Childless friend feels shut out of the conversation when parenting comes up.
Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: Honest question and not trying to start a war! I’m a single, childless woman in my 30s. A majority of my friends and family members are parents to some amazing kids who I love.
Whenever there is a group get-together, the conversation almost always turns to breast-feeding, pregnancy stuff, etc. I totally understand this is their day-to-day life, but I often have NOTHING to add and end up just passively listening. When I try changing the topic, I often get a comment along the lines of, “Ugh, if only I had time to watch TV/read a book/have x hobby.”
I really do treasure these relationships, so I wonder, is there a way to bring it up or do I just accept that friendships change?
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— Growing Apart
DEAR GROWING APART: I won’t allow a war because it’s a legitimate, common concern.
It’s also going to go away on its own, and not because you go away on your own.
What you describe is little-kid stuff. When the kids are all weaned, breast-feeding talk will be about as compelling to them as discussing how evenly their microwaves reheat leftovers. Young kids bring big logistical challenges, and one of the best coping strategies is to swap information, or just crow/complain a bit. You’re walking into these validation sessions thinking you were at a social gathering, and I don’t blame you for feeling out of place.
Once the youngests start finding their parents annoying (soon!), these parents will drift back to movies and books and interests you can share.
In the meantime — since this could take years — I suggest seeing these friends one or two at a time, plus venturing out to meet people at your life stage.
It can also pay off tremendously to get to know these kids. That bonds you more to the friend/parent, and may yield another important and valued connection when the child becomes an adult.
The online audience had its say, too:
— There is nothing wrong with calling someone out when they dismiss your interests so flippantly. A busy but kind person would say, “Gosh I haven’t had a chance to see that movie … should I try to fit it in, or wait for the DVD? A self-centered [bottom]hat says: “You must not have important things in your life like I do.” I mean seriously, how hard is it to spend five minutes listening?
— It’s not just about having kids. This can apply to any common element when a group gets together: jobs, hobbies, exercise, etc.
— It doesn’t get better. I’m 63 and childless and have started skipping the lunches with my high-school friends. Now it’s whose grandchild is smartest or most clever or cutest.
Dear Carolyn: This makes me wonder whether we’re due for a backlash against the current mode of intense, all-consuming parenting. What about suggesting a game or activity for friend time? That allows people to still have side conversations about parenting while also talking about the activity at hand.
Thanks for taking my question! I’ve just never been sure if it’s OK to say sometimes, “I love you guys, but if I hear one more thing about potty training I’m going to scream” without offending?
— Growing Apart again
DEAR GROWING APART AGAIN: OK by me! Let us know how it goes.