Motherhood

Hi From Your Childless Friend

When Everyone Else Has Kids

Last night, I hosted The Last Supper…

My friend perched on my sofa, a pillow adorably propped atop her eight-month-pregnant belly.

“It really won’t be that different,” she said. I smiled and nodded, withholding the part where it most certainly will.

When it comes to friends having babies, I have stood here over and over again. Metaphorically, she is about to move to a distant land and become fluent in a language I do not speak. No matter how much I try — no matter how many well-meaning visits I make or books or documentaries or babysitting experience I have on my side — I will never fully comprehend the landscape: an unmappable terrain where a piece of your heart exists outside of your body.

For these last few moments, I am soaking it in. There will, of course, be more suppers. But they will never be quite the same.

“It’s weird,” says another childfree friend, “You establish these relationships with people for years and years, and then suddenly — truly overnight — everything changes.”

Of course, I am familiar with change and its pesky way of aligning itself with seminal life moments. After college, there was a sort of exodus. Some people moved back to their home towns, others went off to pursue graduate studies, others took jobs in places near and far. In the ensuing years, there was a flurry of engagements and weddings and even some divorces. While I hadn’t experienced those things, I could follow along — I could completely empathize with the range of emotions.

And then… everyone started having babies. And that was different.

For some, having children is destiny. For others, it is tricky. Whether by choice or circumstance or some other life-happens hybrid, there are those of us for whom the only showers thrown in our honor are the ones meant for personal hygiene.

For all of us, life ticks on. Every year, the paper soldiers arrive in formation. There are the holiday cards charting everyone’s growth. The baby announcements with weights and lengths and sometimes even little footprints. As I rip open the envelope, I sometimes shed a sentimental tear. Then I hang them on the refrigerator, to greet me when I rummage for the oat milk.

I have a single friend who sends a holiday card featuring her cat every year. With each new edition, her siblings ridicule her for doing so. Another friend sends a card sharing her personal accomplishments of the year — big trips, work milestones. Personally, I applaud this. Send whatever card you want! Why aren’t everyone’s life updates worthy of a spot on the fridge?

Because you knew I was going to take it there, there is an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie attends a friend’s baby shower and is asked to remove her shoes at the door. The shoes are stolen, and the host offers to pay for them, until she learns how much they cost. “Come on, Carrie, that’s insane.” She continues, “Sure, I used to spend that much on shoes, before I had a real life…kids, houses…wow.”

Carrie feels shamed, but then realizes that over the years she has given this friend engagement, wedding, and multiple baby gifts, far in excess of the price of her shoes. She was happy to celebrate her friend’s choices and good fortune. So why was she shaming hers?

And here, we arrive at the chasm.

On the childless side of the fence, your accomplishments suddenly feel smaller, like they are measured by a different metric. Maybe you bought a home or made payroll or got a promotion or wrote a book or won an award or, I don’t know, got a bonus and decided to splurge on some shoes. It’s not that these things aren’t amazing or worthy of pride. It’s just that you wouldn’t dash into a burning building for them.

Whatever shape it takes, a childfree life is less charted territory. It doesn’t come with a designated party or a Hallmark card. No matter where you are or what you’ve accomplished, there is a sense of being left behind, even if you’ve elected to be there.

I have been asked, on multiple occasions, what I do with “all” my money and “all” my time. It’s always a little jarring, when in the not-too-distant past, the person asking the question was right where I am.

Likewise, I’d like to know how it feels to never get cornered by people wondering where your children are. To have your choices and circumstances celebrated by society. To operate from a place where no one questions whether your life has purpose and meaning.

We all have a tendency to gaze at the seemingly greener grass on the other side of the fence. We’re all trying to fumble our way through our respective situations, just doing the best we can.

If a friend were to move away, it would be obvious that extra care is necessary to nurture a long-distance relationship. When one friend has children, the same is true, only the distance is now an emotional one.

When a good friend had a baby, our frequent jaunts around the neighborhood came to a halt. But they were replaced by regular take-out dinners (at her place, once the baby has gone to sleep). We’ll talk about our lives, or play games if our partners are present. There is a bit of a language divide. (What is this green poop you speak of?) But it is undoubtedly worth the effort to maintain the relationship.

In adulthood, I have come to regard friendships — whether the person is single, married, a parent or not — as oceanic in nature. There is a natural ebb and flow. Sometimes we are close, sometimes we are not-so-close, and sometimes we may be downright distant. Work schedules shift. Emotional needs change. Kids grow older. You drift apart, and then just as easily, you drift together.

Through all of this, we are part of the same sphere, part of a greater whole, and always there for the other, albeit with a little navigation. Sometimes, you find yourself standing on the shore, waving and wishing your friend a safe passage. And trusting that one day, you will find a bridge to connect you once again.


P.S. On the joys of female friendship and 8 women on choosing not to have kids.

(Photo by Audrey Shtecinjo/Stocksy.)

  1. You are a phenomenal writer Caroline. And AMEN to this post! When I was single one year I made a holiday card with all my accomplishments listed. I got the idea from a friends where she listed how many diapers she had changed how many sleepless nights etc. I was in college so I listed the number of papers I wrote and the number of classes I attended. It was very liberating and I really loved that I did it.

  2. Jessie says...

    I love hanging out with my childless friends. It’s so nice to have conversations NOT about my kids or kids in general. I’m so grateful to have them in my life.

  3. Samantha says...

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve referenced that episode of Sex in the City. So happy to know that I’m not the only childfree woman. I wasn’t aware since I’m surrounded by moms. As for what I do with my extra time and money- I volunteer and donate to charities.

  4. Amelia says...

    American woman living in Germany. A German colleague recently told me they thought Americans fetishized parenthood and I can definitely see why they think that. Very thankful to be spending my “fertile years” outside of the US.

    • hannah says...

      Yes. That is the exact right word.

  5. Sara says...

    This is really lovely and insightful. And perfect timing in my life. I just had a baby and have been navigating the changes it brings to my close female friendships. Some have weathered the tide, others not as well, and I find myself repeating the mantra that friendships ebb and flow, just as you said. My best friend relationship, in particular, has not gone how either of us anticipated and it makes my heart ache. I think I was surprised that while I could be interested in their exotic trips, career moves, and life updates as we had always done, some could not find the same curiosity about my new big updates, like pumping or sleep training. I hope that we will all come to the same conclusion with time and look forward to building that bridge once again. Rest assured, those of us with little ones can be just as unsettled by the new situation, as well.

    • jdp says...

      AGREED.

  6. jen says...

    “Likewise, I’d like to know how it feels to never get cornered by people wondering where your children are. To have your choices and circumstances celebrated by society. To operate from a place where no one questions whether your life has purpose and meaning.” <<< A THOUSAND TIMES YES.

    • Katie says...

      HERE HERE. This paragraph absolutely stopped me in my tracks & made me feel far less alone in the world. Thank you, Caroline.

  7. Kim B. says...

    Oof! I read your article and the accompanying comments with so much emotion.
    Friendship when one friend has a kid and the other doesn’t can become so challenging. Your article really helped me to see that perhaps my friends from ‘before’ miss me as much as I have missed them. I have spent years thinking my ‘new’ self too dull to want to be around, and my children too separate from the rules of adult friendship to include. I have wondered why some friends never reached out to ask if we could get together or wanted to come visit me at my house – now I understand maybe they may have been waiting for me to call them when the dust settled (it never really does, though), and wondering why I never did. I’ve maintained a few friendships with friends who choose not to have kids, and lost a bunch too.

    My kids are getting older now so it’s not hard to find time to meet with friends like it used to be, so maybe it’s time to reach out and see if I can rekindle a few.

  8. Nicole Brant says...

    Wow Caroline, I think this is your best yet. I feel seen! You’ve put all these confusing feelings I have into words. Thank you.

  9. J says...

    Thanks so much for this article Caroline. It was super timely for me as a few of my close friends have recently had children or are expecting soon. I’ve been feeling so isolated and sad for the changes in our friendships. I feel very selfish for thinking this way, but it’s hard to not feel very lonely through all these changes. Don’t get me wrong, I love love love their littles and am so excited to be an “aunt” to all of them, but it doesn’t change the loss of what our friendships were before kids.

  10. Laura says...

    I’ve needed this essay for such a long time. Thank you for putting words to this experience and validating it. It can be a very lonely and isolating experience to be the friend who feels “left behind.” Whether it’s a choice or not.

  11. Kristina says...

    This was beautiful to read. It was visceral; the chasm, the ocean ebbing and flowing. Thank you for giving words to this experience.

  12. katie says...

    Love the article. Just curious why you use the term childless over childfree if you don’t mind sharing? Is it just a personal preference?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      She uses both in the story — we talked about it in the office, about how “childless” feels like you’re lacking something while “childfree” just sounds like you happen not to have a child. Hope that helps!

    • Nicola says...

      The use of the terms childless and childfree are interchanged in this article, and they have a significantly different meanings in some communities.
      Childfree people are those who choose not to have children; childless people are those who were not able to have children due to myriad circumstances.

    • Emma says...

      In many cases, women who involuntarily don’t have children tend to use the word “childless.” They wanted them. And it didn’t happen – whether it was due to infertility, not meeting a husband or partner during fertile years, marrying a man who already had children from a previous marriage and didn’t want anymore, etc etc etc. For one reason or another, the dreams, hopes, and expectations of motherhood never happened and it can be a very real, devastating, significant loss and grief that rarely gets acknowledged in our society. And may cause deep chasms in friendships for many complicated reasons. The term “childfree” tends to be used when it’s a choice not to have children, or a decision was made voluntarily. Childfree adults may feel many of the same social stigmas, isolation, or feeling like an outsider in a group of parents, but usually don’t describe that same feeling of grief, sorrow, trauma, envy, and sadness that many childless women feel. (And often don’t talk about because there is such little compassion, support, or understanding, and no one wants to feel pitied or vulnerable to nosey people who like to prey.)

  13. Rebecca says...

    Caroline, I love your writing. This piece put everything I felt in words. This especially struck a chord: ‘a childfree life is less charted territory.’ I feel there are many role models of accomplished women who have children AND a career…but never has society celebrate an accomplished woman who CHOSE not to have children… It’s a struggle daily to explain my decision but I hope one day, people will respect my decision and not feel the need to ‘make a comment’.

  14. N says...

    In the US we love pregnant ladies–mothers and children, not so much.

  15. Reed says...

    This beautiful post fell on my lap just I was thinking of how much I miss my dear friend. She had a baby boy 14 months ago, and the visits went from sporadic, to very seldom, to “geez, it’s been a such a long while”. I wish I, childless and single, could be there for her, but it’s now time to wait. I wait for my phone to ring, I wait to tell her what’s new in my life because I want to hear what’s new in hers, as her role as a mommy unfolds. I wait patiently, kindly, lovingly, giving her time and space to settle into what must be something so challenging. I admire the transition, the growth, the strength, the love, care, and nurturing she provides for her baby boy. And I can’t help but be in awe of what we are capable of doing as women. Oh, how I miss her!

  16. Kay says...

    Caroline, you have a gift! Everything you’ve written has summed up my experience entering my 30s with lifelong clarity that being a mother isn’t my path yet feeling guilty or “wrong” somehow due to external factors. Your essay (and the subsequent comments) have shown me that I’m not alone in my experience.

    • Marie Pocock says...

      Spot on, Caroline! You put into words beautifully and poetically. I sent it to my husband (we have been married 11 years and have no children as of yet). I sent it to him wondering if guys have a similar/same experience or is it different than as Caroline has so beautifully written? ❤️- Marie

  17. Cate says...

    It’s for this reason that I’ve started hosting showers that have nothing to do with marriage or babies. I’m happily married with a 3 year old, and many of the women who have walked through the life transitions of marriage and motherhood with me (and have showered me with gifts) haven’t been afforded the same opportunities to be celebrated. So I started throwing parties for my girlfriends to celebrate other landmarks in their lives, like landing a great job, acquiring property or coming out to their parents. It’s lovely to shower women who are getting married or having babies, and in my case, was a huge blessing due to limited means at the time. But there are so many other opportunities to celebrate women FOR THEMSELVES, as well as for their relationships to a partner or child.

    • H says...

      THIS!!! I am single and just spoke to my mom about how it would’ve been so helpful to receive gifts when I moved out of home.

  18. Jen says...

    This right here is me as a whole. I chose not to have kids. I don’t feel I’m Missing out nor do I feel that their life is greener. I live mine and they live theirs. It’s not difference than seeing them get married but again I’m in no rush. I send fun cards with my cat baby and I have fun parties with and without kids. I adjust the right enough not to count them out but enough to keep my own identity. Is it hard when it comes to a significant other feeling the same and not being sucked into the whole you are nothing until you have five kids and a house ? Oh yes but that’s another story for a another day.

    • Tara says...

      I felt this from the other side, first of friends to have children. There was no understanding of the huge change of lifestyle, tiredness, responsibility. Made to feel guilty for not carrying on exactly as before. It was a really hard time. Any changes that set you apart from your current flock can feel like this.

  19. Kate says...

    I babysat my friends kids. I never had any but after those experiences I was just fine to go home to my cats 🐈😸

  20. Tania says...

    I am childfree by choice and going through a phase where literally ALL my friends have babies or have a baby on the way. It is extremely difficult to understand their world and they have somehow forgotten mine. Nobody ever comes out anymore and things we did a few months ago is now somehow ‘below’ them which leaves me with a lot of energy and life in me and no friends to share that with. Your article is so beautiful and really did make me feel like I am not alone. Thank you.

    • Christy Jones says...

      I think part of it as a new mom, from my experience, is not putting yourself as a priority for months to even years. When my son turned 3, I woke up, came to and missed the crap out of my buddies- especially the childless ones. I managed to rekindle these relationships and I imagine that some of my friends wondered where I’d been or if I cared about our relationship. I had left texts in mid-sentence with some of them! For weeks. Ugh. The fog that rolls in with having kids is like nothing I’ve experienced and it comes with neglect of friends, self care and a lot of other things. The most important thing that I learned from it is we need our friends, early and often. Also don’t give up on people even if it goes radio silent.

  21. Naomi says...

    Thank you, Caroline, for this post that resonates with me so very much! I recognize my story in many of these comments and they have truly opened my eyes to some perspectives I hadn’t considered. Within a year and a half long period, five of my close girlfriends became pregnant. Watching them all become new mothers, I’ve witnessed firsthand that everyone’s journey is different. I have had a really difficult time accepting my new relationship with my bff. She was like a sister to me. We used to talk all the time, see each other all the time. I was her MOH and made sure as she approached each big life moment I was there to make it as special for her as possible because I loved her and she deserved that. When she told me she was pregnant I cried, thrilled for her and her husband. She didn’t have the easiest first few months as a new mom. I checked in on her, went and spent time with her, and when I didn’t want to be overwhelming to her I let her set the tone for our relationship. I gave her space but also told her I missed her and would initiate plans. I started to realize that little by little, she was retreating from our friendship. Fast forward 20 months and we barely speak. I started to realize if I didn’t reach out, neither did she. I started to realize if I did reach out, she never asked about my life. All conversations revolved around her and her baby. There’s only so much of that someone can take. No one should feel like their friend doesn’t see them, doesn’t support them, doesn’t care about their wellbeing. I’ve felt sad, hurt, mad, disappointed. When I got engaged it took me multiple days to even get in touch with her to tell her my big news. I cried many tears of happiness that weekend but the only sad tears I cried were when I couldn’t even get a hold of my BFF. I’m hopeful that our relationship is ebbing and flowing and soon it will change for the better, but it’s hard to ignore the buildup of hurt. I mourn for my friendship and for my sister. I’m not a mom, but I truly believe you can be a mom and a good friend. A text to say “how are you?” goes a long way. This has all made me think a lot about what kind of friend I aspire to be, with children or without. Let’s lift each other up and celebrate each other as often as we can.

  22. Cd says...

    So so so so relatable. thanks Caroline !

  23. Kelly says...

    By far, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read on Cup of Jo. Thanks for this, Caroline!

  24. Megan says...

    Caroline! Your posts always get me right in the centre of my chest. Thank you for that lovely essay. I really appreciate your take on life, it’s comforting to read, and always something I find incredibly personal and relatable. Thanks.

  25. This was a beautiful read Caroline! Thank you. There is so much that I could respond to…but in the interest of this not rambling on forever, I’ll stick to this line, “To operate from a place where no one questions whether your life has purpose and meaning.” You know when a line just hits you right in the chest? Boom.

    I’m on the other side of the divide from you (two kids, 17 months and almost 4) and I still find myself gazing back, to that woman on the other side of that divide – lately, with more than a little longing. It makes me crazy that you can write a line like this and it can be true (so fucked up). When I read it, it took me right back to all the rooms with people asking my husband about his job and how I’m silently begging them to ask me about mine. Or my dreams (they’re still there!) or really anything other than the kids.

    I guess what I’m trying to say, is how jarring it is for people/society to confer meaning and purpose to women so carelessly. To assume without asking or knowing – and how lonely that makes me feel. I’m not at all sure I’m communicating what I’m trying to say – so I’ll wrap it up with this. Thank you again, for this beautiful piece. <3

  26. Alex says...

    I can totally understand both sides – beed there, done that. But also according to my experience, if there is thoughtful empathy and honest communication on both sides, it is totally possible to maintain a friendship without the feelings of frustration.

  27. Lieschen says...

    Love this post. One thing I do need advice on, is how to do conversation with friends while their toddlers are around. I’m from a circle of academics and used to conversations that build from base principle assumptions and culminates in conclusions through stacking arguments. But I feel like I never get more than one or two very short and basic sentences in before the toddler interrupts and the parent loses all train of thought.

    I feel like we judge each other for having our conversations interrupted by a text or ringing phone, but you’re never allowed to show your annoyance at a nagging toddler who just HAS to show mommy his snot covered finger this instant.

    Do I just have to accept that time spent with my friends for the next few years will always be shallow small talk and topics that will keep their attention for one or two moments at best?

    • Caitlin says...

      Hi Lieschen,

      I understand your frustration. It is incredibly hard to discuss/experience/accomplish anything with the constant interruptions that toddlers create. It must be hard to feel that you can’t have a meaningful conversation with your friends!

      I encourage you to think about it from your friends’ perspective too. Imagine trying to cook dinner, schedule an appointment, think of a solution to a problem, and yes, enjoy a conversation with a dear friend, but being constantly interrupted for literally 10-12 hours a day, every day, for years. Then I hope you’ll believe that your friends are doing everything in their power to cut down on their toddlers’ interruptions! I also hope you’ll believe that if they’re making the effort to spend time with you and trying to engage in meaningful conversation even with a toddler in tow, you are indeed very important to them.

      ♥️ Caitlin, mom of a delightful and maddening toddler

    • Sarah says...

      Have compassion for your friends who experience this interruption literally all day, every day. Bring wine when you come visit. Come after the kids go to bed, or ask your friends if the kids can watch a show for a bit. Be patient! Hey

    • Ami says...

      This is a short time in life. My 3 year old is already more socially aware and it only gets better. My recommendation is to save those more serious conversations for a different setting and enjoy the toddler and the joy he/she brings. Trust me, I get it (& so do ALL the Moms and Dads just trying to reconnect to their cerebral side & have a conversation with friends). And please don’t be annoyed because that child is their parent’s heart and soul. If you prefer not to be around children, then specify “adult only” for parties or ask in advance. :)

    • CEW says...

      If your schedule allows, just wait to hang out until their child is asleep.

      But also, dial up some compassion and tone down the pomposity.

    • Sheila says...

      Lieschen, I can very much relate, and honestly, it bothers me how often I’m asked to show ‘more compassion’ for mothers. It feels expected that we childfree folks should be more than happy to accept unbalanced friendships, where we’re the ones going round to visit them with a bottle of wine but don’t see nearly as much of that compassion returned. Personally, I find what works for engaging conversation is that many friends arrange for a sitter (or ask their partner to take watch) leaving us to head out and give each other our full attention. (And yes, they’re usually glad for the break too!)

    • Nina says...

      Shelia, I hope you never under up unexpectedly pregnant. May the compassion and empathy you have for the moms in your life only be returned.

      People like you make my heart hurt.

    • Chelsea says...

      Of all the moms I know, I don’t know a one that would say they’ve never gotten frustrated by an interruption. But with that said, it happens. It sounds like you have some frustration that you’re not getting good quality time, which I get-that’s my love language too. Try asking your friend for quality time, directly and compassionately.

  28. Lina says...

    I am 48 single and without children. This is the way it’s worked out for me and I have accepted it. I have a friend who told me in my 30s after she was married ( I was one of her bridesmaids) that she couldn’t socialize with me because I did not have a significant other. Her husband had no one to hang with… She has two children (teens now) and we haven’t seen each other in 8 years. Plans fall through all the time she’ll use her husband or the kids as an excuse. I’ve grown tired of it. I grew up in an Italian family, 1st generation everyone was together all the time– grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, married, single. I’m not sure when things shifted. I believe it’s as simple as– this relationship is important to me, this person is important to me… and will find the time, I will make the time. That friend I mentioned above not at all important to me anymore and I’m fine with that too.

    • Rachel Fallert says...

      Wow, how shitty of your friend to say she can no longer socialize with you because you don’t have a partner. That’s absurd! Sounds like you are so much better off. Of course it’s heartbreaking, but that is a terrible excuse not to see someone.

  29. Mari says...

    Some of these comments really makes me wonder what it’s like being childfree and living outside the US. I am happily married/childfree and have the opportunity to move to Europe for work (country TBD). With the exception of northern Europe/Scandinavia, I get the sense from a few friends that childfree women are hounded, shamed, labeled weird, and have a bear of a time making new friends.

  30. Jamie says...

    I am the only one of my female friends who remained child free. But thankfully, we all got through it fine. I got to play glorified aunt. My best friend and I continued to hang out weekly while they were toddlers. Much less once she had to drive her kids everywhere… but once they started driving, we started hanging out more again.

    Both sides of this have adjustments but maintaining a friendship is worth it… and if you are fortunate, once the kids are young adults you have even more friends – and exposure to another set of eyes, through a much younger generation. bonus!

  31. Carolyn says...

    I’ll never forget going over to my best friend’s house to pick her up for a friend date and her toddler son sobbed as she was getting ready to leave. (I was childless.) He didn’t want his mom to leave and turned his ire towards me, “You’re taking my mommy away!” And I thought rather darkly, “Oh kid, I know EXACTLY what you mean…” I had really missed my friend in those early baby years.

    • A says...

      Hahaha!

  32. Hanna says...

    I think part of the emotional distance that grows between friends with and without kids is due to how extraordinarily difficult our society makes parenting. Those of with children are silo-ed in our nuclear families, cut off from older and younger generations, and the normal family connections that spread the burden of child care. Mothers also mostly work now. We’re caught in an endless catch-22 of having to perform at work and on the homefront. There is so little of us left over for anything else — even something as life-giving and essential as friendship. Fathers aren’t in a much better position. Everyone is strapped for cash and time, but that increases exponentially after parenthood. I don’t know a better solution to bridging the gulf other than the one proposed here, recognizing the ebb and flow of relationships in time. But I do wish we lived in a society that gave everyone more support and time to thrive.

    • J says...

      Yeah, this sounds like a US thing, I haven’t had big trouble keeping in touch with my friends that have kids here in norway. Daycare is subsidised, parental leave is a thing and so on.

    • Kelly says...

      Ah – this is a great point. So, so true.

    • Liz says...

      I’m about to send kids to college and I’m so thrilled that my kids know my friends who never had kids. My kids have places in their hearts, they are hosted for weekends, give them great advice, and can fawn over them in a way I sometimes forget to do. Plus I’ve made time to be with these friends without kids, to enjoy my non-mom life, and reflect that I will at some point have an emptier house. Don’t become one of those people who only spends time with people exactly like you, you miss out on so much.

    • Lisa says...

      I’m in the Uk and this rings true for me. It might depend on your personality circumstances, but for my family, both my husband and I work full time, he travels frequently for work, and even though we have a great (albeit expensive) childcare arrangement going on, we don’t socialise much. It’s for multiple reasons – we had years of infertility battles which led to us isolating ourselves, during the week we have so little free time and the weekend is spent being exhausted / spending time with our children / family / doing chores.

      Separately – this was a stunning essay. Well done!

    • liz says...

      Yes. I agree completely with this comment. I wonder, also, how much of it has to do with with American parenting culture these days. Can you be a helicopter parent, work a full time job, and show up for your friends? I wonder if cultures with less “aggressive” parenting styles have the same tensions in their non-familial relationships. Again — just having a more family-supportive society though would make a world of a difference I’d bet.

    • Tanya says...

      This is 100% true. I wish it weren’t, but this is 100% my experience. We have no family nearby (which is so common) and raising two young children while in our 40s & working is so completely draining that I have little left to give. I am not going to leave my real name here but the hit my friendships/social life has taken, along with other frustrations, has often made me wish I could turn back the clock and make a different decision. My friends are awesome and valuable to me, but I have hardly anything in me right now and you can’t opt out on caring for your kids.

  33. Maiko says...

    I have a feeling, reading some of these comments, that the feeling of resentment towards friends with children/married has a lot to do with the way American culture celebrates those mile stones e.g.expensive bachelorette parties, expensive bridemaides dresses, bridal showers, wedding gifts, destination weddings, expensive baby-shower gifts. I can imagine that after investing a lot of money/time to celebrate it, it must be hard not to be celebrated in similar way.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s a really good point, maiko.

    • Zish says...

      I agree. and why do holiday cards have to feature personal milestones (of any kind)? This reinforces the idea we have to achieve something to be celebrated. Managing to exist, be content and think of others in a kind way, is enough of an accomplishment. I have never sent a holiday card but if I had to, I’d print a photo of the recipient (with or without me) or a photo of something which harks back to our happiest time together and send that.

    • Alex says...

      This is exactly what I was thinking. I live in Slovakia and babyshower doesn’t even exist here :D

    • Meg says...

      Totally agree, Maiko. The excessive celebration has always rubbed me the wrong way, it seems to performative and consumeristic. I’ve decided to stop going to baby showers and wedding showers for the foreseeable future. While I love the opportunity to connect with other females and celebrate big events, it doesn’t seem like a meaningful way to celebrate for me anymore. Plus– reciprocity. I am not married and don’t plan to have kids so I know that I won’t be celebrated in this way. Instead, I try to write a thoughtful card and take the time to connect/celebrate my friend in another way.

    • Mari-an says...

      I agree with you Maiko. I think some of the things that Caroline expresses have a lot to do on how the Americans live their lives.

    • Anja says...

      Reading these comments I do wonder if I would feel more pressure/resentment towards this topic living in the US. I could totally relate to that article though although I do live in northern Germany. But while American-Style Babyshowers have become really popular over here, we probably don’t spend as much money on them. Also no yearly cards with the grown and smiling children in my inbox. But I do know how it feels to not be celebrated bc you don’t have things accomplished that show on the outside (marriage, kids, new houses,…)

      I’m in my mid thirthies without a partner or kids and last year 2 of my closest friends in our little circle of 4 announced that they’re having a baby (and the other one met a partner and moved cities). And while they promised (and maybe told this even to themselves and wished it to be true) that nothing would change in our friendship I instantly knew that this wasn’t true. Their whole world would soon be arranged around a tiny little human and there would be many things (at least in the first few years) that we just couldn’t do together anymore. And at first I felt really sad and feared to become quite lonely. But after a while I realised that this is an opportunity to make new friends who are in the same situation and free to go to social events. And so I would have people to call and spontaneously meet up and go out with and have long uninterrupted conversations and when I’m with my mother-friends I wouldn’t feel resentful bc things aren’t as they used to be. Instead I would have the energy to engage with their child without expecting to have long, intimate conversations with my friends. And I could be like an aunt to them, maybe lifting a little weight of my friends shoulders from time to time, just being there for them without expecting things that they just can’t give right now.

      All your comments also made me realize how a lack of communication makes us feel like we are the one being left out – The childfree patiently waiting for a return call/message when the mother would have the time while the mother’s interrupted mid-text and simply forgets to reply but would be happy to be called again. So I’m planning to communicate to my mother friends that they are still really important to me and that I always want to hear from them, no matter how often they didn’t call back or how much time went between texts.

  34. A Rose says...

    I loved Caroline’s description of the new parent friendship dynamic as a long distance relationship. In many ways, having a new baby is like having a long distance relationship with yourself, and it takes time to find a way to combine your old and new self. I have three children and my best friend since childhood has none. In the first few years, there did seem to be more space between us, but as I grew into my new skin as a parent, I found it was so important to have a close friend who knew me as me, not me as someone else’s mother. It has made our friendship richer and deeper, and I am so grateful that we both kept at it and maintained our friendship in those first hard few years.

  35. Sally says...

    I’m 29 (single, no kids) and the chasm is widening between me and my friends with kids. One who used to be one of my closest girlfriends has three children. Since the birth of her first child in 2012, I have seen her a total of one time without one of her kids in tow. It’s almost impossible to have a real conversation when we get together because she has to parent at the same time. I know it’s hard for her as well, but I feel like we have nothing in common anymore and it’s hard to find things to talk about when we lead such vastly different lives.

    Thank you for this.

  36. Kelly says...

    wow this was powerful! thank you for sharing such a heartfelt perspective!

    i faced infertility throughout my 30s and became a parent via adoption in my late 30s/early 40s. I’ve always felt out of sync with peers – being childfree when they were having babies, now being a mom to littles while friends are facing teenagers/college visits/empty nests! Sometimes it’s a little painful, sometimes lonely, sometimes just a ‘huh’ moment of noticing the differences. And most of the time, it’s just my life, and fine!

    Luckily i have a good circle of single/childfree friends and I work to maintain those relationships, they are dear to me!

    but i will say, i see the day coming when all of us are not defined by our parenthood status because either the kids are grown or they never came…it prob seems a long way off at your age but hang in there, this baby making/intensive parenthood phase of life doesn’t last forever and when it comes we can all focus on non-kid related topics together!

    • Nora B says...

      Just thinking about the implied meaning of word choices:
      Childfree v. Childless

      One is more free than the other? Children are a burden?

      I am a parent to 3, and definitely feel marginalized by my choice to have children.

    • Emme says...

      As someone who has experienced infertility, “childfree” means you’re living a life without children, and “childless” means you’re missing something you “should” have.

      It’s all about perspective and making infertile women feel whole, even if they don’t have children. I feel like women without children are far more marginalized than the pro-mommy world we live in.

    • CEW says...

      Not to shout “woe is me,” but having one kid feels like getting both groups mad at you constantly.

      Childfree folks wonder how you could ever have had a little rugrat, aren’t they awful? Was it an accident? And assume you’re into the cringey “mama bear” Instagram bullshit. (Seriously, stop referring to yourself non-ironically as ‘Mommy,’ and get help for your casual alcoholism.)

      People with children ask why you don’t have one or two more, and insinuate that your child is going to grow up totally weird, selfish, and/or lonely because of you. (Not to mention the weird gender fixation: “DON’T YOU WANT ONE OF EACH?!” My son, like all human beings, has both ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ qualities… I’m not missing out on anything.)

      But so it goes. Nothing is perfect. Everyone feels excluded in some capacity. We can’t be all things, all at once. Show compassion towards others with different choices and priorities. Don’t fixate on it so much to the point that you feel constantly enraged. People put their foot in their mouth. People won’t understand. It’s gonna be okay.

  37. Christy says...

    Caroline, thank you for giving voice (in various posts) to what it’s like to be single, or experience life with female friends, or watch friends have kids. You write with grace for people who have kids and grace for people who don’t have kids. And seeing ourselves in your voice is a gift.

  38. Tina says...

    I am a single mom of one who recently re-entered the dating arena one decade following the start of my last relationship and two years following the end of my marriage. Uncharted territory this is as I am currently the sole being in this boat, paddling along in this vast ocean we call life. It has been both immensely lonely and exciting at the same time. What I have learned and what I deeply believe in based on my experiences thus far is that when we expect those around us to follow the same traditional and charted territory that society has dictated for us, we have lost sight of who we are as individuals. As a mom I make a daily effort to try to not lose sight of who I was and am as a person. I am not living my life for my son. I am living my life with him, and from what I can see he is loving every moment of it. When I spend time with friends, I discuss with them what is going on in their respective lives, because that’s what friends do… We support each other through each and every chapter of our lives, and no one’s book is the same. I applaud you, Caroline, for your choices yesterday, today, and tomorrow. This post had a profound effect on me, and for that I thank you!

  39. Elizabeth says...

    On that note, I’ve not been invited to so many birthday parties because “you don’t have children so we thought you wouldn’t want to attend”. People, please invite your friends without children to your children’s birthday parties if you are inviting your friends with children of the same friend group. Let them decide whether or not they come. Those are the bridges that keep our friendship alive and a whole lot of us will gladly take them! I’ll bring a nice big gift because I don’t have kids of my own to spend that money on and I’m going to try darn hard, if you let me, to be their favorite “auntie”. I will also invite you out for drinks every time I invite our circle of friends … regardless of whether you might be too busy or too tired or have a child that’s too sick to come. .. Because there’s a sliver of hope that you can make it and that’s the bridge that keeps our friendship alive.

    • Kelly says...

      this cracks me up – you sound lovely and generous! I don’t invite childfree friends to my kids’ birthday parties bc quite honestly I think of them as more work than fun for adults anyway! and wouldn’t have wanted to attend a kids’ bday in my free time before I had kids. but I love to get together with my childfree friends on other occasions! if being left out of the bday parties makes you sad speak up, but your friends may be trying to do you a favor!

    • Liz says...

      I agree! I recently had lunch with a friend who was describing how great it was that at her first kid’s first birthday party, so many friends didn’t have kids. But at her second kid’s first birthday party, everyone did. Well, I and a couple other childfree friends were invited to the first kid’s birthday but not the second. So sure, if you just stop inviting your childfree friends, all your friends will have kids… sheesh. We would have loved to come and celebrate her little one and catch up.

  40. Liz S says...

    This is my second comment on this post. I’m 48, childfree and happily married with no regrets. When I was newly married in my 30s and everyone my age was having babies, I never experienced the pressure to have kids. I actually had the opposite experience. When people discovered I didn’t have kids and wasn’t planning to have kids, a number of women opened up to me to express they would have been perfectly happy without kids. I would hear: “don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but if I could do it over again…”. It was really interesting the number of women that expressed this to me, even a woman who had 2 grown daughters. My mom also was totally on board with me not having kids.
    I know this is not the usual experience but I wanted to share.

    My advice to the childfree women out there is hold your head high and have no regrets. There’s a gazillion of us out there!

    • Mari says...

      Thank you, Liz! I love hearing all of this. I am happily married/childfree, and look forward to the day when one of my friends might pull me aside and give her honest take. At my age of 36, very few of my friends have seemed excited to start trying for a family. I’ve heard far too many “We’ve been married a couple years so I guess kids would be our next step,” and “[Husband/in-laws/parents] really want children so I guess it’s time to start trying.” I often wonder how many of these friends would have kids if they’d had that crucial conversation with their husbands before getting married, and if they decided to hold their heads up high, be themselves/not follow the crowd, and realize there are a gazillion of us out there.

    • Erica says...

      I know I’m late to this article but both of you have said exactly what I feel and have heard. It’s amazing to be on the other side of the coin, having women even with grown children tell you that they wish they hadn’t.. and it’s sad too for them to have those feelings. Having never been celebrated for anything because I’ve never bought a house (besides to flip) never had a wedding (but a wonderful long relationship) and no kids (cats who are nearing 20) I wish we could all be celebrated in the same way as people who do the normal things.

  41. Rue says...

    I think people put up walls about a lot of stuff. There are naturally times in life when folks will be closed off, by necessity or by choice. My sister has been inward-facing about her births and parenting, and I wasn’t gracious about that at first. I’ve since figured out that it’s just not my job to weigh in. My only job is to delight in my niece and nephew, and I can do that in many ways.

    It makes me all the more thankful when friends are open, vulnerable, and community-oriented, because that’s how I (want to) operate and it resonates with me. I’ve been to weddings where I felt included and integral in the celebration, rather than an observer. I relish the “Best Friends Version” of conversations with my bestie as she navigates being a new parent. I love the close friend who takes her little ones with us to the restaurant, so we can all fully be each other and be together, even when that includes toddler crises like Why Did Your Water Come In A Glass?! or I Am Suddenly Very Done With Lunch.

    I don’t see the divide as being between childless and childbearing. I see the divide between closed and open. That’s a decision each person makes for themselves at each crossroads. I can support the heck out of my friends when they take steps to be vulnerable and open with me, and I try to remember that it’s a two way street, which is honestly the scariest part.

    My therapist says that “annoyed” isn’t a real emotion, because it usually means you’re upset with yourself, not with the other person. So if I’m annoyed that a friend has become closed off thanks to a life milestone, I try to gently consider ways I could be more open with that friend about my own stuff. Because chances are that I’m a little clammed up too. Even if it’s “because she wouldn’t want to hear about my stuff right now,” that’s likely a self-protection thing on my part, not something my friend actually thinks.

    • Meg says...

      I laughed so hard at “I Am Suddenly Very Done With Lunch.” You perhaps have met my kids?

    • Julie says...

      I love this perspective! Thank you for sharing it.

      It really is about the people and their approach, not whether or not they have children.

      To have friends where you feel secure and also secure enough to be vunerable is such a gift.

    • Christy says...

      “I don’t see the divide as being between childless and childbearing. I see the divide between closed and open.”

      As someone without children, I resonate with this. I’ve had mom friends ask me for thoughts on how to handle a particular issue (like a recent text about a cute kid saying things she shouldn’t) — or invite my input in their kids’ lives (“you have a different voice than I do as their mom”) — or just plain want to hang out together (because small people are fun people, too!).

      The more time we all spend with kids, the more it bridges the language gap to which Caroline referred. I gain some pretty cool kid-friends. And I bond even more with parent-friends. Because, as I seek to love my parent-friends in their whole beings, I want to include loving the parent parts of their lives.

    • Angy says...

      This comment is so well expressed and quite frankly utterly heartwarming and inspiring. Your friends are lucky to have you. 💛

      Empathy should be a subject taught school methinks!

      Opening up a world of selfless contemplation for our children would hopefully equip them with a few tools to successfully navigate relationships and change.

      I became a mum at 24 and I was often not invited to the parties thrown by my “pre-spawn-gang” but I tried hard to accept the fact that when you have a baby life changes.

      Of course life also changes if you don’t have a baby. Just in different ways. 💛

  42. Lindsay Kindschy says...

    caroline, i have been reading cup of joe since 2008 (i’m OG cup of joe!) and loved when you joined the team years ago. i love your writing, and you so succinctly and authentically have written about so many different levels of friendship, change, life circumstances, perceptions int his piece. I am so impressed with how you have (seemingly effortlessly, but I bet it took work…or maybe not!) summed up so many layered topics here….bravo!

    I am in mid mid-30s with a 3.5 year old son, and have close friends who don’t have kids – for some it’s their choice not to; for others its out of their hands; for some they didn’t expect to have kids and they did; for others it was their calling and they did; and for some they weren’t sure if they wanted kids, but they did, and that is that.

    Beautifully written. This really resonates. :)

  43. OM says...

    Thank you so much for this Caroline. I love this blog but I rarely comment. Caroline your piece is beautiful and so timely for me. It is so rare that this perspective is given a platform. I’m in my late 30s. My biological clock is ticking ever louder. I so long to meet my guy, get married and have children but I seem to be nowhere near this and I don’t know what more I can do to change things. I’ve been feeling so sad. That feeling of being left behind really strikes a cord with me.

    • Shaima Rashid says...

      Wow what a wonderful piece its annoying when people ask you “what do you with your money” its annoying i hate that question you are so talanted

  44. Katie Apple says...

    I would like to add in another perspective, and struggle, on motherhood and friends.
    I was pregnant with our first baby last year, at 34, and three close friends were all pregnant too, one of those women I have known my whole life, we got engaged same time, married same time etc… I pictured entering motherhood arm in arm, and felt so grateful. Then at 41 weeks, despite a text-book pregnancy, and with no warning, our baby girl was gone. She was stillborn. The day I first saw her face, and held her, was the best and worst day of my life. We had her funeral, we held her ashes, the months roll on by, each day is dips and peaks of grief, of unchartered waters. New challenges of love and pain.

    My friends and their babies, well, it hurts. We aren’t parents in their eyes, in society’s either, even after going through the hardest thing a parent can. The horror of losing our daughter, it was like a lightning strike. But I still buy all the baby gifts, I send baby cards, I receive baby announcements, and I go and hold their babies and play with them, and then I go home and weep.

    Being childless not by choice I felt should be mentioned on here, but I certainly agree that all good things in life should be celebrated, not just marriage and children. And like you, I try and stay connected to my friends, despite our worlds being very different now, and its not always easy. A truly good friend never makes you feel alone, no matter how different your worlds are.
    Hold those you love close, everyone xx

    • NN says...

      Sending you love. Your heart is beautiful. I am so, so sorry for your loss.

    • Nicole says...

      I am so sorry for your loss.

  45. Katie says...

    Thank you for this!

  46. n says...

    thank you so much Caroline, for your words. i resonated.

  47. Madeline says...

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Articulating so many things I have felt crazy for thinking or feeling. It’s funny how not feeling alone in something shrinks all of those feelings down.

  48. I says...

    I haven’t read all the comments… But from those I have read… It is interesting/“funny” how so many moms appear to refuse to acknowledge this point of view and are either critical of the post/comments or go all “poor me you don’t know how hard it is”…

    I once had (had Being important) a friend who, after becoming a mom, would never stop talking about how women don’t become real women until they give birth. That friendship didn’t last very long after that.
    And I get that being a mom and having children are Big Things and change your life, but so many of my (former) friends absolutely refuse to understand that it is possible to have a full happy life without children. It gets tiring to always have your life described as what sounds like worthless because you either can’t or won’t have children…

    • Leanne says...

      I don’t think that clinging to either side helps bridge the divide.

      I absolutely think that everyone has their own story/life and no one should feel compelled to live a certain way. I remember being excited to come back to work after maternity leave (staying home with my kids wasn’t for me), and to have brilliant, strong female co-workers with whom I’d previously been close only ask me about my baby and move on to ask other women about their aspirations/work. It was shocking.

      In my experience, having kids made me question everything I knew about who I am and what’s important to me. Other life events have this impact on people outside of having kids. My personal struggle was how to be seen not only by employers but by those who had previously been *my* people that I am more than “just a mom.” I’m not saying this is any harder than anything else anyone is going through, just that we’re all going through our own things. There are people in your lives who are here for a season, and people who are in it for good. The latter will be there no matter what – you’ll both adjust as life happens.

  49. Jodi says...

    Hello from the future, Caroline! I’m about to turn 50 and have lived a wonderful, adventurous childfree life by choice. I’m guessing at your age (30s?) but want I want you to know is that as time goes on, you will not feel “left behind.” Yes, in the midst of your optimal child-rearing years there may be a pushback from family and friends who think you’d make a great mom, but as time marches on, anyone who loves you unconditionally will appreciate you and the life you have chosen for yourself. Yes, I have felt alienated or even bored by my friends when they are fully absorbed by parenting (looking at you 8-page birth story sent by my BF, ewww & cringe) but I have never felt “less than.” Instead, I have had an unconventional life where I have been free to try on different hats in how I choose to make money. I have saved up my pennies and traveled to India for 6 months at a time, I have gone back to college twice at the ages of 35, and now at 49 as I make my way through grad school. The truth is, the only person you need to satisfy is yourself. Do you feel your life has purpose and meaning? Yes? Done and done! The friends you need will be there, some of the old ones will fade into the background. It’s natural that friendships change as you do. Maybe one day there will be a bridge that reconnects you and your old friends, or not. It’s all okay. And for anyone else reading, can we please let go of “childless” and embrace “childfree?” I can attest that my life has been no less without children!

    • Kinga says...

      What a lovely and thoughtful comment. Thank you for writing this and a hug from “the past” from this 30-something year old and happily childless CoJ reader <3

    • Kirstin says...

      thank you for this.

    • Jodi says...

      Hugs right back to you, Kinga!

    • Jodi says...

      Glad it resonated with you, Kirstin :)

  50. JG says...

    I have to tell people i cant have kids or ill be shamed. I live in the bible belt and being childless is a sin. I literally am treated worse tham people who lose their kids for meth. At least they HAD kids. But even if i could have kids i wouldnt because i believe the word is overpopulated. Im making up for the ppl with 19 kids.

  51. Allie says...

    Favorite pro tip for getting quality time with friends who have kids: we meet at IKEA, she drops off any/all potty-trained offspring at their FREE daycare, and we have up to 2 hours to walk incredibly slowly through the store before picking up the brood. I think I’ve touched every object in IKEA as a result of these slow walk-n-talks!

    • taylore says...

      this is a GENIUS tip & i love it!

  52. mado says...

    Wow this was heartbreakingly beautiful. During my pregnancy I felt as if I were being force-marched across a bridge over a chasm (even though the pregnancy was mostly planned), leaving behind all my friends on the other side and marching towards a complete unknown. Thank you for making me feel so seen (even though I might look back at my past self or my current childless siblings and envy their free time). And I deeply treasure my friends who have made the effort to stay close despite that chasm (and in my case often half a continent of physical distance).

  53. Anne says...

    “In adulthood, I have come to regard friendships — whether the person is single, married, a parent or not — as oceanic in nature. There is a natural ebb and flow. Sometimes we are close, sometimes we are not-so-close, and sometimes we may be downright distant. Work schedules shift. Emotional needs change. Kids grow older. You drift apart, and then just as easily, you drift together.”

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

  54. Emily says...

    Thank you for this honest, thoughtful, beautiful post, Caroline. I’m younger than you but this year experienced my first taste of this particular pain when my best friend got married. For months after her wedding, I felt like such an afterthought and like she had really changed. She seemed completely wrapped up in herself, her marriage (which I’d happily celebrated!), and her ‘new life’ and wasn’t particularly kind or charitable toward me with her time. It was tough and took time but six months later, our friendship is finally ‘back to normal’ or perhaps has found a new normal. What I learned from that experience was the importance of trying to give her space, even if I didn’t really understand what she was living through at all, while also not shaming myself for feeling sad or like I wanted more. If she hadn’t eventually come back and made efforts to be close to me again, I would have at some point had to take steps back from the friendship. Obviously with kids this timeline looks different, but I think I’d expect the same from a friend with a child: I will give them space and understanding, but after some time, I also need their care in return.

  55. Abbiemirand says...

    Oof, this was difficult to read! I am the first in my friend group and in my family to have a baby and it has changed me and my life in so many ways. I think my friends and sister have handled all of my changes so graciously and generously. Its helpful ( but also makes my heart hurt) to know they are probably struggling through these changes silently. Caroline, thank you for your beautiful essay, your vulnerability and giving these friends a voice when maybe they didn’t feel any room for theirs to be heard.

  56. Tara says...

    A beautiful piece…I have three grown children about your age, Caroline. they all have relationships and no plan for children. I see them as wonderful men and women who enjoy their lives and partners and accomplishments. And I have said to them time and again that children do not define them. Their contentment defines them. Not happiness. Contentment. Because happiness is fleeting but contentment is a constant. And as their mother, all I want is for each of my children is to have a journey in this life of contentment and gratitude. That journey is defined by where their hearts bring them. And my heart will follow along, applauding them each step of the way.

    • Lauren says...

      You sound like a great mom. I wish my parents were even half as supportive and accepting.

  57. EKW says...

    Wow. This is wonderful. Ebb and flow is such a perfect description of friendships after babies. Thanks for this!

  58. Jessica says...

    I found this post so deeply meaningful. As a childfree, 38 year old woman I do feel so left behind, even though my lovely parent friends still include me in their lives. They’ve joined a club that I just can’t access. I struggle with not seeing women like myself represented in media or even in my own social circle, so it always helps to feel less alone. Thank you for such an honest essay.

    • Kate says...

      Yes. It’s hard to make friends. It’s hard to tell our friends about all the random things my husband and I did over the weekend, things that bring us joy but don’t need to be planned in advance or around a babysitter’s schedule, because don’t have that flexibility anymore. It’s hard to go 2 and 3 year old’s birthday parties because let’s face it, they’re the worst parties (it gets better around 5 and 6). It can be lonely!

    • Kim says...

      I don’t want kids and I’m 26.
      Everyone where I live wants kids or has kids so I have no friends here because they cannot accept the fact that I don’t want kids. I don’t have any friends in other states because it’s hard to find people that don’t want kids and that share my interests. So I spend most of my time with my fiancé and when he is busy I spend time alone.

    • Katrin Scharl says...

      I feel exactly the same Jessica (I´m 43 and childless) and yes it can get very lonely, Kate.

    • Rachel says...

      Thank you so much for writing this. This is me too.

  59. anonymous says...

    Well written! Every time I see a post on motherhood I cringe a bit as I have been unsuccessful after years of trying. I’m thankful that your perspective has been added to this section.

  60. M says...

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It certainly hits close to home. I have often felt hurt when friends with kids cancel on me at the last minute or don’t have time to talk on the phone without getting interrupted by their little one. It feels painful to feel rejected like that, even if I know it’s an irrational feeling. So it makes me want to reach out less, and then we grow apart.

    A common theme that I see is a general lack of communication about expectations and hopes for friendships. It’s totally normative to have these conversations all the time in romantic relationships, but less often in friendships. But it feels like so many of these issues (at least the ones I experience) could be solved, or at least addressed in a way that doesn’t feel like giving up, with talking it through.

    “It hurts me when you cancel on me, even though I know it’s because your child is sick. Can we make plans to hang out at a time when someone else can care for your baby?”

    And a friend with a child might say: “I still want you in my life, but I really only have the bandwith for talking on the phone once every two months or so. That doesn’t mean I don’t love you, I just feel really busy and sleep-deprived right now.”

    What is it that makes these kinds of conversations feel so tricky when they’re with friends? I have these conversations all the time with my spouse.

    Maybe because friendships can take so many shapes and sizes, so it feels extra-vulnerable to articulate your hopes or expectations for the relationship. Sometimes the desire for the level/intensity/frequency of contact isn’t reciprocated. I have to admit I do have some friends who can feel a little needy sometimes, whose company I enjoy but I don’t feel like they’re people I need to get super close to. I’d feel stressed out if we had a friendship DTR (define the relationship) about how often we’d expect to see each other.

    What do you all think?

    • Anonymous says...

      Yes to everything about the first paragraph – happened to me tonight (and I just KNEW the plans would get cancelled). I agree that as friends we “hope for the best” but don’t discuss our needs nearly as much as with a spouse.

    • Rachel says...

      I’ve been on both sides of this friendship complication, now having a little human myself, and I can say now that I can empathize better with those individuals (i.e. my older sister with 4 kiddos) who really want to talk to me on the phone, but are dealing with a child related situation in the background and the conversation is severely hampered. I, too, have dealt with some degree of disappointment/loneliness.
      I’ve already considered how others are feeling when plans need to be altered to accommodate a nap or a long feeding session on my new addition’s behalf, but I appreciate you taking the time to highlight what can be a profound complication among friends. It encourages me to remain mindful and appreciative of flexibility and persistence in keeping plans because we parents benefit from a social life, too.
      On a likely sleep deprived note, it took me scrolling past and glancing at the article picture three times before I realized it was of baby dolls, not popped popcorn… 🥴

  61. Katelyn says...

    Wow! Caroline has such a beautiful voice and we are so incredibly lucky she’s shares it with us.

  62. Marth Swenson says...

    This was heartening to hear, but it seems a bit of an echo chamber. Are these comments moderated where no one can express an alternative point of view?

    • Liz says...

      Maybe because it’s a common phenomenon in our culture.

  63. Fi says...

    I’m the childless one in my group of friends and this article resonated with me a lot.

    The issue I’ve most struggled with is surrounding my health: I’ve been diagnosed with multiple autoimmune diseases, which I take immune suppressing drugs for. I love my friends and their kids, but many people have a hard time understanding why I don’t jump at a children’s birthday party invitation. Believe me, I used to go to them and every single time I would get sick afterwards. Even just visiting some of my friends with their kids, I end up sick. It’s like I have to decide between playing with the kids and whether I want to be laid out on the couch for a week. It’s frustrating because I want to be there for all their moments. This is just the card I was dealt. On that same note: I have nothing but respect for the mothers out there who manage having children with these diseases. Rockstars!

  64. ACM says...

    Thank you for writing this post. This line was especially poignant: “No matter where you are or what you’ve accomplished, there is a sense of being left behind, even if you’ve elected to be there.” I’ve been feeling exactly the same way as I watch most of my closest girlfriends start to have children, something that I’m ambivalent about. It’s reassuring to know that others feel the same way that I do. I appreciate your honesty on a topic that isn’t always easy to bring up.

  65. Isa says...

    This is so beautifully written Caroline. Thank you. And so many great comments as well! I would like to stay up all night to read them all.

  66. Samantha says...

    As a woman in her mid-thirties, happy in a relationship, who has chosen not to have children this post made me feel so supported. I’ve so often have been asked “don’t you want children?” or been told “don’t worry you’ll change your mind.” I’m not worried. I love my quiet weekend mornings, traveling with my love, and being aunty to so many little ones. Every day I feel more confident in my choice not have have children but I can feel isolated and judged by other women at the same time. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone. Our choice to have children, or not to, does not define us as women.

  67. Tally says...

    My goodness – THIS!!! Thank you, Caroline. I’m so grateful for these beautiful words – I was for several years the childless friend and this brought all the feelings back that I had (until now) sadly forgotten. The Christmas cards, the expensive shoes – you nailed it. Thank you.

  68. Nina says...

    I’m an outlier on this. I find it a little dramatic and self-important. I was childless for over 40 years, so I’ve definitely lived that perspective. I saw good friends get married, have kids, and everything that goes along with that. I made different choices. Later in life, I had a baby, and now I see things from another perspective.

    Here’s the thing: it’s ALL hard, it’s ALL wonderful. No matter what truth you are living, you will feel, at different times and to different extents: judged/lauded, deserted/supported, envied/pitied, lonely/loved, invisible/seen. I think it is part of being human in the 21st century.

    • Rachel says...

      There’s an underlying accusation in these types of comments that I want to mention. That childless women who talk about these types of feelings are “selfish” or, as you put it, “dramatic and self important.”

      Which I find pretty odd since we (I am childless by choice at 40) aren’t the ones who are changing our situation–women who are having children are making that choice. I don’t fault them for it, but please stop shaming the minority of us who are childless for sharing thoughts and feelings about our own lived experience.

    • Nina says...

      Re: Rachel’s comment – there is nothing dramatic or self-important about being childless! Far from it. I only found the *tone* of the piece to have those qualities. Certainly not the choice! I applaud any person’s choice. I also understand this is not always about choice; some persons cannot have children, when they wish they could. I honor all those experiences.

    • Rachel says...

      Thank you for the clarification Nina.

      I know I’ve felt many of the ways that Caroline writes about here as time after time I’ve celebrated the luck and choices of my friends.

      At points in the past I’ve been bitter about not getting to share some of those familiar milestones myself, but I’ve been able to consciously shift into a “sympathetic joy” for them, for stranger, even for those I don’t care for when they experience happiness in their own life.

      It was freeing to make that shift, but it doesn’t make the ache of losing parts of my closest friendships for a time.

      Marriage, new careers, kids; they all shift the perspective of the woman experiencing them. I’m hopeful that it will be an ocean and not a river that marks the shifts in those connections over time.

    • Rebecca says...

      “Here’s the thing: it’s ALL hard, it’s ALL wonderful. No matter what truth you are living, you will feel, at different times and to different extents: judged/lauded, deserted/supported, envied/pitied, lonely/loved, invisible/seen. I think it is part of being human in the 21st century.” LOVE THIS SO MUCH.

    • Elizabeth says...

      I don’t have kids, and I’m a lot younger than many of my friends so I don’t know how I’ll feel when I’m older or if I’ll even still be childless. Something that’s struck me in the last few years is that when you have a baby or a wedding or an engagement you’re often the one throwing the party for yourself, sure people contribute, but you’re the main force behind all of the planning. I’ve been trying to incorporate this sort of self-celebration into my own life since and inviting my friends into that. I have often felt like other people’s milestones were automatically celebrated, but I’ve found that when I invite my loved ones into that sort of celebration of my life they are just as quick to celebrate and chip in as I would be to celebrate their more traditional ones. I really relate to your final point: nobody will understand fully our own experiences but they can try, and I feel that Caroline’s post is an attempt at trying to communicate that experience. :)

    • T says...

      I don’t necessarily agree with the “dramatic and self important” part but I can relate to much of the rest of this comment. It’s ALL hard. Life is no cake-walk no matter where you land. It’s difficult when friendships change but it’s important to acknowledge when friends are going to expand their family and not internalize the shift too much. Friends can also move away, take a demanding new position at work, start a new relationship, experience an illness. It’s always changing. As someone with 3 close friends who had babies last last year, I understand these feelings so well. I appreciate the perspective written from someone other than a busy, overwhelmed new mom (which is also important and valid!).

  69. April says...

    Thanks for sharing this Caroline. Count me in as another reader who can completely relate and is grateful to see this perspective shared so eloquently.

  70. Bryce Fallen says...

    Well, I’m crying (as I often am when I read Caroline’s posts. But it’s always gratifying, “thank you for putting my feelings into words” tears). I have 2 kids but I didn’t have them until much later in life (later than most of my friends) and I remember feeling all of these things. It was, at times, sad and frustrating and isolating. And yes, I felt like my accomplishments (big new job, promotions, buying a house) felt insignificant compared to kids. It actually still bothers me a little bit. I loved your thoughts on holiday cards… “Send whatever you want!” Yes, Caroline, yes.

  71. riye says...

    I’m over 50, unmarried, and childless by choice. Most of my friends (not sure how that happened since they come from all walks of life) don’t have kids and I’d say about half of them are married. Depending on how old the kids are I usually suggest an outing that includes them. Their mom and I might have to talk in 5 minute bursts in between bathroom breaks, tantrums, and demands for food but I think the main thing is to hang out with each other. Errands are a good standby for get togethers. Or if the kids are really small I offer to bring take out and we get together at their home. Adult drinks optional. :-)

    Plus, this is off the topic, but when you have to care for elderly parents you start running into similar problems. The main thing is to keep trying. Even if its a few texts a week or a half hour grocery run you can still have fun together.

    • Miranda Barnard says...

      You sound like such a good friend. Really great perspective. xo

    • Chelsea says...

      Caroline, I loved this post and it is such a good reminder to me to continue to reach out to those friends without kids and include them in my life. And I think it’s important for all of us to be honest with one another and recognize that things change when people have kids instead of pretending like everything will be the same.

      Riye, I really appreciate your comment and suggestions. Before having kids I remember friends with kids requesting that I come to their house after the kids went to bed or when my husband and I invited them over to dinner they’d ask if we could go to their house instead which was much easier for them with their kids. Although I loved hosting, I also appreciated that they were honest that at that stage in their lives they couldn’t always come to my place, but they still wanted to spend time with me. Figuring out ways to make it work is the key to keeping these friendships in tact. I will also add that if you and your friends have the time and money to get away together for a trip without kids it’s so nice!

    • Rory says...

      One item I haven’t seen posted – and apologies if was and I missed it – is regarding the desire to spend time with friends and do things other than going over to their homes late at night, especially on a weeknight. Like many, I work long days at a busy job and am exhausted at the end of most work days. Occasionally, I have enough energy and want to go OUT, not sit on a friend’s couch being distracted by her child. This does not mean I love her or her child any less – it means I have interests and needs also. I understand that this may not be feasible for said friend(s) – I can understand that while also being disappointed that that’s the case (though I would not necessarily say so – it’s not necessary). Just another piece of the puzzle yet one that is equally valid…

  72. Ashley says...

    All us CoJ non-mothers are feeling SO SEEN, Caroline. Thank you thank you thank you, for articulating this.

    • Lee Ten Hoeve says...

      YES.

    • Courtney says...

      YES!!! Thank you for sharing this piece!!!

  73. Katrin says...

    Yes. This. Thank you.

  74. Megan says...

    So true…and we parents feel the divide too, and grieve the way it used to be.

    • Sandra says...

      Yes, we do. X

    • rachel says...

      yes! in a much more significant way.

    • Mary says...

      @Rachel, why do parents feel the divide in a “much more significant way? “This is exactly what causes the divide – it’s not the pain olympics. Can someone who is childless ever just have their own emotions about it. Why is it always less than how a parent feels? I should know better than to read comment sections.

    • Rory says...

      Couldn’t agree more, @Mary. It’s all valid.

  75. n says...

    caroline, i so adore your writing.

    i am a mother of two, and have grown apart from a lot of friends, including friends who are also parents. i have also grown closer to a few friends, including two couples who are childless by choice. they adore my children, who in turn adore them back. we can talk about things not kid related, but they care also enough about me to ask about them. it’s easier to make plans because they don’t have to worry about childcare. these are also people i view as remarkable, smart, funny, talented, capable, and kind. it takes investment on my part to maintain these relationships, but they are worth it. when i have gone through tough times, when i’ve needed an ear or a shoulder, these have been my people.

  76. Katie says...

    “Likewise, I’d like to know how it feels to never get cornered by people wondering where your children are. To have your choices and circumstances celebrated by society. To operate from a place where no one questions whether your life has purpose and meaning.”

    I read this and just took a deep breath in and out….This. This is the thing I wish people understood. Thank you.

    • Rachel says...

      This came up at my book club a few months ago. I had to ask the rest of the group if they get asked about their parental status by Uber drivers. This happens to me all the time and I find it such a bizarre and personal question to ask a stranger.

      I have to wonder what it feels like to be a man. I cannot imagine that as many men my age are asked if they have kids. Why is this a default question of women?

    • Kim says...

      I can relate. Where I live everyone has kids and wants kids. They think everyone on the planet should have kids. So they tell me all the time to my face that i have no purpose in life and my existence in life is pointless just because I never want to be a mother. I tell them I have a purpose in life and my life isn’t pointless. I also make it clear that not everyone on the planet will have kids and they need to accept that. I also get glares all the time since people are offended that I don’t have kids and that I’m not pregnant. It’s stupid because me not having kids isn’t affecting their lives so they shouldn’t care about what I do. I have lived in the same state since 2014 and my choice to never have kids has never been celebrated and no one has ever told me they respect my choice. I don’t even have friends here since no one can accept me not having kids and since no one shares my interests. Thankfully I’m moving later this year and then I will be in a state where there are others that don’t want kids and that share my interests.

  77. Heather says...

    This is so beautifully written, Caroline. Thank you for writing this—for your authenticity, and for the hope you elicit about friendships!

  78. Jessica says...

    I love this post. Hits home for me. Thank you.

  79. A.E. says...

    Thank you for writing this, Caroline. I always enjoy your pieces but this one is my absolute favorite. I feel so seen.

  80. Julie says...

    If you think of your parent friends going out to sea, know that we aren’t all going out in the same boat.

    I’ve falsely thought so many times that another parent will “get it.” Though they more easily understand the logistical concerns of having small children, being a parent is not enough of a foundation for a friendship or even understanding. Some friends who also became parents at the same time as me, turned out to have very different values that became more apparent when kids entered the picture. Some non-parent friends refused to acknowledge the enormity of what having kids does to a person, a marriage, a life. It truly is hard to know how to navigate friendships when your life or your friend’s life changes so drastically in an instant.

    New parenthood can be especially lonely and jarring for the people going through it. I encourage anyone to stick with your new parent friends despite their flaking and consant colds. They need to be seen as people and parents. They’re still there! They’re just going through A LOT. And in the scheme of things, the new parent haze is extremely hard, yet incredibly fast.

    Also, maybe we should stop thinking of friends as only people our general age. We can be friends with our friend’s kids and with our friend’s parents. (And other kids and other older people.) Maybe think of your friend’s kid as a potential new friend, not a cumbersome nag on your friend’s attention. New humans are amazing, and if you love the people that made them, you’ll likely like or even love them too. You don’t need to be a parent to open yourself up to that possibility. (And many parents I know aren’t open to that possibility.)

    But if over time, you realize your new parent friend is actually a jerk, no need to do the extra work that it takes to be friends with parents.

    And PS as a stay at home parent, I would argue that many people think my life has no purpose or meaning. One sticky truth is that though it seems like our society values children and families, in practice it often does not.

    • Morgan says...

      Thanks for adding this at the bottom. As a sahm for almost ten years now I totally agree and feel invisible to all except my kids and husband. All of my mom friends returned to work and I feel they pity me, like “hang in there, champ, you’ll get back to the real world soon”, when in reality this happens to be my chosen hokey pokey (that’s what it’s all about). All in all, I believe we as women should stick together and honor the myriad of experiences we are all living.

    • Elizabeth says...

      I think your last point is really poignant. I haven’t had kids yet, and I’m 25 so I’m at the age where I’m trying to decide if I will and I feel like I’m the only one of my friends who even wants them at all. I’ve had friends question if I’m sure I would want to give up ‘everything’ for them, and I feel like this is the exact same sort of scrutiny I’d be facing from other people in my life if I were to say that I didn’t want to have kids. It goes both ways, and women who decide to have kids are so often not valued in that choice. :(

    • Kim says...

      I disagree. Where I live only people that have kids or want kids are told their lives have meaning and that they have a reason to be alive. Since I don’t want kids I get told all the time that they don’t want me to be alive and that they think the only reason for existence is to reproduce. I’m sure you have never been told everything I have! I can’t even go places in public without getting told to my face that I need to have kids right away and that I’m worthless for not having kids! I also get glares all the time since people are so offended that I don’t have kids and that I’m not pregnant. The society here only favors kids and parents! My choice to be childfree has never been celebrated and it has never been respected. Its been this way since 2014 so its never going to change which is why I’m moving later this year. That way I will finally be in a state where there are other people that don’t want kids and where my choice to not want kids will be respected.

    • Lisa says...

      I so agree with this. Being a new parent is the loneliest, most desperate I’ve ever been. I needed a friend but didn’t have the strength to reach out. And I too feel that – having chosen family over career – society values my choices very little.

    • Leanne says...

      As a working parent, I struggle with society blaming me for not being with my kids and having “daycare raise my children,” with a school that values SAHMs who volunteer and participate more in the school day than I’m able to. As part of the human condition, it’s natural to feel insecure no matter what perspective we’re coming from, and to feel like *maybe* the grass is greener on the other side. In reality, we’re all in this together, and we’re all better when we share a little kindness, compassion, and understanding. Thanks for your comment, Julie!

    • Claire says...

      Kim- good grief! I am so sorry to read of your experience. I hope you thrive and are very happy in your new home. Sending you all best wishes!

  81. Such a well-written post! I am about to have my first child. I am one of the last in my close friend group to do so as I decided to wait until after I turned 30 to start having children. I watched my friends go through the new baby phase and stayed in their lives the best way I could. Even though we live in different states, every time I am home I make a point to see them. Even if it’s a quick 30 min before nap time.

    I watched my mom and dad go through this with their best friends from high school. When we were kids, they didn’t get much time with them. But after my brother and I went to college they reconnected and their friendship is strong if not stronger then before. Life is all about the ebb and flow.

  82. Nuri says...

    Brilliant! Thank you for this post.

  83. Jenny says...

    I’m single, no kids, and live 2k miles away from my family and closest/oldest friends. I have a great career and full life, have always traveled back for weddings, babies, all the big moments (even if those friends have never visited me in my new city. Even when I wasn’t making a lot of money. Even if I was struggling mentally). After a few years of trying to make my friends celebrate my birthday with me, I’ve come to the conclusion that I think I have to move on. I thought, everyone else gets these big moments that all the people in their lives show up for – why can’t I have 1 day? Without a partner, with friends at much different places (physically and in life), who else is going to choose to celebrate me if I don’t? When every promotion, raise, or health milestone is met with maybe an emoji, I often wonder what would happen if I did get engaged. Would the fanfare really be that much bigger if I choose to get married over that time I doubled my income with a new job? So, on last year’s birthday I didn’t organize anything. I didn’t remind anyone. Most of my friends forgot. But I celebrated a year I was proud of on my own. I will continue to be a good friend and show up for the people in my life when they ask, but my expectations on how those friendships are returned have changed.

    • liz says...

      Thank you for this comment. I feel like more people need to read it.

    • jane says...

      A really evil genius thing to do would be to send out a “save the date” and when they all fly in, say “PYCHE! It’s my birthday and I wanted you all to celebrate meeeee!” Haha…
      I’m really only half joking here. I mean they owe you one ; )

    • Linh says...

      I have had similar experiences. Celebrated all the weddings and babies. When I got my PhD, no reciprocal celebration. We have to keep celebrating ourselves, because we deserve it!

    • Emily says...

      I can relate to this comment. There have certainly been times when I’ve shown up for my friends in ways they haven’t for me. I’ve learned that there are times and friendships where it’s good to forgive that, and some where that may be an indication that it’s time to move on. It’s hard to cut off a friendship when you still care but you (we all!) also deserve friends who want to see us and show up for us just as much as we do for others.

    • Kiley says...

      My husband is older than me, and he went through this when his friends starting having kids and we moved 500 miles away. He would get jealous that my childless friends could make trips out to see us, and make my birthday into a special occasion. I would remind him that it’s not that his friends don’t care about his milestones, it’s that when you have kids you don’t always have the money or the time to make a trip out to visit. You need to save your time off for doctors appointments, and all your spare income goes straight to childcare and diapers. It’s true what you said, it’s about managing your expectations of those friendships because they’ve undoubtedly changed.

  84. Marie says...

    I loved this post, and I have loved reading all of these comments. Such a smart, thoughtful community at CoJ!

    I am 37 and have been married for 13(!) years. My husband and I do not plan on having biological children. For me the decision came down to two main factors: 1) I feel completely ambivalent about it, and being such a major decision, I feel if it’s not an enthusiastic “hell yes!” then it’s a “hell no.”
    And, 2) I have very major concerns about the future health of our planet and its ability to support the growing global population. It’s challenging when a friend or family member who has children asks me about my decision to not have kids, because explaining my true fears about climate change could be taken as a judgement on their choice to have biological children. So I often keep that part to myself even though it’s a big deal to me.
    Does anyone else have these feelings?

    • Anna says...

      I have a few friends that have chosen not to have kids because of the environmental impact, and I have four kids! But I get their reasoning, and they are happy that I’m raising of group of kids that actively care about the environment. We just have different approaches to the same problem. I think if someone were openly hostile to my decision, it would be hurtful – but I think it’s all about the delivery. And maybe if you end on a happy note (as my friends have done) and say that you are glad that their kids will be around to continue to protect the planet, they won’t feel judged.

    • Nicole says...

      Right there with you! Especially as someone living in America -it feels like this is the new global injustice, that us world’s wealthiest will contribute the most to climate change, while the worlds poorest will suffer the most. My heart is heavy when I think about it and this is one big contribution I can make

    • Emily says...

      Yes, I’m really nervous about the impact of climate change on the lives of my potential future children. If you’re paying attention, it’s clear that life will be much different, and much harder. I’m in my mid-twenties and don’t see myself having kids for some years but at the moment, my answer to this is to have just 2 children. I grew up as one of 3 and that would be my ideal number, but 2 is replacement– you aren’t adding to the population. That feels good and conscionable to me.

  85. Irene says...

    Caroline – thank you for sharing your perspective on this. And I so love and appreciate the tidbit you shared that you still try to maintain your friendship with another mom in the form of takeout dinners after her kid goes to sleep. As the mother of a toddler, I think what’s frustrating is when people without children assume that I won’t have time to hang out on the weekends or don’t want to see them for meals or hangouts. I actually love hanging out sans kid with two dear college friends (both childless), who I have a regular brunch and book club with. I want to echo someone else’s comment about the fact that mothers are human beings who have other hobbies and interests outside of our kids (as much as we love them). I love — and crave their companionship — when I need a break from worrying about my toddler’s never-ending runny nose and daycare woes. We talk about our jobs, the favorite things we’ve read lately, a fun workout we’ve tried, their dating mishaps.

    I fully respect other people’s choices not to have children. And as a mother, I agree that perspectives like Caroline’s are unnecessary, because well, she’s right that there is an emotional chasm between me and childless friends. But to Caroline’s point, I think she’s also noting that it’s not a physical one, and that sometimes it’s just a little more advance notice, a little more effort and creativity to maintain that friendship (a mother with a young kiddo would never turn you away if you showed up on her doorstep with takeout and a bottle of wine after 8pm!). And to be honest, even I find that the endless parade of Christmas cards from friends with kids can be a little tiring (I myself refuse to send out any of these cards because they will usually end up in the trash).

  86. Liz S says...

    I’m 48, childfree & happily married with no regrets. I’ve lost several friends to motherhood and if i’m honest, i shoulder a lot of the blame. With the exception of my two dearest friends, I tend to lose interest in the friendship. It feels like we have nothing in common anymore and frankly, my sincerest apologies to all the moms out there, I find children boring and tedious.

    But, my aforementioned two best friends with children? I will love them and remain faithful until the day I die. I love seeing their children and never tire of hearing stories about them and will gladly rearrange my schedule to be with them when they have the time.

  87. “I have been asked, on multiple occasions, what I do with “all” my money and “all” my time. It’s always a little jarring, when in the not-too-distant past, the person asking the question was right where I am.

    Likewise, I’d like to know how it feels to never get cornered by people wondering where your children are. To have your choices and circumstances celebrated by society. To operate from a place where no one questions whether your life has purpose and meaning.”

    I think that’s exactly the thing: with kids people have a decent guess at someone’s purpose and meaning; or at least a part of it. Without kids, though, it can be anything and it’s almost impossible to guess! (Having said this, I know you were referring to the judgement of what YOU do with ALL that money… I don’t mean to suggest that’s okay. I mean, merely, to extend the conversation and say it should be completely appropriate for friends and family to ask, “Hey, what are you heavies lately? What purposeful things weigh the most to you?”)

    • Sarah says...

      Thank you for sharing. This is a great point. I think most people have good intentions, and communication is a two-way street.

      I’m a child-free thirty-something myself, just trying to bridge the divide with my friends that have taken different paths in life.

  88. “there is a sense of being left behind, even if you’ve elected to be there.” YES!!!

  89. Lena says...

    This post is so beautiful, telling the story of that chasm with such frank honesty, but also hope and reassurance that connections return even after you’ve drifted apart. It takes such wisdom to see that!

  90. abcde says...

    i’ve never seen or heard this story told, and it resonates so deeply with my own experience. thank you for sharing in a gracious, honest and insightful way.

  91. Erin says...

    Thank you for this perspective. I’d like to offer another one, as a mom. Yes, I do find relationships harder to maintain – but not exclusive to my friends without kids – with all my friends in general, as we left our city life and moved to the ‘burbs. In some ways, it’s been harder to maintain those friendships with parents of kids are not the same ages as my kids, because we don’t have a natural reason to get our families together and they are just as strapped for free time as we are. But I also found that having kids changed my priorities, and once my priority was no longer to stay out late partying, a lot of my single friends dropped away. We just didn’t want to do the same things anymore (ok, I still want to do that, but I can’t. I would die.)

  92. Morgan says...

    Beautifully written piece. Wonderful perspective that captures both sides of the kid divide, without isolating either. Both come with challenges and both are worth a word about.

  93. Riley says...

    I have a 9 month old and have been, admittedly, completely consumed by motherhood. It’s been so much harder than I anticipated, and I’ve felt that all of my energy has gone towards keeping my head above water. Chronic sleep deprivation is really a beast, and with no family to help, 2-4 hours of sleep per night has been the norm for many stretches of time since our baby was born. All of that to say, I have grace for myself and how I’ve been absent from my friendships — I just haven’t had the capacity. But also, as I feel the haze lift a bit, I want to do better. This post had me thinking about all of my friends (with children or not) who I’d like to give more of myself to as my baby starts gradually demanding a bit less. Thank you.

    • Amy says...

      Hang in there Riley! My first year was SO hard and I was very hard on myself (and regret that)
      Big mom hug to you!!

  94. Heather says...

    There was a time 9 years ago when my sister and one of my best friends had babies within months of each other. I remember one afternoon my friend cancelled a hang out at the last minute, and I sat on the floor of my kitchen and cried. I missed them both so much. I was just sharing this memory with my sister and she responded, “Yes, I missed me, too!” There was this time when I felt so lonely, and they felt so lonely, and the differences in our circumstances kept us from being able to comfort one another.
    But of course this changes.
    Going through this is just part of growing up.
    Your relationships with people aren’t fixed parallel lines. They’re more…parabolic… going apart and coming together.
    My current relationships with my friends and sisters with kids is so much richer and more wonderful than anything I could have imagined that day on the kitchen floor. And it isn’t because they had kids, or in spite of their having kids, but because they were all the loves of my life to begin with and everyone is more interesting and wonderful as they age.

    The way you feel about this is going to change, Caroline. I promise.

    • Heather says...

      This is so so good and spot on! You captured the complexities so perfectly!

    • Elif says...

      “Your relationships with people aren’t fixed parallel lines. They’re more…parabolic… going apart and coming together.”

      Murakami in Sputnik Sweetheart says we are all lumps of in our own seperate orbits. He continues: “from far off they look like beautiful shooting stars, but in reality they’re nothing more than prisons, where each of us is locked up alone, going nowhere. when the orbits of these two satellites of ours happened to cross paths, we could be together. maybe even open our hearts to each other. but that was only for the briefest moment. in the next instant we’d be in absolute solitude. until we burned up and became nothing”

    • Amy says...

      Best comment Heather!
      “but because they were all the loves of my life to begin with”
      Just beautiful.

    • Elif says...

      Sorry I was posting from my phone, right before sleeping, therefore I didn’t realize what I’d actually written. “we are all lumps of metal..” it should have been.

    • Chelsea says...

      Yes, Heather! I love your comment! I’m an extrovert, so when my children were babies I remember feeling so much loneliness and feeling so sad that I couldn’t hang out with friends as much as I used to. Now that my youngest is 3 I am spending so much more time with friends both with and without kids around and it is so life-giving to me.

    • Kelly says...

      “Yes, I missed me, too!” – wow! I have been a mom for 8 years (via adoption after struggling through infertility for many years) – and I still miss me, and am trying to figure out who I am in this new life! Motherhood is disorienting, or is it just adulthood? anyways…agree completely that relationships change over time esp as kids gets older….the early years are hard on friendships, but I had a mom friend the other day casually say she was going out for a run in the middle of a Saturday afternoon and I realized, her oldest was old enough to stay home alone and that phase of life just seems so far away and exotic to me! but it’s true, kids grow up and parents slowly return to some new version of themselves…

    • Claire Walker says...

      I have thought about this so many times since reading it. I have experienced several “life is long” realization moments in my life lately and this is one of them. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience.

  95. A. Morrison says...

    Thank you so much for this. I am childfree, and lose friends to this all the time. I also am trying to do a better job of treating my life milestones as worthy. That promotion is exciting and you are worthy of celebration! A friend of mine recently hosted a party to celebrate her quitting from a toxic job, another a party for the adoption of a new cat. Our choices are valid, even if we have to be reminded sometimes.

  96. MD says...

    Thank you for taking time to write from your perspective. Having been on the younger side to motherhood in NYC (I was 31 when I had my first, the first of my friends)- I found the isolation and rejection from childless/childfree friends to be one of the hardest parts. I was willing to do what felt like moving mountains to see them, but needed notice to get a sitter or to make a plan with my husband, but within months many of my friends stopped reaching out/inviting me to get togethers because they thought I was a mom and didn’t have time. They never asked me- just assumed, in part because of the narrative that you tell here.

    Often the LAST thing I wanted to talk about was poop color, and I hate that the moment someone learns I have kids- its the only thing they ask about. I am still multifaceted. I own a business, I have other interests AND I am a mom. Calling the distance between moms and non-moms a chasm is part of what creates the chasm. A mom is still an independent woman, and maybe a wife or partner, a business owner, a daughter, a friend. With support, they can still be all of those things.

    I think you make a valid point when you say relationships change- but miss that ALL people are put into boxes, and different parts of different people are celebrated depending on context. At work, I often feel compelled to minimize my motherhood because of the assumptions people make about them and my priorities.

    Yes, I have children, yes they mean the world to me, yes they take up TONS of mental space, but just because I have them doesn’t mean I’m ‘a mom’ and nothing else.

    • S says...

      Thank you for saying this, MD. Caroline’s article is beautifully written, but I resonate more with your point of view. It is hard to be a mom (I was 27 when I had my first child, and most of my friends still do not have children several years later) and I feel left behind (in a different way) as well! Yes, our “accomplishments” fit in with a cultural narrative about what matters in life, and no, I do not agree with that narrative. However, there is loneliness, sadness, and loss that happens when you become a mom. That acknowledgement isn’t really clear in this article, and that feels really, really important to add.

    • liz says...

      I don’t think Caroline said/meant that at all. It’s the reverse situation she’s talking about.

    • GRAY says...

      Caroline’s was writing about the childless side’s perspective remember? It’s important to acknowledge the challenges and stereotypes that come with motherhood, but that point of view is well documented and discussed. I applaud you for laying the other side bare Caroline. It’s one side that is rarely heard or acknowledged.

  97. Amanda says...

    “No matter where you are or what you’ve accomplished, there is a sense of being left behind, even if you’ve elected to be there.” This perfectly articulates the way I’ve felt as each of my friends have had their babies. Each and every time I’ve had a quiet moment with myself in recognition that everything is suddenly very different and they’ve just hopped on a train I can’t join them on.

  98. Lindsay Beck says...

    Beautifully written :)

  99. Kelly says...

    This is such a thoughtful post, Caroline. You have a strong sense of empathy and insight.

    I remember my sister saying that she finally felt like she had me back when we had a ladies’ weekend when my son was three. It was so tough and honestly frustrating for me to hear. I don’t really get to have my pre-kid self back, ever, not in the same way. I want her to know me as me now, and that takes more work on her end, for sure – I recognize that. If I’m being honest, her words were also frustrating though because I felt that I’d spent the past three years becoming a new person, essentially, and I liked that person. I also felt dead tired and had crossed into a new plane of existence that held many trials and endless fulfilling of my son’s needs. Her comment did, in the moment, feel like one more person demanding that I be more perfect and give more of myself. Now, with some distance, I can sympathize with her more, though I struggle sometimes to find the balance between speaking my truths about the realities of parenting a young child while working outside the home and making space for my sister to feel seen and heard.

    This post gave me a lot to think about. Both sides – complex.

    • Emily says...

      There are hundreds of lovely comments on this post, but I’m stopping at yours to weigh in, Kelly, because I hear your frustration through the screen.

      Maybe your sister was just nostalgic for a different time, which I think we can all be at times. For you, that means a time before and without your son, which is a hit – but maybe exactly what Caroline is talking about when she says a chasm opens between those who’ve experienced motherhood and those who have not. She doesn’t have access to the full experience of your joy, so she sees it as a loss, where you’ve seen it as growth and positive change. I totally understand both sides (and sounds like you kind of do too). When I got married, I struggled so much (personally) with being sad to lose my single self, but being in love with the idea of being in a couple *hopefully* FOREVER. It’s such a more complex feeling than wanting one thing or the other, ya know?

      I am going to take away from this post that it’s important to prioritize the small and large celebrations and sorrows of anyone you want to keep in your life. To try to win the epic struggle of being so obsessed with myself and my issues that I can’t shoot someone a text, or send them a card (wishful thinking for someone who is 5 months pregnant, right?) just because I’m thinking about them. I am going to hold the “oceanic” reference closely, and give myself and my friends grace when we ebb and flow. And I’m going to try my best to be honest with myself and the people around me about what I need and when I need it: “I miss you. I know I have the baby now, but if we could hang out and drink 3 glasses of wine and eat a cheese board this Friday or Saturday, I will move mountains to do it.” may have to be my mantra, right alongside “I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m overwhelmed with what’s in front of me and I hope you’ll still be around in a week or a month or a year when I can come back to you, and back to me.”

      Good luck, Kelly. It sounds like new you is a great and insightful person!

    • Meg says...

      “Her comment did, in the moment, feel like one more person demanding that I be more perfect and give more of myself. ” This comment perfectly articulates how I felt after becoming a new mother. I was constantly giving giving giving giving giving even after I was months into total sleep deprivation. I had a constant mental game of am I doing this right and is that rash a sign of a horrible disease and is my baby breathing weird and why can’t I figure out why he’s crying I am failing. No matter how much I gave gave gave, even if the day went well, you still had to keep at it constantly both day and night and then day and night and day and night. It felt lonely and monotonous and almost unfair how hard it was. And to have someone in the midst of that new kid time say, “Why don’t you show up more for our friendship?” would have made me cry. On the outside, it may seem like this is no big deal – find a sitter and go out for two hours. But from the inside it’s like I’m at my absolute maximum for doing things I’m supposed to be doing and maybe I’m not even doing those well and if you assign me the task of accomplishing anything else, like finding a sitter, I just will cry. I have nothing left. This is 100% not a sign that you don’t like your friend or value their friendship! It’s just about how excruciatingly hard those new baby months were, at least with the first born. I agree with the ebb and flow perspective and ask all friends out there to see that the ebb is not personal. Really not personal. Your friend probably loves you and needs you and misses you more than ever. I am so grateful to my friends who never once mentioned the ebbs, and just let me flow back into in-person baby-free outings when I was ready.

    • Kate says...

      Meg, totally agree. That entire first year of motherhood was such a tender and vulnerable time, and it was so painful to feel that those I had been close to were disappointed in the new version of me, even while I could feel so lonely.

    • Kelly says...

      Emily, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. I really appreciate your words. And Meg, I 100% agree. I felt/still sometimes feel the same way (even though my son is now 5).

  100. Sarah L. says...

    Well written Caroline.

    I have a question for us humans though.
    When or how can we change the narrative of ‘this is the way life is supposed to go’?
    What a trap we have ourselves in and it pits us against each other in so many ways.
    When or how do we have confidence in our life choices/paths (choosing to parent/or not or any other path). And if these happen without our choice ebbing and flowing with the journey. What sets us up for this dissappointment/feeling of failure is the narrative/expectation that this journey was supposed to ‘look or go a certain way’.
    Please. Let’s celebrate our differences and walk beside each other through the difficult times. At the beginning of this life journey we all start as equal. Human.
    That reality isn’t what changes, it’s forgetting our equal humanity that changes.

  101. Kiki P. says...

    This is a great piece. I’ve never had children, but feel like I’ve seen it all as I watched my friends pass through that stage of life. Some were able to continue friendships and include me in their lives and others could not. Some were calmer as parents and others completely unwound by it. Now aged 50, I am surprised by how many friends are still completely wound up in their college kids’ lives. One friend lives nearby but I almost never see her because she is constantly traveling to see her kids at college or can’t get together because they are home. I know that this says the most about her life choices, but how long do you wait for someone to make time for friendship? I’m not waiting anymore, so why am I the one feeling guilty about it? Like I should somehow be the one that’s more flexible because I don’t have kids?

    • K says...

      So true, I think we all deserve a piece of the attention pie of the people we have important relationships with, and I think many people also feel better when their whole pie isn’t given just to their kids, or whatever else one single thing–parents, career, significant other.

    • Hanh says...

      If you don’t want to be flexible, don’t be. It isn’t for everyone. Your friend made her choices, you should make yours. There’s no point holding on to a relationship in the long term with all the resentment about who gives more and who gives less.

      Whether you feel guilty is a decision you can make.

      I doubt that you have seen it all about having children without actually having children though. That’s a big assumption to make.

    • Kiki P. says...

      Hanh – I guess what I meant “I’ve seen it all” is I’ve seen the various ways becoming a parent has changed the individual from *our* friendship point of view. I didn’t have kids because I wasn’t able to – not because I don’t like them. That I don’t know what it’s like to have my own kids goes without saying.

    • Hanh says...

      Kiki P. , I’m sorry. That has to be so hard. I’m in the midst of fighting my secondary infertility battle and I find myself distancing from my friends who are able to have more kids, just to save myself from the negative feeling. I do think the only ones able to keep myself from negative feelings are myself and MAYBE the therapist :)

      Just between my smaller family and my friends’ large families, we almost always have to be more flexible. I don’t think of it has they taking more of us, i just think having a lot of kids is hard, and so where/when I can i meet them where they are, because they are worth it. whether or not a friend is worth it is also a decision one can make.

      I hope you will be free from the guilt that is bothering you.

  102. Alyssa says...

    Thank you for writing this, Caroline. You have so beautifully articulated what I have struggled to put into words for so long. ❤️

    • Mwis says...

      She nailed it!Love Caroline’s writing.

  103. esther says...

    love this article. it made me sad but also grateful for all the existing friendships i have with my childless friends.

  104. Meghan says...

    I feel seen, Caroline. Thank you for this post. It’s so eloquent, gracious and wise. Thanks for putting this out there into the universe!

  105. Candace says...

    This totally resonated with me. Just yesterday I finally met up with a friend who recently had her first child. After she’d rescheduled several times, we finally found a time to meet, only to have her show up with her baby and say she could only stay 45 minutes. I love babies, especially hers, but I haven’t spent time with just my friend in over a year. There have been some pretty big things going on in my life that I was hoping to talk to her about, but she was distracted by her baby the entire time we were together. I tried to hide my frustration but left feeling like she just didn’t care about me, and was just “checking the box” so she didn’t have to show up again for several more months. I don’t yet know what it’s like to have kids, but I like to think I’d try to make an ounce of effort for a 15+ year friendship. She’ll be having her second child soon and I wonder if I should even bother continuing to invest in our relationship when it feels like it’s become entirely one-sided. I know this may sound petty, and perhaps I’ll feel differently when I have kids, but no matter what stage of life you’re in you know when you’re just a task on someone’s list, and it doesn’t feel good.

    • Anna says...

      Candace, I would talk to your friend. You don’t sound petty; as you say it’s never nice to feel like an afterthought. Tell her how you really feel. It’s possible she was having a terrible day, and had other things distracting her, and has felt terrible about how little she had to give you. Or perhaps she just hasn’t thought about her impact on you that much. Either way, it’s not an unreasonable thing for you to express and I think a strong friendship should be able to withstand such feedback. If she doesn’t have more to offer right now to your friendship, then that’s a good thing for you to know too.

    • Hanh says...

      As someone who has had children, I venture to say it took a monumental effort for mother who has recently had a baby to meet up with someone for that long. Baby eat every 2-3 hours for a good part of the first year. They nap frequently. Everything new moms do have to fall into that rhythm.

      I hope you don’t continue to feel like a task on her list. Because if it were me, you would have to be extremely special for me to haul my sleep deprived, usually hungry, infrequently showered self and a fussy baby to go meet up with you. I bet you are quite special to her. Her ability to meet your needs has just been reduced by a more urgent and press source of needs.

    • Ellen says...

      The thing is, none of this means that your friend doesn’t care. Your friend’s capacity to be present for you is just diminished right now. And she might hate that! She might be mourning the fact that she can’t be present for her friends in the way she’d like to be! She might be in getting-through mode…because just getting through can feel like a Herculean effort with a baby. (All the more so if she’s also pregnant!) She might be lonely. Meeting with you and staying for 45 minutes might have required more than an ounce of effort! You’re deeply disappointed in your friend, but it might be more helpful to be deeply disappointed in the consequences of your friend’s *situation.* And if you feel like you’re less of a priority than your friend’s baby…well…that still doesn’t mean that your friend doesn’t care about you! It’s just that as a new parent with a small human absolutely dependent on you, you suddenly have to make them the priority, all the time. (Except for the windows when you get help and are able to *not* be On Duty. Those little windows can feel like such a relief, because it’s *hard* being responsible for a little human *all the time.*) My own little ones are older–seven and two–and I feel like I’m finally coming up for air.

    • Candace says...

      Thank you all for the thoughtful responses, these perspectives are super helpful <3

    • agnes says...

      Since when being a mother is an excuse for not treating well a friend? Come on! A friend who cares will care even when exhausted, even when she can’t be there, a text will do, it’s the intensity of her voice or the words she uses. Your feelings are real, and your problems and your time are important. Trust your feelings. Sending you a hug.

    • Hanh says...

      Agnes, for me it isn’t an excuse. I feel no need to offer excuse to anyone. It’s just a fact that given the extreme sleep deprivation (think less than 2 hours at a time for months) and exhaustion, it is no longer humanly possible to be present in a way a normal person would be.

      Friends who can understand that stay. Friends who don’t don’t. And that’s ok. The loss of friendship will just be another casualty to be had.

      What I was offering is the perspective of what it might look like from the other side, because I have been in both sides and I know I cared. Just like Caroline said, sometime sometime I’m the one on the shore waving goodbye, sometime I’m the one on the boat hoping to make it back to shore. In both cases it isn’t about what I want, it’s about giving what I have/can to whoever needs it most, because they are both dear.

    • Natasha says...

      I’ve been a mom for 14 years, having my first child in my early 20’s. Everything went by the wayside for me and many childless friends did not understand my new lifestyle that involved putting someone else’s needs ahead of mine, 100% of the time. I would suggest hanging out at your friend’s house, like all day long. Get delivery lunch and relax together. Or, maybe planning weekend-long get-togethers that involve partners, kids, etc., every so often. No, it’s not as easy as casual brunches, but kids can be really time-consuming. And long weekends mean husbands can take over kid duty for a bit, or you can both get some time on the sofa together… it’s more relaxed and free-flowing. Especially with babies. This is how I’ve managed to maintain time with friends with kids without feeling the need to schedule in blocks of an hour here or there. As a mom, I feel like it’s so easy to have a group of mom friends because you all understand what the others are going through; constantly playing catch-up on homework, chores, managing other people’s schedules, trying to get enough sleep. Your relationship isn’t one-sided, and I’m so sorry you feel that way. Understand that your friend is in way over her head and she’s probably overwhelmed trying to balance everyone’s needs.

    • D says...

      I value what this readership says so much and I really want to hear what people think about the decision to have kids or not in the face of climate change. Maybe a post on this?

    • Kate says...

      Candace, I appreciate your perspective here and am another who thinks you could actually take the opposite message – a new mom who persists through reschedulings and shows up with the baby LOVES you and REALLY wants to see you! And is probably feeling like crud because she knows she didn’t ask enough questions and get to hear enough about your life. xoxo

    • Leanne says...

      Agree with all the feedback here, Candace. I’m sure your friend values you an incredible amount to show up, albeit imperfectly. At the same time, you do deserve to get what you need out of the friendship.

      IMHO, it may be worth a text or something along the lines of “Hey, it was good to see you! I see you have your hands full, and I appreciate you meeting up. There are some things I’m hoping to get your perspective on, is there a good time I can come over when the baby is asleep to catch up one-on-one?”

    • RH says...

      I’ve had several friends become new moms – Rather than asking them to meet me some place, I ask if it would work for me to come to their place, and can I bring a treat? I’m worthless around babies, but I can keep them company, and provide adult conversation. They appreciate not having to pack up the child, I get to see them. It’s been a win win.

  106. Autumn says...

    When people start commenting to me about being a parent, I simply say:
    “Being a parent is not for me.”

    I don’t have to justify my actions to anyone. I can make this decision, and it will be okay. I would rather live my life knowing I made this decision & facing the criticism, than becoming a mother only to satisfy strangers.

  107. KL says...

    I always feel so very grateful and inspired to get a peek at this facet of Caroline. The truthful insight and perspective you bring to topics covered a thousand times.
    Oh my gosh. Yes, there are so many better things about being childfree whether by choice or not, but let’s acknowledge the losses. Because everything can have a loss. Maybe it’s better not to regret, but it’s unrealistic never to mourn. It doesn’t mean we don’t try to adapt and might find something with a different flavor of richness. It just means that we acknowledge that life isn’t fair, it just is. And then we make a decision whether or not to embrace it!

    All your questions are the ones I have whether I have children one day or not. The paradigm shift, what is our value as adults when we don’t have our own segment of the future generation to involuntarily throw our hearts into? I think it’s also partially affected by culture/biology (whether your kids are adopted or not) telling parents to be willing to give their lives for their children. I think maybe valuing parents as people as much as we do their children will make as all value people of childbearing age and beyond, who don’t have children, more as well.

  108. jdp says...

    yes yes YES!!!!! why can’t there be more of this? you sound fantastic and i appreciate this perspective so much.

  109. Milena says...

    This is a beautifully written post.

  110. Elisabeth Prochnik says...

    Thank you for writing this!!!!

  111. Rachel L. says...

    This is so beautifully written. It resonates with me and I’m thankful to you for sharing it with the world.

  112. Jess says...

    Loved reading this – thank you Caroline. I’m expecting my 3rd but still the first of many of my friends to have have any kids and so appreciated hearing this perspective. And love the ocean analogy for friendships – it rings so true for so many of my current relationships.

  113. Laura says...

    A generational perspective: my grown daughter has decided she will not have children (planetary resource concerns, mainly) and my grown son is recently single with a busy artistic life. Five years ago, I’d have gambled a good sum on being a grandmother before age 60. Now, it seems highly unlikely (by then, if ever)–and that’s OK. No one should have a child solely to please their own parents!
    But…many of my friends are in the freshest, most intoxicating stages of grandparenting, or have an expectant grown child, and I’m wondering what to do with the little sprouts of envy I feel. I made a list, and it’s long, glorious, self-indulgent in places, community-aware in others. As you all very thoughtfully consider life on either side of this significant divide, look a generation behind you. What do you see?

    • KL says...

      This is thought-provoking. Many of my childfree aunts and uncles are now also (grand)childfree grand aunts and uncles. In a way it puts the universe in perspective, doesn’t it? If not this, then what? What will be our what?

    • Erin says...

      Laura, I can see how this would be incredibly hard. If you have friends whose adult kids you are at all close to, and whose grandkids might eventually be part of your life, can you be an adopted grandma for some of those new little ones? I’m asking because (a) I grew up far from my own grandparents, and a wonderful older couple from my family’s church stepped into the “local grandma and grandpa” role for my sister and me, and (b) my own mom has had lots of health problems in the last few years and hasn’t been able to be as involved a grandmother as she’d hoped for my kids. I would really value having more people from my parents’ generation involved in my children’s lives. I don’t know if that would address the “sprouts of envy” or not … but maybe worth thinking about?

    • Kelly says...

      as a woman who was childless for many years due to infertility, I would have loved if my mom made an effort to enjoy ME, as an adult. She too felt pangs of envy for her friends who were becoming grandparents and attempted to share this with me in an effort to relate to my pain of infertility (sidenote: not at all helpful!). What I wish she would have done: called me on weekends to spontaneously get a pedicure, or go to a movie, or try a pottery class, or a new restaurant…all the adult stuff that is impossible now that I finally do have kids! Maybe looking for ways to connect with your adult children that celebrate the lives they live now will help to fill the void you’re feeling (which I understand!).

  114. Claire says...

    Change in life is constant, time is a great leveler, and friends are gifts. You may feel left behind now, but the current of life picks us all up and moves us eventually, in one way or another, regardless of the best intentions and plans. One friend may have a baby, another may lose someone dear to them, someone may get fired, or become ill, weather a divorce, or bankruptcy, or a family crisis, or somehow lose their way. We still need our friends. Yes, being a parent can be all – consuming, especially at first (as can all other life events) but that phase doesn’t last, and eventually the kids become more independent, and then they are grown and flown. It’s all a constantly flowing river of change. Friendship, adult companionship, to be real and genuine with someone outside of the mommy role, to hear about other lives and challenges – that is serious gold. Even when I was deep in the trenches of parenthood my friends – with or without kids- were lifelines- touchstones, anchors, relief, made me laugh, listened to my frustrations, told me of theirs, talked me off cliffs, lifted me up, and brought me home to myself.

  115. V says...

    “We all have a tendency to gaze at the seemingly greener grass on the other side of the fence. We’re all trying to fumble our way through our respective situations, just doing the best we can.”

    This is the phrase that resonates the most with me from this essay – a good reminder that it’s easier (& more fun) to imagine than to live someone else’s reality.

    As a mom of two, I’ve found that the hardest part of transitioning into this phase of my life have been the forced, and unwelcome, tradeoffs with how I spend my limited awake hours. In an unpleasant twist on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I’ve found that this means my day is a ruthless prioritization of what absolutely needs to occur vs. what I want to do or what brings pleasure. In practice, this means the first thing to go was time with friends, time with my mom/dad/siblings, then time on myself (exercise, haircuts, reading), and then time with my husband. The two things I try hard not to give up on are my job – because we need to pay the bills – and my children – because they’re still in the phase where if I/my husband are not physically doing the things, they’re not going to eat or bathe or potty or sleep or be able to get to and fro school. It can be a lonely, harried, overscheduled place to be. And yes, it sometimes (read: often) leads to pangs of jealousy or FOMO when I do see my friends – I’ve missed so much in between. I am incredibly grateful to the friends who have picked up the slack I created in the relationship and who have shown up anyway – I only hope I can turn around and pay the favor back some day.

    • Hanh says...

      Everyday is indeed a ruthless prioritization. When I had my new born, I remember having to decide if I want to go pee or if I want to eat lunch.

      Friends who showed up with food and hold my baby so I could eat we’re saviors. Friends who stayed away, well maybe I’ll catch up with them when the kids aren’t hanging off my legs wherever I go.

    • jdp says...

      love this post. ruthless prioritization is the perfect phrase.

    • Caitlin says...

      Yes yes yes. Ruthless prioritization. I also once heard it referred to as “the tyranny of the urgent”.

    • Emma says...

      Yes, this is how I feel too. I already sleep so much less than I used too but there truly aren’t enough hours in a day to meet everyone’s needs (children, spouse, pets, extending family, friends). It’s hard, but temporary.

    • E says...

      I am 5 months pregnant and ask this with TRUE curiosity. Hanh – I do NOT understand how you can only pee or eat lunch. This terrifies me, and of course you are not the first to say it – just the first person I can ask in an anonymous and thoughtful setting! Explain it to me, please (or maybe just tell me I’ll believe it when I see it)!

    • Hanh says...

      Hi E,
      My first born was colicky. She had to be held or she’ll scream. She never slept more than 30 mins at a time, but usually just 15mins cat naps for 5 months straight. It did not help that i was new at being a mom and had zero experience with babies.

      So! it usually happened like this: i put her down, and the 15min timer starts ticking. If i go pee, for a while (been holding it for sometime :)), then i may not be able to heat up my lunch and finish eating it quietly. If I continue to hold it in, I will have a few extra minutes to tip toe around heat up some soup and finish eating. Because i’m so hungry (breast feeding will do this) Nothing was worse than having to leave your lunch half eaten to tend to a crying baby. These were literally the thoughts that went through my mind.

      Now that i have had 2 kids, they can go to town screaming for a min or two. BUT! as a new and inexperienced mom, a baby crying might as well be my house on fire. However, not everyone have colicky babies. I hope you wont. Then stories like mine will just be folk tales – it’s better that way.

      Good luck and congratulations! Having a new baby is indescribably exhausting, but so magical. You’ll be great!

  116. D Harley says...

    A note to the childless: Please hang in there for the first year (of each new life). Your friend will be back, yes, in maybe a different way – staying out until 4am may change to 11pm, or brunch might start at 10am instead of 1pm – but please cut her some slack in the first year. I had a really tough first 18 months of my son’s life and I needed all of the support I could get. Yes, I selfishly made all my childfree friends (which is all of them) come to me, and even watch my baby while I took a nap. But now that my son is 5, I have invested back into my friends and more; being there through every breakup, engagement, fight, job-loss, etc. There are peaks and valleys in every relationship. Hang in there. She will be back (and she needs you!)

    • claire says...

      Yes! well said.

    • Sarah says...

      Some friends don’t come back very much after the first year. Their kids are all consuming of their free time.

    • Ronda says...

      D, the difference I see in your choice to make your friends come and watch your baby meaning you invited them to meet you where you are and not to not be involved in their life at all. All people are different in what they can do, want from friendships but I will say that I’m still friends with all my friends who have had kids who did the same invited me in instead of cutting me out. I think we forget as people that we both have to do the work to keep friendship going, good job!

  117. Anon says...

    This might not be the right place for this convo but does anyone else feel extremely unsure about having kids? I’m married and in my 30s, but I just feel completely torn about whether or not I want to have kids. Posts like this, which I can 100% relate to, still being childless, make me even more conflicted. From reading posts about motherhood to mothers I know (not fathers, though–the fathers I know still live pretty much the same lives they did before), it really doesn’t appeal to me. It seems like mothers’ identities tend to get so wrapped up in their children, both from an internal and external place.

    Anyway, it feels like everyone either feels destined to be a mom or is childless by choice (or childless not by choice, which is of course extremely difficult), but does anyone else just feel completely uncertain about having kids?

    • Rachel L. says...

      Yes – completely so. There are moments when I watch my friends/families with their little (and not-so-little) ones and feel a twinge in my stomach that may be envy. But then, I see the meltdowns and the parent’s inability to talk about anything other than their life as a parent and I feel relieved that it’s not me. I’ve been married for 10 years and we both oscillate between “want” and “don’t want.” Right now “don’t want” is winning and I’m trying to just let that lie and feel ok with it.

    • Hanh says...

      I didn’t want to have kids out of the “natural progression” of things. I didn’t want to have kids because my mom needed grandkids. In fact, I wasn’t sure I wanted kids at all. I mean I certainly didnt like babies. I found no one’s kids cute. I was in love with my dogs.

      But I looked at my husband family, and saw the 5 siblings and their parents. They are there for each other at times of happiness and sadness. They gather for the holidays in a way that keep our hearts warmed. I wanted that for myself. So I jumped on the train and had 2 kids.

      We promised each other we’d out each other first and we acknowledged having children and having our lives turned up side down is a phase.

      I can’t describe the blissful joy I feel when my kids sing with me at night before they go to sleep, no matter how bananas my job and life made me feel that day.

      I still am not fond of other children who aren’t mine. I no what to do with them now, but I don’t volunteer to hold the baby, if you know what I mean.

    • Eileen says...

      I’m 60+ and went through my young years conflicted frequently about parenthood. But, never once have my husband and I regretted the decision to remain a couple. Life would have been much different, with different joys and sorrows, but there still would have been joys and sorrows with children.

    • LP says...

      You are not alone! There are many of us who waffled, were ambivalent, etc before making a final decision (or, as you imply having unfortunate circumstances make it for us). What makes the decision so difficult is that all of the downsides you list are very, very real (and you are spot on about the gendered aspect of it too!–so much of this identity change is foisted on mothers whether you buy into it or not), but it’s just impossible to truly understand the upsides until you have children of your own. In the end, after weighing pros and cons and thinking about whether you have a good partner/support, it really comes down to whether or not you are willing/interested in making a big leap of faith. Only you can decide if that leap is one you want to take.

      PS, I think Heather Havrilesky and Carolyn Hax write about this decision in some of the most realistic/accurate ways if you are looking for things to read that will help you with your decisionmaking process

    • Raising my hand! For a while, I was pretty set on having children in the future (maybe as a result of the relationship I was in), but in the past year, I feel increasingly unsure about it! Maybe its just this phase in my life, and that feeling will work itself out. My mom has never been the type to pressure me at all about having children, but I always figured she assumed that I would. But over the holidays she nonchalantly said, “I can totally see you not having children. I can see it going either way for you.” I was shocked! But she’s right. Right now, I’m just trying not to put the pressure on myself to figure that out.

    • RR says...

      I was very unsure about having kids, as was my husband. We ultimately decided to do so about 10 years into our relationship, in our mid-30s, and now have an 18-month old and another on the way. We weighed the costs and benefits, as best we could understand them, and made the best decision we could. But it was more an intellectual decision than an emotional one.
      Now that we’re on the other side, I love my daughter very much, and am finding parenting a young child to be much more rewarding and interesting than I thought it’d be (the benefits I was anticipating were much more long term).
      That said, the road not taken still looks entirely valid and viable. I didn’t have the baby and think, “of course this was the right decision — bullet dodged.” And I really don’t feel that I or my identity has fundamentally changed, nor do I think that’s a problem. I attribute that to having a fulfilling and time-consuming career, a husband who is very adamant about this being a 50/50 undertaking, and having lucked out (so far!) with very good, very reliable childcare.
      Who knows what the future holds — I think it’s common to lose perspective as one continues down a path, and to increasingly think of that path as the right one simply because it’s the one you’re on — but I wanted to write to try to give you comfort that at least so far, I at least am finding it possible to parent as myself, and not to lose myself in it. And that it’s okay to be unsure either way, and to make the best decision you can even under that uncertainty. You do you.

    • Katharine says...

      Yes! In fact I was leaning towards no kids and got pregnant at 38 after having been married 10 years. I cried when I found out because I was sure I’d lose myself. That did happen but I don’t grieve that loss actually because I love my son so much. I wouldn’t have missed being a mother but he added a richness to our lives. Being a parent is hard and I’m not a great mom but I’m so grateful for this turn my life has taken.

    • Amy says...

      I am completely in your boat! My husband and I are married, approaching 30 and both very unsure whether to or not. It’s hard because when you weigh the pros and cons, there are many concrete cons and then just abstract pros. We always thought we would have kids, but ever since Trump was elected, we have become more aware of all the issues in the world, as well as gotten more comfortable in our post-college lifestyle. Having parents who are constantly nagging us about having kids only makes us not want them as well. I really try not to think about it and just reevaluate in a few years, but give the world we live in, it is hard not to.

    • Tis says...

      I was also completely unsure about kids. Then I thought about the larger picture of who I am, and why I’m here. I’ve always said I’m a learner and I’m here to experience as much of life as I can. And I realized, for me, if that’s truly my philosophy, I had to have kids. So I did, and yep, without question, the greatest learning experience of my life. lol
      But do I watch that other life sail by and salute, wondering what adventures it held? Yes. Do I sometimes wonder if I made the right choice? Yes.
      There’s no right or wrong answer. My mental and emotional health have been highly tested, and will always be, by the bonds of motherhood. It truly is the agony and the ecstasy. And the misogynistic trope that suggests women miss out if they don’t become mothers is utter bullshit. Life is always, and only, what we make of it.
      Can you take a step back and articulate your philosophy of a life well lived? Would parenthood inhibit or enhance that?

  118. EL says...

    Love this so much. Around 3-4 years ago most of my friends started having kids and simultaneously my husband stopped drinking. These things don’t seem related, however once my friends had kids the only time they wanted to/were able to/prioritized going out was to the bar to take a break and have a drink. So 1 – can’t relate as don’t have kids and 2 – not going to hang out at the bar. If felt like that was when we began losing most of the existing relationships we had. Fast forward to now and we’re one month into living in a new place and my main worry was leaving friends, however I actually don’t miss anything about that life because those relationships had changed so significantly over those years. I don’t think it was anyone’s fault, just a natural evolution and makes me realize what I value and how to try to approach existing and new friendships.

  119. Olivia says...

    Lovely post! I had my first child when I lived in the US and a second while living in Europe. I just want to add the perspective that in my experience, in countries with decent childcare and parental leave policies, women feel entitled to retain the parts of themselves that many new American mothers are forced (or think they must choose) to cast aside. When I became a mother in the US, I felt like I’d had no idea the breadth of sacrifices it would entail, and that created distance between myself and child-free friends. Laughing and bonding with other moms was so useful because it was in many ways a coping strategy for how much life had changed. Becoming a mother in Scandinavia showed me that motherhood elsewhere didn’t feel like being lobbed off from the universe. Those sacrifices (of time to socailize, career, financial autonomy, identity) were not required of me in a country that fully supports new mothers and gives paid leave to both parents. This was a heart-breaking realization for me, because I thought being a good mother meant some measure of sacrifice, and now I think, no, many of the sacrifices I made were just because of an exploitative system. I write this only to add that the kind of fissure between child-free and new mothers is, from my perspective, EXTREME in the US– and also unfair.

    • jdp says...

      i am so glad you wrote in. i wrote a post below about childfree friends being needed more than ever by new parents, and i think it came from a place of having had very little support. we had no family nearby, modest combined incomes, and acutely felt the burden and isolation of childcare along with the joys. my bff lived nearby, and i honestly thought if the roles were reversed i would have helped out if and when i could because, a. i loved her, the whole her, including the her with a baby, and, by default, the baby, and, b. it would help maintain and strengthen the friendship. but it wasn’t her fault she wasn’t interested in doing that, and felt annoyed if the child had to accompany us. (i often wondered if it was sort of a sibling-type syndrome, that she used to get so much of my attention and now was forced to share.) but anyway, why should i be resenting a close friend when it might be the whole country that doesn’t provide adequate support for new parents, especially those with more modest incomes? i loved hearing this somewhat mind-blowing alternate reality exists. i have a friend in sweden who is a mother of two and seems completely happy and fulfilled professionally as well as in her family life. it must be so nice not having to choose, and as you say, to not have such extreme fissures between parenthood and the rest of one’s life.

    • v says...

      hear, hear. I find that here in the US, there is absolutely no limit to what you are supposed to feel guilty about as a mother. be a success at work, made homemade organic meals for your kids, fit into pre-baby clothes, organize the school auction, initiate action in the bedroom, show up for your friends, make sure your kid takes chinese/violin/swim lessons. and yet, the lack of adequate or affordable child care, stagnation in income and the need for dual incomes, and the expectation of being “on” due to technology all the time mean that there is zero time to actually do any of those things.

    • Elisabeth says...

      This this this. “Many of the sacrifices I made were just because of an exploitative system.” It’s heartbreaking for child-free friends to lose their friends for a while when they have children; it’s heartbreaking for new mothers to lose themselves, their careers, their friends. None of it has to be this way in America, but we fool ourselves (or rather, those who benefit fool us) into thinking it does. Thank you for saying it.

    • Anna says...

      This is such an excellent point Olivia. (And JDP I saw your comment below and don’t think you missed the point of the article at all! I see this situation as very much the result of a lack of community support for parents). I am pregnant with my first in the US and thinking about how we will manage with no family support and very little support from society in general is totally overwhelming. We’re planning to move back to my home country because I think it’s the only way we’ll cope. This is not at all to dismiss Caroline’s perspective at all – I have absolutely felt the changing tides of friendships as we move through different stages, particularly parenting. But I do think the extreme divide between parents and not in the US is because there is so little community support for families and having a young family can put an intense economic strain on people. Often the only choice time wise and financially is to pull back from relationships outside the home. Women in particular are not seen as and not supported as fulsome human beings with interests or needs outside their kids so it’s expected that they will sacrifice so much for them.

    • H says...

      This! So many of our ‘social’ problems are truly issues of resource and political choice, and not personal choices at all!

    • Saoirse says...

      AMEN. The number one reason I chose not to have children. The belittlement and lack of gratitude by the US government and general attitudes that descend from the governing body in the form of policy. Fortunately I also felt that creating a child is a sacred undertaking certainly NOT to be assumed as a given by-product of partnership – or of womanhood for that matter. I always considered myself very fortunate to have seemingly felt confident about this without much thought. I find that confidence eliminates any peer or family pressure – I’ve never experienced that.

    • Saoirse says...

      …seemingly felt confident :: from day one :: about this without much thought…

    • I do appreciate this mini-thread. My initial takeaway after reading Caroline’s heartfelt piece was that it was just one more piece of evidence that I, as a parent to young kids, really am disappointing everyone. Then I felt annoyed at my emo response. THEN I found this thread and was reminded that being under-supported is not the same as under-delivering. I do hope big changes are coming to the US soon.

  120. Sunny D says...

    I’m 42 and childfree by choice. My best friend has 3 kids and we’ve never been closer.
    I think part of the success has been that I’ve felt like her kids were an extension of our friendship and have therefore turned into “little” friends that I enjoy spending time with as well.
    I like to think that I bring a different vibe to our conversations and since she’s mainly around other mom’s and talking all thing kiddos, she seems to enjoy talking about all the other things with me.
    It can be done so don’t give up….might just require a change in how you look at it.