Mama, Be Thoughtful With Your Non-Parent Pals
To my besties who are doing life without littles…
We said it would never happen, but our friendship got a little weird. It’s my fault, too — I became the cliche mom I said I’d never be. And in the process, I’ve done and said some cringeworthy things I promised both you and myself that I’d never do or say.
So I need to have a real moment here, you guys. I’ll be totally transparent, while hoping mothers and non-mothers alike will be generous enough to not hold any of this against me.
The truth is, mothers frustrated me to no end before I became one myself. They were so self-righteous, I thought. So baby-absorbed and condescending to non-mothers the world over. Their time was more important. Their lives were more valuable. Dozens of little things my mom friends did and said, which had nothing to do with me whatsoever, I somehow redirected to become ME-focused. And I started to take things too personally. Didn’t they realize that my time was just as precious to me as theirs was to them? Was our friendship really not important enough to put their kids aside for one evening? But even though none of it was meant to offend me, my mom friends were seriously insensitive sometimes, too.
Naturally, things changed a little when I became a mom myself. I suddenly switched my focus from myself, my needs, and my autonomous perspectives to a tiny, defenseless being, and the switch demanded a drastic alteration to a thirty-year mindset.
So, to my kid-free friends, I’m on the other side now. There’s no way around it. I see things through a wildly different lens, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten how things used to be. I haven’t forgotten the promises I made. In making an effort to look at my new life and behaviors from the old-me perspective, I know there are a few things I need to say to you. So, as my kids dance around me with dinosaurs and dirty feet, and as I make yet another excuse not to meet up this weekend, I find myself compelled to share some truths and to help you understand why we mothers sometimes stuff our feet in our mouths, even with the best of intentions.
First of all, let’s be clear. These are things that no mother — that no one in any situation — has the right to say to you, and you should tell them as much when they do. These are things I heard and experienced when I was childless, and they were super hurtful. But let me be gut-level honest: I get it now. I get why so many well-intentioned mothers verbalize these thoughts that feel like thinly-veiled insults. They really aren’t trying to make flimsy excuses or harmful judgments. They’re just trying to reconcile their old selves in their old friendships with this new person who exists inside the bubble of motherhood.
So, today, I make a new promise that I will never utter these three phrases to you. But if and when I fail, you’re welcome to let me have it, and I’ll explain why.
Here they are:
You’ll never know love like the love you feel for a child.
You are an incredible human being, and your capacity for love astounds me. You love with your whole heart. This is the very reason you and I became friends (well…and the wine). To suggest that your life isn’t filled with joyful, genuine, awe-inspiring, gut-wrenching, passionate, unconditional, true love is absolutely absurd, and I’m not going to do it.
Yes, love for a child is a strange, unique, magical kind of love (most of the time), and I understand that now. This is the first time I’ve ever loved creatures who are totally and utterly dependent on me. They count on me to curb their hunger, to stop their tears, to keep them warm, to calm their fears, to protect them. To love them deeply. They can’t provide any of these things for themselves yet. And they trust – without a shred of doubt in their little minds – that I will come through. They have complete faith in me in everything, and to feel that for the first time has been an insanely humbling experience. They like me much better than anyone else has ever liked me (including myself), and I still have no idea why. I guess I would say that I’ve never felt a love this pure.
This love can’t be described with terms like more or better; it’s simply different. So if you don’t ever have children, rest assured that I’m not over here thinking you’re going without. You and I both know your life will be filled to the brim with indescribable, extraordinary love.
You’ll understand when…
No, you understand now. You’re as bright as they come, which is one of the many qualities that drew me to this friendship in the first place. You may not have a child – you may not want one, you may honestly be having trouble conceiving (God forbid), you may not be there yet – but you are perfectly capable of understanding everything I understand, and probably more. (My brain doesn’t function as well anymore. Seriously. That’s a real thing. And I’m not complaining; it’s just a fact.)
So, no, you may not have first-hand knowledge of what’s going on at my house when I’m running late, when I skip events, when I cite a miserable “friendship-fail,” when my anxiety gets the best of me and I flip out for no reason – but you always understand. Here’s the thing, too – you probably get frustrated and call me out on my crap when I deserve it, and that’s what I need. Some of my mommy-friends give me the obligatory nod-of-the-head in tacit agreement when I flake out. ‘Yes, that’s a good choice, Mommy — kids first,’ they’re thinking. Worse yet – sometimes I get that wrinkle of the nose that says, ‘Woohoo! Glad I’m at least doing better than you are right now!’
But no, not you. You still try to remind me that I’m a person, not just a mom. I have to be held accountable to myself, to you, and to other grown-ups. Some excuses are legitimate; others don’t hold water. You understand, alright. Thank you.
My time is more valuable. My life is more important.
No one ever actually said this to me, at least not in so many words, but as I alluded to earlier, I felt it often. Let’s get this straight: Your time is as valuable to you as mine is to me. And your life – well, that goes without saying.
Guilt plays a vital role in this category, because there is truly never enough time to do everything I want to do and still feel like a devoted mother. I haven’t forgotten that people without kids live ultra-busy lives, too, but I do see a difference. When you’re taking time away from your kids for literally any reason – to work, to exercise, for date night, to go out with the girls, to follow your own dreams and passions – you start to consider that this is formative time for your children. They – and you – will never get this back. And the inevitable guilt follows, especially because you probably want to do a little of all of those things, which means that a fair bit of time is going to be missed.
My heart hurts each time my baby moves on to a new stage, and that’s fairly often. We only have a few brief windows in life to witness such amazing stages, and they are gone (seemingly) in an instant. My little boy will only do such-and-such thing for this particular moment in time…in his entire life. He did it, and now he’ll never do it again. That was a small component to who he’ll become as a human, and I missed part of it to live my own life…to do my own thing. I realize this has to happen, but the guilt is often overwhelming.
You see, my friends, there is no part of me that would ever intentionally hurl nasty remarks your way. I’m so grateful for you and for what you bring to this friendship. The truth is, I’ll always be trying to navigate the rough terrain where Motherhood and Me merge. So when I fail, I could use a cup of grace (with a side of knock-it-off).