You thought it was perfect. You thought they were perfect. The evening sparked, the conversation sizzled, someone suggested a weekend away. And then you met their kids.
Alternatively, you’ve been friends for ages. It’s been one of the most effortless friendships of your adult life. First one of you, and then the other, has kids. Suddenly your very easy friendship is not easy at all.
Some of us are very good at maintaining our pre-child friendships. Some of us are even lucky enough to have pre-kids friends that turn into “family friends,” where not only are the adult pre-kid friendships maintained into parenthood, but, by some alignment of stars in the universe, you have kids at approximately the same time, and those kids get along, or even become friends.
But what about the other 90% of the time? For those of us who don’t make that magical leap into parenthood friendships with their pre-kids friends, making and maintaining friendships can be a lot more difficult.
I feel very fortunate to still have close friendships with old, in some cases early childhood friends, that have made the leap into our parenthood days. Parenthood has added an entirely new depth and dimension to our friendships, and seeing our kids form friendships of their own has been incredible to watch. But I’ve also seen this play out much, much differently.
In one instance, I thought that a 25 year friendship was going to end. Abruptly. My friend had a child one year before my oldest was born. There were a lot of reasons that our friendship became strained; the list would be painful to read. To put it simply, every difference in our personalities was highlighted once we were both parents, and we were doing things differently. I knew that we were different types of people but had never really given it much thought. But when we got together for the first time when my son was six months old and her daughter was 1.5, it became very tense very quickly. Luckily, we no longer lived near each other so we weren’t faced with the problem very often. But when we got together a year later, it was at least as bad if not worse.
Ultimately, it worked out. It only took seven years! Now that our kids are a little older, they both have more skills to help them get along with people they don’t know well. And frankly, the distance between us has helped. If we had constantly been confronted with our differences it would have been incredibly difficult. It would have either required a very blunt, and likely very difficult conversation, or letting our friendship drift. In the end, I think we both decided that it was worth a few challenging visits that we could ignore for 51 weeks of the year. And the distance was kind to us.
More recently, my husband and I became friends with a fun, interesting couple we got along with very well. However, our kids simply do not mesh. I don’t mean that our kids aren’t best friends. I mean that we can barely get our kids into the car to go to their house, and when we do, it is NOT fun. This does not seem to be a problem for our friends; they either do not realize, or do not particularly care, that when our children are together it does not go well with the kids at all. But for us it is incredibly difficult as we know that our kids are ready to be done before we have started, and we are perpetually terrified that they are going to say it out loud.
Yes, of course we can, and do, make adult plans that do not include our children. But it is really awkward to have kids the exact same age and to never get them together. And on the one occasion where we did all end up out of town together (in the same place although not staying together) it was so incredibly awkward I thought we were actually going to have to talk about it. I don’t see how that conversation could possibly have gone well for anyone. Luckily, we were each there with friends and the additional people made things just dilute enough that we could sort of avoid the awfulness of it all.
It would be so much nicer if there were some sort of guarantee that adult friendships came with their own pint-sized versions. Or that the friendships you have before you become a parent automatically morphed into “family friends.” We all know that’s not the way it works. Instead, it’s important, just as it is at every other time in your life, to make sure that you prioritize the people who are important to you and to pay attention to what your different friendships add to your life. It’s fair to end friendships when they truly no longer work, but it’s sad see them melt away when they don’t have to and some TLC will keep them going. Even when life is dragging you in twenty different directions. Even when your kids are dragging you away from the people you want to see. And even when you can’t believe your friend let her kid drink a pint of apple juice on the way to bed… At your house… When her kid is sharing your kid’s room… For the next three days…