Guest Post – The Mother Divide: Friends with children and friends without

Published: September 30, 2010 | Last Updated: September 30, 2010 By | 53 Replies Continue Reading

By Christina Gombar


When I was growing up in the 70s, the progressive view held that a person could live a rich, rewarding life full of close bonds, even if she didn’t have kids. On prime-time Saturday nights, Mary and Rhoda in their studio singles apartments, Bob and Emily in their Chicago high rise mingled happily with friends and co-workers who were parents, and were accepted as equals despite their childless status.

I am an unintentionally childless woman, and I have grown up to a rich and rewarding life, with one caveat: I wasn’t prepared for the social stigma and isolation of living as a non-Mom in the midst of the biggest baby boom since World War II.

My suburban childhood friends began having children in their mid-twenties. I lived in New York City, and on weekends home I was more than willing to celebrate their family lives. But as the years rolled on, and I failed to produce children of my own, I was gradually excluded. I was invited to their first child’s christening, not the second’s. They were always taking the kids to see Grandma, or to another child’s birthday party; mere friends were bumped off their social radar screens. The family-both nuclear and extended-closed ranks, excluding outsiders.

Worse, when my city girlfriends started having babies and did include me, I was reduced to the role of handmaiden, exactly as if I were just another of their housekeepers, secretaries, or nannies. Only unlike the other members of their support staff, I wasn’t on salary. It was painful when some of my friendships with Moms ended, but at a distance of ten years, I see this as inevitable. Parents need an enormous amount of practical and emotional support, but are no longer in a position to provide what they demand.

If you’re happy being a planet orbiting around someone else’s sun, good for you. But I find one-sided friendships as rewarding as unrequited love affairs, and as healthy. To me friendship is like a Siamese twin: the life blood must circulate through both bodies. When the spirit of one twin departs, the furiously working heart of the surviving twin cannot do all the work of keeping the other half alive; the joint life-force dies.

I’m not alone in noting the effects of the Great Mother Divide. In her 2009 book, Silent Sorority: A (Barren) Woman Gets Busy, Angry, Lost and Found (winner of the 2010 Hope Award for Best Book from RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association) Pamela Tsigdinos recounts a problematic lunch with a friend who went on to have three children while the author remained childless, despite extensive fertility treatments. After admitting her alienation at an exclusively child-centered chat, her Mom-friend asked, "Are you telling me I have to edit out large chunks of my life from now on when we talk?"

Tsigdinos suggested, "Let’s just try to pattern-match our conversation a bit."

Despite vows to try to keep their connection afloat, Tsigdinos and her Mom friends continued to drift apart. "Phone calls became less regular. The urgency to schedule visits evaporated. "They didn’t know how to relate to me." She and her husband grew "accustomed to broken plans or being put on the bench because the needs of our family and friends’ kids, naturally, came first."

Tsigdinos’s solution to "the mother divide" was creating her own international community of non-Mom friends through her blog, Coming2Terms. "We don’t have to explain ourselves; we just fundamentally get each other. My story is her story and her story is my story and collectively we’re writing the sequel. I hear from women in Finland, Rhode Island, Australia, Oklahoma, Ireland, Canada, and in my own back yard. New friendships are born."

Therapist Stephanie Baffone counsels women who exit the fertility treatment maze empty handed into a world of mothers. "Finding a way to negotiate friendships in the face of the ‘great divide’ is crucial. When friends cross over to join the ranks of motherhood, and the infertile patient is left behind to languish alone on the sidelines, friendships often become strained. Bad enough our bodies have levied against us the ultimate betrayal, but it goes from insult to injury when friendships reach this fork in the road, and the Moms saunter down a road without a backward glance."

Baffone herself wound up childless after failed fertility treatments, and personally closed "the mother divide" by plunging into the lives of her family and friends. "Once I was able to accept that I probably would never be a Mom myself, I began to look for ways I could be proactive in closing the gap, which included regular family dinners, holiday scavenger hunts. It’s been so long since I struggled with friendships, it’s hard for me to tap into that part of my life now."

But Baffone stresses that this is simply what worked for her, not a one-size fits all solution. Tsigdinos hasn’t given up on friendships with Moms, but recently noted on her blog, "The gap isn’t easy to bridge. It requires commitment by both parties, and not always being asked to accommodate the mom life."

I second that. Because we childless are a minority, social etiquette hardly gives us a thought. My friend Yvonne relates, "My husband and I were honored to be invited to the home of a co-worker. But my colleague was so besotted with her infant son, so completely absorbed by him during the entirety of our visit with the most embarrassing display of non-inclusive public displays of affection (PDA), I wondered why they had us over at all."

While co-hosting a party in honor of my 90-year old aunt, a Mom immediately handed me her child’s computer and commanded me to read a book report and ten page "short" story. Why she felt it appropriate to ask me to take 20 minutes away from entertaining my guests to read anything off of a computer is beyond me, but she was blissfully unaware that this social event wasn’t about her child.

So how can parents tell when enough kid-focus is enough? Says Pamela Tsigdinos: "When you see their eyes glaze over."


Christina Gombar is an award-winning author who writes often on childlessness at



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Comments (53)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    grand parents at forty nine?
    and yes it might be poss to have a child but yet you might not have the energy.But I understand because I feel the same but how does one make the rest of ones life meaningful?.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Your post reminds me of two things:

    1) The First Buddhist Noble Truth is Life is Suffering. It’s true that no one here gets away with a pain-free life. But we sure don’t have to wallow in it, do we? We must snatch at what little joys there are to be had while we are alive. And there are many to be had.

    2) “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” – Karl Marx. I have often thought of this as a negative statement, that we need to break the shackles of an addiction to this opiate. However, I can see it differently in light of your post. Religion can be a balm to the wounds of life.

    Fortunately, I was taught at an early age that pain in life is unavoidable. Suffering can dig a deep hole in your heart – but I believe you can let that make your soul deeper too. You can learn a lot of compassion for others if you know suffering, and the deep hole in your heart can become a vessel to fill with love for others.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Manners in general seem to be at issue, not just in your post but most! I remember as a kid being taught actual manners. I also remember that I was basically considered a second class family member – not in a bad way – but I was a junior member and was expected to wait my turn, mind my manners, and learn how to behave around adults. I was not allowed to interrupt adult conversation with loud play or something that didn’t matter. I had to remain quiet and wait my turn to speak if my mother was on the phone. I was taught that when I grew up, I would “graduate” into being first class, so to speak, and would THEN have the rights and privileges they enjoyed, but not before. I was important to my parents of course, and for that reason I was being taught and formed by them to be a decent person and think of others. My needs were met, but in no way were my parents going to drop everything for any little thing that happened to me. What are today’s parents teaching their kids? That the world revolves around them.

  4. Anonymous says:

    First I want to say how impressed I am with the article and the thoughtful responses. I’m used to a lot of insane rambling on the internet and everyone here seems educated and articulate, it was refreshing!

    I understand the moms who feel angered by the article, but I am on the other side. I am also “unintentionally childless”. It’s very difficult sometimes to bear all the pressure from friends, family, and even strangers – all of whom ask you when you will be having a baby or why you don’t have one already. Their pressure saddens me because I did really want children, very much, but now it’s too late. I turn 49 in a couple of months and still feel this pressure regularly. Strangers and friends alike tell me it’s not too late, and I think, “Are you crazy?” Even if I could miraculously conceive, I would not have the energy or health to care for a child in the way he or she deserves.

    As a childless woman, I feel somehow vindicated that someone is finally speaking out about this issue. I love children, I adore them – but even feeling that way has not saved the friendships I had with the mothers in my life. There comes a time of divide at some point, where our lives seem to have nothing in common anymore. Even our values seem to change and grow apart. This divide became much more pronounced after my divorce. I was no longer a relevant entity to the the married with children set. While I was traveling, starting a business, going to concerts and hanging out at coffee shops, the mommy crowd was at home doing what they do. We didn’t relate anymore, and I suppose there was also some jealousy on both sides. I longed for children, and they longed for freedom. I’m not sure how many friendships can survive this kind of pulling apart.

    Another small minefield has been finding friends of any kind at my age. Sure I have friendly acquaintances, but real solid friendships are difficult. I find I can relate to younger people more readily because of the similarity of our lifestyles and worldviews, but at the same time there is a maturity to my personality that they cannot satisfy. Most of the people that are my age are grandparents right now, while I am still a carefree type, living a bohemian lifestyle. We just don’t match up. Add to this the odd pressure from my family to stop making friends with younger people – they think it’s creepy – and you have a recipe for virtual friendlessness.

    I won’t say I have given up on finding a good friend or two, but it seems my friend possibilities have withered along with my ability to have children. I guess I am lucky that I relish reading and other solitary activities. I do get out in the world and enjoy the company of fellow human beings, even if it’s superficial pleasantries at the coffee shop or park. We all need other people, we are social creatures – but I wish it was easier to make meaningful connections.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I feel so torn. I don’t even think I like kids.. the story is long and winding, but suffice it to say that it may or may not have to do with battling infertility. I feel so ALONE because so many friends have children (we’re military and it seems like all these wives do is reproduce!), and I can’t even micro-vent about it on FB or twitter for fear that I’ll offend my old friends (whom I have drifted from over the years).

    I’m really sad. Hope I can find a community online.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Yes, well said. I agree

  7. Anonymous says:

    Yes – I agree. I’m a mom and I am left baffled by all the comments about new moms and how they do nothing but talk about their kids. I have 4 kids – and, of course (!) they are my world, but, apart from family and other moms AT baby groups I don’t talk about them any more than I do anything else – my work, life, politics, world events, what other people are up to. In my experience, I have never met these “mom-zillas” that are referred to in these (and many other posts). The idea seems to be that when people become mothers they become self-centred cows. I would say two things 1) those women that have friends that act like this, probably are not very nice people, and would act this way about many situations – noy just kids and that 2) perhaps (?) there is a bit of over-seeing the situation from those without kids, as they feel bereft . This is of course, totally understandable. But it is unfair to tar all mothers as having one-track minds and mean. A woman that becomes a mother is the same person she was before – and as the poster above comments, Of Course! it is going to change them and take up some to a lot of their time – but that is not the same as being selfish and not talking to “non-moms”. In fact, as the poster above comments being a mom is often (especially at first) lonely. As well as being exhausting & new territory. I found – as the poster above says – that it is often non-moms that can be exclusive, unfriendly and pointed in their interactions.

    • Sigh says:

      oh they exist. They are not just an urban myth and the funny thing is, they never realize they’re changed. I’ve personally known several women who–while maybe not having the most appealing personalities to begin with–displayed a curious lack of personality after having a child. One woman I knew completely lost the knack for conversation. Talking to her became a question and answer period where one would pose a question, she’d answer, and then…silence. Until the next question was asked. If she ever began a chat it only involved discussing her child. She stopped being interested in the news or anything outside her immediate fishbowl. I won’t go so far as to say she became a self-centered cow (you’d need a personality for that) but she morphed into the human equivalent of boiled corn meal. Motherhood is a big life event and there’s no way to go through something so huge without changing in some way. You have to maintain a healthy level of self-awareness and work at keeping solid relationships.

  8. YogaGurl says:

    I feel like you. Mother gone, no supportive family. I would love a friend like you.

  9. Anonymous says:

    …I’m sorry that you’ve had these experiences. Please do know that there are lots of people, both married and with kids, who would love a genuine friendship with someone regardless of their reproductive, marital status. Very often it’s actually us who have become parents who feel abandoned by our singleton friends. (Have posted more about this above…). If you’re healthy friends to begin with, this shouldn’t happen. Friendships are not just about validation and ego-boosts. It’s actually a love story in its own right, just like a romantic relationship (should) be (many of these are not about true love either unfortunately). It’s about knowing and fully respecting someone and also – to some extent- about self-sacrifice. This obviously goes both ways.

  10. Anonymous says:

    ….how utterly wise and compassionate a comment. It’s rather amazing what a self-centered society we live in these days; this goes for both people with children and those without. It’s always about ‘me, me, me’ and getting our own needs met. Just as you say: some people will always be self-obsessed and will talk about themselves solely, regardless of having children or not. Just because you have children, you do not change personality. But you obviously do love your children, more than life itself, and you will have to look after them for all that it’s worth – a massive, huge, scary responsibility. It is indeed an enormous transition and to hear that you, as a single and childless friend, would feel honored to share in that journey is comforting and beautiful. Thank you. It gave me back some hope, after having read the – mainly – sad, somewhat one-sided contributions on this page. A healthy person will absolutely remain a healthy friend, even after having given birth. But it’s all about ‘give and take’ – and friends are not always here to fulfill our own ‘needs’. After all it’s only real children who need adults to do that for them 🙂

  11. Anonymous says:

    Geez, I I do find this discussion more than one-sided. I have posted elsehere on this forum previously, of the total pain, of apparently losing one of my bestest, oldest friends after having had children. I’m still married (hmmm) but genuinely crave my old friendships. I feel very hurt indeed by the fact that this friend, who I thought was like a sister, has just chosen to shut herself off…more or less since I got married (she’s single) but even more so since my son came along. Now pregnant with number two, I haven’t heard a beep from her in an eon. To all of you here who say that you’re fed up being the initiator of all friendship-maintenance with ‘mom friends’ – please do know that it really does go both ways. In this case, it’s me ‘the mother’ (whatever that terms means) that always reaching out, calling, e-mailing, sending birthday presents, but not getting much back. So now, finally, I’ve stopped. There are so many issues coming into play here, insecurities on both parts. I know that my friend has struggled with low self-esteem half her life, as have I, and have always been jealous when her friends, cousins etc. had babies as she explicitly used to dwell on that together with me- she never used to feel like a ‘real woman’, almost hated seeing pregnant women. I just didn’t think this would include me too, her ‘sister’. I’m not saying that this is how you relate to the world, everyone’s obviously different, but just to highlight the fact that it’s sometimes good to try and question why it’s so easy to create this apparent ‘mother divide’ – hiding in two different camps? There are people suffering on both sides. Just like you, I actually do not really enjoy the company of other ‘mums’, just because we both happen to have given birth and seen the placenta come out…. I don’t see myself as just a ‘mum’. And to even suggest that I would not be able to still talk about books and current affairs – honestly? Please? That’s what I do for a living! (Which is why I do find it tedious hanging solely with THOSE TYPES of mums who can only talk about their kids). But they’re ONE TYPE. Not the norm. Maybe you’ve been unlucky….But as the ‘single mum’ you replied to said: it’s hurtful that non-mum friends are so uninterested in the fact that you’ve given way to new life, with all the responsibility that entails. It’d be strange if you were not allowed to change with that – we all change with the years, like a -hopefully – good wine, kids or not, anyway. I do not talk about my son for more than 5 minutes at a time in any conversation, just as I never discussed my wedding at any length, I just didn’t find it that interesting. I’m genuinely interested in what my friend (and other single friends) do, always feel invigorated after listening to them, spending time with them etc. So maybe you could just slightly empatise with how hurtful it is when my so-called sister doesn’t even bother to remember my son’s birthday…it always, always TAKES TWO TO TANGO. And stop putting people into categories of ‘mum friends who ignore you’ and ‘single mum friends who don’t.’ Life is infinitely more complicated than that.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous, thank you for sharing your story.

    I related to a lot of it. I have never married or had kids, and people like us are usually ignored or not invited out by couples or people with kids.

    When you are around married people, or see the magazine ads for bridal gowns and stuff like that, those reminders can be hard to cope with, I know.

    I’m sorry you’re alone and hurting.

    I do have a few people in my life, but I’m not very close to them, and the others, I cannot talk to them (some have very bad temper problems and insult me and yell at me if I try to talk to them), so I’m still alone, too.

    I hope things get better for you.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I’m over 35, never married, and have never have had kids. It’s very hard making friends. Most people my age are married or have kids, and all they want to talk about is kid stuff or married life.

    I have never liked babies or children, but most people have assumed that just because I’m a female, I must simply adore babies. They are always wanting me to hold their baby or think I’d love to baby sit their five year old.

    I get quickly bored by “baby” talk (or toddler/ pre teen/ teen age daughter/son talk).

    I’m particularly repulsed and bored by “bodily function” discussions many parents love to get into (and usually in great detail), and I cannot understand why so many of them think topics about their kid’s bowel movements or messy diaper changes are cute, fascinating, or would be appealing to other adults (they are not).

    Most moms I’ve been around refuse to discuss anything other than their kids, and they won’t ask me about how I’m doing, or talk about things both of us can relate to or enjoy, such as movies or books.

    Most of American culture is heavily skewed to marriage and kids. That also makes it ten times more difficult to be a single woman with no kids.

    As an older single person, I get excluded or left out of many social functions.

    I’m also very irritated by people who assume (because of my age) that I must be divorced. Not so. I’ve never been married, so I’ve never been divorced.

    I also run into new people who assume I’m divorced and that I have kids. I’ve never had kids.

    In the original post, the author quoted a mother friend as saying to her friend,

    “After admitting her alienation at an exclusively child-centered chat, her Mom-friend asked, “Are you telling me I have to edit out large chunks of my life from now on when we talk?”

    Obviously, no. And I cannot believe that woman even had to ask. I think it’s common sense.

    Most childless women can tolerate some baby focused conversations, but many mothers talk about nothing else, or the majority of their conversations are about motherhood.

    (Equally bothersome and self absorbed: women planning weddings who won’t discuss anything other than their upcoming nuptials).

    The article said, “So how can parents tell when enough kid-focus is enough? Says Pamela Tsigdinos: “When you see their eyes glaze over.” “

    That’s good, but I’d also encourage people to be aware of the ratio going on. Keep track of how long you’ve been talking about YOU (or you kids, upcoming wedding, your job, whatever), and limit it to only about five or ten minutes.

    Then pause, let your friend say whatever she wants to say about it, then make a point of asking your friend,

    “But how about you? What have you been doing lately?”

    Then let your friend gab about herself for awhile.

    If you’re doing more talking than listening, you’re probably talking about yourself (or your kids) too much.

    I thoroughly appreciated these lines in the article:

    “If you’re happy being a planet orbiting around someone else’s sun, good for you. But I find one-sided friendships as rewarding as unrequited love affairs, and as healthy”

    And the other stories in the article, too, the ones about showing up to a social gathering at New Mom’s house, and New Mom spent the whole time ignoring her adult guests to dote on her infant son. I’ve been in situations like that many times.

    It’s very difficult being older, never married, and not having any kids.

    When you are older, never married and childless, people feel free to pass you over, ignore you, exclude you, or make judgments about you or your character, or they feel free to ask rude, highly personal questions or make offensive assumptions about you.

    Our media is saturated with movies, TV shows, and commercials about dating, having kids, or marriage/ weddings, so sometimes watching TV or looking at magazines can be hard.

  14. Anonymous says:

    To Anonymous who said,

    “But you don’t seem to have considered that your husband’s move from Assistant Regional Manager to Regional Assistant to the Manager is, quite possibly, the *only* subject that is more boring to the average person than “what my child ate today: a requiem in five parts.”

    Your child-having friends and relatives are, I guarantee you, also interested in having a good conversation with real adults for a change. You need to do your part by thinking of something better than insipid small talk. “

    I think you were a little hard on her. I think she was just saying her married friends with kids should take an interest in her and her husband (who don’t have kids).

    I don’t think she meant to say that she and her husband wanted to drone on and on in great detail for three hours in a row at every gathering about every aspect of his job.

    She seemed only to mean that she felt that her married friends with kids were ignoring her and her husband, by only talking about their kids and not asking her questions about her/her spouse’s lives.

    I don’t think that “job talk” is always equivalent to “insipid small talk.”

  15. Anonymous says:

    I’m 35, single, childless. Most of my friends are married with kids, and I’ve lost contact with them because they do not have time to keep in touch with all of their old friends. Which is understandable. So these friendships have ended after I’ve taken the initiative to meet 2, 3, 4 tims in a row over a couple of years, and then I’ve just stopped. However, some of mye closest friends still make an effort to keep in touch with me and they’ll invite me over for dinner etc. But as I get older, I now find these invitations troublesome. My problem is that is not “on equal terms” – they have husbands, other close friends, siblings, parents. My parents are dead and i have no siblings. And to just visit them perhaps at most, one or two times a month just becomes a manifestion of my own miserable life. I go home and cry after having a tiny glimpse into what I miss and what I’m not going to have. So I’ve told them that I’m very happy for them, but that they really do not “need” me the way I need them and that I’ll just become more and more bitter and angry. The reason why I’m telling this is that this could be the reason why someone who is childless ends a friendship.

    • Sarah says:

      I did something similar this year. I dog sat for a friend while her, her baby and fiancee went out of town to see extended family for the holidays.
      I remember sitting on her couch and looking over at her Christmas tree and seeing an ornament with the soon to be married couples last name (for example “The Smiths”) and the name of each of them on it as well. And I just bawled. I have no desire to have children, but I do long to be married or even to find someone who I can trust and count on to love me and be there. To spend the holidays with. I didn’t even put up a tree this year… There was no point. I’ll be 31 this year, so I hope there’s still time for me to meet someone special. :'(

  16. Anonymous says:

    i’m glad you wrote this as I am going thru the beginning stages of this possible scenario. my friend since we were 15, now has a 5 mth daughter and has completely cast me aside. any attempts at visits or offering help has been dismissed. I miss my friend….but maybe this is the end of something that has run its course?

  17. Anonymous says:

    I understand how hard it is when your best friend moves on like that. It feel so surprising to have this happen as an adult. I’ve had a similar problem of feeling like I give a lot to a longtime best friend and she has clearly transitioned to a separate life over about 5 years. We do see each other from time to time (that may be different from you), but it does not have the depth it once had. I am sorry for your loss! I am glad you have a husband, but I realize it doesn’t make up for the loss of the friend. I am single myself, so in my case I think it may be good me to focus in a new direction. Maybe in your case finding a new friend who is also married and does not have children by choice may be good for you. I know in my case being in different places, she being married with kids and me not, has affected our friendship. We just don’t understand each other in the full sense that we once did.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I was there for my best friend before she had kids. I was there right after she delivered her first son and again when she just had her third kid, a girl they always wanted. I was the backup if her husband runs late when her water broke. Even though it never came to that, I was there, for her. I am married myself, I have no kids, only a dog, by choice. My spouse and I would always make effort to get together with my best friend and her family. We have also babysat her 2 boys when they had a function downtown. I realized recently that of the last 10-15 get togethers, I have always been the one to initiate it. I was fine with that as I figured a mom can get really busy hence can’t really make plans as family comes first. As years go by, I hear from her about her plans with other mothers and their outings across the border for some shopping or some special night out. Sometimes kids are involved, sometimes they are not. I used to think its because they live in the burbs and I live in the city then she would tell me about certain city restaurants she’s been to. That made me wonder if perhaps it was me. Maybe it is. Still it hurts, to be there for someone for so many years, and always being able to be available. The last time I saw her was a year ago. I don’t think I want this friend anymore but it hurts me to have to move on from my best friend whom I’ve shared everything with. My spouse still reminds me that she is busy and 3 kids is a lot but I know she does things without her kids but just makes no effort when it comes to me. Sigh. Hurts to type this. But its time to get over it and move on.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry if I sound angry. I meant to throw a little humor on a taboo subject.

    Your thoughtful comment showed that we have more in common than not. You feel a divide, and so do I. I wish that I could be like Stephanie, and find vicariouis pleasure in other peoples’ families, but I really don’t. I grew up in a big family and spent my teenage years looking after a baby brother. So while I admire and appreciate other people’s kids, it’s not this wondrous novelty for me. If someone can be a Mom and still talk about books and current events, that’s great , But I find most would rather talk about how wonderful their kids are, or how much I’m missing by not being a parent. What am I supposed to contribute to that discussion?

    I fully get that if you’re a single Mom, your single childless girlfriends may distance themselves from you and they’re wrong to do so. MY single Mom friends would never treat me like a servant — I ought to have mentioned them. As single parents, they are hungry for adult companionship and conversation.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I absolutely agree! When I worked on Wall Street — I just wanted to forget about the office, and I knew a stay at home Mom would find office talk irrelevant. There are many parents who like wide-ranging conversations — but usually their kids are older.

    I think single parents are in an especially tough spot — I have two women friends in this situation and they feel shunned by both the single and the nuclear world, and they complain the least.

  21. PJ says:

    My best friend of 15 years, a woman I met as a college sophomore, is a divorced single mother of two middle schoolers. I have loved them all as they loved me. We now live about 1,500 miles apart; separately, their mother and I have had at least four periods in our friendship living significant distances from each other. Despite her struggles over the years, my friend has remained a compassionate (and mischievous) woman. She enriches my life, and it’s the first time this eccentric only child has had, or wanted, a sibling. I am a happy “aunt” to her children, too.

    There’s no magic solution to mend the divide between some childless individuals and married or single parents. From my experience, my best friend is the sole person in our immediate peer group who hasn’t become completely self-absorbed or awkward about their married or parental status around me. More than once I’ve had longtime friends with kids visit town, have dinner with another group of longtime married friends, and tell me after the fact. They could’ve kept that to themselves. I resent it, a lot.

    One person, a woman I grew up with and stood up for at her disaster of a wedding, never had enough time for our friendship. It began the day she married, really, with no “thank you” to the entire wedding party for enduring terrible behavior from her husband’s family, some guests, and even neighborhood people outside the church. So as Dr. Levine often suggests, I dialed it back over the years. Well, this woman reached out recently, only to make our relationship all about her life, and now children, again, with little interest in mine. So out of respect for our history, I offered her a choice about my needs for the relationship. Well, she lost her good sense and called me everything out of the book of insults, saying I should be more accomodating. She also ridiculed my past history with depression. The cherry on top was her comment that I “wasn’t special.” I seriously wanted to reach out and touch her, and not in a good way. I said never contact me again if she knew what was good for her.

    Though my best friend and I have occasionally had problems, too, what bonds us is mutual respect for each other’s interests, both personal and professional. We’re both writers, so we like to think we see beauty in things others don’t. (Yeah, right.) We find topics to laugh about quite often. Her children are her top priority, but she doesn’t impose them on every situation, including conversations. We recently visited a botanical garden and winery, where we chatted all day, alone. Separately, I have fun helping her children learn on trips to the museum or walking in a historic part of town. Education is important to their mother and me; we want our enthusiasm for learning to rub off so they’ll be just as passionate!

    So please take solace in knowing good relationships across the parental divide do exist.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you angry, and I am single and childless. I would expect my mother friends to be somewhat focussed on their kids, and very when they’re young and new mothers as it is a huge transition in life for them. As single friends we can and should adapt to this, and share in the joy of motherhood with them.As single people, our friends kids give us a chance to have kids in our lives! Plus, I am sure it is difficult for a mom to carve out one on one time. If a person is self focussed they wil be a boring friend talking about themselves all of the time without kids, and then it’s transferred to kids when they come. Otherwise, a healthy friend will be a mix of child and adult focussed.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Since I have never been married and dont have kids, I have always welcomed being involved with family member and friend’s kids. The difference in lifestyle with my friends is enhancing to me. In fact, I have wished over the years that the kids would be pushed on me a little more! The mothers I have been friends with have tended not to be solely child focussed so that hasnt been a problem, there was a good mix of adult and child stuff, but I can imagine that the experience of some with mom’s who their kids are everything, as described by some here, that would drive me nuts. There’s nothing wrong with telling a kid mature enough to understand taht they’re not the focus at the moment, that mom has needs to, and have the kid leave mom be for awhile.

    But it is true as you two state that if there is a value difference the friendship will suffer. What gets me is how people can act like they value the friendship and then suddenly not. Or people who dont know how to do two way reciprocity. Such people would be that way kids or not.

  24. Anonymous says:

    This was an excellent topic to explore. Thank you!
    All the comments are thought provoking as well.

    I think one big factor is that we are living in Extremely Child-Centric Times. Helicopter parents hovering hovering hovering. You have a dinner party & parents show up with kids attached, without having asked first. If you dare say, “Adults only,” you are looked at as if you are a serial killer.
    Parents today are very fearful of leaving The Child unattended for even a second. It is the most bizarre phenomenon. And it’s become so customary that parents don’t recognize it.

  25. Anonymous says:

    This is a great post and you are so right that friendship really does comes down to value. When the value system isn’t simular the friendship usually dies. I had that happen to me with a friend of over 20 years, my friend had stuff going on in her life and was taking it out on me because she thought she could. When I had enough we got into it and the friendship ended. I tried to reach out to her on and off for 16 years and got the silent treatment. Last month I decided I would try one more time to reach out to her and she finally replied and told me that she valued our friendship very much but that she can’t go back there. That’s when I said to myself we definitely have a different value system. We got along fine only one big blow up and she wasn’t willing to talk about it. I told her it was water under the bridge, a rough time lets just let it go. It was tough to deal with but I’m glad I did reach out again for my own sake. Irene told me in another post there must be something else going on in her life and I agree with her so it’s time to let her go. I wished her and her family the best. Thank you so much for your post it really hit home!!

  26. Irene says:

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post. You raise a good point and your post was just long enough to do that!

    Best, Irene

  27. Kathryn says:

    Sorry this is so long – it didn’t put in my paragraph breaks! Makes it hard to read.

  28. Kathryn says:

    I’m beginning to wonder if the issue doesn’t come down to how people value friendship, the value they give it, & its importance.

    I’ve had people – “friends” – come & go thru my life. On occasion the partings may have been my fault in some way, but often they have not. (I’m the kind of person who will agonize, “What did i do wrong?” when the answer often is that i didn’t do anything. We simply parted ways.)

    The folks with whom i’ve remained friends for years & years (regardless of my childlessness, & for many years divorced/single, status) are people who value relationships/friendships in a similar manner to the values i hold.

    It is painful to lose friends for any reason. For the new mommy whose old friends don’t want to do things anymore, or for the childless &/or wanna-be-mommy whose friends no longer include her. But, after listening to both sides of this, i’m wondering if what we are agonizing about isn’t just that many people look at friendship in different ways.

    In my mind, if you really want to retain a friendship, you work to maintain it. But this doesn’t seem to be shared by many other folks i’ve known, including one of my sisters.

    When i see her, she says, “Oh, Sissy, Sissy, Sissy! I love you so much Sissy!” She told our other sister recently how much she loves people & loves them specially in a very deep way. Other sister did not tell sis that it is interesting she would say this as neither of the “loved” sisters feel loved as sis does nothing to maintain a relationship, claiming she is too busy because of her kids. But she maintains relationships with other people.

    Friendships can be hard work, trying to maintain a bond. Some folks don’t care to do the work to retain the friendship. I will reach out, over & over, but after a while in most cases, when it becomes clear that i’m the only one making phone calls, sending letters/email, or trying to maintain the relationship, it dies. For the very reasons of the “Siamese twins” mentioned in the article.

    Whatever comes up in the lives of some folks (boyfriend, marriage, children, the like) will get in the way of their retaining a friendship. My philosophy of friendship is loyalty, but sometimes i think i’m in the minority.

    It simply hit me when reading the comments that while childlessness may be part of the problem with losing friends, i do think there are probably other factors involved & likely they are the value folks give their friendships. I’ve been blessed in my life, to have 3 friends who have stayed by me, even tho they themselves have children & i was never so blessed. And if i could put my finger on any one thing, i think it would be that we value friendship in a similar manner.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I’m a dad. I try to limit talk about my kid, because, frankly, there are more interesting subjects for other people. i can’t abide having a beer with a friend and they only talk about their baby for an hour straight.

    But you don’t seem to have considered that your husband’s move from Assistant Regional Manager to Regional Assistant to the Manager is, quite possibly, the *only* subject that is more boring to the average person than “what my child ate today: a requiem in five parts.”

    Your child-having friends and relatives are, I guarantee you, also interested in having a good conversation with real adults for a change. You need to do your part by thinking of something better than insipid small talk.

  30. zir says:

    i read your letter. i am sailing in the same boat in regard to loneliness. my wife left me and my son went his own way. i have been all along searching for a sincere friend. may be, i may discover it in you and you may find me a good friend. i am 50 plus.

  31. Stacey says:

    This is an excellent post. Thank you so much for putting a voice to this problematic issue! I really resonate with the following quote:

    “If you’re happy being a planet orbiting around someone else’s sun, good for you. But I find one-sided friendships as rewarding as unrequited love affairs, and as healthy. To me friendship is like a Siamese twin: the life blood must circulate through both bodies. When the spirit of one twin departs, the furiously working heart of the surviving twin cannot do all the work of keeping the other half alive; the joint life-force dies.”

    That is SO well said and applies to all types of friendships and relationships, even beyond the child vs. childless issue.

    I am 43 and both childless and marriageless. I have been divorced for a long time and haven’t found someone yet that I wish to make that kind of committment to again. I have experienced over and over again being excluded from social settings due to both my relationship and childless status. Married people and/or those who are parents definitely don’t know how to relate to or understand me. I’m tired of being “the planet orbiting around someone else’s sun”. Fortunately, I have found a growing number of single people without children in my age group to become friends with and I think the stigma is beginning to change in our society, but we still have a long way to go.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this comment! I am a mom and lost my best friend in great part because she never shared her life with me (she once dated a man for almost a year without introducing me), wouldn’t meet me 1/4 of the way for our visits (let alone half!) and passed judgement on my life…yet she was able to easily blame the demise of our friendship on the fact that she didn’t have children and I did.

  33. Anonymous says:

    …maybe because the author sounds so angry. I found this article to be one-sided and biased.

    Like another person who commented, I often feel excluded by my non-mom friends, not the other way around. I have two friends who are non-moms. We used to be “The Three Musketeers”, doing everything together, especially long walks with the dogs. Once my daughter arrived, I found that I was excluded. Was it because I would have had to bring a stroller on our walks? I really miss our time together, and wish they would have made more of an effort to accommodate my new status as a mom. I’m single… and LONELY! I even told my friends I was lonely and still needed them… but nothing really changed.

    No. Many of us do not talk excessively about our kids. It IS a two-way street. We expect our childless friends to put up with at least some of the new “stuff” that children bring into our lives. I love my friends! I want to share them with my daughter. I can’t help it that motherhood has changed me… it’s a really important undertaking… I’m raising someone who will one day be an adult, helping to shape our society. I wish people who don’t have children would treat kids a little more like actual people, rather than “boring” children.

  34. Anonymous says:


  35. Anonymous says:

    I am 52 and never particularly wanted to marry or have children, and also find myself pushed to the margins of friends and cousins’ lives. I think this article is great and so expresses how I feel, but I’m afraid to Face Book this for fear of offending parent friends.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I’m the single Mom of a 9 year old, and I’m shocked at how my friends in couples will tell me how they did this and that with so and so. They never even think of including me because I’m not part of a couple. So in that sense, I share that sense of being an outsider.

  37. Anonymous says:

    I never wanted to be a mother. I knew this about myself at an early age. I really do find babies kind of boring.

    I was single for a long, long time and enjoyed it very much except for the underlying assumptions made by so many (family, strangers, the mass mdia) that single and childless were both pitiful conditions.

  38. Christina says:

    I think the issue is between parents and non-parents, regardless of whether the childlessness was intentional or not. I don’t think either party should beat themselves up — I think we should acknowledge the divide, and forgive ourselves for it, while trying to empathihse with the other’s position. But it has to go both ways.

    It’s easier when friends’ kids are young adults — the parents are less involved, and when we all get together, we don’t have to censor ourselves and everyonoe has a great time!

  39. Anonymous says:

    I LOVED your article. I can absolutely relate a 100% as does my husband. It’s especially relevant since we spent Sunday at his sister’s for her husband’s birthday. Her 2 children 5 and 7 with their neighbour friends, with their 2 offsprings were invited along with his parents.

    The children played and screamed, and ran and touched all the food a couple of times before putting the food in their mouths, we had to try to overpower the screams, and so, exhausted, we returned to our our nice quiet home, disappointed that nobody even asked us how we were doing, what was new, how was our latest trip, my husband’s job, nothing!

    Because we don’t have children, we cannot possibly contribute to their lives….etc etc, but the worst part is that we caught a cold once again, like every time we’re exposed to the children, since the parents think it’s so cute when children have runny noses, they don’t warn you not to come!!

    So Brava for speaking up for all of us!

  40. Anonymous says:

    If the friendship is important we don’t make excuses for why we don’t get together. If you were friends from a young age, yes the friendship is going to change and you make adjustments for that. If you don’t have the time you use to then you tell the friend that so they aren’t wondering. The world is made up of all kinds of situation and none of us all agree on everything, nor do we all have the same kind of lifestyles. Friendships change and our lives change but I think we at least should respect the friendship and be honest with our friends so they aren’t wondering why you don’t call anymore or why they are getting the cold shoulder. I think it comes down to respect. I think sometimes change can be a good thing but when it comes to friendship it’s not always a positive change. I think for me it comes down to do you respect the friendship enough to be honest with your friend or visa versa. Whether you are childless or have a disabled child or a sick husband or and unemployed one if the friendship is strong and a good one it shouldn’t matter it should be able to handle whatever comes your way. If the friendship ends then it wasn’t very strong to begin with.

  41. Anonymous says:

    I find it interesting that no one has spoken up yet about being a mom and having single or childless friends who don’t seem to have time for you! I have several examples in my life of childless friends whom I would love to spend time with and would carve out a lunch or evening coffee for but whom are constantly telling me how busy they are. I am a working mom who adores her kids, but my life does not revolve around them. I work full time in a very satisfying career and can carry on interesting conversation for hours without mentioning my kids once. This is definitely a two-way street and I feel that often it is the childless (by choice or not) who do not know how to relate to moms, so they avoid those friendships, too.

  42. Anonymous says:

    I do not believe mothers are selfless. Most mothers I know are very demanding, entitled and can be amazingly selfish with their kids while appearing to be otherwise. Also, I think a lot of moms have really bad manners when it comes to social etiquette. Most of us walk around with a cell phone growing out of our ear but try getting a mom to call you back for a reason that’s not kid related. And when they do, try having a conversation with them if their kid is in the room. They pepper conversations with tidbits of their children that are usually not interesting, they just feel compelled to mention them constantly like a young girl does when she first gets a boyfriend. My biggest pet peeve, however, is the obnoxious parent that is constantly putting a child’s needs over those of the adult(s). I can’t tell you how many times people have shown up inexcusably late, or cancelled at the last minute due to something, ”that the kid did” or “the kid needs.” What about the adult(s) who invited you, set aside the time, purchased the tickets, drove to the event, only to have it ruined because of the kid? I understand emergencies occur but I can’t help but always have the refrain in my head when these situations occur “boy, if I did that when I was a kid . . . “

  43. Anonymous says:

    I too have no children, although for me it was a choice. Regardless, choice or not, I too have become the friend it was easy to lose. Even when my friends tried to include me, if I wasn’t endlessly fascinated by their kids toilet training regimens, then next time there was a birthday party it was simply easier not to invite me. Honestly, I didn’t want to go anyway. I have several friends that decided they wanted to become parents well into their forties. Now one in particular, at age 52 is raising two special needs five year olds. I could not imagine a worse way to spend my trip over and down the hill.

  44. Anonymous says:

    Do you think the divide is caused more by parental demands crowding out friendships, or that the new parents don’t know how to deal with someone who is childless not by choice? Does it get easier for you as time goes on?

  45. Anonymous says:

    An insightful and well-crafted piece.

    Ever since my wife died, I began to meet women and attempted to build relationships, I have encountered the Mom/GrandMom Wall. Offspring are their No. 1 sustaining element in life. While they give lip service to a male relationship (no pun intended), their priorities are “The Kids.”

    A touchy, uncomfortable situation for a guy such as I who never had a child, and I am ready to make a woman No.1, when and if an appropriate match is discovered.

  46. Anonymous says:

    My best friend throughout my marriage was childless. We still talk about how, when my son was born, she rang the bell, and I said, “Here.” And handed her my son, so that I could take a shower. We still laugh about that. The friend, who is married with children, was the one who judged me during my divorce and dumped me when I left. My single friend stuck by me. Now, we’ve gone out dancing a couple of times. Both of us are pretty anxious about the whole relationship thing. We mostly go out and do other things, like we did while I was married. Being therapists has its disadvantages. Doesn’t make the whole relationship thing look terribly appealing sometimes. — julie

  47. Christina says:

    Thanks for commenting on my post. I’m 50 now, and at 35 some of my girlfriends grabbed a husband like a game of musical chairs to reproduce. One said that she thought I’d be bored with her social life — thus the fall-off. But she also went through a sad and bitter divorce that had to be rough on her sweet kid. Credit where due — when I did visit her and her kid after a ten year absence, we had a lovely visit.

  48. Anonymous says:

    I always knew I wouldn’t have children. I didn’t know that would drive a wedge between me and most women starting in my 30s. It just never occurred to me that my not having children would mean friendships would just die off. I absolutely understand that mothers are pressed for time, and I accept that adjustments need to be made. But when a mother has NO time for you, it’s not really possible to be her friend, is it? Especially when you know that occasionally she could fit in a lunch or a phone call here or there, but she doesn’t.

    I’ve definitely run into the type of mother who assumes that as a childfree woman I must have heaps of time and energy to help her with household and child-care responsibilities. The type of mother who has lots of time for you – as long as you pitch in and lighten her load.

    Then there is another category: The woman who is in a panic to get a husband and get pregnant ASAP because her clock is ticking. She’s not going to waste time hanging around with another single woman unless it involves ways to meet available men. (Going to bar or nightclub= good, hiking or museums=bad.) She doesn’t have much to talk about other than her search for a man. No hobbies, no interests, and no interest in your interests. That gets old, and it’s not a friendship.

    So it gets pretty lonely.

  49. Anonymous says:

    That’s a mouthful!

  50. baraq says:

    Hi Gombar,
    I read your write-up here and saw your photo too. Both are beautiful.
    As is revealed at the bottom of your article that you usually write on childlessness, may I know (if you are not offended please), are such ‘thoughts’ fictional or you really are childless? Let me tell you that sometimes childlessness is a blessing. I have seen people who were hurt and teased by their own children.
    Anyway, I may tell you something about myself:
    I think I have seen life raw. Even birds and flowers to me seem writhing with angst. When a flower boasts of its color that is basically a posture to hide its pain.
    So far as I have penetrated human psychology, I feel human weaknesses, pride, laughter, dressing, and every aspect of human personality as an effort to mitigate that pain. Whether he is conscious or un-conscious of it. Anyone who refutes me is not saying truth.
    (Thomas Hardy says:’Happiness is but an occasional episode in a general drama of pain. ‘ )
    Religion mitigates this pain and sense of suffering. If religion were negated, this pain would be perpetual
    People are generally sadists or masochists. They either inflict pain on themselves or on others. But the aim in both these cases is self-gratification.
    Once I sent a email to a western woman writer and suggested her to brew experiences in the purgatory of mind and heart. Emotions are to be crisped in the agonies of life to make them communicable to others. I advised her to make experiences universal. It shall not be out of place to mention that pain is the canvas on which I paint. My theme is always pain in its comprehensive sense. I see life only in three perspectives……Pain, Agony and suffering. Each individual soul seems pain incarnate to me. Every laughter to me is fraught with vestiges of agony. Man’s laughter seems insincere while his crying genuine. I have pain of being; and art is the way out. Religion mitigates this pain and sense of suffering. If religion is negated this pain would be perpetual.
    This lady replied with a beutiful relpy:
    ‘Thanks for commenting. I agree that life has a lot of suffering. Suffering is important because through suffering people grow spiritually and it teaches us many things. To the common Westerner, suffering is something to be avoided. It is something that must be eliminated at all cost, even the tiniest bit of suffering. I do not agree with this common way of thinking. However, I believe that one shouldn’t be obsessed about suffering either or purposely inflict pain on themselves for edification. I believe that there can be real joy, real laughter, and real happiness. These come from enduring the suffering and

    pain and living through them. Real joy is intensified from suffering.’

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