Being that most of you reading this are childfree, I know I am not alone in lamenting the loss (or demotion) of good friendships once a friend has children. Many times we feel as though we've been dumped once children come into our friend's picture.
Here's my question for you today: have you ever dumped a friend after he/she had kids? I did. Here's the story.
Paula was someone I had met in 7th grade when I started at a new school. We became fast friends and were best friends through 7th, 8th and 9th grades. We were inseparable. Then in high school we split off and went separate ways for many years until we later reconnected as adults.
It's interesting to reconnect as adults with someone you were friends with as a child. You never know how it will work out - if you will still be compatible. I was confident Paula and I would still be compatible - many things about her were still the same and many things about me were the same. But there was one big thing that had changed. Paula was desperate to have a child.
I didn't think this would necessarily be a problem. I may be staunchly childfree, but I have had several successful friendships with people who have children. However, Paula's desperation to have a child was more intense than anything I had witnessed before. This was illustrated by a comment she made to me in a letter stating that if she can't have children she would "rather die". I was worried, but she soon became pregnant and all was right in her world.
What was not right was what happened to our friendship. From the time the child was born, and for a few years after that (until our friendship ended), Paula was obsessed with her child to the point that I felt invisible in our friendship. Much of our interaction took place in letters to each other. She was a prolific letter writer, and I enjoy writing too, so we would send letters back and forth, about one per week. What really started to bother me was that in Paula's lengthy letters to me, the entire 5 pages were about her child - endless details about everything from the brand of diapers she uses to the child's sleeping schedule, to the temperature of her fevers, to the evaluation of day care centers, and on and on and on - lengthy, boring tedium that nobody in their right mind would subject another person to.
Now of course, I expect that a mother will talk about her child - the child is a big and important part of her life (as it should be). What was troubling was that in all 5 pages of each letter and in our interactions in person, she talked about nothing else. Not her job. Not her husband. Not current events. Not any interests. Nothing. If that was not bad enough, she showed no genuine interest in me and the happenings in my life. It was completely a one-way friendship.
So in response to her 5-page letters about her child, I would write back, politely commenting on the things she wrote about and then updating her on what was going on in my life. In return, in her letters to me, she did not acknowledge anything I had written about my life, but instead spent another 5 pages updating me about her daughter.
Needless to say this got old after awhile.
I turned to a close friend for help and at his advice, I began to turn the faders down on our friendship. I didn't feel comfortable coming straight out and telling her, "look, I feel completely ignored in our friendship and you show interest in nothing other than your child". So I figured, I'll just quietly ease away from the friendship. I undertook a deliberate plan of action to make her tire and lose interest in me. I took longer to reply to her letters. I shortened my letters. When I did write back, I didn't spend much time acknowledging the things she had written about. I took her approach and began to talk endlessly about myself, spending little time focusing on her. I figured in time she would either get the hint, or just get bored with me (since I would not be fulfilling her need for an active audience) and drop out of the picture.
Thinking back now, I was being a coward and a weasel. I didn't want to hurt her feelings so I figured I would just try to ease myself out of the friendship. My reasoning was that since she didn't have a sincere interest in me anyway (I was just a sounding board for her to rattle on and on about herself and her child), she wouldn't really care or notice.
But it didn't work. No matter how short my letters became, how little acknowledgement I gave her in my letters, how much time lapsed between letters, or how self-absorbed my letters became, she'd write back with full gusto - her usual 5-page dissertations about her daughter. I realized she was using our letters as a writing exercise - a diary to document her life. What's worse, she was actively pursuing me for in-person get-togethers which were just as bad as the letters, only in person which was more agonizing.
I was at wit's end.
The final straw for me was when I had mentioned (in an e-mail to her) that I was really excited because I got an A in my first graduate school class and her response was, "Oh, I didn't know you were in graduate school." Well, of course I had told her I was in graduate school in one of my prior letters. This just illustrated how little interest she had in me that she did not remember such an important fact. It was clear she didn't care, because her entire commentary on my being in graduate school consisted of just that one sentence and she was off and running on another lengthy diary entry about her daughter.
I was so exasperated by this that I forwarded her e-mail to my close friend (the confidant who was trying to help me figure out how to extricate myself from her) with the comment, "CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?!!!" Well, fate must have stepped in at this point to help me out (in the form of a blessing in disguise) because somehow I did something (perhaps hit "reply" instead of "forward"?) and the e-mail went right back to Paula and she discovered I had forwarded her message to another person.
Of course, a blow-out immediately ensued and she was extremely hurt that I had betrayed her confidence. At that point, I could do nothing but be completely straightforward with her. I told her exactly how I felt - that I felt alienated from her because she seemed to be interested in nothing other than her child, and showed no genuine interest in me or the goings-on in my life.
Her reply? "Of COURSE I am interested in my child! She will always be the center of my life!" (I think she missed the point). And then, she lambasted me for telling her the honest reasons I no longer wanted to be friends with her. "You couldn't have just told me something like 'I feel we've grown apart' " - you had to be TRUTHFUL and tell me I bore you and show no interest in you!"
And that's when I stopped feeling badly because it was at this moment that she illustrated the precise reason I wanted out of the friendship. Even at this moment, when a friend was ending a long-standing friendship with her, her thoughts were only on herself, on her feelings, with no concern for her friend's unhappiness or what led her friend to want to pull away. She didn't care about my feelings or why I no longer wanted to be friends with her. She would prefer be lied to than to know how her behavior had driven away a friend.
So that was the end of that friendship.
This happened about 7 years ago and it came back to mind when I was writing my recent post about Baby Mama Facebook Drama. I realized there is a common thread between that story and this one. Some parents believe that the second they give birth, the entire world revolves around them and every detail of their lives. They believe that the life of childrearing is so scintillating and engaging and captivating to everyone that we are all hanging on the edge of our seats, salivating in anticipation of the next detail. They give a pitying nod to anyone who has any interests, endeavors and pursuits other than childrearing because none of those remotely compare to the earth-shatting importance of parenthood.
They believe this because this is what is drummed into our heads from the moment we are born - that the most important and gratifying role in life is that of parent. All roads lead to parenthood. It is the ultimate goal. It is the purpose of marriage. It is the purpose of sex. It is a love like no other. It completes you. It defines a woman and makes her "whole".
Given this thorough brainwashing, is it any wonder that parents (especially women) believe they are God the second they pop out a child? That trumpets of heaven will sound the moment they become parents? That everyone around them will bow down in worship? That we will be hanging on their every word and action? That their role as mother trumps all else?
Thankfully, there are parents who do not fall under this brainwashing spell - they are small in number, but they are out there (some of them are friends of mine). In the meantime, it can be difficult and hazardous navigating our way among all the others.