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Guest Post: Do childfree women have more friends?

Published: October 12, 2011 | Last Updated: May 27, 2013 By | 22 Replies Continue Reading

By Ellen Walker, Ph.D.

Intuitively, it would seem that a woman without kids, childfree women,  would have an abundance of free time, and therefore more hours to devote to friendships. But for several reasons, this is not necessarily the case.

Childfree Women Have Differing Priorities From Their Mothering Peers

Being a career woman and not a mom has meant that I’m distinctly different from most of my peer group. I’ve spent the last fifteen or so years feeling mostly like an odd duck around other women my age-they’ve been busy with pregnancy, childrearing, adjusting to an empty nest, and now moving into the grandparenting years, while I’ve been busy with my career, hobbies, and dogs. Many mothers are juggling both acts in life; they are full time moms and this is their top priority. They work to keep bread on the table, but many say they’d really rather be at home with their child or children. Work for most women shifts to the back burner after the children come along, but for many childfree women, career remains front and center.

Finding a Common Interest in Social Gatherings Can Be a Challenge

These days, 1 in 5 women reach the end of their childbearing years without becoming a mom-this means, though, that 4 out of 5 are mothers. So put me in a social gathering with other women my age, and I’m almost certain to be a minority. I’ve noticed that moms love to talk about their children, and likewise grandmothers love to talk about their grandkids, and so I’m frequently in a position of being the only one without that topic to chat about. In a mixed-gender gathering, I often wander over to the men’s side of the room, because the talk is more likely to be focused on politics, social issues, or other non-personal topics that I can better participate in.  Or I’ll shift conversations with women to topics that I know we both can relate to, such as funding for a new park in our city. All in all, however, my experience is similar to that of many  childfree women I’ve talked to, feeling like a misfit in a group of other women my age. Plus, mothers often meet their friendship needs through relationships with other parents, combining play dates for kids with those for adults.

So what’s a childfree woman to do?

It’s important to nurture at least one friendship with another childfree woman so that you don’t feel completely out of place.

Be prepared for those group conversations in which all the women start to talk about their kids and grandkids. What will you say? How will you dismiss yourself if you should choose to do so? How might you shift the topic to something that’s pertinent to the whole group?

Embrace your differences! Being able to laugh with another woman about the road that you each took and why can lighten things up. Those of us who don’t have kids need to remember that moms used to be childfree as well. Ask them about their pre-child years and enjoy exploring together how each of your lives would have turned out had she not become a mom and if you had become a mom.

And never forget, that underneath the labels, we’re all very much alike.

About the Author: Thanks to my Psychology Today blogger colleague Ellen Walker for this post.Dr. Walker is a licensed clinical psychologist born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Recognizing that there is no one type of childfree adult, Walker guides clients through the positive and negative aspects of childfree living, taking into consideration the different issues faced by men or women, couples or singles, whether gay or straight.

She is the author of Complete without Kids: An Insider’s Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or by Chance and blogs at Complete without Kids.

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Comments (22)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve enjoyed the guest posts by Ellen Walker about “child free.” That’s the term my husband and I use.

    One of my cousins, after having two little boys, told my husband and me that NOT having children was selfish. “You don’t understand how selfless and giving you have to be to raise children,” she said. I can’t entirely deny that I like having my time and life to myself, but I don’t believe that makes me actually “selfish.” Actually, I feel that the decision to have children is in many ways selfish–you want a child for your own purposes and gratification, you’re not getting pregnant to give a gift to the world (unless you plan to give it up to be adopted by others). The other thing we’ve heard is a pitying “Oh, you don’t know what you’re missing,” as if we’re ignorant and blind. Most people, of course, don’t come right out and say stuff to us like that, but I’ve seen from comments on this topic over the years on various blogs that people sure are thinking it.

    I don’t know why with personal matters like this people feel so judgmental, almost threatened. My decision doesn’t affect them at all; their decision to raise kids, on the other hand, affects everything around them, including their openness to forming new friendships (or maintaining existing ones).

    A commenter wrote: “Is it possible that childfree women shun women who are mothers at gatherings, because they presume that people who happen to be parents won’t have interesting to talk about?”

    I hope nobody’s “shunning” anyone but I do know that if I’m in a group of women with kids (not “people who happen to be parents,” since few men do this) kids and school issues quickly become the only common topic for the group. I’ve tried talking about TV shows, movies, books, local events, etc, but it often seems the thirst to share & gather info about their kids just takes over and everything angles back to that. Most friends wouldn’t talk obsessively about their own lives that way, but have no qualms when it comes to talking about their kids. It’s not much of a friendly conversation.

    My age group’s kids are now starting to go to college. I thought things would get better conversation-wise but just the other night I got what I call “the finger”–the cellphone buzzed, it was a text from the daughter away at college, and my friend held up her finger to stop me from talking so she could read and reply to the text. Yeesh.

    I made a note to look up Ellen Walker and see what else she’s written about this topic.

    • Friendship Doc says:

      Gosh! Some moms become real bores if their only interest in their kids, especially is this age of helicopter parenting.

      Your comment about “the finger” made me laugh out loud. I hope that text was an emergency one but doubt it was :-).

      Best, Irene

  2. Anonymous says:

    That is so true, not all working moms are like this but a lot of them are – they think if you don’t have kids then you should work around their kids schedule. So I appreciate the moms who are on a rotation just like the non-moms ,and don’t complain about it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Its because u are considered childless not childfree

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am also introverted more than extroverted and can completely relate to the need for quality vs. quantity of friendships.

    I too am mid 30’s, not married and no children and I have to admit that I have experienced:

    “that being childfree (and single) can make one feel like the odd man out in social gatherings when all the other women in the room are married, have been at one stage, or have kids.”

    ” Such women rarely want to talk about anything other than children, pregnancy, weddings, marriage – stuff I am not interested in discussing. They almost never inquire about me, how I am doing, or what my interests are.”

    I feel as though I am scraped off a moms plate because it is easier to fit other moms on there. It is unfortunate but I now realize that it is their shortcomings and not a reflection on me.

    I too have become more outspoken on what is going on with me. Those who catch on and don’t monopolize the conversation are the ones I stick with. Those moms who discount what you are going through because you don’t have children are not really worth your time anyway.

    Meetup has some non-mom clubs which seem like something I will look into.

  5. Anonymous says:

    As the “parent” of two felines, right there with ya. And being in my mid-40s at this point, I’ve learned how to answer the “what, no kids?” observations that come up occasionally with a polite, “Yeah, just never happened for us” then gently redirect the conversation another direction…

    And if you and I ever found ourselves at the same party, we could have garden chat like nobody’s business 🙂 That’s generally a tactic I’ll take – fish around for a topic of mutual interest (wine, gardening, travel, books, music) and go there. It’s actually a wee phenomenon I’ve noticed in my life: many of my recent girlfriends (last 5-8 yrs) are child-free. We seem to have “found” each other! These are women I met commuting on the same route via public transportation, so all on our way to and from work. Several single with no kids, a couple DINKs, and one married with children. We always manage to easily find something to chat about – usually food or complaining about the commute 🙂

  6. Anonymous says:

    I’m almost at the end of my 40th year and I often wondered if I should have had a child when the opportunity was there would I be so alone now.

    I’ve never really wanted children, for the most part still don’t want to have any. Most of the females I know around my age group are busy with their children or busy trying to have them. I’m the outsider.

    And yes, just as in the original article, I find myself driven to the males in the groups where the talk is less focused on children, family, partnerships and the quest for such – as the single female hanging out with the groups not wanting to be in the female conversation, I can understand why couples like hanging out with other couples :/

  7. Anonymous says:

    I am a 38-year-old woman who has never been married, with no kids. I do love kids and spoil my friend’s kids and godchild. I lavish all my nurturing desires on them. Would I like to have kids? Sure. Would I like to get married? Sure. Has either one happened to date? No. Am I happy? Yes. That’s my story.

  8. EagleWings says:

    WonderWhy said,

    I am extremely offended by the author’s term “childfree” for the negative connotation she’s attached to it, to support her claim that married women have more respect in society for their roles as mothers, whereas single women without children are stereotyped (even by the author, a woman!) as silly, carefree women with no sense of responsibility or inclination to have children and get married.

    WonderWhy, I went back and re-read the lady’s column but do not see what you’re seeing. I think you may be reading things into her column that she did not intend.

    I don’t think she implied anything negative about the term or the state of being “childfree,” she was only describing her experience that she usually feels left out in social groups because so many other women are not childfree like she is.

    Like the guest author, I too have seen many “married- with- kids” couples who incorrectly assume that older, single people who do not have children have loads of free time, they party all the time, and have no responsibilities.

    She herself is not saying those things are true of childfree people, she is saying that is how many married people with kids (or society at large) view the childfree – and I think she is absolutely right about that.

    Even though the author herself did not say most of what you are claiming she did, I myself do hold that opinion.

    I do think American society behaves like married women and/or mothers are the norm, or are more important than single / never married / no kids women.

    I’m a devout Christian from a Baptist background, which only makes those things more pronounced, because Baptists as a denomination are very, very family oriented.

    Most Baptists incorrectly assume all adults age 25 and older are married with a couple of kids, and their church functions and sermons are geared towards that. It permeates everything.

    I frequently have to endure such assumptions by other Baptists (especially when attending a new Baptist church), and from sermons on television by Baptist preachers (and by pastors of other denominations too).

    I find it offensive that many people (especially my fellow Christians) automatically assume that every woman age 35+ is married, has been at one time, or has children.

    None of that is true of me, but every time I go into a new church, they always ask stuff like, “How many kids do you have?”

    Most of the sermon topics are along the lines of “How to strengthen your marriage,” “How to be a more godly and effective parent” and rarely during such sermons do the pastors acknowledge that not everyone watching, listening, or in attendance is married or has kids.

    I’ve heard countless sermons (in person and on TV) about how “motherhood” is “the most important job or role” for women in society, or it’s the most important aspect in their identity as women, while others periodically sermonize that one of the other “greatest jobs” a woman has in her life is as a “help mate” to her spouse.

    I don’t think these preachers realize how rude, hurtful, irrelevant, and condescending such sermons are to women like me who have never married or had kids.

    I most definitely pick up a vibe from society at large, and by fellow Christians, that married women (or mothers) are more valuable or important than never-married women, or women who are not mothers, and I get really, really tired of those views, they’re very offensive to me.

  9. EagleWings says:

    You said,

    Is it possible that childfree women shun women who are mothers at gatherings, because they presume that people who happen to be parents won’t have interesting to talk about?

    No, I do not shun mothers, nor did I used to make assumptions about what they may or may not be interested in talking about. (I’m over 35, never married, never had kids.)

    In my experience, it’s usually the reverse: many married women with kids I’ve met over my life have made assumptions about never-married/ no kids women.

    (Even now, on other blogs about marriage or relationships or whatever else, I see them do this.)

    Over the years, I have tried to discuss varying subjects with married women and with mothers, and while a few were willing to discuss movies, books, art, or politics, the vast majority I came across were fixated on talking only about motherhood, pregnancy, or marriage, or a combination of those three things.

  10. EagleWings says:

    Re the original poster’s topic: Do childfree women have more friends?

    I think it depends on the woman in question.

    I am between the age of 35 – 45, have never been married, have never have kids. Due to a lot of moving over the years, being socially awkward and shy, having always been more of a loner and introvert, I’ve never had many friends.

    (I don’t know if I ever really wanted to have kids or not, but I did always wish to be married. I just never met the right person.)

    I did read an article published a couple of weeks ago about never married or single people over the age of 30, and the statistics reported in that article said that by and large, single people do have more friends, as they tend to visit with family more often, and get out of the house more (like volunteer at charities).

    But the same article said it wasn’t the kids per se that seemed to be a factor, but marriage itself – it said even single women with kids get out more and have more friends and acquaintances than married people who have kids.

    I agree with the author that being childfree (and single) can make one feel like the odd man out in social gatherings when all the other women in the room are married, have been at one stage, or have kids.

    My personal experience has been that such women rarely want to talk about anything other than children, pregnancy, weddings, marriage – stuff I am not interested in discussing. They almost never inquire about me, how I am doing, or what my interests are.

    Even when I’ve tried to get mothers to discuss movies, books, TV shows, they always manage to drag the topic back to their kids, marriage, etc.

    I do not like babies or children (at least OTHER people’s babies and children, if I ever had one of my own, I’d be fine with my own kids), so no, I do not enjoy listening to endless stories about someone’s baby talk.

    (I am particularly turned off when parents think it’s cute to discuss their kid’s bodily functions or bathroom habits. It’s gross, not cute.)

    I used to be very codependent and hence unwilling to speak up and let people know when they were monopolizing the conversation and making me feel left out, but I am not like that now, and I don’t care who it is or what the topic is.

    I am more apt to speak up now and let the person know that while I’m happy spending “X” amount of minutes listening to them talk about their kids, pregnancy or marriage (or whatever they enjoy talking about), that we will be changing the topic – so I feel more included.

    I’m not so bashful anymore about speaking up and letting people know what my likes and dislikes are.

    ——sig line——–
    post by Eagle Wings
    e-mail: wingseagle27 AT yahoo DOT com

  11. WonderWhy says:

    As a single women at 40, I’m “childfree” not because I want to be but because the opportunity to have children and get married hasn’t presented itself to me. That said, I think it’s very short sighted of the author to claim that all “childfree women have different priorities than their mothering peers.” While I may not have children to pick up from after school, my priorities are not that different from the mothers I know, with the obvious exception of scheduling my life around a child. I have pets and I schedule my life around them. And why is it my responsibility – as the author claims it is for childfree women in social settings – to shift the conversation topic to something that she writes “is pertinent to the whole group.” That statement seems to insinuate that single women in group social settings with married women should feel ashamed of their singlehood, and therefore be sure to change the subject so as not to upset some invisible balance. I find that preposterous really. I’ve been to plenty of parties where I was among married women with children and had absolutely no qualms about listening to them share funny stories about their children’s lives, and they in turn had no problem listening to me regale them with stories from my life. The author asks if childfree women have more friends than married women? Why would single women have more friends than married women? I think one’s amount of friendships depends more on your social networks and activities like hobbies, or church or volunteering or whatever; and has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you’re married with children. I am extremely offended by the author’s term “childfree” for the negative connotation she’s attached to it, to support her claim that married women have more respect in society for their roles as mothers, whereas single women without children are stereotyped (even by the author, a woman!) as silly, carefree women with no sense of responsibility or inclination to have children and get married. Marriage and children doesn’t happen for every woman; whether its via choice or just circumstances. And the amount of friends a woman has doesn’t have anything to do with her status as a single woman or mother.

  12. Anonymous says:

    While I am very glad to see some discussion on the issue of childfree women, there are some points that I disagree with.

    As with some previous posters, I disagree with the implication that childfree women are more career-oriented and less social. My decision to be childfree has absolutely nothing to do with my career path.

    I also have to disagree with the statement that “moms used to be childfree as well.” It may be semantics, but there is an enormous difference between childFREE and childLESS.

    “Childfree” is usually associated with men and women who never have any intention of having children. “Childless” refers to people who want children, but just don’t have them yet or have been unable to conceive. There are very different mindsets between these groups.

    I have never been able to relate to moms by appealing to their pre-baby era because even in their childless days, their focus was always on eventually becoming a mother. In social gatherings I will always end up talking with the men because they’re much more likely to share my interests than women (with or without kids!)

  13. Anonymous says:

    I agree that this stereotype (‘childfree women only focus on their careers’), like all stereotypes, is tiring. (I wrote the above so I appreciate your reply!) I think the worst assumption that ‘moms’ have made about me in the workplace (I work in health care) is that ‘surely I wouldnt mind working the major holidays or late shifts because I dont have kids’… just because I dont have kids is supposed to mean that I have nothing to do on christmas or thanksgiving? or that my holidays are less important than theirs? That has been one issue that has really burned me over the years. Maddening. If moms in the workplace do not want me to assume that all they want to talk and think about is what has come out of their uterus, then they should not assume I dont mind being chained to my desk during undesirable times/shifts/holidays. But really, this is just another example that sweeping assumptions and stereotypes are never helpful for our ability to try to actually connect with people who are different from ourselves. If one truly wants to try to connect with and understand others, and they apply nothing more than the golden rule, they will be miles ahead in their communications and connections!

  14. Anonymous says:

    “We shouldnt assume childfree women are ‘all career-oriented’ any more than we should assume moms are ‘all only interested in their kids and nothing more’. ”

    Exactly. My life outside of work is more important. Just because I don’t have kids does not mean I only focus on work. I am tired of that stereotype.

  15. Anonymous says:

    The author’s view reflects her opinion, not ALL childfree women. I am childfree and speaking for me and not ALL childfree women, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that I do not presume that parents don’t have interesting things to talk about. But I do think sometimes parents choose to not talk about much of anything but their children. And I have felt looked down upon by parents because i don’t have children. I am treated like someone who is “less than.” I think what has compounded this problem is today’s helicopter parents. Many parents, it seems, feel they must hover over and watch their children’s every move. They text and phone their children all the time, giving them no breathing room. But this is a way of life and is considered normal. The result is that our culture overall is much more child centric. There was a time when parents had grown up parties where children were not invited. Parents seemed to want a break from parenting, to enjoy being around their peers. There was no shame in it. But now it seems parents take their children to every event, whether children are invited or not.

  16. Anonymous says:

    i raised my six siblings after my mother left and father died. this left me never wanting children for a myriad of reasons, all which were countered by well meaning but intrusive people with the statement “but it’s different when they are your own!”. doesnt matter to me or my husband. we have dogs and parrots and this satisfies our need to nurture something alive.
    when in social settings that force me to be in a group of mother hens with human chicks, i simply relate stories about funny things Penny, Milo and Brandy have done lately and leave out the details about their humanity or lack thereof. surprisingly, i have never been caught out, because their activities are amazingly similar at young ages. Parrots and children both poop on the sofa. lol
    otherwise i do tend to join the mens’ gathering as there are often much more interesting topics than childbirth, shopping for children’s clothes or the View. yes i am stereotyping, but it amazes me how many of my contemporaries are single focus for the most part. I do not work anymore, being medically retired so i don’t fit in with the career women either.

    please oh please let there be a another gardener at the next party!

  17. Anonymous says:

    I find this subject interesting – as I now approach my mid-40s, I thankfully receive much less harassment and questions from others about my choice to be childfree (it was extremely annoying, in my younger yrs, to always be asked about this – young men are not badgered about it, that’s for sure). I have known since I can remember that I wanted to be childfree, and that desire has never wavered. Kids are fine, but they dont really interest me all that much. Even as a kid, I wasnt that interested in kids, funny enough! 🙂 For that reason, it has been difficult over the years to maintain friendships with women who make kids the only thing that they can talk or think about (though of course, not ALL women who are mothers are like that – a majority of moms I know still have other interests and pursuits and thoughts and I enjoy their friendships greatly). By the same token, I have never been appreciative of being treated as though the only thing that must matter to me is my career, ‘because I dont have kids’. I have a mostly fulfilling career, but it is NOT the end-all, be-all for me. In fact, I would say my life outside of work is probably MORE important to me, and it is filled with lots of activities, hobbies, travel, socializing, cooking, and yes, sometimes sitting in front of the TV for a few hours disengaged from it all. We shouldnt assume childfree women are ‘all career-oriented’ any more than we should assume moms are ‘all only interested in their kids and nothing more’. I mostly love my life, I have always been happy to be childfree – hopefully no matter what happens to women regarding reproduction – they dont or they do, they cant or they wont or they will – they are eventually able to see that they, themselves, are the only ones who really can create their own happiness (kids wont do it for you any more than your spouse or your own mom or your BFF or your boss) – can you be happy even if all these other things fall apart, or never happen for you? You can only answer that for yourself.

  18. Anonymous says:

    There are so many people in the world to befriend — you’ve got to think outside of the hen house! I have warm friendships with much older women and men, for example, and younger women who may or may not ever have children.

    I think that if you’re fine with yourself as a childless woman for whatever reasons, this is going to be reflected in your social relations with others. If you’re awkward with yourself, or bitter about an infertility issue, it’s going to get in the way.

    If people can do little but go into raptures about their kids — well, that’s their right and their perogative. We must accept that kids are the center of our friends lives. But they must also understand that their kids are are not the center of ours. This is hard for parents sometimes, as their lives have been so redirected.

    There’s nothing wrong with gracefully distancing oneself from people who are solipsistic in their parenthood. I am a long-married woman, but my best female friends are single never married. I don’t seem to have to put my marriage at the center of my friendships the way many mothers seem to place their children. Above all, I think we should stop blaming ourselves for having a few social shifts over the issue of parenthood.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Wow, childfree women really think our lives are short. The author rattled through lifestages as though they pass in the blink of an eye.

    My only son went off to college three years ago, and my life has totally changed—I started a successful business, travel more with my husband and so forth. I am not going to become a grandparent in two minutes. My son is a high achieving, idealistic guy, and although he has a great girlfriend who is potentially there for the long term, I don’t see them getting married and having children for another decade.

    I was mid-thirties and my husband forty when we had our son. Why should I expect him to have a son when he’s 22?

    So the idea that once a woman has children she is a Mommy or Granny forever, with only a brief break to remember what it is like to be a “person” with career, hobbies, dogs, political opinions, charity causes, etc., is a stereotype that is a bit insulting. And PS, I had lots of of hobbies and interests while my son was living at home too.

    Is it possible that childfree women shun women who are mothers at gatherings, because they presume that people who happen to be parents won’t have interesting to talk about?

  20. Anonymous says:

    Friendships can be a challenge sometimes. And it’s not just the single women who are sometimes left feeling ‘out in the cold’. As the parent of two disabled children there were many times as they were growing up that I felt left out of the typical ‘mommy’ conversations. Some things that their children were doing mine simply couldn’t. The saddest thing…no one noticed. I finally simply developed a several groups of friends, some w/children, some w/out, some single. In the end it was far more satisfying to be part of a variety of groups. It took some work, I’m not saying it wasn’t tough going sometimes. But I refused to feel alone and be the ‘misfit’ in the group. To anyone reading this, don’t forget to include everyone – vary your conversations, it isn’t THAT hard to do.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Love this guest post! Living out in the suburbs all these years without kids has been a bit isolating but I’m hoping to regain my old friends as their kids head off to college. (At least until they become doting grandmas, I guess.) I’m going to buy Ellen’s book.

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