Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

How a Baby Changes Friendships: The Friend’s Perspective

Last week I wrote an essay about the effect having a baby has had on my friendships. This week, guest columnist, Sara, writes from the other perspective — that of the childless friend/ family member — about the way babies have changed her friendships.

Some very important babies have entered my life in the last six months: my sister-in-law had a son; my sister had identical twin daughters; and my best friend had a son. I am a researcher, and I prepared for changes in my relationships with these women the only way I know how: with a literature review. Most of the information I found was written by new moms, and most of the literature focused on how new mothers’ friends just don’t understand the awesome responsibility (and time-suck) it is to be a parent. Fair enough. As a childless woman, I don’t understand what it means to be a mom. I wonder, though, do my friends with newborns know what it’s like to be “the childless friend”? I’d like to share what that experience has been like and how new moms can make it easier — and enjoyable — for their childless friends to stay connected to them.

My relationship with my sister-in-law has actually not changed much. In addition to them enjoying the luxury of abnormally long maternity and paternity leaves, they have made a huge effort to maintain their lifestyle. For example, they take their son to (smoke-free!) establishments for happy hour meet-ups with friends and family, and they even took their two-month old on a multi-day road trip to visit out-of-state loved ones. When we get together, we talk about the baby and how the transition has been for them as new parents, but we also talk about work and upcoming trips. It’s important to keep conversation moving and not completely stuck on baby and parenting updates.

My relationship with my sister has improved as a result of her becoming a mother. She’s younger than I am, both literally and figuratively. Since she has become the primary caregiver to two demanding little girls, she has become more mature, putting the needs of others before hers. She may always be younger at heart than I am, but now I see her as more of an adult since her actions are more adult-like, and I appreciate that.

My relationship with my (long-distance) best friend has taken a big hit since she become a mom. Jean was unrealistic about what having a baby would mean for her life and our friendship, especially since she has faced a number of unique challenges. First of all, she had a rough pregnancy and was on bed rest for a significant chunk of it. Meet-ups were cancelled or cut short because she had to be supine for long periods of time. She was certain, though, that once the baby was born, she would go back to her normal, active lifestyle. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.

My husband and I were planning to meet up with Jean and her family around Christmas, 1.5 hours from their house, when the baby would be a month old. Three days before getting together, her husband called my husband to cancel. Having a newborn was more difficult and tiring than they had expected, and they couldn’t make the trip. My husband and I scrambled to find a way to visit our friends despite not having access to a car. We called a friend from a city three hours away and convinced her to go up with us to visit our mutual friends — and to give us a ride! The three of us stayed at Jean’s place for eight wonderful hours, talking, laughing, and playing games. Still, I was making a big effort to maintain our friendship after a baby, and I was a little put-out that I was doing most of the work. I figured that the early years are the hardest, though, and cut her some slack.

Then recently, we were planning to meet up with Jean and her husband to celebrate my 30th birthday in Chicago (a three-hour trip for them and a six-hour trip for us). On our way to Chicago, we learned that Jean had been admitted the night before to a research hospital in Madison, WI. It turns out, she has a rare and aggressive form of cancer that needed to be treated with 24-hour chemo and radiation. She got cancer from having a baby — placental blood was growing in her body. That afternoon that we were to meet in Chicago, my husband and I drove the extra 2.5 hours to Madison, WI instead to be with her. I cancelled my Monday classes in Ohio to stay with her until we knew the prognosis (50/50).

I had thought that the biggest hurdle in our friendship would be vying for her time after the birth of her baby. In reality, being really sick from having a baby is the true hurdle of our friendship. I’m glad now that I made the extra effort to do more than “my share” for our friendship. I know that in the coming months, she will have more than a baby taking her time and energy away from our friendship; she’ll also be fighting cancer.

My experiences with each of the three women in my life who have had babies recently is as different as the women themselves. Some of these differences come from choices the new parent is making, and some of these differences come from outside circumstances. I originally thought that the same skills I used to maintain a friendship with my sister and sister-in-law could be transferred to my relationship with my best friend. However, since each situation is unique, I know I need to approach each relationship in a unique way, and I plan to be there for my friends as much as I can as they navigate the challenges and joys of their new lives. I also hope that they will, in turn, be as present in our friendship as I plan to be.

When I was researching ways a childless friend can maintain her relationship with a new mom, I found some great advice, but as Wendy wrote, friendship is a two-way street. With that sentiment in mind, here are a few things that new moms can do to help maintain friendships with their childless friends:

1. Cut your friend some slack if she doesn’t call as much. She doesn’t know when to call. Will she accidently wake the baby — or you — up from a much-needed nap? Will she accidently call at bedtime or feeding time? Help your friend know when to call you.

2. Be sensitive that you have the privilege of being a mom, but your friend, who may want very much to be a mother, does not. Please know that being happy for you and being envious of you can go hand in hand. Your friend may not want children, but she may also be childless for reasons outside of her control: infertility; no long-term, loving relationship; not enough resources to raise a child.

3. Share the joys of parenthood along with the frustrations. Let your friend read a book to your child, play peek-a-boo, and teach your baby a new skill. We childless friends are here to listen to you vent about, and even participate in, some of the “bad” parts of having a kid: early nights, limited mobility, and stinky diapers; but we want to share in some of the joy, too.

4. Let your friend know that she’s still important to you. Your friend understands that she’s taken a backseat to your baby. But let her know that you still want her in your life — and that sometimes you kind of need a “wine-soaked evening with pals” to go back to being a mom in a refreshed way.

I’m sure you readers of Dear Wendy have lots of advice for me and others navigating friendships with new moms, and I hope you will share it.

[Thanks to Katy — who is not the author of this essay, so these are not necessarily her opinions — for letting me post this photo of her with Jackson and me, taken when she came to visit us in January. Katy — who, yes, is childless — has been a close friend for 18 years. She lives in Chicago, but we see each other a few times a year. Jackson was smitten as soon as he met her (doesn’t hurt that she’s beautiful, and great with children to boot). — wendy]

31 comments… add one
  • avatar

    painted_lady May 16, 2012, 12:30 pm

    Love this!

    Another thing I would add is, keep in mind that your friend may or may not be a baby person. I am more of a baby person than I used to be, but babies used to freak me out like a lot. I love them, but even now, I’m afraid I’m going to do something wrong. What if I accidentally hurt him? What if she starts crying? After the first few minutes of cooing, what the hell do I do? Are you going to be offended if I hand him back?

    I’ve had some friends who were wonderful about this (thanks, Wendy – you were the best baby-having friend so far!), and then I’ve had some people who have handed me the baby and then seemed to have decided, “Sweet! Baby caddy!” and gone and had a really intensive conversation with someone else at the table while I’m left going, “Ummm, I got a baby…what…to…do…ohmigod she’s crying…um, hey, your baby? It’s making…hey! You have a baby! You stuck me with her!!!” If you want me to hold the baby so you don’t have to think about her for a few minutes, please ask! I probably won’t mind doing half an hour of baby duty as long as I’ve been consulted, but making the assumption just makes me feel like you only asked me along so you could have conversations with other people.

    So for people who don’t naturally take to babies, a crash course in how to handle them – or gently prompting, or handing them over along with a toy – is going to do a lot in calming your friend’s nerves.

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    • avatar

      rachel May 16, 2012, 1:00 pm

      Yeah, babies are pretty cool, but I just don’t have a lot of experience with them, so whenever I hold one I’m afraid I’m going to drop it or something.

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    • CatsMeow

      CatsMeow May 16, 2012, 1:08 pm

      Yes, this. I’m NOT a baby person (although, like you, I’m becoming more of a baby person).

      I don’t really think babies are cute, and when they’re so little, I have no idea what to do with them. They just poop and pee and drool and spit-up and cry. Also, I have ZERO motherly instinct.

      (So I don’t sound COMPLETELY heartless – I do like them when they’re older, less fragile, and more interactive).

      My friend just had twins, and when I went to visit, I did hold them. I was trying to pass the boy off to the mom at the same time that she was trying to hand me the girl (we were doing the trade-off)… and I THOUGHT she had him, so I let go and OOPS! I his head fell back. I almost snapped his neck!!

      Luckily, he’s fine, and the parents just laughed. But I felt terrible!

      Anyway, I guess I’m just confirming that it’s awkward for the non-baby people. I didn’t even attempt to hold my other friend’s baby because if something like that had happened, she would NOT have been laughing.

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      • avatar

        MsMisery May 16, 2012, 1:17 pm

        Yeah, this. Luckily my bff of 20 years has known for as long as I’ve known that I’m not a baby/kid person, so when she started having them she had pretty low expectations of me (LOL). I’m also an only child so I have NO IDEA what to do with or how to act around small humans. I can’t even understand them half the time. >_<

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      Marcie May 17, 2012, 9:39 am

      I would definitely agree with you, but I am more of a baby person than a kid person. I am very happy to hold, feed, and play with a baby. But I am not the type of person who wants to go outside and play with a kid, or sit in the floor and play a game.

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  • avatar

    bethany May 16, 2012, 12:33 pm

    I’ve found #1 to be significant for me. I dont’ call my bf as much as I used to, because I feel like she’s got something better to be doing than talking to me on the phone! I email and text her a lot, that way she can respond when she wants to, or whenever she has time to!

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    • avatar

      ktfran May 16, 2012, 1:24 pm

      Here! Here!

      I don’t ever want to call my best friend because I’m not sure what her baby schedule is, as she lives in another city. Just today, she sent me an IM at work saying she had this dream about me and got scared so wanted to check in. I told her we need to catch up soon and she replied “call me any night after 8”. Will do!

      On another note, I visit this friend at least once a year at her house. She does the same with me, last time bringing baby who happens to have down syndrome. We also see each other a couple more times a year in our hometown. We’ve managed to transition our friendship well. We talk less than we use to, but always manage to pick up where we left off.

      I have a couple friends now ready to embark on their baby adventures. I’ve already told both of them I would watch babies if they wanted a date night. But, in turn, I want to see them every so often for a girls night. Or a brunch with friend and baby!

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  • JK

    JK May 16, 2012, 12:43 pm

    I found this really interesting.
    My closest friends and I are all at pretty much the same place in these things (all married, now with 2 kids each). Out of the 1st batch of kids my eldest is the youngest, so I was the childless friend for a few months (I was trying to conceive for 6 months, and as much as I hate to admit it, it was kind of upsetting for me to have everyone around me having babies seemingly effortlessly). But I always made sure to get in touch with my friends (at least by text) once a week to see how everything was going. And they all returned the favour.

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  • avatar

    evanscr05 May 16, 2012, 1:01 pm

    I’ve noticed this, as well. Of my tight group of friends, only one has a child. She lives maybe 20 minutes from me, and we easily go 6 months without seeing each other now. We facebook, we text, but she’s so busy with her son, her husband, her job, their families, AND going back to school, she rarely gets a moment to herself, let alone to spend any time with friends. We try to get her out of the house whenever we can for a girls day, and we try to do stuff with them and their son, but it’s definitely hard. It helps that we keep pretty busy, as well, but when we notice it’s been a couple of seasons since we last saw her, it definitely makes me a little sad. Our topics of conversation are definitely evolving, and certainly more focused on children or houses, but that’s life, I suppose.

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  • avatar

    convexed May 16, 2012, 1:19 pm

    I understand how busy new moms are. I work with infants and toddlers, so I get how new moms really do feel completely comsumed by all the hard work. But its worth making an effort–even a little goes a long way–to keeping in touch w yr childless friends and meeting them on shared ground in conversation. Soon enough, yr kid will be in preschool or school, not need as much constant attention, and you will find yrself missing yr old pals and grateful for having taken the time and thought to keep them in yr life even when something big and exciting was competing.

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  • mandalee

    mandalee May 16, 2012, 1:49 pm

    I loved this perspective! I only have one friend in my circle of friends that has a baby, and I noticed that our friendship has actually changed for the better. We were never really close, but have maintained a long distance friendship much better than I have with my other friends now that I moved. I think my love of kids and my comfortableness around them makes it easier for her to be herself around me. I’m planning on opening a daycare/preschool center in the next few years, and she has been so supportive of it and involved in the process. She messages me regularly, and though we don’t go out for wild drinking nights like we used to, our conversations are a lot more meaningful. It’s so interesting to see how a baby can change so many relationships/interactions in a larger social circle.

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  • iwannatalktosampson

    Iwannatalktosampson May 16, 2012, 2:54 pm

    I have had both good and bad experiences with friends becomming parents. The bad was really bad. All of the sudden that was all she could talk about. I remember one specific incident where I called her – me dialing the phone – because I was really stressed out and needed some advice and someone to vent to about my MIL. It was a specific issue that I needed pretty much immediate advice on because I was going to be faced with the issue head on the next day. Without me being able to get one word out besides “hi” she went on a 20 minute tangent about her baby and her life and her stress and then was like, “well it was good talking to you but I just got to X place and I gotta run, I’ll chat with you later!” I was seriously dumbfounded. Like did that just happen? I remember after that I pretty much had to do the fade out on that friendship. It was my “aha” moment where I realized this friendship was never going to be give and take. She never even asked why I had called or what I was up to that day or how my life was. It was just 20 minutes of her life and then see ya later. I was her constant sounding board and the favor would never be returned.

    On the other hand I have a really close friend who has a baby and she is just as awesome as ever. She as an individual hasn’t really changed that much. Obviously she’s a mom now so our activities are more kid friendly, but I can still talk to her the same way I used to do. We can still talk about husbands, work, and life in general. There’s just now an adorable baby at lunch as well.

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    • avatar

      painted_lady May 16, 2012, 5:13 pm

      Hey sampson, do you think she was always like that and that one extra degree of removal from your life just made it more obvious that the friendship was one-sided, or do you think that dramatic shift in her own life made it hard for her to see that no one else’s life had shifted so dramatically?

      I ask because I had a friend who did the same, and when I finally did the fade-out and got some perspective, I realized it had been that way for a long time, it was just easier to overlook before the massive change that was a baby. And then I had another friend who did the whole “Baby, baby, baby” thing for awhile, but once things settled down and I was able to carry on a conversation (rather than being talked AT), she got up to speed on my life and realized how much she had missed. She apologized, but honestly, it was so understandable, and because she had never been that way, it was also really forgivable.

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      • avatar

        Violet May 16, 2012, 11:26 pm

        Painted lady, I am currently trying to cope with a similar situation, a best friend fading out of my life almost completely after having two babies back to back. She has been a good friend to me for a long time, but was never really very good at being the one to keep in touch, or call/text. That has mostly always fallen on me. She is extremely devoted to her husband and does not spend any time away from him except to work, and I have always respected that, but now it is impossible to get her away from him and two little ones at all. I am wondering if a fade out is inevitable? I suppose time will tell.

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  • avatar

    maddie May 16, 2012, 4:24 pm

    jeez, i really, really hope your friend recovers! i didn’t even know there was a possibility of having cancer from a pregnancy. i’m glad though that you made the effort to see her even when it may have seemed she dropped the ball because she was caring for the new baby. her cancer diagnosis is such a burden to bear on top of all the new changes in her life. i hope she has a full recovery and you can both look back on this time in your friendship from a much brighter future.

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    • avatar

      Sara May 17, 2012, 10:09 am

      Thank you, maddie!

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  • Moneypenny

    Moneypenny May 16, 2012, 6:00 pm

    This is a really interesting and insightful read, thank you for posting it! I have a couple of friends from college who have kids (under 5) and one of them I haven’t seen in a couple of years. (I still consider him a friend though, we talk online during work hours instead.) My other friend has 2 kids, and I recently saw him and his wife at another friend’s birthday party. It’s funny how much your attention is focused on the kids in the room, and conversation seems to revolve around the kid(s), or your conversation gets interrupted because they have to go keep the kid from crawling into the washing machine. I have no problem with this and I know kids are a 24/7 job, but it’s interesting to note how the friendship dynamic changes. I love my friends’ kids because I can play with them and/or hold them (as babies), but then when they get fussy or have to be disciplined, I can hand them back to their mom or dad!

    Aside from that, my sister is going to have a baby in about 3 weeks. She’s my older sister (and only sibling) by 7 years, and we’ve always been pretty close. It’s going to be interesting how our relationship is going to change, as she won’t be able to give me her full attention any time I need it because her child will take up most of her energy. I’m super excited though, I can’t wait to spoil my future niece (or nephew)!

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  • avatar

    pamplemousse May 16, 2012, 8:52 pm

    Love these essays.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark May 16, 2012, 10:25 pm

    Wait, wait, wait… How do you GET Cancer from having a baby?

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    • avatar

      rachel May 16, 2012, 11:03 pm

      Add that to the list of reasons I’m glad I don’t want kids.

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    • avatar

      d2 May 17, 2012, 7:15 am

      After fertilization, there is a lot of rapidly-growing tissue; particularly with the placenta. In very rare cases, things can go awry with some of those fast-growing cells, and they can turn into tumors that can become cancerous. Gestational trophoblastic disease is one thing I am aware of, but I don’t know about the writer’s friend’s situation.

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    • avatar

      Sara May 17, 2012, 10:06 am

      Hi all, I wrote the essay, and I should have included the name of Jean’s cancer. It is choriocarcinoma ). If you catch this cancer early, it is pretty treatable. Unfortunately, her cancer was not caught early; by the time they found it, the cancerous cells were in her brain and liver, and her HCG (pregnancy hormone) level was in the millions.

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      • avatar

        d2 May 18, 2012, 7:26 am

        I wondered if that might be the case. That must be heartbreaking to go from celebrating the joy of a new life to fighting for a life in peril. I wish her strength and spirit for a full recovery.

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  • avatar

    Violet May 16, 2012, 11:18 pm

    Thank you, Wendy, for posting this piece. It means a lot to me, as someone who is currently somewhat mourning the loss of a best friend due to her having two babies one year apart. I have several friends with children and I see them whenever possible, but these are the youngest, and thus her life is completely about work, babies, and her marriage. While I completely understand, and I send texts often to let her know I am thinking of them, it still hurts sometimes that she has absolutely no time anymore, not even for me to stop by for a couple of hours and bring them dessert or something, as I used to do. I am just trying to wait it out, and hope that as the children get older, she will consider taking more time to see friends when she can.

    Really, I am just happy to read about other new moms who are taking the time to see their friends and keep up on their lives. You are all very lucky to have one another. 🙂

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  • avatar

    jenniferw May 17, 2012, 11:21 am

    I too am not a baby person but I love hearing about my friends children, especially as they grow older and develop their own personalities. However, with one of my friends, there seems to be a “mommy snobishness” as I’ve come to call it. She asked me when I was planning on having my children and I responded by saying that it wasn’t the right choice for me. What I got was a lecture on how I could not possibly be fufilled being childless as well as the zinger comment that I was not completely a woman until I gave birth. Please understand that I am thrilled that you love being a mom but that my choices need to be respected as well.

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  • avatar

    Chrissy May 17, 2012, 7:29 pm

    I really hope that if I ever have kids I am more like the sister-in-law. I really can’t see myself being happy with being cooped up in a house all day with my baby, and forgoing weekend trips or things I would normally do (within reason, of course), because I decided to procreate.

    My friends all just started having kids and so far I’ve not seen them unless they invite people over to see their baby. On top of that, the baby always seems to be the excuse – even when the couple has access to full-time, live-in help. I get that kids are a huge responsibility, but it’s really sad when people ditch their friends or try to shift the relationship so it’s suddenly all about them. Sadly, I think that those friendships fall by the wayside, because if the friend without children is always doing all the work, or getting turned down or stood up, there’s going to be resentment there and it’s just not worth it. We all change and grow out of friendships sometimes, and I guess that’s just a fact of life. I’m not going to try to force anything.

    In a way though, I am resentful of this because I feel like I’ve been there for my friend’s milestones and supported them through everything, but now that it’s “my turn”, they don’t have time for me, and that really sucks.

    Also I have to say, I really hate the word “childless”, because it implies that people that don’t have kids are sorely lacking, almost pitiable creatures . I really don’t like “childfree” either because that seems just as snooty.

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    • avatar

      Jules May 9, 2013, 8:12 pm

      I totally get what you are saying, Chrissy. I recently lost a friend of mine after telling me I am a bad friend who has “hurt her family” etc. She decided to tell me this two days after reading at my wedding and attending my rehearsal dinner with just our closest family and friends. She was married straight out of university. On a limited income, I rented cars and drove hours to attend all of her wedding events. She tried to get out of going to all of mine, citing her baby as her excuse. I have supported her so much in the past, especially while she was getting married and having problems with her bridesmaids, I threw her baby shower, helped with her son’s first birthday party, and listened and supported her when she debated over going back to work to use her Master’s degree or starting a photography business so she could stay home with her child. I can’t remember the last time she supported me.

      She is now pregnant with her second child and has completely cut me from her life. She couldn’t see past herself to help me when I was getting married the way that I helped her and I guess I am luckier for not having her in my life anymore.

      But I don’t understand because I am “not a Mom.” Instead, I was treated like a childless freak. I hope I can be more like the sister-in-law in this case and remember to embrace all of my friends after having kids!

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  • avatar

    Addie Pray May 17, 2012, 11:24 pm

    This was fun to read, as someone who is childless but has lots of friends with babies now. One of my issues is that I am a baby person and love just hanging out with the baby and helping out and giving my mom friends a break by offering to watch the kid while they run errands or do something around the house… and, well, sometimes I feel taken advantage of. That’s not the right word. I feel…. not very appreciated. And I feel not very important. My mom friends know I am perfectly fine with just coming over at 7 am or some random time – and coming over to THEIR house because they don’t want to get the baby up and out (huge production, I realize) – and bringing some Starbucks or a pizza or something so they don’t have to do anything. So what ends up happening is: they ONLY want to see me on those terms. And it’s insulting. I have one mom friend in particular. I came over once a week to help out – watch the kid in the am while my friend slept or ran errands, etc. I know it was a real help to her because she’s single. Anyway, now, I feel like, if I want to hang out with Katie, it’s only on those terms. But then I hear how she actually got the baby dressed and met some friends downtown for lunch. I was insulted because when I ask if she wants to get together, she just says – sure, why don’t you just come over in an hour, the baby will be up then and you can hold her.

    … I mean, I’m fine with that, and I don’t really want to go downtown for lunch… but I feel like if I didn’t come over, I’d never see my friend. Eh, maybe i would, I just never get to that point because I offer to just do whatever is easiest for her. I just can’t help but wonder if the tables were turned if she’d go out of her way for me?

    I don’t know. I think I’m having issues with this particular friend based on her selfish ways pre-baby. But now that she has a baby, I feel I can’t say anything. I mean, come on, now she is a single mom to a new born. … Eh, whatever, I’ll keep helping out as long as I can. And when I don’t want to, I’ll stop.

    But getting back to this piece: it’s nice to read something from OUR perspective. I kind of want to throw a “yay, I have no kids and am not married” party like Carrie did on SOTC.

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  • avatar

    Anna May 18, 2012, 3:43 am

    As a “childless” woman in her late 20’s, I really appreciated this piece. Almost every woman I know has children, so I’m constantly bombarded on Facebook with baby pics, pregnancy updates, potty training, first steps…it does kinda hurt because I want kids but haven’t been so lucky as to find a husband who also wants them. Sometimes it does seem like once someone joins the “mommy club,” all non-mommy-related problems you may be having are irrelevant and petty.

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  • avatar

    d2 May 18, 2012, 7:47 am

    Not all situations for parents are the same. It was interesting to get the perspective of the three examples (along with Wendy’s previous personal post). Thanks for sharing.

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  • becboo84

    BecBoo84 May 21, 2012, 1:04 pm

    Wendy, that is a gorgeous picture! You definitely have the new mother glow!

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