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Pracitcal Tips for Being Friends

Monday, July 19, 2010

Why Parents Hate Parenting and How Childfree Friends Can Change That

The most emailed article in New York magazine right now is Why Parents Hate Parenting. It mentions studies that show parents are less happy than their childfree counterparts and that when it comes to the pleasurability index, mothers prefer watching TV, napping, shopping, and even housework more than taking care of their children. Apparently though, this parent angst is fairly recent.
Back in the days before it was All About The Children, people had kids to contribute to the family income not drain it. Kids were doing real work like farming, raising livestock, and rendering fat to make soap so they could wash once a month. In fact, the reason the school is out during the summers is so that children could help with the harvest not so that they could be sent to summer camps that cost more than a new car. Kids back then actually made life easier and financially better for parents. And while this started to change as Americans left their agrarian roots, up until very recently, children still weren't the happiness black holes that they are today. Back in my parents' day, it was expected that dad would have a cocktail when he got home from work, mom would join him and we kids would be outside riding our bikes without helmets. Look at the parents in Mad Men. Do you think kids were cramping Don and Betsy Draper's social life?
The article also goes on about the usual suspects of not enough sleep, not enough sex, and too much stress as reasons parents are not living the Hallmark fantasy they thought it was going to be. None of this is news and it leaves out the real reason parents hate parenting: Because they are not having any meaningful conversations. Oh, I am sure there is an exchange of information that doesn't involve kids. (Honey, don't forget to pick up milk on your way home. Set the alarm for 6:00am. I think the toilet is clogged) But a deep conversation that doesn't involve (or is interrupted) by kids? Go ahead parents, tell me the last time you really sat down and talked.
Now you may think, Big Whoop. Who needs to have meaningful conversations? Well, according to a recent New York Time article, Talk Deeply Be Happy, anyone who wants to be happy. Or as the article says, "Substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness". While it's well documented sex has taken a back seat in most parents' relationships, I think real conversation has been put in on the back bumper and is barely hanging on with some duct tape. Why? Because moms can get so wrapped up in discussing every facet about their kids, they start to live through their kids and then they start to lose themselves. What compounds this is moms tend to only hang out with other moms so they start to think it's normal to only chat about kids. And then, especially if you are living in a cosmopolitan high-income area, it starts to get competitive about everything from who's reading first to who is getting into the best kindergarten and it keeps going right into college. Exhausting. Moms, you're already so hard and judgmental on yourselves about the way you're parenting. Do you really want to be dealing with the sotto voce tsk-tsking of other parents because your child didn't get certain grades, finish as well athletically, or whatever the competition du jour is?
Fortunately, there's a solution to this. Start hanging out with your childfree friends. Step away from the mom friends for a moment and have a real conversation us. Because we're not talking about All Things Kids, we're more likely to be talking about something deeper than Sharpie pen mishaps on the carpet. And moms, guess what, we're not going to judge you at all because your kid didn't get into the most exclusive pre-school, magnet school, or college. Mostly, because we don't care. But also because we live outside of Parent World, we know those things are not nearly as important to your child's success as you think they are. So by eliminating all those conversation wasteland topics, we can discuss things that are more substantial. The NYT article goes onto say, "By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world." And moms, you could probably use this more than me since I am going to guess your world is a tad more chaotic than mine.
I am not saying you can only have meaningful conversations with your childfree friends or they are any deeper than parents. What I am saying is that with kids it's much easier to lump having thoughtful conversations in the same "I'll get to it when I'm not so busy" pile as sorting all your old pictures, cleaning out the junk drawer, and regrouting the tile. Eventually, you almost forget how to have them and feel self conscious about doing something so selfish sounding as having meaningful conversations.
So my advice is to practice with people that haven't forgotten: your childfree friends. We love these kind of talks. And once you've practiced with us for a while, it will be that much easier to actually have them with your spouse and even your kids. Who knows, it may make parenting so palatable, it might possibly pass housework on the pleasurabilty list.

28 comments:

  1. Or what about people, women mostly that talk about their pets like they're kids. They're not kids, they're pets. And yes I love my pets so much, but they're not kids!

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    1. Yeah pets are better! :)

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  2. I would disagree. As a childfree person, I dont want to hang out with moms and have you talk about your child. I didn't hang out with you to talk about your child. Im child free and hang out with other childfree or childless people because they can hold a conversation not related to the consistency of their childrens feces.

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  3. I hate when people think that a child-free couple thinks of their animals as human children. It is a stupid assumption. No one really does that.

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  4. Love the article! Much needed. I hate socializing with my friends who have children. It's all about the kids. If they do ask about me, it's a quick "how are you?" and they don't wait for the answer. These are the same women who when their kids are grown up, will be crying the blues that they "don't know who they are anymore" and have no "identity". That's because it's thrown out the window along with your friends (who, I might add, have been extremely patient and tolerant). So the second poster above is right. While parents get the benefit of talking to us childfree lucky people, we don't get any benefit in talking to them. Just boredom.

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  5. Not all "breeders" or parents lose their identity when they have kids. I rarely talk about my kids to people who do not have children. My best friend doesn't have children and I only talk to him about them when he asks about them first. I am an avid reader and much rather be talking about the latest books I am reading (book 13 of the wheel of time) that whats in my babies diaper. I don't understand why the childfree feel they are so much more interesting and dynamic than people who ended up with children. I respect the choice but I dont respect the chilfree attitude some CF's have. I guess I just do not understand why the childfree seem to discuss nothing but people with children. I am not even on a board or blog about children or mommies. Instead I spend my time on art and book forums. I stumbled upon the term childfree the other day and googled it (because I like to delve into and research random things I come across) and most of what I see is negative views and harsh cruel names under the thinnest veils of humor.

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    1. Agreed! My best friend is also child free by choice. I'd much rather hang out with her than with friends who have kids b/c my life is sooooo inundated with 8 year old boys right now, I relish the time to talk about fashion, politics, and gardening.

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  6. I agree with the above comment. I love my kids but they are not my whole life. I have 3 or 4 child free friends who know I have kids but it is a sidebar in my conversations with them. I also have a great singing voice, I love to write poems and I have some great conversations with people who are open to just being real about there lives.
    Working class parents like my husband and I are not at all offended if our kid hears the F bomb or sees dad drink a beer. They have chores to do too like clean there room and help with dishes. Nobody at our house is idle!
    My kids understand that parents are people too. They live in the republic of mom and dad. This is not a democracy and if it costs over 10 bucks and its not there birthday or Christmas then it is time to rake leaves for hire or walk some dogs.
    I think if you are upper class it is harder because when you have cash to spare kids tend to become status symbols. For poor working people kids are just part of everyday life, like old people or gay people. We are never the people who get interviewed and asked how happy we are though.
    We all help each other where I live. That is another thing people in the 50's did openly. There was none of this endless ranting if a kid threw a fit at the market. They were grown ups who got on with there day. Is that so hard?

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  7. I tend to lose interest in most of my friendships with women. Not fulfilling for me and it's often like they escape from their mom's life on a saturday afternoon with the husband/baby daddy's interrupting phone calls to know when they'll be free from the babysitting. It always makes me feel like I'm the mistress in a married couple affair. I enjoy childfree friends much better, no nostalgia and out of the blue snarky comments on my selfishness and how I don't know what it is to . All together I feel like my friendships with the moms I know is hanging to a thread, a very thin thread. Being 35 years old with no kids, I don't come across a lot of people that don't have kids but the good thing is, I love spending alone.

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  8. I love your analogy of being the mistress in a married couple affair.
    For your friendships that are hanging by a thread-- have you talked to your friends about this? Think about it, you have nothing to lose since the friendship is on life support anyway.

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  9. I grow weary talking only about my child. I have other interests and enjoy talking about them. I do appreciate it, however, when my CF friends ask how my daughter is. She isn't the only thing I care about, but she's still pretty important. Then we go on to talk about politics, religion, books, culture, etc.

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  10. Sarah-
    Totally agree with the balance! What a great mom!

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  11. @aloren and the poster below her:

    On the topic of kids screaming at the market: What makes you think you should impose your screaming children on the rest of the civilized world and NOT get flack for it? The reason CF people often spend a lot of time complaining about parents is because back in the day stay at home moms actually STAYED AT HOME instead of dragging their kids everywhere (especially to places that are not and have never been kid-friendly, like coffeshops and bars) and letting them act like monkeys. Also, mommies aren't exactly kind to the CF on their blogs either so I find your 'oh, dear aren't those CFers so mean' a bit passive aggressive. Typical since the vast majority of mothers can't seem to communicate any other way.

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  12. I was friends with a couple. Both have young adult kids. Even with the children being older, I felt like I was the 5th wheel. I doubt it was intentional but the girlfriend always made it so clear how she was the man's main woman. I know that. I did not need to be reminded. It was like I was being reminded how the man was "taken." The single and childfree woman is always viewed with suspicion. Even at church, the married woman with kids would not get too friendly. I am finding it is easier to go solo in this world.

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  13. I am rapidly losing my friends as they have kids. They don't/can't catch up in the ways we used to and I don't want to go to their kids birthday parties. I went to one and was the only person there without kids and the conversation was completely about children. These used to be friends with careers and interests.

    Im also being made to feel guilty, getting very bad friend reviews - the fact that we don't see each other seems to be my fault and very one sided. If we do catch up its at their house/ when it suits them, and I get a quick 'how's work' though I can tell they feel as though my career will never match up to having the life changing experience of being a mum... Apparently I'm missing out and I can't understand.

    I am wondering if these weren't real fiends to start with (although im talking close friends for years pre kids) or if the problem really is with me not being able to adapt my friendships through different life stages? Two more close friends have just announced they're pregnant and I'm so worried that we too will grow apart.

    I'm not anti kids, I do have one friend who I've stayed close with, but it's because her child doesn't rule her life, she kept her identity and we can still have real conversations.

    Im so worried life is going to get pretty lonely. Were not going to pick up these friendships again later, because they're getting genuinely offended that I don't find their kids as fascinating as they do. Would love some advice.

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  14. I can really empathize with the poster above. My best friend has just given birth and I have been in a bad mood all day. And, before anyone chastises me for being selfish, I am happy that she's happy, but I'm upset because I know I've lost her, in the same way I'd be upset if she announced she was going to Australia.

    It's happened so many times before, with different friends, and even my sisters. I'm just not interested in kids, at all, and never have been. I never will be either. I don't want to hear about their kids, ever, and I don't want to be around their kids, ever, and I don't enjoy socialising with them now, ever, because they never let go and have fun because they have to be up in time for their kids.

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  15. I totally agree with both of those posts. My friends with kids are drifting away of their own accord. I dont dislike people with kids but what i do dislike is th fact that they r completley wrapped up in their little darlings and can speak of nothing else. Its boring and self centered. There is more to life than kids and just because we dont have them doesnt mmean we cant voice our opinions about kids

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  16. When I hear the hate fests coming from some of the childfree (and note I said 'some,' not all), I wonder: if the childfree are so persecuted, so downtrodden, why aren't another group of people who are criticized for their reproductive choices similarly up in arms and setting up rant boards right and left: those who choose to have only one child? After all, we're called selfish, denied sterilizations, told we're subverting God's will, and, to top it all off, accused of unleashing a spoiled brat on the world. However, as far I know, there aren't any one-child-by-choice rant boards.

    To clarify: not all childfree individuals, or childfree groups, are hateful. And some are sympathetic to parents of only children because they recognize we too are pressured to fit a particular script. Still, why aren't one-by-choicers (at least as far I know) railing at families of two or more the way some childfree are railing at parents in general?

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  17. Bring back the art of conversation! I agree, and there is one friend of mine who has discovered that I am the perfect person to have these 'real' conversations with, in amongst her parenting woes and my childless woes... it works out well for us.

    Just a shame this friend is literally the only one of my friends who can do this... the others have dropped me like a hot potato because I am 'not one of the mommy club' and clearly don't have a 'real life'. It's a shame really, and I'm personally on the lookout for a new tribe of childfree folks (difficult to find) who are interested in talking about anything but schooling or parenting - i.e. people with similar interests. The one-way conversation about children really is tiring... and it is hurtful that they cannot see they are guilty of it.

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  18. Children born and brought up in the US are subjected to their parents' egos. Facebook has enabled this even more. I find it so telling that most parents will put the image of their child instead of themselves as their profile pict. Who are they anymore? And what is going to become of a child who is made to feel that they are the singular focus of their parents? It's only getting worse.

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  19. We moved to a new town a little over a year ago, for my husband's job. (I'm self-employed and can work from anywhere.) Unlike in our previous town, a lot of the people we're meeting have kids. My husband seems to have no problem becoming friends with the men who have kids, but I really am having trouble connecting with the women because it's ALL ABOUT their kids. We went out for one woman's birthday and the first 15 minutes of conversation was all about getting a break from the kids for a night out. Then the conversation shifted to the kids themselves -- things they have done, cute things they have said, what toys/games they're into, the quality of schools, if a certain person's kid had gotten into a certain school. After about an hour, the one woman at the table who's conscious of the fact that some people don't have kids, turned to me and made a sympathetic comment about how all the kid talk must be boring/awkward for me since I don't have kids. Well, yeah, and then she just made it worse by singling me out.

    For the first time ever, my hubby has a bunch of local friends (all but one have kids) and I have few. He frequently goes out for "guys' nights" and that sort of thing. I asked him if the guys talk about their kids a lot when he's with them. He paused, thought about it for a second and said, "No, not at all. Unless it's a brief reference to how kids limit their lives - like something they can't do because they have kids." And that, in a nutshell, is why he has no problems being friends with men with kids but I have a problem being friends with the women.

    By the way, I've also noticed these women permit extremely bratty behavior from their kids - the other day, my hubby and I hung out with a couple who have a kid (one of the guys my DH is friends with and his wife). We were riding in the car with them and their kid. My hubby chatted about music with his friend in the front seat and I tried to chat with the woman. The kid ordered her not to talk and put his hand over her mouth. She didn't correct him and instead stopped talking. Talk about a kid literally putting the damper on conversation!

    I'm trying to branch out a little more to see if I can meet some women without kids, women whose kids are older or women with kids whose entire lives don't revolve around the little darlings.

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  20. My opinion is this: "childless friends" and "mommy friends" can remain friends but the relationship is different.

    For me, being the "childless friend" (which is such a horrible term! I like "non-mommy")I feel somewhat clueless about what my "mommy friends" are going through. It makes me a bit uneasy in the fact that my "mommy friends" don't come to me for any advice anymore. Makes me wonder if they don't value my friendship as much as they used to, and that they look at me the way I look at very young teen girls: I can relate to them as I have been there myself, but it is hard to hold a meaningful/deep conversation with them as they have not been through what I have been through.

    I really hope my "mommy friends" don't look at me that way, but that probably is the case. My "mommy friends" do make the effort to let me know that I am still special and important to them. I am of course no where near as important as their child is to them, but why should I expect this? They have someone in their life that they are taking care of, raising. That relationship trumps all others, and for mommies, and "non-mommies" to be friends, there has to be that acknowledgement.

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  21. I was in a relationship with a parent and I am afraid to say he banged on about his kids a lot of the time too, because that was all his previous marriage revolved around. So it is not just the women. For a while I found it very difficult finding interesting people who did not want/ have kids...both male and female...but now that I am pushing 40, continuing to do the things I love to do and not concerning myself with the things I don't...I find there are an awful lot of single people out there of my age or similar, who are a lot more interesting, in a lot less debt, with more time and the ability to actually listen. Most people at my workplace with children, or who want children, have lives which revolve around cooking, laundry, their houses, TV, cars and keeping up with the Joneses. I am an artist/ musician and interested in none of that. I do think there are benefits to living in a city from that point of view. I don't know what I'd do in the sticks.

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  22. Personally I really hate people with kids most of the time. People with kids think they have some sort of right to cut in front of me in line or take up the whole aisle of the grocery store while their snot nosed kid bumps into me without saying excuse me. Stay at home mom's especially. I was a nanny and know what it's like to be a stay at home mom, newsflash - they over exaggerate about how hard it is. No, they shouldn't get paid for a lifestyle choice they CHOSE. It pisses me off even more that while I'm being responsible I don't get a tax cut. I have to keep paying tax money for other breeders spawn and it really makes me angry. Parents look at me when their kid does something they consider "cute" as if I should too - fuck no! I don't think your child is cute or special, I think they are a plague on an already over populated earth and just another drain on resources and my tax dollars. The government should reward those of us who choose not to have kids, not the other way around. People who don't have kids are the selfless ones. People who have kids are really selfish - they keep having them without any thought for the overpopulation and strain on resources - they're stupid people but the government rewards the breeders with tax dollars - here you go stay at home moms! Have some food stamps! Have some education, have some scholarships because you chose to breed, meanwhile those of us who are responsible end up paying for their spawn! So ridiculous! I really hate people with kids.

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    1. I agree that some people with children seem to think they have priority over those of us who do not have children. I have had people practically run me over with their baby stroller or expect me to jump out of the way because they think they have the right of way.

      I too have gotten mad over irresponsible people getting benefits instead of working. They made a bad choice and they are being taking care of. Our government has made it too easy for people to do it. I have worked my butt off all of my life. I have made responsible choices as far as family planning goes. I have never received a dime of government assistance even when I really needed it. Let me tell you something, a woman with kids will have everything taken care of. If you do not have any children, you could starve or go homeless for all anyone cares. (even if you have paid taxes to support other people and their offspring all of your life.)

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  23. You know? I've never had a problem socialising with people that have children. I am happy to listen to some stories about people's children and allow it to happen. What I usually find is that the person I'm talking to will inevitibly say "anyway, let's not talk about all that stuff, what's going on with you?". They DON'T want to talk about it, they want to escape it, but they may want to unload onto someone for their mental health. As a friend, I am more than happy to be that person. We also have to acknowledge that children are a big part of their lives and, as such, they should be allowed to talk about it with you (as their supposed friend).

    I also find socialising with my friends with kids, I can unbourden them for a while and keep the child occupied whilst they, I don't know, go to the toilet alone, or fold the washing or nick up the shops, clean up the house a bit, or just sit and stare at the wall for a while without having to watch, care for, feed, chase, discipline, listen to a child.

    It's a burden I'm willing to shoulder for the mental health of my friend.

    Inevitibly I find that my friends with kids are actually dying to find out information about what is going on outside of 'parent' world, but of course are going to want to talk about their own lives (which are largely consumed with their children).

    This article is bang on, if you want a break form 'parent' talk, hang out with your childless friends, but childless friends can enter the realm of 'parent' talk for their friend from time-to-time as well.

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  24. ...oh, one more thing. I actually engage them in conversation about mothering. I always preface with, "look I'm not a mother, and have no idea what is involved in raising kids, but would it be fair to say"...And I state my opinon on a certain topic or ask a question. Sometimes I ask the tough questions as well, for example, "I hope I don't offend you with this question, but, gees it looks like some days you must just wish you were childless again, why is it that every time I see a parent in a public place they look so damn miserable?" or "do you ever think that life could have been really different if you didn't have kids...has it filled your expectations?".

    If you are good friends with someone you should be able to have these kinds of deep converstsaions about parenting, which may actually help you form an opinion about having your own, or not...You can have deep conversations about parenting, it doesn't all have to be "so how is Jimmy going at school?".

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  25. I can relate to what a lot of people on this board are saying. I am childless too. I like children. I do not mind seeing pics and hearing about the children. However, it does get a little annoying when someone with children ONLY talks about the children and nothing else. I have had friends w/children. It seems like those friendships either drift away or do not last because we do not have the shared experience of motherhood. We cannot relate to each other and we have different interests. It seems some people cannot socialize without their children being a part of it.

    It is not that I do not want to be friends with people with kids. I find that they do not want to be friends with me because I am not in the mommy circle. Of course, they do not say that but I know they prefer to be around other mothers.

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