The worst part for someone like me when a close friend tells me he or she is expecting is their face waiting for my reaction. They are used to everyone congratulating them, jumping in joy, giving them a hug.
I am not the type of person to fake emotions and even less with my close friends.
What they got from me so far is sadness and worry in my eyes, a couple of swearing words and their feelings hurt. And I understand why: they are announcing one of the most important news in their lives and they are usually in their happiest moments ever.
But I cannot be happy for them. I pride myself for being one of the best friends you can get out there. Friendship for me is a source of self-affirmation and I do invest a lot in my friendships. I’m there no matter what, I go great lengths to be THE friend. I’ll make sure I give you the best advice, that I listen to you as long as you need me and more, I’ll remember our conversations, your comments, everything that is part of you. I’ll be there in happiness, sickness, worry, dispair. I take friendship like a sacred bond, I’d say like marriage, but I don’t believe in marriage.
I’m a great friend for life – yet in cheering for your children, I fail miserably.
I write to understand myself and the world, and I want to find out why is it so hard for me to feel happy when a friend tells me a child is coming.
First I have to say I have 0 connection with children. I’ve experienced that with my younger cousins, while I baby-sitted for a living during 3 months, every time a colleague brought their children to work or whenever I have to interact with kids. I feel gutted because I’m good at so many things and I never had trouble to relate to people – as long as they are adults.
I joke about it saying “oh well, I guess I’m all about adult entertainment” and brush it off. But I can’t freeze life in time and I must adapt to the fact that my friends will have children.
So either I start learning how to deal with them or I’ll need to find new friends.
One part of me is very tempted to slowly strike my friends one by one from my list. Give up and accept that what I always thought to be true it might not be: that love might not last forever, but friendship does. And that I cannot win this battle, nor this war, and I’ll lose my friends eventually – children are just one of the many different reasons for broken friendships.
Others lose their friends over betrayal, money, jealousy, secrets, miscommunication. I’ll lose them over babies.
On the other hand, I just happen to be someone who always goes the extra mile and in the lasts months, I’ve been trying to spend more time with kids. Unblock myself to them – prove myself I can learn to stop being tense, clumsy, uncomfortable around them. I’m still in the process.
That would be then the first aspect explaining why my friends having babies doesn’t sit well with me.
But there’s much more.
When a male friend becomes a father, as much as I’m not thrilled, I am also not as terrified. Simply because their lives don’t change as much.
But when a girlfriend is pregnant, my first instinct would be to give her my condolences. I mean it: in my mind, I can only see all the sacrifices she is going to go through, the limitations, the struggle, the frustration.
I’m aware each parent handles parenthood differently and that a child is no excuse for your life being destroyed. I am aware children are a blessing for most and that includes my friends.
But in the case of my girlfriends, I see the horizon: how things will change at work, in her relationship with her partner, in her time and sense of fulfillment. And that the tale that she can have it all is just a tale – she’ll have to choose and unless she has a truly supportive partner, her choices are going to work against her.
I see the statistics and I hear the voices. I’m not exaggerating. Most men won’t say it out loud, but they do realize soon enough that the hard work is at home and they have all the excuses in the world to avoid staying home. They earn more in most cases, they will not be frown upon or judge for not being househusbands, absolutely the contrary. And the mothers will get so many expectations thrown in their faces that it gets too easy to find a solution that gets men off the hook.
To start, child care is so expensive that in many countries it is cheaper to get your work hours reduced and take care of your children yourself. But since the one with more income is him in most cases, it’s just logic that the women go for part time or stay home.
And just like that, your girlfriend is flipped. It’s very easy to judge from the outside, I know. But it is how it looks from my point of view, over and over again. And with that flip, your friend lost twice. She carries the big burden home plus loses her sanity and sense of independence. She has to work AND take care of the kid/s AND earn less.
And of course couples at this point tend to share the income, but a few mothers I know confess a humiliating moment when nobody else is listening. The moment where you need to justify an expense because even if you are doing the heavy lifting for the family, you feel you contribute less to the wealth. So after years not asking for money to anyone, you suddenly feel in debt, even if you are not.
That’s the second point for me: I think I feel their pain before they even go through it – so I cannot honestly congratulate them on the news.
Then, of course, they change. Being a parent is a whole re-wiring of your brain and in women’s case, it is even more extreme. There’s no time or space in their minds for anything else than the baby and the family, or at least they shouldn’t be having it. I’m the type of friend who adapts to the new situation by making it as easy as possible for them: I meet them on their terms, when and where it works for them, for whatever time their life allows.
Which is probably the part where my ego kicks in: the adult conversations when the child is around are over. Kids monopolize the attention, and despite all my efforts to be there for my friends, on my way home I feel emptier somehow. Happy to have seen my friend, sad that she looks so exhausted, hopeful that all this is worth it for her, and absolutely devastated because I lost her.
My friend, she’s the same person. We still connect and laugh and feel the joy of our company. But her priorities changed and my position in her list sank. She needs me as a friend to keep feeling human and I, as a good friend, will be there for whenever she needs me. But there’s an abyss between us, we like it or not.
And the abyss in my case can’t be erased. Simply because I won’t have kids. It’s not a temporary situation: it’s a permanent one. I won’t catch up with her at some point, I won’t have a shared experience that bridges us together again.
From the moment my girlfriends know they are pregnant, we’re emotionally apart.
And that’s what I think is the third part of my stomach sinking when I get the news. It’s not like “I have to share my friend’s attention with the baby”. It’s that in her new life, I’m blurred to the background and time won’t sharpen me. That’s a hit to my ego – and it won’t go away.
I try hard to not to make a drama out of it. Women’s rights mean that no matter what a woman wants to do in life, she’ll receive all the support. And I do my best to give my friends all the support I can gather for them. I just ask them to understand my face dropping down and forgive me for not jumping on them and hug them with joy. And of course, support me in my decision to not to have children, which they do.
The fear, at last, is to end up alone. To lose them over children.
Because our lifestyles and priorities don’t match. Because I’ll never feel like going to a kid’s birthday party and they’ll never feel like partying on a Thursday. And as the years go by it will be harder and harder to synch and meet and feel connected.
These thoughts have been with me the last three years, they were very intense in the last one. I decided somehow to go not only the extra mile for my friends, but the extra galaxy. I want to learn to appreciate their children, understand their path. Don’t say no when they ask me to hold their babies, even if my whole mind and body are screaming a big no. Try hard to enjoy kids’ interruptions during our conversations, maybe some day actually babysitting so they get a night out.
I won’t enjoy it and their children will be bored with me. But that’s how you show love and make the abyss smaller.
But I’m going to also build a space for those who fear to end up alone without friends because they didn’t want or couldn’t have children. There are more of us than I actually thought. While concepting Instead of Kids, telling people about my idea, doing the research and now that I’m writing on it, I keep discovering that I’m far from alone.
Becoming a parent is glorified, and fairly so: it’s an endeavor only apt for the most fearless and bravest. But we live in a time when many are looking for alternatives to the beaten path. In all aspects of life. We’re exploring other ways to work, move around, build houses, power our lifestyle, eat and drink.
I want to contribute with another way to find purpose in life. A way that doesn’t mean reproducing, but absolutely means positively impacting yourself, those around you and the world.
When your best friend tells you she’s pregnant and you don’t rejoice, don’t feel bad for feeling bad. You have your reasons and whatever it is that makes your heart sink, I’m telling you: you are not alone.