There are many articles on the importance of friendships with fellow moms. These friendships are special and needed. I could write that article, but it’s already been written many times over.
A lesser discussed, yet equally important topic, is how critical is it for parents to have non-parent friends. These friendships are beautiful, meaningful, and so helpful in my life. I would feel like I’m missing out on so much and struggle more as a parent without these friends. They have been there in ways many of my parent friends frankly cannot, and have also articulated to me how their lives have been enriched by their friendship with me and my son.
Here’s just a few reasons why it’s important to embrace and cultivate friendships with nonparents.
Good parenting requires raising children who are well-versed in a range of topics, have varied life experiences, and have diverse relationships with positive, healthy adults. By limiting friendships to only other parents you are missing out on such a range of exciting, meaningful friendships as well as limiting the diversity of these adults who can mentor your children.
About forty percent of households in this country have children under 18. In Washington, DC less than 19% of households have children, one of the lowest rates in the country. Kids are expensive, and DC is the most expensive city in the country for having children. I have friends that do not feel they can financially take on child raising, which is especially tough if you don’t have a partner by choice or chance.
Biology can be incredibly unfair. I have friends who got pregnant without trying, while other friends tried for years. Of those struggling with infertility, some may not feel financially able to undergo fertility treatments or adopt, or feel that either of these options is right for them.
There’s just no way that having a child won’t affect your professional life. Some careers are less conducive to children with their long hours, travel, and/or risk. For example, one of my friends who is amazing with my son travels every week for work, as does her husband. They often work weekends and appreciate the freedom of their career trajectories sans kids. Some people are already caregivers for family members with needs and not able to take on the incredible needs of a child.
Parenting can make you myopic. And anxious. And panicked.
While there are well-founded fears and challenges, I’ve found many of the hardest parts of parenting can be survived by uttering “this too shall pass” or “everything is a phase”. Sometimes its people who don’t have kids, who don’t bring their lived experiences and the baggage that comes with them, who can be the best supporters and most sympathetic.
It’s also easy to chat about kids all the time when you are with other parents. Having non-parent friendships has kept me balanced, grounded, and helped me not lose my identity in the chaos that is parenting. Plus I see it as such a gift that these non-parent friends experience the world of parenting through me. It’s a great educational opportunity to, say, teach my non-parent guy friends what breastfeeding is like.
Childcare schedules. School schedules. Activity schedules. Sleep schedules. Remember when you just had YOUR schedule? Getting someone with all of the parenting schedules of their own children to align with your can be like a crazy game of Tetris.
I’ll use my own life as an example. On weekdays I’m with my son from 6-8:30 pm, as we do a late bedtime. My husband travels and works long hours, so it’s often just me and my son for those two and a half hours. I’m an extrovert who loves company, and trying to align with parents has proven to be too hard with their own family schedules. My non-parent friends have met up at a nearby happy hour, helped me cook dinner, been part of bathtime and bedtime, and come over to hang after my son is asleep. Their schedules fit my own better than parent friends.
Forever friendships make life so special. Your friend from elementary school, summer camp, and/or college may not have kids when you do or even at all. Maintaining these close friendships over a lifetime has tremendous benefits on lifelong happiness.
I’ve known many non-parents who felt cut out when their friends had kids. I even had a few people whom I hoped would be forever friends stop responding to my messages once kids came into their lives, even when I was just trying to help (perhaps in unhelpful ways, but I was trying!).
Give a heaping dose of grace to your non-parent friends, actually explain what your challenges are, and give them a chance to understand. Really listen and care for their challenges as well, and don’t minimize their lives and problems just because they “don’t have kids”. Cherish these friendships and nurture them. They were in your life before your kids were, and once we’re all empty nesters I bet they will take on a whole new beauty.