My fabulous friend Milly and her lovely baby boy
If you’re in your thirties, then its likely that like me, your friends will by now have split into two factions - the ones with children and the ones without. For me its now about 65/35. It seems like yesterday we were all sitting carefree in the pub, moaning about whether we’d ever find “the One” and drinking our body weight in white wine. The next minute, half of us are in a world of nappies and expressing milk and worries about childcare and juggling careers, while the rest of us lag behind somewhat wistfully, living a similar existence as before, only with worse hangovers. And for our gorgeous mum friends – whose lives have turned upside down and inside out, who have been given this incredible joy as well as REAL problems, life or death stuff at times - what kind of friendship are we now providing them?
Throughout our twenties us women form a magnificent bond - one that I don’t think our parents ever had with their friends. We were an army – us against the world, a force to be reckoned with. With parents and siblings often far away, with partners coming and going, our friends were the ones who dealt with everything – deaths, break ups, career woes, promotions and redundancies, house moves. We were each other’s family - we often lived together for years on end, travelled the world together - and the bond was incredibly strong.
But then things change. If there was a fork in the road, we started heading off in different directions. Having problems at work? She’s getting 2 hours sleep a night FFS you can’t bother her with that! Fancy a night out? She has to be up at 6am to look after baby Britney so won’t want to spend hours discussing EXACTLY what he meant when he said he wasn’t ready to settle down. And from her point of view, she may get upset at why you haven’t bothered to visit her pride and joy recently because you’re “really busy”, or why you don’t invite her out or confide in her as much as you used to.
It would be easy here to slip into the stereotypes that women’s magazines feed us, that both myself and my friends sometimes slip into to our detriment, which can pretty much be summarised as WHAT . BRIDGET . JONES . SAID : You posted your baby as your facebook profile photo, you DULL SMUG MARRIED! We laugh at your ridiculous love life and the fact that you’re still getting pissed and falling over, you LOSER SINGLETON!
But it’s not really like that. Or at least it doesn’t need to be, and if it is like that at times, this is surely based on jealousy or fear or rejection or the thought that as you too are being judged, so you judge right back. Sometimes it can feel like you’re living separate lives, with nothing in common. And more than anything you may feel, on either side, the loss of someone who was once your number one priority, and you theirs, and missing someone who might be around a little bit less. But this is just a feeling and it will pass. You still need each other and love each other – at times more so than others – and if you both want to be, you will still be the best of friends whether or not your lives are a little different for now.
I’m not a mum (and have a horrible feeling I’m going to be the worst sort of facebook-photo-posting, status-updating, far-too-much-detail giving type of mother) but I can imagine when I am, there will be times when I’ve had little sleep and my partner and sproglet are driving me up the wall, and I just want to get dressed up and head to a nice restaurant with my girlfriends around me. And if all I’ve had to think about for 6 months is poo, vomit and sleepless nights, I reckon I’d love to listen to someone telling me about their work problems or what’s going on in the news or to laugh over who they’ve slept with or what fabulous restaurant they’ve been to, just to pick me up and remind me there are other things going on in the world.
I think it’s all about communication really. And letting go a little. I’ve tried to adjust to my married friends’ lives not revolving around me and my myriad problems anymore, but I know that if anything was seriously wrong, they’d be there in a flash. And I love their children - can’t wait to get to know them better, watch them grow, be there when they themselves marry and have kids. And I also have to let go a little so I too can procreate at some point as well. I want to be a great friend to my mummy friends, but sometimes I get wrapped up in my own little world and don’t realise that I’m being distant or neglectful (I am not yet good at buying presents for babies, and this is something I’m working on *heads to Baby Gap*). But I also know our friendship is deep enough to take a few knocks and that it just takes an email or a call to say I’m thinking of them or arranging a visit to get the friendship kick started again.
And of course one day we’ll be back on the same path again, living the same lives. Although her kids may be teenagers while mine are in nappies. Oh well – they can babysit?
Bridget Jones has a lot to answer for really. In its celebration of single life, it implanted in our brains a seismic shift between those with children and those without, that made “smug married” something that singletons could sneer at. I’m just as guilty of this at times. I spent New Year with The Chef and his friends, many of whom have kids. I have to admit I was dreading it a little and worried that it would be all about babies and nappies and I’m terrible at coo-ing over children unless they’re the progeny of very good friends. But it was brilliant. The kids were gorgeous, really cute, and a welcome distraction, quite frankly, from hangovers. We could sit and laugh at them and have a cuddle when we wanted. The mums were fabulous – glamorous and fun and interesting - and we all drank a few too many vinos and danced to terrible music until the wee hours. It made me realise again we’re all the same really, apart from at baby-feeding time when I always tended to have really important things to do and apart from the fact that the mums must have had at least 10 hours less sleep than the rest of us over the long weekend. Having friends at all stages of life is the best way to live anyway – far more interesting that way. And (don’t tell anyone) it sort of made me want one of my own.
Anyway, I asked a handful of my friends to tell me how they feel about their friends at other stages in life. I loved what they said:
The baby mamas
“I don’t know if I can even separate my friends with kids and those without. We all seem to get along brilliantly. I prefer not to talk about my son too much unless he did something particularly hilarious – but at three years old, we are not talking about side-splitting humour. A friendship should last whatever the circumstance or situation. Boyfriends, girlfriends, weddings or not; babies, nappies, weekend breaks or snot, a true friend rides with you….don’t they? How boring it would be to only be friendly with one gang. I certainly mix a little and am blessed with the ones I have. And they are definately true friends.
My friends without kids are always lovely to ask how the wee man is doing but to be honest I am more I interested in the gorgeous restaurants people are going to, plus trips to Paris and Vienna than reciting toddler quotes of the week. With work and a son, including one on the way, we are making an effort to try and fit in as much as possible so our wee pie chart is always colourful.” Milly
- hearing about their love lives, social lives, holidays, latest shopping spree, i.e. living vicariously through them!
- they are never too tired/fed up/over dosed on children to play and talk to mine (unlike me)
- that they get me out of the rut of being mummy all the time.
- when they don’t understand that I can’t just drop everything
- that my children will always come first
- that I am frequently exhausted, anti social, unfashionable and grumpy – it’s nothing personal.
- Someone to laugh at, my childless friends’ lives are not as poo-covered as mine, so that’s got to be good for them
- I can do parenting/baby care advice, so may be useful in future (I can’t follow it, but that’s another story)
- The kettle is usually warm and the ovens on, so if I can’t come drinking anymore, at least I can make some food and be a listening ear.” Betty Sue
“Something that used to annoy me before I had kids was the way my mum-friends used to be distracted when I was talking to them. You could be spilling the beans on the latest hot date and, in the middle of it all, it would be “Little babsie just spit up!”. And even if they didn’t actually SAY anything, you could see it in their eyes as they slid from where they were sympathetically watching your face to looking lovingly at their little sprog. Now, after having a baby, I have learnt that my mum-friends weren’t actually distracted, they had simply learnt the ultimate mother art that my own mum refers to as “Circular Talking”, where you can listen to and completely take in a conversation whilst either talking to (or at, in the case of children), someone else.
I dreaded being the odd one out in conversations about cots and prams and leaking nipples and nappies to make you retch. I feared the patronising placation of people pretending they’re jealous of my freewheeling lifestyle and my globetrotting ways. I pictured a New Year’s Eve picnic in the park: dry, distracted and heading home for beddy byes at 8pm.
But. I had the most amazing holiday. My friends’ children are marvellous and make me laugh. I got to be the cool aunty who taught the kids the wonderful trick of putting ice down mummy’s back to keep them entertained while we got through a vino or too and engaged in conversations about world events, personal lives and caught up with each others’ news. I was also entertained by stories of what these little people get up to, and witnessed one of them getting sick of colouring in with the new bright colourful crayons I had just given him and discovering that, despite appearances, they are NOT delicious.” Pippalippa
One of these bad boys is coming your way soon Lady B