New parents and childless friends, keep the door open

There is often an awkward dynamic in relationships between friends with kids and friends without kids. One mom realizes that her baby doesn't end those friendships, but rather opens a door to welcome loving role models for her daughter.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
A father pushes his baby in a stroller in a square in central Stockholm, Sweden, on March 11, 2014.

She made funny faces as my daughter collapsed into a pile of giggles. After rolling a ball to her, she patiently waited for her to get around to returning it. When I stepped out for a moment, there were no tears – my friend was right there, and my baby was perfectly content to keep playing. 

I’m so glad my kid has such strong women to learn from and to look up to who aren’t her parents, or parents at all. Each time one of them visits is such a treat.

But then, as inevitably happens, my friend’s dating life came up. “Seeing anyone new these days?” “No, I like this guy, but it’s not going anywhere yet.” “Oh, okay.” Awkward silence. 

I sometimes feel rather lost when I’m with my single friends, since my life mostly revolves around my husband and daughter these days. Before meeting up with friends, I find myself browsing around online, trying to find conversation topics we all relate to. Of course, there are tons to choose from – what’s happening in Ukraine, Pope Francis, the upcoming Boston Marathon, and so many more – but they aren’t subjects that easily pop to mind. I have to work at it a bit more, scrounging up ideas, which is good. It gets me out of my kid-focused mindset and puts it all into perspective. There are billions of other people in this world, and so much more is going on outside my little circle. 

The average age for Americans to get married continues to climb – now at 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 23 and 26 respectively in 1990 – according to a study by the National Marriage Project. 

The differences between my single friends and me continue to grow, too, especially now that I have a baby. The average age of first-time moms most often falls somewhere in their late 20s, but the overall birthrate in the US continues to plummet, according to a 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Many of my peers have delayed or opted out of marriage and having kids for financial reasons (among a myriad of other concerns). Finances were definitely a factor in my simple courthouse wedding a couple years, as we looked ahead to starting a family last year. I couldn’t imagine blowing thousands of dollars on a big wedding when I was still paying hundreds of dollars a month on my student loans, with no end in sight. Then, when my daughter was on her way, my husband and I did some soul-searching, tried to be as frugal as we could while maintaining our sanity, and trusted that everything would work out. No matter what our decisions about marriage and children were, the recession still had us gun-shy about starting a family.

But when I look at my social circle, I often feel like an island among friends who are still enjoying late-night karaoke and sleeping in every weekend. When my daughter goes to sleep at 9 p.m. and I change into my jammies to watch a grown-up TV show with my husband, my friends’ high-excitement evenings are just barely getting started. It’s hard to avoid feeling rather humdrum in the face of all that perceived pizzazz. 

But I’m not boring, and I’m not alone, either. I’m genuinely supported on all fronts. Sure, my friends are busy with work, school, dance and design classes, French lessons, and so on, but they still make room for getting some coffee with me and playing peek-a-boo with my little one. The fact that they don’t have a kid, I think, spurs their interest in mine. 

Attending playgroups with other moms and babies is always fun, but everyone hones in on tending to their own child – wiping boogers, putting socks back on, refereeing the line for the slide – so there’s not much space for other interactions. I love chatting with other parents while we watch the kids play, but it’s so special when my daughter gets to interact directly with other caring adults. 

My daughter always gets undivided attention when she’s playing with my single friends. She shows off her new tricks – clapping, blinking flirtatiously, standing by herself – and they soak up all her giddy full-blast kid energy, going home refreshed and happy. 

When my friend was getting ready to leave, she said, “I always feel so good after playing with your baby!” I gave her a big bear hug and said she can come around anytime.

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