I have for bullshit and inauthenticity — friendships included — and I want to spend as much time as possible with real and true friends. And there are a lot of things that make for a solid friendship and qualify a person as a good friend. Respect, companionship, and forgiveness are essential. So are trust, support, and understanding. A few common interests are great, but differences — even big differences — don’t need to matter if the core is there.
So non-parent friends, know that we love you. We appreciate you. We need you. Thank you for understanding why we have to cancel plans at the last minute and are late to every damn thing. Thank you for listening to us ramble on about ear infections and soccer coaches and standardized testing. Because you listen to all my parenting drama, I will listen to you go on about your fur baby’s new trick or how expensive hypoallergenic pet food is without rolling my eyes.
But really, thank you for just being a good friend. A damn good friend. In the end, that’s what matters most.