Friendships after kids

Having kids can make it hard to maintain friendships especially when they are child-free.
Having kids can make it hard to maintain friendships especially when they are child-free. 

Picture this. A Friday night, husband away for the weekend, and I’m sitting in a busy inner city restaurant with my two children. I’m waiting for friends, a childless couple, to arrive for a catchup dinner, which they organised. They are twenty minutes late and counting. There’s no more bread, and the sugar-laden lemonade is having an impact on my four and six year old.  Is this a scene you’re familiar with?

Bored, tired and sick of being reprimanded, my kids disappear under the table to play a version of hide and seek. I grab my phone and send a mildly terse text asking when my friends might show up.  Their response a casual, cheery ‘grab a wine honey, we won’t be long’ unfortunately coincides with my son standing up while still under the table, sending cutlery and glassware smashing to the ground.

Immediately grabbing them both and paying for their lemonades I sent a swift text suggesting a catch up at a later date, then made for the door.

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Once home and with the kids finally in bed, I checked my phone. As I expected, there were several missed calls and text messages from my tardy friends.  While I expected them to be disappointed that I’d decided to pass on our dinner, as we hadn’t caught up in weeks I wasn’t ready for the extent of annoyance they exhibited. 

Stages of life differ for everyone and there will be times when your stages don’t mesh with those close to you. But rather than seeing it as imperative for your friends to partake in all areas of your life, like a spring jacket or a winter scarf it’s possible to have different friends for different seasons.

When stressed, females release the hormone oxytocin which encourages “tend and befriend” behaviour rather that the “fight or flight” reaction commonly observed in men.

A recent online survey by Child, of nearly 1000 parents, revealed both men and women felt significantly dissatisfied with their friendships after having children. Like my friends from the restaurant, childless friends can find the time restraints and organisation that comes with kids difficult to adjust to. And how quickly parents forget – or yearn for - the spontaneity that comes with being childless.

But it’s not just parenting that affects friendships. The older we become the more stuck in our ways we are. We know what we like and what we don’t.

Recently a relatively new friend of mine (we met through our kids) asked me to go dress shopping with her one Saturday afternoon. Like the majority of girls I love a good shop but I hate the dawdling that goes with it. My idea of shopping is to pick your location, try on an array of outfits, hope it fits budget and body; and purchase. Then finish off with a celebratory coffee. The thought of meandering along in and out of endless shops that all look the same, leaves me cold.

Four hours and fifteen shops into our supposedly relaxed child free afternoon, I had to confess to my friend that I was about to kill her. Fortunately she didn’t take offence, but appreciated my honesty.  I immediately got a leave pass, which I took, but it could have gone very differently. I like this friend and thoroughly enjoy her company but we’re not compatible shopping buddies.

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Maintaining friendships, like keeping up your fitness or forging a career, takes work. Whether your new job keeps you busy or the demands of a young family have taken over your life, ensuring that you spend quality time with friends is just as vital to your wellbeing.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on a 2011 study stating that women in particular are predisposed to the calming effects of friendship. When stressed, females release the hormone oxytocin which encourages “tend and befriend” behaviour rather that the “fight or flight” reaction commonly observed in men. As a result when women feel stress they talk to their friends.

One of the beneifts of working and raising a family is the opportunity to meet people and make new friends. As these friends commonly partake in all areas of your life it can, at times, be challenging. When a friend of mine was organising a birthday party for herself recently she began worrying over the guest list. She is divorced, in a new relationship and has different friends from different areas of her life. Her list consisted of old school friends, university friends, career friends, mummy friends, friends she made while married and friends she’s made from her new relationship. The thought of putting them all into a small room for an intimate cocktail party was daunting. She’d given little thought to the diversity of her friendships and worried they wouldn’t all get along. She forgot about the common ground: herself. As we were all there to celebrate her birthday we had a wonderful time getting to know all the people in her life.

Author Helen Keller once wrote, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” There are friends you exercise with, friends who share your taste in movies, friends who are friends just because you like them. It’s all right to have different friends for different things.

Like the seasons friendships change and evolve. All that matters is that in times of need, your friends are there for you as you are for them.

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