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. Meg says...

    Wow! Just wow! This is beautifully written and makes me feel less alone. Thank you, Caroline.
    I didn’t choose not to have children; the choice was made for me. It takes all of us to make this world. Our differences make us richer! And friends are so important

  2. Rachel Elizabeth says...

    Mmm, this is such a beautiful expression “an unmappable terrain where a piece of your heart exists outside of your body”! As always, thank you for your honest, heart-felt writing!

    • Katie H says...

      Yes! That bit sent chills down my back. Caroline writes beautifully!

  3. Laura says...

    It’s hard and sad to read this. I do have children, but I honestly don’t have any feelings of judgement about how my friends who don’t have kids use their time. Just as I think it’s important for their world that I spend time training my kids to become useful citizens, I think it’s truly important that our friends without kids continue to push forward in areas I can’t reach right now. One of my best friends is divorced and doesn’t have kids, and I love being with her because I know she loves my kids but we don’t have to talk about them, we have much more in common that just be at the same place in life. I’m so intensely proud of her work accomplishments, and I’m proud of her for seeking a divorce in the first place. Maybe it’s because I still go to work, or because I always knew I’d have kids (and so can imagine someone else not growing up with that feeling), but I don’t feel judgy about how friends use their single time or money. Your article is a good reminder to continue being mindful, but I also hope your article won’t always be necessary, and that we can all become more accepting of other’s choices. It’s weird that we’d ever pressure anyone to have kids!

    • Childfree lady who loves friends like you says...

      Laura, sounds like you’re doing it right. Xx

  4. Tracy says...

    I am a childfree 37 year old. I have never been married but love my life. I live in the south so people asking about children and marriage is all to common before you hit 30. I still have many children (7 actually) but they all have 4 legs and yet, still cost me a fortune. I am fortunate to have some friends that are also child-free. As my other friends have become mothers, I rarely speak to them anymore. I try to make my home child-friendly and invite some out to fish or pet the horses but with everyone’s busy schedules it becomes harder to find the time. This was a very good post and I enjoyed the read. Thank you.

  5. Lindsey says...

    Caroline – your way with words never ceases to amaze… beautifully written!

  6. Tara says...

    Yes, to all of this. As a childfree and recently divorced and partner free person, it has been difficult. I am the baby shower planner and bridesmaid, but I do not fully get it. Nor do my girlfriends swimming in postpartum woes fully understand the sadness of a terrible first date, and walking home alone. I am also a doula so I know a lot about pregnancy and I’ve tried to find balance in that. I am now choosing to become a solo mom at 33 via a sperm donor. Even these conversations are hard with my girlfriends.

    I just spent the weekend in Joshua Tree with my girlfriends and the true current of it all as you spoke upon is we keep the conversations going and we show up. ALSO, fuck yes to REGISTRIES for non-wedding or babies. I moved across country registry, I broke up with the shitty boyfriend registry, I AM A BOSS registry, just because adulting is hard registry, really it’s limitless.

  7. Joan says...

    I loved this. As an older sister whose younger sister just had a baby, and owns a nice home I sometimes feel judged by my parents. Fortunately this has never bled into my relationship with my sister but it can be frustrating when my parents are asking why I am not married or if me and my partner are having a baby soon. I know they are proud that I have gone to med school and am building my career but it can be frustrating that they clearly value her achievements more than mine.

    • Lauren says...

      This article and the comments are so fascinating to me as I’ve often felt the opposite. I’ve primarily been a stay at home mom to my three children, and often felt judged by society and family for “just” being a mom, and not having a career. The same types of comments, but directed in a different way. “What do you do all day?”, etc?

  8. Krissy says...

    I’m 35 with no children and do not plan to have any. While I can’t think of a specific time where someone made me feel “less than” regarding children, I do feel I’m treated differently for being divorced and single. Funny thing happened after my very tragic divorce, suddenly I fell off everyone’s Christmas card list. What’s up with that?!? Did anyone else experience this?

    • Vava says...

      Seems as if people tend to think they need to take sides. We ran into that when some dear friends of ours divorced – the ex-wife thought we didn’t care about her and so she cut us out of her life. I was shocked at that.
      I’m 64, married with no children other than our fur babies and I have absolutely no regrets. I knew early in life that parenting humans would be better left to others and so that was something I didn’t need to experience first-hand. I’ll just indulge other people’s kids and that is good enough for me.

    • Anonymous says...

      I haven’t been through the same situation, but my husband has struggled with addiction for the past few years and I have often felt like many of our friends have disappeared. The few that I have felt close enough to, to “confront” about it, have said that either they just haven’t known how to handle/approach the situation or they’ve actually been going through their own struggles. It really helped me to hear both reasons and talk through it with them.

    • Katie says...

      Yes! My divorce advice is always – you will loose friends. People will choose and it won’t always be you. After my divorce, so many people told me “We love you both.” And then I never heard from them again.

  9. Ana says...

    What a beautiful post! Thank you, Caroline.
    As a new-ish mom, there is also guilt and loneliness on the other side. Yes, you have this wonderful new human to keep alive but sometimes you miss your friends and feel guilty about not being there for them, not to mention missing your old self. It so thoughtful of you to offer to do takeout nights and be there for your friends. I love the friendship ocean metaphor and hopefully some bridges will be build again. BTW, we should absolutely celebrate every life wins! If you think about it rationally, a big promotion is a lot more impressive than convincing your toddler to wear shoes!! :)

  10. Ivy says...

    As a happily childfree woman, it is wonderful to be represented in this forum. It is a decision that in my early thirties I have to defend regularly to people ranging from family to complete strangers. It is a perfectly reasonable choice, especially in this day and age when having a child is utterly cost prohibitive to a large part of an entire generation. I have so many goals in life and having a child is not one of them. I also keenly feel the loss of several of close friendships once children entered the picture, I often feel that I am expected to make large compromises for the sake of the friendship and it is difficult to upkeep.

  11. Amanda says...

    Imagine being a childless pediatrician. Such a challenge. So frustrating having to explain “I haven’t met the one” to prying patient families and colleagues. Being questioned like I don’t have “street cred.”

    So hard to feel like some sort of social deviant because things have not worked out the way I thought they might. Nice to feel less alone about this topic. You’re a gifted writer! Always look forward to your posts. Especially appreciative of this one.

    • M says...

      Totally feel this way, too! I’m a family doctor and it hurts to get those questions from families.

    • Rusty says...

      Yessssss.
      On the weekend, my nephew came with his two gurls, 4 and 2 1/2.
      Said nephew is one of 36 (some great and a few great great … yes, my family are breeders!).
      We’d just sprayed a hedge for pests and the girls headed that way…I went over and explained what we’d done, effectively asking the 4 year old’s “Whyyyyy?” questions until they were exhausted and she got it. Little sister worships big sister, so I knew it was now all good and safe.
      I heard nephew in the background say “Yep, point out the thing they’re supposed to stay away from. She doesn’t know!” (With an all-knowing laugh).
      Ahem! Auntie took care of you since she was a teenager aaand is also a teacher having studied two related degrees in child development. She doesn’t know, because she hasn’t given birth?!?
      WTF??!!
      I let the moment pass, but I will find an appropriate time to have a conversation with him about how Auntie DOES know, even though she hasn’t given birth.
      Frrrrrrrrrustrating as!!!?

    • Sky says...

      As a childless former daycare teacher, sending you solidarity. We can all play a part in the health and upbringing of the youngest in our society, whether the children “belong” to us or not. It takes a village.

    • Amy says...

      “…because things have not worked out the way I thought they might.”
      YES. EXACTLY.

      I’d like people to realize that you can be happy without children, that you’re not a failure or like you said, a social deviant.

      I don’t know what the future holds for me (I’m 40 and single….) but I’d like to think that no matter what I’ll be happy in my choices and/or circumstances.

  12. CP says...

    I loved reading this. It really resonated with me. I felt this way when all of my friends got married and coupled off. It really changed all of my friendships, sadly. Going to wedding after wedding was fun, and I was, of course, happy for my friends-but being single during this time (and now) was hard. I definitely felt inferior to my “chosen” friends. I have done so much on my own-bought 2 homes, happy with my job, etc-but so many people still ask “anyone special?”, and I realize that so many people still do equate success/happiness with a partner and kids. It’s hard, but this piece had a hopeful tone to it, and in the end everyone is on their own path and hopefully there is still common ground between true friends. xo

  13. Catharine says...

    I really enjoyed reading this, thank you for putting this out there, Caroline.

    • Jo Burn says...

      This so brilliantly sums up what can be a tricky situation. I have gradually lost touch with most of my friends as they got involved in “family making” over the years, partly because it was painful for me to be around them and partly due to the different circles they move in. Now even my last, closest friend is finding less time for me as her youngest has started nursery and she is in the mum-social club again.

  14. Alice says...

    Oh I love this. I am childless- I’d love children in the future but haven’t got them yet. Two weeks ago, I attended my nephew’s first birthday party, where as we drove away, my mum asked “Were you okay with that? You were the only person there without children”. It was a shock to the system- how have I become that one person?? I also hadn’t really noticed, though. The children were all running wild anyway, so the parents could just chat, but on the drive home with my mum, the realisation was almost overwhelming. I felt so left out, so heartsick, almost.

    And last weekend, I visited a friend and her six month old daughter. It was wonderful to visit for the weekend- and fortunately, her daughter is so laid back that things felt like they’d barely changed since before she was born. But of course, our conversations centred almost entirely around children.

    I’m in a wonderful relationship, but we aren’t even living together yet, let alone talking about marriage and/or children. I’m impatient for these things to happen, yet also in love with my life as it is. It’s hard, sometimes. I feel like I’m being left behind in so many areas of my life- those friends buying houses, getting engaged, getting divorced, having children. How can I relate? How has my life really changed since I was 22 (I’m now 30)? Is my life as worthwhile as theirs, without those things? Why do I even care anyway? How will I feel if I never have those things?

    I don’t really know where I’m going with this, other than to say it’s so wonderful to hear someone on my side of the fence talking about this. I don’t think my friends with children really remember what it’s like to be that person who doesn’t have children when others around them do, and I feel that they can’t relate to my current feelings. It’s just so lovely to read something written by someone who can. Thank you, Caroline.

    • L says...

      Omg are we the same person??? Can’t offer anything besides solidarity, but thank you for putting my convoluted thoughts into words that make sense! :)

    • K says...

      I feel a similar feeling! I think it’s related to the same reason I feel fomo and insecurity, which is natural but not necessary. I’m all swell and happy with my own life until I see someone else have something I don’t have, and omg are they happier because they have that thing? I have to remind myself that it’s okay to have negative feelings, but to be honest why I’m having them (insecurity) and that life is better if I overcame feeling that way.

  15. Ana says...

    First time I comment here, although I’ve been following this blog for years. This was a really beautiful post, so well written. Thank you for sharing such wise words.

  16. AG says...

    So relatable, Caroline! Thank you for this moving piece.

  17. Anne says...

    I love your ocean perspective on friendship. I have always thought this way about my friends as I am an introvert and I am in periods of anxiety and stress in complete hiding – no social events, no messaging, no taking phone calls, no birthday messages.

    My everyday friend circle is therefore very small. BUT I have met a good portion of people that I consider my friends despite rarely taking with them at this stage. I know that life will take me around to those people again and that our friendship is not over just because we are far apart right now (being in life or in distance).

    Regarding the children/no children friendships then I will say that having children is the most life-changing experience. People who say that nothing will change are simply lying to themselves and/or others. It will change your priorities, your physical and emotional makeup, your perspective on your own life and a great many other things. Sometimes navigating relationships with your friends is not the easiest in the midst af all these changes. I just wish that people would calm down a little and adopt the ocean friendship view. It will come around again – just give it some time!

  18. rae says...

    Oh man, this rings so true. As a woman in my 30s who seems to be one of the only “married without children” ladies in my circle, it’s amazing how naive my friends are about what’s to come in terms of our friendship. The good part though, is that sometimes it really does feel like our friendship just gained a cool new sidekick.
    It’s really hard for me though when certain friends become solely focused on their kids and this new life. I’m happy to talk about your kids sometimes, but I don’t have any way to hang in this conversation for hours. And while we’re at it- your body is still great! PLEASE don’t wear a grandma bathing suit and quit wake boarding. Having kids doesn’t mean you have to lose all your youth and vitality.

    Didn’t mean for this to become a rant. Who knows, maybe I’ll be the one in the grandma suit soon?

    • Anon says...

      Same. I was looking for articles recently with others who felt this way as me to try to find someone to relate with. A lot of the comments here contribute to emphasize the “us” and “them” thoughts, which is not what the point is.
      I love that my besties have babies and they are sweet and I want to hear about them. They can be a sidekick! But a lot of moms don’t get or remember that talking about anything the entire time were together gets exhausting whether its kids or not, and what makes that worse when its repeatedly something we cannot relate with even if we try.

    • jdp says...

      ha haha, this made me laugh. forget the “bridge” over the metaphorical divide between friends with kids and those without, you want mothers to return to their former lives in a string bikini on a wakeboard! haha tears. talk about a difference in perspective…

  19. Meagan says...

    I feel seen right down to my core by you, Caroline. I am childless by the circumstance of having had 5 miscarriages for reasons unknown to doctors and I feel all of this so hard. The part where you talk about your life feeling uncelebrated because you haven’t crossed the proverbial threshold into “meaningful” adult life struck me to my core. I’m tired right down into my bones of people looking at me pityingly because “I just don’t know what I’m missing”. When I talk about sleeping in because I’m sick or about writing my book or going to Scotland, my friends with kids do tend to shame me with comments like “must be nice” and “oh I have no idea what THAT is like”. And I can’t help but look at them incredulously and feel like a metaphorical arm has been raised up between us, creating an intentional distance out of either jealousy or my “inability” to understand their struggle. Most puzzling of all is that they chose this lifestyle and achieved it? And I didn’t. When your choices end in physical, mental and emotional disaster after you’ve done everything just the same as everyone else and then some times infinity, I would beg to differ that this is, at the very least, an equitable struggle, if that’s the name of the game that’s being played here. I feel that having lost five babies adds an interesting element to this equation (as being intentionally child free adds it’s own unique elements) because to me, I AM a mother- I, too, I have sacrificed sleep, peace of mind, my free time and free will, control over my circumstances, my health, my body, my sanity and my mental well-being over the last five years of my life for my children. I, too, have birth stories and stories of painful labour and stories of surgical procedures to remove my children but it just so happens that my stories aren’t the celebrated kind, or the kind that most don’t want to hear of because it’s not how it’s supposed to go . Instead, I celebrate the immense growth, resilience and compassion for others that have come with my own version of motherhood in silence, while their posts about their child’s sleep regression and potty training patterns are publicly applauded. So, when people talk to me like I haven’t “made it to the other side” of adulthood yet, I can’t help but think to myself, “and you, parent friend, have no idea what you’re missing out on by pretending that life only matters when you create another life, because we childless folk are becoming damn fine humans all on our own terms. Isn’t that the point of it all anyway?”

    • Katie says...

      Oh this is very beautiful and so heartfelt. You really got to the core of how I feel too. So much love to you.

    • Nay says...

      Right. There. With. You. Sister. Thank you and many hugs to you.

    • Lucia says...

      Thank you for sharing your beautiful perspective, Meagan. Many times the decision to have or not have children simply isn’t up to us. Yet even people who have children are viewed as if their family must go perfectly to plan, and it’s their choice that defines their size.
      I have one child so far and I get asked a lot about how many more I’m going to have. I always answer that I’m taking it one kid at a time, because I don’t know what the future holds. There’s no way to tell for sure that I can have another, or if that other child will have demanding needs that require us to stop having children to care for the ones we already have. Every person in my family is a gift that I can’t take for granted in the present moment, far less in future moments.

    • Maryn says...

      This. Thank you for sharing.

    • Olivia says...

      Thanks for this, Meagan! I sometimes ask other women/people I meet if they have children (just in conversation, if it seems relevant), and I’m thinking now that I put people in a difficult position if they have experienced miscarriage and consider themselves parents but not in a way they feel comfortable discussing. Is there a better way to ask, or maybe should I stop asking this question? Thanks again, and hugs to you!

    • Lynn Beine says...

      I feel very similar. Thank you for this.

    • L says...

      Wow. I have read through this article multiple times (and this comment just as many) and amazed that Caroline and Meagan have articulated what I didn’t even realize I felt.

      I too have straddled both sides of the bridge and have been through three unexplained miscarriages in just as many years. It’s something I no longer like to discuss. I found that I either receive unhelpful statements of support (pro tip: any sentence that starts with “at least” is not helpful), or people look at me like I’m contagious (I assure you, I’m not). But what was most painful to me were the looks of pity. I don’t pity myself; nor should any one else.

      I remember vividly when a friend called apologetically to tell me she was pregnant. She was trying to be gentle, so I can’t fault her for that. But I was so hurt (and angry, if I’m honest) by the note of pity in her voice. The assumption that I would be jealous, or my inability to successfully reproduce suddenly meant that my life was less meaningful than hers. Here’s the thing – I love my life. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to put this chapter of my life behind me. The uncertainty can be crippling and I’d prefer to spend far less time in doctors’ offices. But most days, I wonder how I got so lucky. My relationship with my husband is stronger than ever, and we have made a conscious decision to not put our lives on hold. We made plans, we traveled, we bought and renovated a house, we crushed our careers, and we drank lots and lots of wine. Shouldn’t that be celebrated also?

      Like Meagan says, my version of motherhood may be silent and I may not have as much to show for it, but I am so grateful for the growth, resilience, and compassion I have learned as a result. I like to think I’m also a damn fine human on my own terms.

      I may also start sending Christmas cards with my cat.

    • Kathleen Souder says...

      Phew – Meagan, thank you for writing this. I see your mothering, even if the rest of the world doesn’t.

  20. Kristin says...

    Beautifully written. As a 39 year old who has been married for 9 years and has 0 kids (by choice) I have had ALL the feelings you’ve written about. Thank you

  21. Scout says...

    You always write my favorite posts! Someone else commented that you should write a book of essays. I don’t typically like essays or short stories, but I’d 100% read yours.

  22. Elizabeth says...

    Brava, Caroline!

  23. Daria says...

    I have a 3 year old, and the reason I think childless lige accomplishments do not get celebrated is because, when you have a kid and get 50% of your mental space and time literally stolen for life, you understand how EASY childless people have it (that was me a few years ago! I remember!) It’s absolutely a valid choice, and one I might have done. But, not that I’m on the other side, it just seems like such an easy one…

    • Cait says...

      The idea that childless people have it easy overlooks a lot of things. When you are single and long for a partner and family and things just aren’t working out for you, it is not easy. When you are married to your favorite person but can’t seem to get or stay pregnant, that is the opposite of easy, no matter how much sleep or free time or money you have. It’s not just about childlessness being a valid choice, it’s about accepting that for some people it isn’t actually a choice at all and telling them how easy their life is because they don’t have something they really want is actually quite cruel.

      On top of that, getting a Ph.D. is not easy. Graduating from law school is not easy, buying a home for many people is not easy, getting a book published is not easy, particularly if you do not come from a place of privilege.

    • Liza says...

      I think the point is, you chose to have 50% of “your mental space and time literally stolen for life.” You literally chose this. I implore you to also remember your choice, and not simply that women who had the foresight to choose a different path have it easier. You got what you chose. So did we.

    • JS says...

      Cait- thank you so much for this reply. My thoughts exactly, but you worded it much more eloquently than I would’ve been able to. I appreciate you saying what many of us are thinking in response to this comment!

    • ANDREA says...

      Daria–just because people don’t have kids doesn’t mean they don’t have other things that likewise take their mental energy and time. People can instead have parents they care for, a disabled sibling, a difficult marriage, live in poverty, mental illness, physical decline. Parents aren’t the only people who care for or are responsible for others.

    • Robin says...

      I feel that saying childless people have it easy is a very insensitive thing to say. I’m childless because my babies died. Even though you’re a random internet stranger, somehow I’m offended by your comment suggesting that childfree people have it easy. Childless people experience things that are universally hard, such as death of loved ones, illness, poverty, racism. You are incredibly lucky to have the choice of having a child – I would argue that you are the one who has it easy.

    • Daria says...

      Oh my! So many comments. I did not mean to offend you. I am just saying that parenthood is making many things so much harder. And caring for parents, loosing friends, jobs or husbands or getting PHDs (or a serious illness) are things that people with kids experience, too! It’s just so hard. I am not saying that childless people are not worthy of celebration. Sorry, that’s a very sleep & energy deprived person talking to you! And yes, when you don’t have kids (or had them a very long time ago, like our parents) you just have NO idea how tired, exhausted, on the verge of tears a young parent can be. And still have to go to work the next day. So yes, every year, we’re basically celebrating we survived :-) And that is NOT done to make childless people feel bad! That’s simply for us! I absolutely get that no life is easy.

  24. Sinem says...

    I am writing this post hoping not be misunderstood; can we also talk about how we miss our childless days? (Or is just me? :)) I know motherhood is like heaven, there is no way that I will abandon my baby girl ( I love her to the moon and back) but I don’t want to feel guilty for dreaming about what I would do if I don’t have my daughter.

    • emily says...

      Please don’t feel guilty, mama. I think it’s so healthy to indulge those daydreams and detracts not an iota of the love you have for your daughter. No one is completely fulfilled by their life as it is every single day, and it’s important to keep those fantasy muscles flexed! Wish I could scoop you up and take you out for a childless day date. Sending love!

    • LL says...

      Sinem, I think a GIANT part of post partum is grieving the life you used to live and (albiet, somewhat) lost. Nowadays, people are having children later in life so the adult life you lived pre-children is longer and more full so there is more to miss. No one warns you of this.

    • Kelly says...

      Girl, i miss those childless days every day! Unlike you however, i do not find motherhood to be like heaven? Maybe once in a great while…but last night i was trying to help my 9 year old with subtract fractions for homework, while trying to convince my potty dancing 3 year to get to the bathroom in time, while trying to make dinner, which both kids were saying was ‘disgusting’…it was not heavenly! What keeps me going some days is picturing my daughters being grown ups (but no kids yet!) and spontaneously meeting up with them for pedicures and dinner out! same for friends!

  25. Megan Halstead says...

    I felt compelled to comment. This piece of writing is amazing. Hit home like a warm bowl of chicken soup. LOVED it. You should write more on here STAT.

    • kay says...

      I loved this post. I am a woman in my sixties who has never married nor had children and wanted both. I have often felt the weight of being the only single childless person among my friends and family when I was younger but it did not compare to how my friendships would change when grandchildren entered the picture. I love my life but am tired of getting pity looks or that my life should not be celebrated as much since it’s not a traditional life

  26. I think this is simply brilliant and touched my heart. Thankyou for writing.

  27. andrea says...

    Beautifully and eloquently written.

    Thank you. <3

  28. Sara says...

    It’s funny how the reality of this experience depends on your social circle and surroundings. I totally get how you feel, Caroline. But in my orbit, the fact that the bulk of my time is spent on raising a human means nothing.

    It’s worthless and invisible to my neighbors, my husband’s colleagues, and the society we live in (Hi Bay Area!). Oh, no book deal? No promotion? It basically means nothing to be proud of. The currency of success is culture-specific, and sometimes that just means specific to one’s social circle.

    These are the same folks that don’t have family/baby cards on their fridge. They are also the ones who cannot be seen with a baby past 3 months of age because their babies spend pretty much their entire days in daycare from 3 months old at the latest.

    Because taking care of your child is valued so little, and your professional life – your out-of-home, office-attire, daytime life is everything.

    You do you. The only criteria for success that matter are the ones you define. Friends will still need you, more than ever, once they have their babies. You make up their village, and they will never need their village more than now.

    • Courtney says...

      Sara-this is beautifully put. Perspective is such a tricky thing.

  29. e says...

    <3. From a long time (long time) lover of Cup of jo.

  30. Diane says...

    Caroline – childless here, married my love at 42. I never wanted kids. My best friends from childhood married young and started having them young. There were years I thought I lost them, then the kids starting becoming real PEOPLE. Then miracle of miracles … my friends came BACk! I love them even more!!!

    • SFord says...

      I agree Diane. My friends children now have their driving licences and we can call on them to drop us off and collect us after a night out!

  31. AMK says...

    Soo soo beautifully written. We eventually find our way back to our friends. We need you. The first several years of parenthood are both grueling and magical…and then when kids turn 7 and beyond…it seems like overnight…you can then have full on conversations again…like actually be able to complete sentences with other adults when kids are around. And then one day…you will go brunch dates with friends (no kids!)…and then one day, go an all girls trip…then one day, go on a romantic getaway with your partner! Ah life is hard and beautiful…and serendipitous with amazing friends to experience it all with ?

  32. Ali says...

    Things change – for the childless and those with child. The experience feels different for each but is essentially the same – life has completely changed.

    Your point about the ebb and flow is totally correct – good friends will leave and come back and each will feel totally easy. Often it is the friends you realised weren’t actually friends that drift apart.

    • Joaquina says...

      Or…the good friends leave and don’t come back. And that is fine too, another part of the ebb and flow. I think there is power in accepting how friendships evolve. There were 5 women I went to graduate school with who my very dear friends; they attended my wedding, I hosted a few of their baby/bridal showers. 17 years, one divorce, and no kids later, I can count on one of them to answer text messages or commit to meeting up. The others drifted into their marriages and raising kids and I wish them the best of luck. But I hold no hope that magically, down the line, we’ll regain our friendship. This does not make me sad rather it makes me appreciate how dynamic life is!

  33. kendra says...

    This is so beautifully written Caroline, I loved every word. I’m on the other side of the equation, and have definitely mourned the distance that’s grown between me and some of my girlfriends that don’t have kids. I feel like I finally have more time to devote to things that recharge me like those friendships, but my oldest is 12 and it’s been a long haul. I will say I absolutely CHERISH my friends without kids, they are my lifeline to topics of conversation outside of discipline and green poop and keep me in the know. You are a blessing to everyone around you!

  34. Emily says...

    Caroline, I’m so glad you wrote this post. I am feeling this so deeply at this point in my life. As a (happy, successful) childless 35-year-old, I have welcomed so many friends’ children into the world. And I’m getting so tired of feigning happiness when I hear another dear friend is going to be a mother. I know our friendship as I know it is over, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s not the mom friend’s fault, but it will be years before we have another conversation where I have her undivided attention. She will naturally gravitate towards other moms who can offer advice and understanding of things I only know about secondhand. It’s especially hard to reckon with when you are expected to wholeheartedly celebrate the news. I try really hard to be the good childless friend, checking in and bringing casseroles and being present. But it’s not the same friendship and the hardest part is not being able to openly grieve that loss, as you would with a friend who has moved far away.

    • Sarah says...

      Yes. It is a grief in so many ways.

    • Joaquina says...

      Stay with your grief, it’s ok to feel the loss. Perhaps find some solace in knowing that in your 40s, that feeling will change, just as all things do. I write that not to diminish where you are now emotionally with the loss but you shed some light on how it may be as time goes on; the thoughts and responses to thinking about those past friendships morphs to nostalgia. And you march on…

  35. Michelle says...

    This was a lovely article.
    As a mother, I find over mother-y mothers bloody annoying, so I do not know how you keep your sanity. But like with anything tribal or major life events, it can isolate some and bring others together. I do not think most of your mom friends intend to make you feel bad. I have a sp needs child and it blew me away how often pregnant friends would exclaim, “I don’t care what it is, as long as its healthy”. No care for what that means to me. Its just one of those thing people say. Soldier on! You seem like an awesome friend! :)

  36. Ashley Flores says...

    “…an unmappable terrain where a piece of your heart exists outside of your body.”

    This is exactly how I feel about having my girls. Well stated, thank you for your writing.

  37. Cecile S says...

    Thank you Caroline, so beautifully written and very close to home. It’s one of the things I love most when reading: seeing my feelings so perfectly captured and put into words by others. There seems to be so many of us in this boat and here I was thinking I was all alone! Thanks for helping me realise it is okay to feel this way! Have a beautiful day!

  38. Emily says...

    I think the biggest thing I’ve realized when it comes to my previous self and to my friends is how GD selfish you get to be when you don’t have kids. It’s the single most challenging thing I’ve ever done. The cards on the fridge just show the beauty but it’s days and days and DAYS and endless hours of challenge. And you know what? Most of my single or childless friends really failed at showing up for me when I needed it. Yes, I realize the “green poop” is way beyond your conception but you get to go on living your life, doing your own thing, while our world is permanently and forever changed. While you might whine about not getting as much attention realize we aren’t able to give OURSELVES attention. This is a societal problem (equal pay, dispersement of parental duties, gender norms), so no, my childless friends are not to blame for my daily challenges, but when I read opinions like this I give it one big eye roll. If you feel like you’re not getting what you need chances are you’re not even CLOSE to GIVING what SHE needs. I usually wholeheartedly agree with everything on here but this one just gets my goat.

    • Amanda says...

      I can see your frustration here, and I think it highlights what feels frustrating to me as a the childless friend. Reactions such as “giant eye roll” to one article on this site that speaks to my experiences as childfree (amongst many that do not!) feels sort of minimizing of the challenges and accomplishments I might be experiencing in my life. I agree that many of the challenges in this domain are societal, in how we (at least in the US) don’t seem to have the systemic structures to support moms and families as much as we should, and I agree that blame shouldn’t be placed on moms or not-moms. However, I think there is space for us all to be supportive of one another and the unique hurts and pains that come with our choices, even when we are pretty satisfied with them.

    • Rusty says...

      Yikes.
      We get to go on living our lives, never knowing what it’s like to feel that human growing inside us, or having a piece of our heart exist outside our body….or…….the list goes on.
      I think the point Caroline is making, is that it’s not all about being a mother.
      Yeah?

    • Emily says...

      I think you really misunderstood Caroline. She’s not blaming the friends with children for being less available. Just reflecting on how friendships change with kids. Sorry you’re feeling so unsupported.

    • Sky says...

      I see a lot of what you’re saying, especially the part about how parents don’t get enough support, but let’s not perpetuate the myth that childless people are selfish. The problem is not that they get to be selfish, it’s that our society (in the USA at least) has not been constructed to support families– specifically the moms who bear the brunt of childcare. I totally understand you not feeling like you’re getting the help you need. And I think that’s because the average nuclear family is taught to believe that they can/should be able to handle everything on their own, when in reality, raising children takes a community of invested adults.

    • Jenny says...

      It is a CHOICE to have children. As someone that has suffered from infertility for many years, and is finally pregnant with my first child, I will tell you that a lot of the moms in my life are also purely selfish. A lot of them stepped away from me because they couldn’t deal with watching me go through this. While other, different moms and childless friends stepped up and made me feel seen. Maybe look inside yourself and see why you read what Caroline wrote as “whining” and give “one big eye roll”. instead of her trying to be introspective about what people go through in different situations. That second to last sentence really pissed off, Emily. Someone with kids doesn’t deserve MORE from a friendship than someone without. Her problems with work, or a boyfriend or a life change are just as valid as your life issues with your kids. Everyone makes choices, and everyone should be a bit more empathetic, soft and kind towards one another.

    • CAITLIN says...

      I think any person can have “days and days and days” of challenges no matter if they have children or not. There are so many things people deal with that are hard, challenging, and all consuming. Many obstacles, changes, problems, and life experiences can shift someone’s life in a totally different direction-children or no children. I don’t think this piece was trying to say one choice is better or easier than the other. For me, it was highlighting how life changes of any kind can alter friendships. Not one friend having it “harder ” than the other. And I also think while some people may feel that childless people get to be “selfish”-that is hardly the case as well. A lot of parents can be selfish people, too.

    • LK says...

      You did choose to have a child, and if you feel your friends don’t support you, you should probably drop them. But it was not their fault that you made that choice, and they should not be blamed if they don’t understand your new struggles and life. They can probably empathize with the poop, the lack of sleep, the other challenges, but is your relationship equal? You said they “get” to be selfish because they don’t have kids, but they have their own things to take care of (parents, spouses, pets). They’re not selfish.

    • Melissa says...

      Also, you might consider that it’s actually quite selfless to forego the chance to pass on your DNA in an overpopulated world that’s literally drowning.

  39. Becky Berry says...

    This is so so good! And very beautifully written. You’ve definitely given language to feelings I’ve had about adult friendships- with kids and without. Thank you for sharing with all of us.

  40. Natasha says...

    Caroline,
    Thank you for writing another beautiful post. You should consider writing a book of essays.
    xoxo

  41. This is good. Really good. Rarely am I moved around this topic. I am so intrigued now. I am the childless. You’ve given me some words and context to pair with the feelings, which I haven’t done before. Thank you. Beautifully written. xo dina

  42. Mara says...

    Caroline, so so beautifully written…and timely for me. I am married and childless by choice, but feel left out and insignificant too much of the time. Particularly now that my sister has three children under 6, I feel like the silly little sister (I’m the oldest) who can’t get her act together. And I feel I’ve lost my best friend in a way. From this wonderful community, I’ve learned that perhaps my sister and other friends will come back to me, that they do value their relationship with me.

    • C says...

      I bet your sister just wants you to show up as you. She probably misses you just as much! I would never think someone’s life was somehow silly if they were childleSs. More free perhaps and less guilt ridden but never silly. Be yourself. It’s who she loves.

  43. Katie says...

    Thank you so much for speaking the words that have been in my heart!

  44. Caitlin says...

    I’m sorry anyone has given you a hard time about not having kids, that is no ones business but your own and your personal accomplishments are beyond worthy of a shower and praise and a party. I’m sure the people you love and love you most know this and feel that way! That being said, I felt like this article had a tinge of resentment. I am not a mother, and I don’t know if I ever will be one, but (even if it’s true), my ‘nonexistent’ child being a thing you look at when you get your oat milk felt off to me. Your friends’ lives changing is not an assault on your life.

    • CP says...

      I took it differently. I read it as her friends children on her fridge is part of her daily life, and worth celebrating by hanging on the fridge. But things changed-they might be up on the fridge and seen daily-but there is a change there :)

    • Rusty says...

      Yikes.
      We get to go on living our lives, never knowing what it’s like to feel that human growing inside us, or having a piece of our heart exist outside our body….or…….the list goes on.
      I think the point Caroline is making, is that it’s not all about being a mother.
      Yeah?

  45. Ramona says...

    It makes me sad how something as simple as choosing to or not to have kids (or not choosing but winding up in one situation or the other) can put close friends on two different islands like this, especially when it seems like in an overarching way everyone is suffering from the same kinds of things–feeling judged for their choices or circumstances, feeling like everything they say will seem trivial or boring or alienating, maybe feeling a bit of uncertainty about what joys the opposite path might have offered or worried about what lies ahead. It makes me sad, too, that rather than engaging that and putting in the work to maintain closeness through change, women let friendships grow tense or cold. It makes me feel like the patriarchy or society or whatever is winning at making all women feel insecure about and judged for their choices, and silenced about their emotions.

    • Deidre says...

      Thank you for this response. I feel similarly (having been on both sides, but really, why have sides at all?!).

    • Abby says...

      “ It makes me feel like the patriarchy or society or whatever is winning at making all women feel insecure about and judged for their choices, and silenced about their emotions.”

      Ramona- THIS ??? percent, it’s the patriarchy defining women’s roles and value. So well said, this was an “aha moment” for
      Me

  46. Emily says...

    I remember the hurt and shock as our first friends who had a baby literally dropped us like a hot potato. I couldn’t believe how quickly we went from a giddy foursome, to their delightful threesome…..and it was just the two of us again. It was baffling to me, it’s like we had been broken up with! Now, with two small kids myself, I am most thankful for my two best girlfriends and our what’s app chat. It’s an amazing revolving conversation that plays out 24 hours a day. One has a 3.5 year old like me, one is happily childless. Without this chat, which has been going on for 5.5 years now, I don’t know how we would have kept our friendship. We always respect each other’s problems. We take advice. We give advice. Without this ongoing chat I would be completely lost.

  47. Rachel says...

    Sob. Thanks for writing this. Somehow I’m in the unique position of being the one with kids, but also being the one everyone stopped calling because she had kids. It hurts. But I appreciate the “ocean view,” and will try this perspective out moving forward. Friendships in your 30s might just be more difficult (different?!) than I imagined.

    • Caitlin says...

      Sadly I don’t think that situation is unique either :( I’m in the same boat and I feel so sad sometimes not being invited or included in things. I think it’s so true we are all just doing the best we can, but it’s hard to remember and hard not to get feelings hurt on either side of the equation.

    • Rachael says...

      Thanks for saying this – I feel like my friends who don’t have kids fell off the face of the earth when I had mine. We’re still people and we still have feelings, too.

    • J says...

      I’m with you, Rachel. I think the issue is most of my friends don’t have kids, and want to hang out after work (understandable) which is, of course, the almighty bed time.

      It’s tough to always say “Nope, can’t make it…. bedtime still exists.” It makes me feel boring; it also makes me feel like they don’t really understand my life any more.

      I also (honestly) am too tired to consider doing anything after the baby is down…. so when commenters here say friends with children “dropped” them quickly…it makes me feel bad. But also, consider how it feels to not sleep for months. I feel like I am dropping everything! (Literally & metaphorically.)

    • Dara says...

      When my best friend had a kid, I made the extra effort to always go to her place, time my visits around her schedule, etc. It was worth it to see her. I had to remind myself that when she canceled it wasn’t personal, it was because her kid had a cold or had kept her up all night, and she would rather be doing something fun with me but couldn’t. I did have to get a thicker skin about it, though. It was tough to have agreed on a plan and have her flake last-minute. But thankfully that happened less often as he got older. And now I’m expecting too!

  48. Tracey says...

    I am childless by choice and found myself snookered when struggling with a 11 year friendship. She would shout from the rooftops that we were BEST FRIEND’S FOREVER and I loved that affirmation enough to invest heavily in her kids, drop meals and cakes at the door, happily engage in kid conversation. When her kids were six and three, I needed my friend. I had been floored by sudden grief and illness and she did not show up, at all. I was astounded. All I wanted was an honest conversation, without being minimized or ignored. The truth is, some people won’t show up for you. They just won’t.

    With distance and therapy, I came to realize that this friend was always going to flake on me. She didn’t change. I did. It was a lightbulb for me to realize that I had codependent tendencies. In short, I would choose people who loved me for what I could DO for them, rather than who I was. These people were never going to be able to show up for me, I had hand selected them to be needy, not needed. Over time, with a lot of work, I came to see I was worthy of love without a cake in hand.

    I share this because motherhood doesn’t magically make people great at friendship, and it’s also not a free pass to treat people poorly as I had allowed it to be. So maybe someone else finds themselves on rocky ground. My advice, if you love each other, give it a year, see how things go, see if there’s truth, and vulnerability, accountability. Be ok with doing kid things at kid times but do not compromise your soul. I held on for so long because I felt unworthy. I now have a great group of girlfriends, people who were on my periphery that I hadn’t noticed because I was so focused on this one toxic friendship. For the record, they’ve all got kids, and yet, these friendships feel fulfilling and deep, it’s not about kids or no kids, wonky schedules or gaps in contact or cancelled plans, it’s about finding a tribe that communicates the way and with the depth that you need, a tribe that enriches your soul and leaves you feeling happier, lighter, seen. And it’s about allowing yourself to be seen, because that can be fecking terrifying.

    • sarah says...

      thank you for this! Your words are resonating deeply with me today.

    • Alyssa says...

      Tracey! This is amazing. Thank you for putting this into words. Resonates so deeply with my experience too. So healing to move towards feeling worthy of care, and believing that there are dear people who CAN show up regardless of their life situation, and then leaning on courage and tenderness to be seen.

    • isavoyage says...

      “I had hand selected them to be needy, not needed.” Wow, Tracey, thank you so much!

    • Rusty says...

      I was there 150% for a friend day and night…as she contemplated not marrying the man she became pregnant to….during the very awkward wedding….babysitting……going on day trips with the littguy in tow…then baby number two came along…..same deal…..then I was diagnosed with a life shattering illness and she said, literally, “Our lives are going in different dirdctions now. You just don’t have anything more to offer me.”
      BOOM! Avalanche of hut wrenching reality smashed on my head.
      Nothing, not a word, since.
      I fantasize from time to time, that we meet accidentally and she says “Hi”. I say “Oh, who are you? I remember now. I just wasn’t sure which of your two faces was speaking to me.”
      Yep, 18 years later, it still stings.

    • Tracey says...

      Rusty, I am sorry that that happened to you. I know personally that is an enormous grief to suffer the loss of your good health and to have someone say you’ve no value right in the midst of you questioning the same is agonizing. What I came to learn, through watching my aunt struggle with a terribly debilitating disease – yet still being immeasurably valuable to me – was that it is as absolute privilege to bear witness to someone else’s struggle, to sit with them in the trenches, to be trusted with vulnerability and to be front and center for small victories. I am a freaking warrior with my heath most days and those that gave away their front row seats to witness that are poorer for it.

  49. Miranda says...

    A lovely essay and I just want to say that, as the mother of a 2-year old, our childless friends are our FAVORITE friends! We’re night owls still, and it’s only our childless friends that will come over after bedtime for drinks and Succession, or meet us at a new bar we want to try at 9pm. Having friends whose lives are more flexible than ours is something we’re grateful for. The first year of parenthood is so nuts, but your friends will come back to you. It sounds like you’re a great pal to them—they’ll be back.

    • Hannah says...

      This this! We had our kids further apart and in those in-between years all our friends had newborns and our childless friends were such a godsend.
      And I realized how few of our friends were willing/able to get a sitter to hang out with their friends kid-free, and that prodded us to make some space in our budget so we could let our friends know that they were equally valuable to us and we appreciated them in our lives.

  50. Joann says...

    This is so beautiful and so true, Caroline. It’s been frustrating that from the moment my partner and I got engaged, we were asked when we’re having children. I found this jarring and bizarre. At the time, I wished people would celebrate the engagement / wedding portion, instead of jumping to a point in the future with children. It’s been helpful for me and a reminder – to celebrate and be there for my friends in exactly the place they are now. Thanks for the reflection on friendships; I love your perspective on them as being oceanic by nature.

  51. Wow, that was so, so good. Thanks.

  52. Dini Subbiah says...

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

  53. Lis says...

    Thank you for this.

  54. Erin says...

    THANK YOU from childless 46-year -old. I wish our society could value all women, not just mothers, or mothers who are doing everything perfectly, rather than sending the sometimes not-so-subtle messages about not measuring up or doing what you’re supposed to be doing at each life stage. Makes everyone feel lonely, and can cause rifts between friends, siblings, co-workers, you name it. You did a lovely job of saying the sometimes quiet part out loud in a very gracious way in your essay. Bravo.

    On a lighter tip, I am planning to do a fake birth announcement when my book comes out, and have a friend take super-serious photos of me cradling the manuscript. Going to include its weight, length, and other birth stats. Look for it soon on a fridge near you…..

    • mindi says...

      Oh my gosh, I would love to see your book birth announcement. How brilliant! And… Congratualtions! Writing a book is truly a Herculean feat. <3

    • Olivia says...

      What a great idea! Hilarious! As you should :)

    • Rusty says...

      ???

    • Erin says...

      The book isn’t done yet, so I’m holding off on the photo shoot so I don’t jinx myself! Picture a soft-focus, black and white photo, with my topless (but tastefully draped) torso and effortlessly natural hair, staring lovingly at my new book baby. Perhaps a pacifier placed on top of the volume? Still time to perfect my vision.

      I do appreciate your congrats and encouragement, Mindi. I find writing to be incredibly isolating and the most challenging part of being an academic, so your pre-congrats really helps!

  55. Rashmi says...

    This was so so well written!

  56. T says...

    “When someone asked Nora how she balanced writing and kids, she simply said “that the key to juggling is to know that some of the balls you have in the air are made of plastic and some are made of glass.””

    Not everything related to child rearing is a glass ball, neither is everything related to work. In fact, every different relationship or task can be broken into different balls, some plastic, some glass.

    So if you’re finding yourself prioritizing ANYTHING and EVERYTHING related to your children at the expense of other important things, you might find yourself juggling rubber and dropping glass.

    https://www.workingmother.com/nora-roberts-juggling-kids-work-plastic-glass-balls

  57. Eli says...

    Childless friends are my favorite friends! Fun, flexible, thoughtful, sometimes indulgent. I’m so sick of other peoples’ kids I could puke. Being friends with people WITH kids is so much harder, mathematically speaking. There are THAT MANY MORE relationships and preferences to consider. You got one half of one thing right — the metric IS different. But girl, A DIFFERENT RULER DOESNT MAKE YOU SMALLER. INCHES CONVERT TO CENTIMETERS. HELLO. ITS MATH. ((Hugs))

  58. Anna Wagstaff says...

    THANK YOU FOR THIS!!! Beautiful words Caroline.

  59. Lee says...

    Caroline–This is such a beautiful essay! I have often cried (in private) after friends have told me they were expecting a baby. I was excited for them, but I knew that our friendship would change because they were moving into a world I didn’t have access to. Fast forward and I am now expecting my first this summer. The language of pregnancy (and I’m sure motherhood) has connected me with some of those friends in a new way. I have a close single friend where I live now who isn’t even sure if she wants kids, but she makes me feel so seen and valued. She always says “tell me everything!” and doesn’t mind if I drone on about my pregnancy symptoms or how weird it feels in a new body. I can’t imagine my life without the richness of my single (and childless) friends or fellow parent friends. I just hope that I’m able to maintain these connections after the baby comes!

  60. Eliza says...

    This is such a wonderful essay, in so many ways, and I’m so grateful to see the perspective expressed here. I’m 35 and have a nearly 3 month old. For a solid decade, I didn’t think I’d ever have children, and watched friend after friend get pregnant, feeling exactly the mix of feelings you describe… I knew I didn’t want kids unless it was with exactly the right person, and I spent a lot of time in relationships with the wrong people. Then I met the perfect person for me three days after my 32nd birthday. Three whirlwind years later — house, engagement, wedding, honeymoon baby — here we are, and my life looks so different… and as it turns out, all those friends who had babies earlier were waiting for me on the other side of the bridge, with open arms and a lot of very kind, helpful advice and support. I’m so grateful for my friends on both sides of the bridge — which in my life, crosses less of an ocean and more of a stream? At least, I hope it does. And I hope it’s that way for you too, whether kids are in your future or not. The best thing we can do for each other is make that bridge a small and easy one to cross.

    • Alex says...

      This is beautifully written, Eliza <3

  61. EliseB says...

    If we could all understand that everyone is different in many ways, acceptance, friendship, non-comparing would be so much easier. We all choose our own decisions and live by them. Heck, it is good someone has kids and does a great job at it. And some of us do not, by choice or circumstance. Soldier on with your choices, include everyone. Living with my husband of 45 years and two cute dogs. Quite content. And how we enjoy our friends’ grandchildren!

  62. Karen says...

    I loved reading this. I am a parent to two young children— but as an artist living and trying to make it in New York, i felt so much of this… the other way around!
    I feel like as a woman in my field, at my age, having two kids already makes me the odd one out. None of my close friends, also in the arts, have kids yet— and several of them never plan to.
    I often feel self conscious that most of what I’ve achieved in these past 6 years is raising my kids… and not making enough progress in my career in the arts. And worry about not being taken seriously.
    It’s so funny this range of experience— though I’m sure I’m an anomaly, living in NY where folks have kids later, and some not at all (at least it’s more common here than other places)… and everyone trying to hustle to further their dreams… those dreams that don’t involve their little people. ;-)

  63. Vaish says...

    Ugh I CANNOT believe people with kids say things like that to others. WHAT!? In my opinion a friend is someone you support, applaud, cry with, laugh with, no matter what. No matter any choice they make or fate befalls them. Watching my friend that I’ve known for over a decade (who chooses to be childless) bust her a$$ and become a doctor is one of the proudest moments of my life. And she says watching me become a mother is one of the most inspiring in hers. Id also love to see a point of view from a parent. Because I can confidently say as a parent, that I mourn the loss of what our friendship used to be just as much. The fact that our society thinks we as mothers have to be totally content with overnight change (and be glowing and happy at all hours of the day and night) is also a HUGE problem (that I could go on about for pagessss, soo I’ll stop now). Thanks for always writing thoughtful pieces

  64. Bethley says...

    if you really want t hang on to your friendship, just let it take its course. I have kids. The first ten years are kind of long and then they don’t need you quite as much. I have a lot more time to see friends now than I did when they were little.

    • Tabitha says...

      I don’t have kids and experienced all of what Caroline wrote about, and what you say is really true. Now that I’m in my 40s, a lot of my friends who disappeared in the early baby years are coming back (not all yet as many had kids later in life), but the best surprise has been getting my friends back as I’ve gotten older. It’s definitely a standing on the shore waving for a while, and glorious when they return

    • RS says...

      I second this. I have a handful of childless friends (and they are the BEST people to hang with, btw), lots of friends with kids (not the best people to hang with, imo) and I also have three kids. I feel like I am reaching this point that Bethley brings up. My kids aren’t needing me quite as much, not in a constant sense, anyway. All of my peers, even those who never had kids, are now entering the joyous phase of perimenopause TOGETHER. We are reunited again as we leave coffee cups on tops of our cars, experience night sweats, and other womanly joys. I look forward to spending more time with these friends in the very near future, and am glad that I simply let it take its course as well.

  65. Taylor says...

    It was only a year ago when one of my best friends (the
    “lives in the neighborhood, husbands are buddies, morning runs and evening happy hours” gal) finally had her baby. She seemed so changed the day we went to visit her and her new family member.

    I don’t want kids, and after a few years of looking inward, I can finally say that with confidence and accept myself for it, but man, it would – in this baby-crazed world that still sees parenting as the highest form of anything – be easier if I did want them.

    I cried, seemingly selfishly, when I got home, at the fact that my friendship with her would never be the same. Call it a momentary pity party but also, a hard truth. Of course I was happy for her. She was as they say, glowing. But still, she will have new friends, mom groups, on and on.

    Have I come to accept it? Yes. Do we still see each other regularly? Of course. We hang out, go for walks, text about life. I think this is something women feel more than men, as my husband has little idea that much has changed in our friendship with her and her husband.

    Anyhow, it’s nice to see this on COJ.

    • Rashmi says...

      That’s very true. My husband never feels this way about any of his male friends as I do when there is a birth announcement. And lo and behold,nothing changes for him! They still hang out for beer and late night drinks. On return when I enquire about the kids, I am mostly told ‘oh I forgot to ask, he didn’t say anything about them’. Whereas with my friends with babies, 40%of the conversation is about the baby. Half the times they insist on meeting with the baby in tow which means they’re distracted (rightly so). It’s unfair that guys’ friendships are not affected with this.

    • Sarah says...

      “She seemed so different”- she IS so different. I say this next sentence without passing any judgment, as we are all there until we decide to become mothers; One cannot possibly understand how unhinging a child can be to the very core of your being until you become a mother. It’s not bad, but it is the undertaking of shedding the skin of your former self. I wish I had known before I had kids how my former life would end so I could have better supported my friends when they had kids. I love my new life, too, and it was my choice. But I hope my friends can come to terms with how much I had to change to envelop this new person (in my case, triplets, so these new people) into my fold. My own best friend just disappeared when my kids were born and it was devastating to me. But I don’t have words to express how it felt to make the transition from “this was me” into “this is me now”- images of angular paintings and contrasting colors come to mind. The shapes are jagged but strong, and it looks like the pieces had to be manipulated to fit together. It hangs crooked and apologetic on the wall. The colors are warm and soothing, like a hug. It looks like something beautiful emerged from something that had once been whole and beautiful.

    • isabelle says...

      Oof, this resonated with me: “it would – in this baby-crazed world that still sees parenting as the highest form of anything – be easier if I did want them.”

      I have never wanted kids. Thankfully one of my closest friends is in the same boat, but with other friends and acquaintances I do feel I am missing out on a level of connection that just isn’t possible unless you’ve had that experience. I am still more than happy to talk to my friends about their pregnancies and babies, especially because I’ll never know what it’s like firsthand! It helps a lot when friends maintain respect for my lifestyle and choices – the “mommy martyr” thing can be very real. Everybody is on their own journey and motherhood is not the only achievement or challenge, nor is it the only form of selfless caregiving. Saying things like “you never know real love until you have a child” or acting like I’m a millionaire just because I don’t pay for daycare is just really useless and insensitive, and only serves to invalidate my feelings.

  66. A very thoughtful piece, Caroline. I’m 70, childless due to endometriosis at the age of 22. Once had a colleague say “You’re never really an adult until you’re a parent.” She said it to a group of women and I was obviously the odd one out. I’ve carried it with me for decades altho now I’ve aged out of the baby conversation but still feel the emotional pain and loss of children I’ve never been able to call my own. Within 6 months I’m going to be a “step” great grandmother and wish so heartily that I could join the conversation about childbirth, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation… Some things we wish for never happen and we learn to cope, and that’s when you really become the adult.

    • Emily says...

      This was very beautiful. Thank you for sharing this, Clou.

    • Jackie says...

      Beautifully said!

    • c says...

      this really touched me. thank you for sharing!

    • Bb says...

      Stunning. The last line especially. Thank you.

    • Kate says...

      Clou, thank you for sharing. I’ve actually heard the inverse before: that you are not truly an adult until losing a parent, which makes sense to me. But I think the most adult thing is coming to terms with life’s disappointments, and it sounds like you’ve done that so gracefully.

    • Isabella says...

      The only bad thing about Cup of Jo is that I can’t *actually* hug people. But Clou, I feel your pain in my heart. I’m so sorry endometriosis got in the way of your ability to have children. But you have as much love in you as any of us sleep-deprived mothers, and I’ll bet you’ve spent it lavishly and wisely on your family.

    • Julie says...

      “Some things we wish for never happen and we learn to cope, and that’s when you really become the adult.” So true and beautifully written.

    • Nicola says...

      That last line is quote of the year! So so true x

    • Sky says...

      Clou, these are beautiful words, and so true. I myself have bought into the idea that motherhood is the only thing that could bring me real worth and respect from self and others. I feel otherwise now.

  67. Clou says...

    A very thoughtful piece, Caroline. I’m 70, childless due to endometriosis at the age of 22. Once had a colleague say “You’re never really an adult until you’re a parent.” She said it to a group of women and I was obviously the odd one out. I’ve carried it with me for decades altho now I’ve obviously aged out of the baby conversation but still feel the emotional pain and loss of children I’ve never been able to call my own. Within 6 months I’m going to be a “step” great grandmother and wish so heartily that I could join the conversation about childbirth, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation… Some things we wish for never happen and we learn to cope, and that’s when you really become the adult.

    • Julia says...

      This is beautifully written, thank you for your perspective

    • Liz says...

      I’m so sorry someone invalidated your adulthood in such a tactless and unnecessary way. I hope you enjoy being a great grandmother! What a special relationship that must be :)

    • Pats says...

      Thank you for this beautiful comment. I am so struck by your words, “some things we wish for never happen and we learn to cope, and that’s when you really become the adult.”

  68. Laura says...

    Beautiful, Caroline. As a mom who hasn’t always been a present friend for her non-mom friends, this really spoke to me. Life gets hectic. But even small gestures of care (like a text to check in when a girls night is no longer possible) can allow the ebb to return in an even happier, gentler way. Resolving to do better. Lovely writing ❤️

  69. Hilary says...

    Thank you so much for showing the other side of this! I’m the parent of a toddler, and parenthood has been very lonely and isolating. Our friends were so excited to celebrate the coming baby with us, but kind of dropped off after baby arrived! I’m sure I shoulder some of that blame, too. Those first few months are so much survival mode that I’m sure I wasn’t checking in on them too. I’ll be reaching out to my childfree friends to get together!

    *And to the fellow parents here, let’s be sure to not negate others’ complaints and so on. Before I had kids, I hated when I said I was exhausted and people were like “well I have a baby, so I’m reallllyyy exhausted.” Like no, I can just be exhausted. Or stressed. Or overwhelmed. Or whatever feeling, kid or no kid!

  70. Katie says...

    This was so wonderful to read! I had my son over a year ago and I have a mix of friends who have kids and don’t. I’ve been on both sides, being without kids (when some of my friends were having kids) and now having one of my own. I had one close friend have kids before me and I didn’t have any kids yet and felt that change happen. Whenever we would talk on the phone, she was always distracted. Now that I have one of my own and stay home with him, I understand how they want your attention all the time. It takes lot more effort to be intentional with friends once you have kids, especially long distance. The beauty of it is that our friendship has come full circle and we just went on a girls trip to Hawaii, just the two of us. It was like time hadn’t passed and we picked up where we left off 5 years ago. If I had taken it personally when things changed with our friendship 5 years ago, we wouldn’t have gone on this awesome trip together and reconnected. I think it goes to show friendship ebb and flow but the really good ones stick around, even through the changes of life :)

  71. annette says...

    but what if I’ve waited and waited for years and the bridge never comes?

  72. SarahN says...

    OH this speaks to me. I’m single, so (for me) a baby is a long way away cause I would NOT do it solo.

    I have friends who are chill parents. They’re great. The unchill ones? Honestly, I’m not sure how much more I can keep trying to meet halfway or more. I get reprimanded for being late to a 1yo party (which did reschedule from arvo to morning, and I wasn’t hungover, I was at church, which I go to every Sunday), Same friend – I plan MY birthday with this group, she comes late, and basically cheaps out. It’s tricky, cause the childless seem frivolous, and that we should continually do more, be more, understand more…

  73. Becca says...

    I love this and feel it so much. Almost all of my closest friends have children (I’m 36), and I’ve watched them go through the subtle and profound existential shifts that come with bringing someone into the world and being responsible for them. It’s so amazing seeing my friends as parents. Some of the qualities I’ve always loved in them have grown even more beautiful in their parenting styles–their compassion and empathy, their humor, their intelligence and wit. I definitely have felt “left behind” at some points, but many of my friends include me as an honorary aunt and treasure having a single friend who is always up for going out. My friends children show me so much love, it just melts my heart. So I feel like the love in my life has increased as my friends’ families grow.

  74. Caitlin says...

    Caroline, you sound like such a fantastic friend.

    In two weeks I’m moving (with my 5-month-old and almost-two-year-old) to the city where my long-time (childless) best friend lives. We haven’t lived near each other since BC (before children) and I am dreading what a horrible disappointment I am going to be to her. The friend she remembers and misses is the self I also remember and miss, and who I hope returns someday when there aren’t two little people so wholely dependent on my constant attention. But for now, I feel so far down the mommy-tunnel that it is hard to even breathe.

    On the other hand, I am beyond grateful for one particular childless friend who meets me for runs after the kids are in bed and talks politics with me.

    • Marian says...

      Caitlin, Please share all of this with your friend. The irony is that she probably feels like she’ll be underwhelming for you, given all the excitement in your life now (I’m child-free by choice and feel like a bore to my mom friends). It sounds like you two have an incredible chance to “meet” one another again and become friends anew. A two-for-one friendship.

    • Caitlin says...

      Thank you, Marian ♥️ what a great perspective

    • Sarah says...

      Caitlin, I would feel just like you–but having had kids spaced the same amount apart (now older), I can say with confidence that you’re IN THE TRENCHES! Tell your friend how you feel and what your daily life is like and see if you can mutually brainstorm ways that she can sometimes come into the trenches and you can sometimes come out of the trenches. Again, maybe just projecting, but for me at that stage–daily life was a major struggle and I was keeping them alive and thriving but just barely surviving myself. Don’t allow yourself to add pressure and expectations to yourself based on an old set of life circumstances. Discuss it with her and make some new expectations/hopes based on where you are NOW and what you both hope to get out of your friendship now. And have fun. :)

  75. Hilary says...

    I loved this so much! I’m a mom to a spritely 3-year old AND I run a company, have recently gotten back into hot yoga and have written a book! We are so much more than just parents, just as our childfree friends are so much more than just what they don’t have.

    Plus, while it’s true that nobody can understand what it’s like to be a parent until you are one, it was my childfree friends who cooked for me, took me on walks, checked on me, cried with me and listened during postpartum anxiety that was oh so scary. You don’t have to be a parent to be a good human and a good friend to a new parent. And now my daughter has a lot of honorary aunties and uncles who love her well because of all that time they spent bonding with her as a baby. We are so lucky to have – and grateful for! – our childfree friends!

  76. Omaya says...

    I’m still in my first year of motherhood. A phrase I keep repeating is that, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know”. Being a parent stretches your time in ways that are unimaginable to those who don’t live it and unavoidable when you are constantly striving to raise those little people well.

    What I can confirm is that parents still love and think of their dear friends ALL THE TIME! I am a happier person when my friends and I make that single get-together finally happen after a million reschedules. I will commit to figuring out a way to be with you even with my new role as a parent. You are worth it. Please don’t give up on me. I’m trying and you are worth it.

    • Jan says...

      Yes! I want to second this! I have an almost one year old, and for me it is true that really, really I had no idea how much I would learn to fit into a day. It truly is more difficult to figure out scheduling, and every moment is valuable to me. But I still value my childless/free friends so much, and I don’t think of them any differently! I just honestly appreciate those who have taken a little bit of the lead on being in touch, just for this stage. I promise it won’t be forever!

  77. Cady says...

    It’s gotten easier as I’ve gotten older (and aged out of my fertility window) and also easier as my friends’ children have gotten older (and more independent) but what’s gotten harder is making new friends. So much extracurricular activity is kid-centered (school, sports, playgrounds, common milestones, parenting groups, schedules) and the ‘other side of the fence’ feeling hits me harder now than when everyone was at the new baby stage because it feels so hard to break in.

    • Lori says...

      Cady,

      This totally resonates with me. I somehow seemed to have lost the ability to make new friends. My hubby and I are kid free and moved across the country nearly 15 years ago. A bunch of the friends we had in our new city have since moved away. I really like many of my colleagues yet they are all mostly consumed with their families and not so interested in socializing outside of work. I have wonderful friends, they just don’t live close by. I haven’t given up on trying new things (classes, volunteering, meet-ups) both to have new experiences, but also in the hopes of making new friends, but nothing has “taken hold” quite yet. I feel like other women make friends through their kids. It makes me a little sad as I long to have local friends to hang out with and do the things my hubs isn’t so interested in.

    • Kate says...

      Try checking online to see if there is a chapter of No Kidding in your area. It is a social club for people who don’t have kids. Some areas have meetup groups for people without kids as well.

  78. Sonja says...

    The loneliness is on both sides – I swear I didn’t know!

    I have a four year old and am expecting another this spring and I am so excited but I also miss our life before – it’s not the sleep or spontaneity I miss (though those were delightful) it’s the depth of relationships that I had when I was child free. My relationship with my spouse and child are deep but suddenly my deep desire to discuss a book or podcast gets trumped by schedule logistics and debates about favorite colors and what park is the best park.

    All to say; I’m afraid to bore my childless friends with the banality of parenthood and I’m afraid to seem un-devoted to my child-having friends when I don’t want to talk about sleep schedules or screen time.

    Additionally, I had such awful morning sickness (until 25 weeks) that even my family stopped inviting us over or to places because we couldn’t go…I would have LOVED someone to come over in the evening and hang with me while I ate dry toast and told me of the world outside!

    Lastly, marriage and parenthood have given my depths of happiness I didn’t know possible but I do not for a second believe that’s the only way to those feelings. So to all the child-free, rock on. We miss you.

    • Rosemary says...

      I think this is extremely well said. It echoes my feelings exactly as I remember them back in the day…my “babies” are now 29 and 22.

    • jdp says...

      loved this. well said!

    • C says...

      Yes. We only know what we know. The loneliness is real no matter the life.
      Rock on all of you. Show up for each other in whatever way you are able to and let your loved ones know what’s in your heart, even if your body can’t always conform.

  79. Morena says...

    I have recently have a baby, my friend always makes the effort to come and see us. She understand when we prefer an afternoon alone, or maybe we need to go out after being in the house for a long week. I hope she knows how much I appreciate her, she truly is family I choose for my kid.

    • Laura says...

      That’s beautiful Morena, I hope that you tell her.

    • Amanda says...

      Oh, please tell her! Write her a card or tell her in person but please let her know how you feel. I know it would mean the world to her.

  80. Kelly says...

    I am childless in a sea of child-having friends. It’s not really by choice, simply (or not so simply) the way my life has gone so far. This piece was beautiful and spoke so well of the give and take I’ve felt being around all of my friends who have their babies. This piece felt like a hug – a “you’re not alone” squeeze from an empathizing friend. Thank you, so so much for sharing this.

  81. Cynthia says...

    I think it is important to respect people’s choices. Parenthood is not for everyone. Thank you, Caroline, for a well-written piece.

  82. Maria says...

    Dude. Caroline. This essay gracefully shook the Earth with beauty today. Never stop writing.

    • Em says...

      Your comment shook the earth with beauty too :) love it

    • Katie says...

      I agree! Beautifully written.

  83. Anna says...

    You sound like such a lovely, understanding friend, Caroline. <3 Mom of a 4.5 and 3 year old here. I 1000% need my friends who do not have children. With them I am able to truly escape what often feel like inane and repetitive conversations with other parents, and I once again experience myself as an individual instead of Mom.

    Caroline, you said there's a language divide, and it's true! But it's so refreshing to visit with a friend who can't speak "Mom". We can take a long hike without ever discussing napping habits, hang out by a pool and laugh about our nights out together in our 20s instead of comparing this or that saggy bit that "won't ever be the same" post-pregnancy, eat a leisurely meal without talking about junior's picky eating habits.

    My soul needs these friends and I hope they know how much I appreciate them and even envy the grand adventures they continue to have! The decision to go back to school for a PhD, the acceptance of a high-profile government job, the choice to up and move to Bend, OR, just because she wanted to.

    Like another poster said, the world needs all of us – single, married, mom or not – and we all need each other.

  84. Tracy says...

    Caroline – I feel you.

  85. Ellen says...

    Before children I never had the sense that my accomplishments were “less”—I was too busy doing fun things I loved and reaching different goals. Now that I have kids, in the other hand, I feel wayyyyy left behind. Some of my childless friends and even those with children who have maintained full time employment have accomplished some mega career and educational goals while I have been….changing diapers. I would argue that raising children does not, in the day to day, feel like an accomplishment. It can often feel like a failure. It can be astonishing and wonderful and also frustrating and mind boggling. In short, I would argue that that sense of accomplishment is a myth! I don’t mean to say that having kids is not a worthwhile endeavor, because it is, for those who want it (and you know, for the continuation of humans). But the idea that one path is better than another or that nothing is as important than child rearing is one that would better left in the past.

    • APA says...

      I feel this so deeply. Having left work to raise my children because our family couldn’t make a two law firm attorney lifestyle work and also maintain the family life we wanted, I almost feel ashamed of wasting my Harvard law degree. I miss work and watch my friends and former colleagues build incredible careers. I know I am building tiny humans and I wouldn’t compromise on giving them the best upbringing possible. But it is hard to remember that this is a season and it is hard not to feel left behind.

  86. Kate says...

    As a child-free 32-year-old I do not relate to this at all… I have a fabulous life and my friends that have kids have told me they often feel left behind because they can’t travel, advance their careers or splurge on things anymore. I actually wish people spoke more about the positives of having children because with colleagues that constantly complain about the burdens of parenthood it’s hard to imagine why anyone does it.

    • cld says...

      I have two kids and my cousin (who happens not to have kids) told me the same recently – he doesn’t hear anyone talk about the positives. It was really good / hard to hear. It’s made me want to focus on the positives, call them out, celebrate whatever I think is funny that my kids did that day and share it.

    • EJC says...

      Kate – I have to concur! My friends who chose to have children love their kids, but the less than stellar impacts of child rearing on their freedom, self-care, relationships with their partners, bank account balances, anxiety, careers, ability to travel (… and the list goes on) is very often a topic of conversation (never initiated by me) that has helped solidify my decision to remain child-free, and often makes me feel for them. I don’t pity them, as they have beautiful and (thankfully) healthy children, but I field far more comments of the “good for you” and “I wish I could do what you’re doing” variety than I do about “it’s not too late for you” or “don’t you feel unfulfilled?” To be honest, at 31, I have never received anything like the latter. On the career front, I have actually been praised for “taking the time to question the assumption that every woman has to be married with kids by 30” (this was actually in a written review I received. 100% inappropriate, but there you go).

      Maybe the too late/unfulfilled commentary will come later in my 30s and 40s? I feel for all of the kicka*s ladies who, by choice or not, do not have children and are confronted with such antiquated, uninvited bullsh*t!

      Thank you for the wonderful essay and thought-provoking content, as always, Caroline and Joanna! <3

    • Isabella says...

      Here’s the positive, for me: in spite of nine consecutive months of morning sickness, three years of untreated postpartum depression, as many years of sleep deprivation, and all the daily exhaustions of parenting, I have a little person in my life who looks at me every day like he’s watching the moon rise, who loves with a wide-open ferocity that’s filled and overwhelmed my most starry-eyed notions of what love could be, who gives my life a nucleus that makes all of existence make sense, and who, at four years old, is already the best friend and closest soul-mate I’ve ever had. Also, surviving all the crap listed above taught me that I’m about forty thousand times stronger than I’d ever imagined. I do miss travel and the nimble freedoms of my younger, childless years, often acutely, but I can say with all honesty that it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.

    • K says...

      Very well said Isabella. I wholeheartedly agree. And I agree people don’t talk about the joys so much. I don’t know why, I was confused about this before kids and now after kids. I personally fear being annoying/obnoxious by talking about it and it’s just easier sometimes to vent/complain. But as someone once put it so well, with parenthood, the joys FAR eclipse the struggles.

      I didn’t understand this until I had a kid but it is so true. All the sleeplessness, fatigue, stress go out the window when my kid smiles at me and loves me for just being who I am. Worth it.

    • Kimberley says...

      Isabella, as a person on the cusp of motherhood, your words have been so delightfully received. Thank you x

    • Amy says...

      Isabella, I love your comment! So well written <3

    • Alexandra says...

      Kate – I’m sure any of your parent-friends would be happy to tell you all about the joy of having children. Truly. Most of us could go on all day if asked. Most likely though, because you’re childfree, they think you don’t want to hear about it, and it’s easier to complain around you because in a way, the complaining and expression of jealousy is their way of validating your life choice. I’m not saying it’s the right way to go about it, but it’s may be where they’re coming from. Seriously, ask your friends for the positive stories. They have plenty to share.

    • Elise says...

      I felt this way for many years. I became a parent last year and it is more beautiful and wonderful than I ever imagined!

  87. JAK says...

    I really felt this article deeply. Felt like what you wrote mirrors my own life a lot. One thing I find annoying as a currently single women is how people assume I have more money to spend on things then those with children. Which is absurd. I’m living on a single income, their is typically two people involved in raising a child. Or even when people are coupled up but don’t have children, they usually always have the chance to be more financial stable or lucrative than me. People forget that their is monetary benefits for being in a relationship. I don’t usually give people grief about this when they ask, but do wish more people would remember that being single has many benefits, but relying on one income is not one of them. That being said…. that hasn’t stopped me from living a good, single, childless life… just booked a holiday to Europe that I want to take advantage of now, as I know in the next few years my circumstances could change. So here’s to living happily, with or without children, and being mindful of people’s choices. And not shaming them for it.

  88. Claire says...

    “ On the childless side of the fence, your accomplishments suddenly feel smaller, like they are measured by a different metric”

    I remember feeling this way before I had a kid as well and was surprised to find that I feel it even more strongly after becoming a mother, like the only part of my life that people feel interested in or excited about are the things my kid is doing. I want to wave my arms over my head and shout, “hello! I’m still a person with her own interests and goals and successes. I’m not just someone’s mother.” Life is so multidimensional but for some reason we seem to insist on flattening everyone into only the most visible versions of themselves.

    Beautiful essay, Caroline.

    • Sandra says...

      Oh, you’re so right. That feeling is a definite feeling of mothering.
      And at the same time, I use them as a shield. “Oh hello person I didn’t want to see again. See this kid isn’t he cute? Ok, nice to see you, bye!“

  89. J says...

    This is beautiful and perfectly timed. I am partnered and unmarried, and we likely won’t have children. I was keenly feeling the growing chasm, as a slew of pregnancy announcements and wedding invitations flooded our mailbox again this year. Additionally, my work in gynaecology reminds me that my prime reproductive years are quickly slipping away. However, I was recently accepted into an Ivy League graduate program, and, with some reservation about feeling conceited in doing so, shared this news with my close friends. The parade of cards and well wishes, though of course unnecessary, served as such a critically timed reminder that there is a bridge back to connection and that I have exceptional humans to call friends.

    • Kari says...

      This is such a good reminder for us all to celebrate our friends’ lives and accomplishments beyond just getting married and having children. Send cards, flowers, gifts or emails to your friends with a new job, a promotion, a new house, a new pet, a milestone birthday… no shortage of reasons to celebrate your loved ones!

    • isabelle says...

      Wow, congratulations! And I am extremely jealous that you have such a robust and thoughtful support system. I can’t remember the last time someone got me flowers or sent a card or anything that wasn’t associated with a holiday. As much as I hate Carrie Bradshaw, I really identified with that episode of Sex and the City because we’ve normalized gift-giving in the context of engagement and marriage and pregnancy and birth, as if they are universally desired and universally positive experiences. I don’t really care about marriage and I definitely don’t want children, so sometimes it feels like…..is this it? Was my graduation the last time anyone would celebrate me?

  90. Veronica says...

    Caroline,
    It is wonderful that you are open to meeting at your friends’ houses after their children have gone to sleep. I am at the part of my parental journey where that is the only kind of socialization my husband and I are able to manage, and very few of our friends are game to do it. I am sure your friends are very thankful for the effort you are putting in to maintaining the friendship!

  91. Nan says...

    You see me, Caroline. Thank you.

    • DeAnn says...

      Ditto… With a big sigh. Thank you COJ team.

  92. Alexandra says...

    This gave me chills. You are an incredible writer, Caroline.

  93. Greta says...

    I am so grateful for the diversity of perspectives presented on Cup of Jo, and today I am grateful for this one because it mirrors my own experience. My husband and I are not having children because he has a progressive neurological condition. I have hosted more baby showers than I can count, and though, I am thrilled for all the moms I know…sometimes, I feel a little left out. Your essay captures this so beautifully. Though I will never experience childbirth or motherhood, I have experienced the same range of emotions, accomplishments, and challenges as any other human. I am not less than because I am not a mother!

    • J says...

      Dear Greta, your comment really resonated with me. My husband and I are not having children because he has a serious chronic health condition which profoundly impacts upon his life and also mine. I am confident that not having children in these circumstances is the best parenting decision I could ever make. However, it really stings. I can barely talk to friends about it, although I hope this becomes easier. I am lucky to have family and colleagues who do not pry or make careless comments. I am thinking of you and your husband and wishing you many moments of happiness.

  94. Sarah says...

    Thank you so much for writing this. As a 32-year-old woman, this hits SO close to home. I lost quite a few friends when they had babies and weren’t interested in my childfree life anymore. I’m now currently pregnant with my first and I hope I NEVER forget how it feels to be the childfree one; in fact, I feel almost scared to tell anyone I’m pregnant (it’s early) because I don’t want our relationships to change :(

  95. ash says...

    Oh Caroline, your thoughtful post hit a nerve and prompted a good ol cry in me ;)
    38 and married (wishing to be a parent, but it hasn’t worked out for us)…and acutely feeling the ‘being left behind’ bit. Trying to take Melinda’s wise words to heart too, re: being there to help for mom friends wherever possible and hoping that friendships survive the tricky years. Thanks for this post. I really appreciate the intentionality that Joanna, you, and the rest of the CoJ team make to ensure this is an inclusive space whether you are presently a mom or not. A rare example of a positive virtual community.

  96. jdp says...

    to our dear, childfree friends: though it may not seem like it, we need you now more than ever. we need you to understand how precious our slices of free time are and how much we value sharing one with you; we need you to not be upset if we must decline; we need you to still know us and laugh with us as the people we were before kids (and still are, please keep us alive!); and, we need you…to sometimes, even once…offer to babysit, without resentment or disdain, because that is the best gift a friend without children can give to one with children. xoxo

    • RJR says...

      You’re missing the point of this post.

    • Jodbug says...

      we need you…to sometimes, even once…offer to babysit (for real though, like really real, just show up, send us on a walk or to get a coffee, even 30 minutes is a game changer)

      Amen JDP!

    • Ellen says...

      I agree! I’ve been a mom for a few years now and it can feel all consuming. It is a joy to maintain old friendships because they remind us that we have had other roles and experiences in the past, and will again in the future.

    • Lorange says...

      Seconding that you missed the point of this post. Also some people (such as myself) don’t have children because they *don’t want* children, which includes declining to offer babysitting services. I don’t want to be any child’s caretaker, for any amount of time, but I can still want to be your friend.

    • Margaret says...

      Agree with missing the point…just because I don’t have kids doesn’t mean I don’t have a fulfilling life. And could rewrite this as:
      To my dear, non-med school (/insert grad school) friends: though it may not seem like it, I need you now more than ever. I need you to understand how precious my slices of free time are and how much I value sharing one with you; I need you to not be upset if I must decline; I need you to still know me and laugh with me at the person I was before med school (and still am!); and I need you…to sometimes, even once…not make me feel bad that I’m putting my career first and acknowledge that I am still a “real” person without a husband or children.

    • Msinbk says...

      Agree you’re missing the point. Your comment is a list of things your childfree friends can do for you, rather than a two-way street to maintaining a loving friendship.

    • Sarah says...

      I am not a bad friend if I don’t offer to babysit your child. Just as you are not a bad friend if you don’t offer to walk my dog when I’m hung up at work. This comment completely misses the point of Caroline’s well-written piece. Read it again my friend.

    • KEP says...

      Again, missing the point of the post. If someone is adjusting to a massive shift in an important friendship, and mourning what once was, asking them to babysit rather than spend time with you feels like a punch in the gut. If one of my friends asked me to babysit for them when we have struggled to spend time together I would be extremely hurt, and possibly even offended. Maybe non-friend babysitters, nannies, even family a better option than asking a friend who misses you.

    • liz says...

      Agree with all these comments that you really have missed the point of this piece. I would also like to add that babysitting is a form of work (like a literal job) and you shouldn’t expect someone to take it on who doesn’t want to. For example, I am an attorney who works long hours and I can’t believe friends I have who ask me to babysit, but not, you know, hang out or catch up in any form. Sorry, I need my time off to take care of myself too (ie – rejuvenate, catch up with friends/family, rest, etc). While I am your friend, I don’t have the interest or bandwidth to be a babysitter. Pay someone who wants to do it for that work.

    • Sophie says...

      Ladies I don’t think JDP meant to say fightin’ words…I’m not a parent, but remember in Sex and the City when Samantha gifted new mom Miranda with *her* hair appointment (with the top stylist) while she sat with the new baby, martini in hand? And that just happened to be exactly what Miranda needed on that day. That’s what it made me think of :D

    • jdp says...

      i’m just saying, it’s one way to cross the chasm rather than wax poetic about it. there are some friendships described in these comments that have the childfree friends actively participating, enjoying, understanding, helping and loving the mama friend and her child, instead of thinking the only way to hang out is without the kid. seems like a wonderful way to balance the relationship. to the friends who occasionally roll up their sleeves and pitch in, even if kids aren’t for you, i see you and am sending appreciation and gratitude on behalf of the overwhelmed mamas.

    • RJR says...

      I do help my friends who are mothers. I cherish the time I get to spend with them and their children. I love their children as if they were my own and I’m sorry if you do not have friends who do the same.

      However, that’s not what this post is about. This post is about how being the childfree friend can leave you feeling like your accomplishments, needs, and struggles are less important. It is a strange guilt to navigate because you’re happy with your life choices, yet you feel an emotional tug that you cannot pinpoint.

      I do not disagree with your comment, JDP, but it has nothing to do with the post. If anything it proves the point that once again the needs of the childfree friend have been overlooked.

  97. Maham says...

    I don’t know what to say, so I will just say a BIG THANK YOU to Caroline and COJ for this post.

    • R says...

      Yes! I still want to hang out with you, I just want to do it at a different time of day. It hurts when you can’t make that adjustment for me.

  98. Ah, darling Caroline, you’ve spoken this so beautifully. I do not know what your future holds or what your wishes may be, but for your or for anyone young who is in this place, if it can help:

    In my experience, which is that of a 50 year old woman who chose not to raise children: it gets easier. Those early years are the hardest. For our friends who have become parents, their whole identity has changed; this little glorious being is the star of their life. They want to talk to other parents in the rare moments they are free; there is a while where we are less interesting to them. Even if they want to stay connected, there may be years in which it’s hard to say a complete sentence back and forth without interruption by the lovely tiny people.

    But if you hang in there, things change. Your friends get used to their new identities. They get used to parenting. The children become able to survive without constant supervision, and then they develop lives of their own. Eventually, your friends come up for air; they miss you. They often come to admire your life, to envy your freedom and the space you’ve had to accomplish things. The children in time become grown; there are actually places where I have fallen out of touch with the parent who was the original friend but stay in touch with the child who is now an interesting person themselves! Life is so surprising.

    I love to be the eccentric auntie to these children, and a rock for their parents. I love to be an extra hand for the families where I can (– I adore children; I just cannot raise them in the world we have. Not going to debate that!) So glad there are children to adore! I love the way I can choose where to be of greater service to the world.

    There were years in which, sure of my choice, I still felt left out of the experience that most of my friends were having. Adrift. Less valued, as Caroline has so eloquently stated. But here at 50, I am so glad for my choice. And I am astonished by how many people of all ages pull me aside and tell me that while they love their children, they wish they’d had the courage to make the choice I have.

    My husband and I watched our friends settle down into child-rearing. We thought about the next 20 years of our own life. We sold our house and took off sailing. We’re bobbing around now in Mexico, thinking lots about life and sending postcards to the latest round of little ones. The children are now old enough that seven of my dearest friends were able to get away to join me watch the sun set on my 50th birthday, on a Wednesday two weeks before Christmas in Mexico. There were years when we could barely swing tea! And now this. Time flows; all things change.

    The world needs all sorts of people. There are so many ways to be a good human being, a loving friend, a caring neighbor, a steward of the earth, a catalyst for change. There are so many ways to live a good life.

    I wish you joy and peace, and satisfaction with your life, whoever you may be, if you read this far.

    • alexis says...

      This post is a warm, inspiring hug.

    • Haley says...

      This is the most beautiful, lovely comment! I am so grateful for your perspective. Thank you so much for sharing it.

      There’s a quote about comparing your 20s/30s to “musical chairs” – If you’re not sitting down (aka married, with a baby), you’re feel like you’re “out” of the game and there’s never a way to get back in. At 29, I really feel that way sometimes. But as my therapist always reminds me, I need to take a breath and create the future that feels right to me.

    • leslie says...

      totally agree!! once kids are older, you get more time for your friends (and self and partner) again, hang in there everybody!

    • Elise says...

      Oh, so beautifully put.

    • Lottie says...

      Caroline’s post made me feel on the edge of emotion. At 34, every baby announcement makes me feel a tiny bit selfish and sad – I never know whether I am feeling sad at the anticipated distance in my friendship that the baby will bring, or my own longing for motherhood… But this beautiful post tipped me over the edge!! Thank you for reminding me that there are so many ways to live a wonder-full life, and my role as Aunty might be the main way that kids are in my life. Thank you for the diversity of perspectives CupofJo community x

    • laura says...

      This is beautiful. I am so grateful both for my children and for people like you <3

    • Dee Nargi says...

      Dahlia,
      This is beautifully written.

      Deirdre

    • Kate says...

      Thank you so much for sharing your insights. I don’t often see this perspective represented. Makes me feel great about my decision and optimistic about the future in general!

    • Katie says...

      Oh my gosh, favorite comment!❤ with alexis that it feels like a warm hug! Thank you for this.

    • Brooke says...

      Dahlia! This is amazing and you are so dear. At 38 years old and a woman without a marriage or children, I often think about all the other love I have in my life and all the ways I give love.

      Like you said:
      “ The world needs all sorts of people. There are so many ways to be a good human being, a loving friend, a caring neighbor, a steward of the earth, a catalyst for change. There are so many ways to live a good life.”

      I’m so thankful to live in an era where we are finally thinking about women’s lives much more textured and nuanced ways besides romantic relationship status or children, but your life story adds so much richness to this tale. I

      resonate that’s my friends with children are becoming more available as their kids get older -it’s amazing to see them emerging to the fullness of availability even to themselves. Like so many are saying here, it’s not that any of us are doing something wrong, just what Balm it is to talk about our different longings for Being seen and affirmed and for connection with others in the complexity of adult life.

    • L says...

      Yes! Everything with this post and this comment. Thank you Caroline and Dahlia — you’ve shared the things I am so unable to eloquently express. Thank you.

    • Olivia says...

      this is a heart warming perspective, as someone in their early 30’s who hears of a new pregnancy every week these days! i am still not sure whether i want them myself down the line (i know i do not right now), and i am sometimes envious of those who know for sure what path is right for them.

    • Rashmi says...

      That is absolutely lovely. And makes me feel very positive about my future self as a presently 33 year old, who adores children and can not imagine raising them in this world.

    • Mara says...

      Dahlia, I cannot thank you enough for this beautiful comment. It brings me so much peace. Much love to you.

    • Abby says...

      This should be another post in and of itself. Such a beautiful perspective. Thank you for sharing how it can look so bright a few years down the road once all people who can and/or want to will have had their children while it feels now a little bit dark (early/mid thirties without children).

  99. Emily says...

    Caroline, You’re writing is truly special. Every bit of it. I love your mixture of humor, smarts, emotion. Bravo!

  100. Briel K. says...

    That was so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing what it’s like.

    • Courtney says...

      Thank you for this! It’s beautiful and close to home. I am happily partnered and without kids. We both love kids and are great with them, but have no intention of raising any. I have already felt drifts with some friends. Others are better at making a point to keep their individual social lives and friend relationships healthy (like switching off days at home, so both parents can get out), and as the child free friend, I really appreciate that.

      This was a comforting reminder about the flow of life, and as a child free CoJ reader, refreshing to see! (Now I’m thinking about potential other post ideas…like featuring various child free couples and showing that you can still have a very happy, full life!)

    • LJ says...

      Yes to Courtney’s suggestion above – interviews with various couples who are childless past 40 + beyond would be eye opening and captivating – I always wonder – what about when I’m 60 … 70, how will I feel with this decision, what does a childless life look like?

  101. Jane says...

    This is beautiful. I have experienced the divide from the other side – having a baby before any of my other friends and wanting to stay connected socially but being rebuffed. They didn’t or couldn’t be bothered. I even offered to make dinner if they would only come over for a visit, but no they apparently had more interesting things to do.

    • Billie says...

      I felt that too. We were the first of our group. I do not know if it felt like a betrayal had happened–I chose to start a family and didn’t take them with me? It was odd. I felt very isolated as a ‘first’ mom. I also did not talk about my child very much and made an effort to listen to their stories.

      Anyways, I loved what Caroline wrote and I can understand that perspective as well. Being a mom vs not, is very polarizing. Suddenly there is this club that you are not part of. People are dumb with their tribalism. I personally dislike moms who incessantly rattle on about their kids. A funny story or a sweet one is great, but the moms that just don’t stop…Ugh. Its like bragging about an inheritance.

  102. Heather says...

    When I was growing up, getting married and having children wasn’t looked upon as much of a choice. It simply was what one did. To not do so was somehow scary to society as a whole. To be childless was to be pitied. I never gave thought to another choice. My daughter does not wish to have children. I admire her as I do all the young women who actually think about what they want in life, whether that is to raise children or not. The women who recognize that their worth lies within themselves, not in the expectations of others.

  103. NK says...

    This one really spoke to me. I’m 32 and married and I do want to have kids, but am not quite ready yet. Recently, a lot of close friends have had kids and I’m so happy for them, but it definitely is different. So I guess I sort of feel like I have one foot in the current, missing what life was like with those friends, while also looking to the future and how my own life and relationships will change once I have kids.

  104. Emma says...

    Caroline- Thank you for writing what has on been on my mind for years. It often feels like none of my friends understand the non-married, no children prespective and the hurt that comes along with feeling almost ignored in a way because I have done neither of these things. But reading this has made me feel a little less alone in this.

  105. Charli says...

    Also! This book might resonate with people on this thread, but last year I read “No One Tells You This” by Glynnis MacNicol and it’s definitely inspiring. I’d write more here but just go google it!

    • Elizabeth says...

      I second this book. It really spoke to me and continues to help me. And I am someone who hopes for all those things, but haven’t found them yet. And struggle with how to articulate the pain (even inadvertent) and confusion (and happiness, and fun) this is.

    • Brooke says...

      Glynnis’ book is amazing!! Heartily recommend.

      Also, I always seem to recommend Sara Eckel here, but her gorgeous writing reminds me of Caroline and the loving hearts of so many women in the CoJ community. Her book “It’s Not You” is amazing and this excerpt from her article in Boston Globe below resonates so:

      ”When I look back on my single years, I feel deep regret. Not because I sometimes felt envious at weddings — hey, I was human — but because I didn’t respect how much I already knew about love. I’m not complaining. I just wish I had appreciated the more fluid way I experienced love when I was unattached. I wish the perplexed bridesmaid I was had understood that wisdom about love is not limited to those blessed with partners or children.

      If you haven’t yet merited a ceremony honoring your achievements of the heart — wedding, anniversary, baby shower — it’s easy to believe you don’t know much about love. At least, that’s how I felt when I was unattached. But now I understand that that ineffable energy was always stirring inside me; it was just channeled differently. It went to the nice Korean lady making my sandwich at the deli, to the college friend I was meeting for dinner, to the street lamp’s glow sifting through the trees in my neighborhood..

      When I was single, I often felt that my lonely, aching heart diminished me. Now I see it was quite the opposite.”

      https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2014/06/26/being-single-weddings/HUrIuquqJ1bRPXrrpC8YAP/story.html

  106. Meg says...

    Thank you SO SO much for posting stories like this. As a non-child person I often feel alienated from a lot of the material here and it’s really nice to see the effort being made to be inclusive once in a while. It doesn’t go unnoticed, so thank you :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...
    • Jules says...

      As another (very committed, knew I would be my whole life) non-child person, I think the content on the blog really strikes a nice balance between parenting focused and other perspectives. It’s one of the few blogs I still follow for this reason. I often find the parenting content interesting, actually (mostly), like the motherhood around the world series.

    • Courtney says...

      Jules, I agree that they tend to strike a nice balance (and it’s fair to keep in mind that part of the description is that it is a blog about ‘motherhood’, so that part will inevitably be written in, and that’s not a bad thing). I just want to say, regarding the links provided, that being childfree and being single are two different things…you can have a long-term, happy relationship and no children. I often feel like our relationship is seen as ‘not there yet’ (after twelve years), even though I know that’s not the case, because we don’t have kids. It makes me feel as if not having kids is equated with singleness.

    • Deb says...

      Same, Jules. I mostly read the “parenting” stuff on this blog even though I don’t have and have never wanted children. I think that means it’s done really well – I don’t read parenting content anywhere else!

  107. JDD says...

    I have two youngish kids (3 & 4), and I would not have survived the gauntlet of the early years without my childfree friends. Not only is it a welcome breath of fresh air to hear about someone’s childfree life, but I’ve also gotten some of the best parenting advice from my childfree friends. Only now, in fact, am I starting to make friends with other moms.

  108. This is so beautifully written. I was in your shoes for many years as I didn’t have a child until I was 37, which is OLD by Minnesota/midwestern standards. I watched all my friends become parents and while I was super happy for them, it was challenging at times. I was the childless friend that came to them all the time – which I was ok with! The conversations were interrupted and I felt a bit awkward when the conversations would revolve around parenting decisions. But now I’m the one with a young parent and they often come to me or work around my schedule because their kids are all in elementary school or older. I don’t know if you will decide to have children, or if it’s your decision to make, but there can be a benefit to being the late bloomer of the group as I was. I feel like I went into parenting eyes wide open with realistic expectations, and I’ve been a better parents as a result (I think!).

    One thing I HATE is how people make single or childless people feel like they can’t say they are busy. It just really really irks me because you can have a really full and really busy life whether or not you have children. In many ways, I was ‘busier’ when I didn’t have our son because I had way way way way more social plans. Now I say no to lots of things and have a quieter schedule. My life is busy, but in a different way. So when my single or childless friends sort of qualify their statements about how busy they are by saying something like, ‘well, I know how busy YOU ARE as a mom…” I tell them to stop! Everyone has a right to say they are busy or have a full life. You don’t need offspring to get to say you are busy. //steps off soapbox.

    I hope your friends with children really appreciate having a friend like you that comes to them and works around their schedule. I am lucky to have some childless friends who are willing to come to us and I am so very very grateful for them.

    • Jean says...

      Lisa, you hit the nail on the head for me: “ One thing I HATE is how people make single or childless people feel like they can’t say they are busy. It just really really irks me because you can have a really full and really busy life whether or not you have children. ”

      I never feel “busy shamed” until I’m with my mom friends. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “You don’t know how busy you are until you have a child!” Or “You don’t know how (difficult/tough/etc.) life is until you have a child!” This diminishment is one of the many reasons why I try avoid hanging out with groups of mom friends unless there are other childfree women present. I’m so, so tired of the “just wait til you have a child, then you’ll understand” comment. Maybe I’ll never understand…and that’s okay with me :)

  109. liz says...

    love this piece! I honestly feel conflicted, if not truly sad, when I hear a good friend becomes pregnant because I know our friendship is about to shrink drastically. They always do. Not saying anyone is at fault, but their lives and priorities understandably change.

    • Mara says...

      I completely feel this too, Liz. The one that I felt strongest was my sister- and brother-in-law, who I’d have the most rip-roaring, often-alcohol-soaked time with. They always made me feel like I was back in college (a great thing for this 38-year-old!). When they found out they were pregnant just a couple months after their wedding, I was shocked and shed a few tears even, mourning a loss that came much sooner than expected.

  110. Crystal says...

    As someone who childfree not-by-choice, I couldn’t appreciate this post more. I’m bookmarking it, printing it, referring it to in moments when I feel “less than” my parental friends (whether that feeling is warranted or not). Truly, thank you!

  111. Alex says...

    Ugh, hit me in the feels. I’m a mom of 2 youngsters under 5. It felt like with the first kid i was able to hang on to a few close friendships. Of course things changed – late night drunk karaoke became bloody mary brunch with a baby asleep in the stroller next to the table. But at least I still saw my friends and got to laugh and talk about non-baby topics like art and music… But with my second, forget it. All of my non-parent friendships fell of a cliff. My life has become 100% logistics and scheduling between my two kids and the small business i run. Any energy i have left over goes to my husband or, on the rare occasion myself. It sucks. I feel guilty all the time, and at this point i feel like i can’t even call up my old child-free friends cuz they ‘ll be all “look who decided to show up…” Its nice to hear another commenter say things get better as the kids get older…

  112. LS says...

    I’m not particular about it, but there’s an interesting debate among some folks regarding the use of childless vs childfree. For some, childfree denotes a choice, whereas childless can indicate the person wants children but doesn’t have them. I realize this is a personal essay (and for the record adore Caroline!!), but as a childless (not by choice) person, I was surprised not to see infertility mentioned even in passing here. There’s an acute type of pain that comes with growing apart from friends who have kids when you desperately want to be their shoes.

    • Sandra says...

      I never thought about that! That is an interesting perspective. I always learn so much from Cup of Jo commenters. :)

    • Abby says...

      I think it was at least “mentioned in passing” in Caroline’s article when she writes “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.”
      However, Caroline can only write from her perspective, of course.
      It must be incredibly hard for you, LS, and I am sorry for your pain!

  113. Maya says...

    “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.”

    This is exactly the sentiment I’ve been trying to verbalize after seeing a friend post about having another baby and feeling surrounded by love. I felt emotional and wondered whether that meant I was envious of the choices she’d made in her life versus the ones I’d made in mine. (I’ve been happily married for nearly a decade, but no kids.) But once I examined the emotion, I realized it was a twinge of envy about having her life choices so thoroughly validated versus having mine constantly questioned, especially by my family. And I’d been so good about disregarding others’ judgmental opinions of my life up until this one specific choice. What’s interesting is that I’m the happiest I’ve ever been about my place in the world—fulfilling job, new and exciting creative pursuits, travel, ever-growing love for my husband. I fulfilled a huge creative goal of mine recently, but when I talk to certain family members about this accomplishment or my life in general, their voices are laced with sadness, because I haven’t yet done this one thing. I’m still a fencesitter, but am desperate to get to a place where both choices feel right, if that makes sense. (Right now, both feel wrong.) And I think so much of that depends on telling women that their lives can be full in a variety of ways, single or coupled, with kids or without. There are so many ways to live this life, and I feel like we owe it to each other to celebrate them all.

    • Abby says...

      Thanks for sharing Maya! I am seeing more affirmation for women’s choices every day, that is wonderful to see, but of course, there is still many parts of society where a child-free environment is judged upon.
      I totally feel you on the “right now, both feel wrong” thank you! I wonder, if this feeling will change at one point and I can decide positively for one or the other.
      Also: congrats on that major creative pursuit!

  114. Sandra says...

    Love this. It’s a common tale, but never said so beautifully.
    When I was a kid, my dad remarried. To a “career lady”. A “step children will be enough for me” lady. They moved into a caul de sac, in a neighborhood littered with stay at home mothers and small children We lived in different states so I didn’t see this first hand. But she had no connection to these women, and she often felt their eyes on her as she zoomed to work every morning.
    Guess what? Their kids grew up. And guess who has the most fun house in the neighborhood? Career lady found her life long friends, who just so happen to be the same people she thought were judging her for being kidless and career forward.
    So I guess the moral of the story, it will all come back around? Or perhaps those who judge you will need you for fun one day?
    But until that time comes around, register for high heels and heck with the green poop talk.

  115. Johanna says...

    Oh, Caroline. You’re my favorite. I’ve got two kids and it’s a through the looking glass experience. Once you go in you never come out and you will also NEVER have an accurate perspective on what it was like before. I applaud every woman who doesn’t have kids and is cool with it because while motherhood has been a God given mind blowing life changing experience, it’s also a life sucking one. And I think about the books I could have written and the money I could have saved before I had children but that’s just not how life works. At least not mine. You’re a god damn inspiration. AND you’re funny at it! I appreciate you and this piece as always. Keep at it and then definitely send out a Christmas card. After all, speaking as an unhappily married and soon to be divorced mother of two happy healthy beautiful children, those Christmas cards are annoying no matter who they come from. Trust me.

    • Sarah A. says...

      “After all, speaking as an unhappily married and soon to be divorced mother of two happy healthy beautiful children, those Christmas cards are annoying no matter who they come from. Trust me.” OH MY GOD! So true. lol

  116. M says...

    My best friend just learned that she is pregnant, a late pregnancy. I am in my thirties, single and have no plans for children. This is all the feels. There’s joy and fear and selfishness all mingled up. Thank you. I needed this today.

  117. Sarah says...

    Thank you, Caroline- I so enjoyed reading this. It is a beautifully insightful piece of writing. Yes to all your observations about friends with and without children, but also to your closing comments about the ebb and flow of friendship. That is a comforting way to think about the inevitable changes in relationships that happens over time.

  118. Nicole 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.” Oh, wow, I loved this. I am this person, too. I love being an aunt to my nephew and love all the awesome kids my friends have had. It’s just not for me.

  119. Charli says...

    UUUUUGH MY HEART RIGHT NOW. My very best friend just found out she is pregnant and this is my first close friend to have a kid. It’s been three weeks and I already feel the distance and change in our relationship. I know a certain amount is inevitable, but I want to do everything I can to make sure we stay close, even if it looks different.

    I’m not planning on having kids, and this sudden change has highlighted my desire to find and nurture more friendships with other women who do not want kids. New moms always seem to be looking for new mom friends, so I figure it should go the other way too!

    • Mara says...

      I’m in the same boat, often keeping an eye out for new childfree-by-choice friends. I haven’t found many. There should be a Meetup group or something!

    • Kim says...

      I’m always looking for people that don’t want kids to be friends with. However everyone where I live has kids/wants kids so I can’t be friends with them. They refuse to accept my choice to not have kids and they don’t share my interests. I have talked to people before in nearby states because at least they would be close enough to visit me often. People close by that share my interests and don’t want kids don’t want to hang out with me because they never travel and going to see them all the time isn’t an option for me. So I won’t have any friends to hang out with until I move to another state later this year.

  120. Man, what an excellent post. As a relatively new mom (to a 1.5 year old) I have finally come out of the all encompassing, no sleep, severe reflux baby months and have found now myself with a much much easier toddler, and a much much smaller friend group. I too mourn the friendships that seem to have vanished overnight. Its such a tricky thing on both sides. I loved hearing your insight into the flip side. What a great friend you must be!

  121. Jasmine says...

    So beautifully written. My best friend just had a baby, and at our age (37), I have been feeling all sorts of everything you described. You took my emotions and weaved them wonderfully into a gem of an article.

  122. Laura says...

    I’m a few years older than you, Caroline, and also childless. Thankfully, in 2020 it seems a lot of women are child free (by circumstance and/or choice). So depending where you live, I think it’s more common place and perhaps a less lonely place to be these days. Still, that episode of SATC has stuck with me over the years, especially when I am mailing cards and presents to friends congratulating them on their milestones. Maybe it will be my turn one day, but then again maybe not. Sigh.

    • Kim says...

      Where I live its a very lonely place. Everyone here has kids/want kids and they think everyone on the planet should have kids. They refuse to accept the fact that I don’t want kids and don’t share my interests so because of those reasons I don’t have any friends here. Its been that way since 2014 so I know things will never get better. So I’m moving to another state later this year. That way I will finally be able to have friends that don’t want kids and that share my interests.

  123. Amy says...

    This is so lovely, Caroline, your friends are lucky to have you. You are honestly wiser than many on the cusp of becoming parents — I was definitely that pregnant friend swearing things wouldn’t change. Many “listable” things haven’t changed — my personality, my likes/dislikes, my career goals. But something extremely important and profound inside me changed when I became a parent. It is hard to describe, but I find a similar spirit in other parents, too.

    Recently, my employer’s “moms” group expanded to become a general caregivers group, and it was fascinating to see that many of the struggles and highlights of parenthood are shared by other types of caregivers (for elderly parents, for example). So if you are a childless person reading this and feeling distant from your parent-friends, you never know, you may be able to “speak the language” one day anyway.

  124. Katie says...

    I think about and reference that episode of SatC all. The. Time. I can’t help but wonder: how old do I have to be to throw myself a birthday party and register for everything I would if I were getting married? ?

    Though I will say I’m very lucky to have friends (with and without kids, in and out of relationships) who celebrate everything in my life and are really in it with me, rather than minimizing everything because there is a lack of a partner and babies.

  125. jane says...

    Funny, this is also exactly what happens when your single friends finally pair up – as the sole singleton, each time I must resign myself to the loss of the friendship because they always choose to spend what little life outside of work they have, together. Adding kids just shoots them to another plane of existence entirely, far removed from any relating to me as a friend in their lives.

    • Lindsay says...

      Yessss! This is me right now- I’m the last friend in all my friend groups (and even extended family and coworkers) to still be single. At 31 I did not plan for this nor wish for it, but that’s how all my horrendous dates have shaken out. The married friends are just started to reproduce and I am sort of having a 1/3 life crisis of how lonely my 30s are going to be if I don’t magically discover a time-intensive hobby soon.

  126. Beth says...

    I needed the read this today. Thank you.

  127. Sarah A. says...

    I have found, as a parent to 2 kids, that maintaining friendships with other parents is also very difficult. There are so many logistics/schedules/last-minute cancellations. (Just finding time for a date night is hard enough).
    But yes, the chasm between my life and the lives of child-free friends seems pretty big. Sometimes my husband and I stop and say, hey, do you remember Saturday mornings BEFORE?

  128. amy smolar says...

    So true. I feel exactly this way too. Thanks Caroline!

  129. Robin says...

    I relate to this beautiful article so much. Many of my friends are having babies, but I am currently single. Sometimes I get left out of events like birthday parties because “it’ll just be lots of screaming babies, you probably won’t like it”. But I worked in childcare through university, my ex had amazing nieces and nephews, I’m good with kids! Just because I’m single and childless doesn’t mean I don’t want kids in my life. What I want is to be a part of my friends’ lives, which now include kids.
    In a broader sense, I wonder if some of this be why many people, especially urbanites like me, feel so lonely. Why can’t people at different life stages hang out and do things together? Let’s not isolate ourselves. Let’s support and learn from each other as we figure life out.

    • Becky says...

      Seriously-why can’t people of all ages hang out?

      My 12 year old daughter is in a “band” with 3 of our neighbours-they all share the same guitar teacher and her band mates are all in their 50s. They have a great timing jamming aka practicing!

  130. annie says...

    how wonderful to read this. and i identify with every bit. selfishly, i have felt utterly bereft on receiving friends’ pregnancy announcements, knowing that because they made this choice, my life might change in a way i’m not ready for. i’ve found myself thinking, why didn’t i get a vote here? as silly as it sounds. but i love my friends, and so i want them to have everything. every happiness. how hard it can be to remain loving, though, while feeling so left out. i appreciate the self-pity you evoke in this article, because it’s the truth. the baby-making years are a time to mourn a certain time of our lives, all of us, even while we celebrate the tiny humans that come of them. and i love the conclusion you draw. friendships, and indeed all relationships, are oceanic. the sooner we know that the ebbs do not necessarily lead to a cessation of flows, the better.

    • M.Nicole says...

      I love this post. It’s applicable in so many different life circumstances. I’ve been the child free friend, I’ve been the only single friend, I’ve been the oldest friend, I’ve been the far away friend, etc. It’s all different and challenging. Sigh.

  131. Elizabeth says...

    Sing it, sister! Not only am I childless, I live in Utah, where it’s expected that a) you will have lots of children and b) you are nothing w/out children and c) anything you do before you have children was just killing time. Fortunately, until recently when I lost my mother, being childless didn’t both me in the least.

    I’ve found that the women I know who are mothers break down into two groups. The first is the group that will never be w/o children — once their kids leave the nest they have grandkids to care for. As much as I like some of these women, our paths will simply remain diverged. The second group comes back around. Their kids are independent, they have time for lunch, dinner, sports, whatever — we’ve just had a sort of 15-year hiatus but we’re back on track.

    And I love that — it shows that the foundation of our friendship was there all along. I’m glad I hung in there for my mom friends because not only do I love them, I love their families.

    • jane says...

      A healthy attitude that I will adopt – thank you!

    • Wendela says...

      Thanks for this. I have 2 kids and it really does feel like the 10-15 year hiatus is what it takes before I can really be present for friendships with my childless friends again. I’m just about there, and have been wondering if they will “take me back” now that I have the time & mental bandwidth to begin to be friends again. I miss them, so I really hope so. I’m glad to see that it is possible!

  132. Abigail says...

    I so relate to feeling like my accomplishments are somehow “less than,” even though I’ve chosen not to have children. My friends with children haven’t consciously made me feel this way, but it nonetheless comes through. On the flip side, maybe I haven’t been as thoughtful as I could be about their new lives with children? Who knows.

  133. Chiara says...

    Beautiful piece, thanks Caroline. That is also my experience.

  134. Kathryn says...

    Beautiful thoughts. Some of my most cherished relationships are with my child-free “aunts.” They have room to know you and see you. They offer respite when life is tough and you need somewhere supportive to land, even if it is just for a cup of morning coffee. I now cherish my child-free friends as they forge their own relationships with my children, and because, to me, they offer an anchor to a world in which you can exist just as a woman. I hope, to my child-free friends, I offer a world in which their love expands, or the opportunity to go back in time to a childhood activity, or just a moment to bask in the sheer wonder of children that we sometimes forget about as we take on more responsibilities in our life. We may not spend as much time together as we used to, but friends are one of the most vital parts of this oceanic journey.

    • Brooke says...

      Kathryn, this brought tears to my eyes! You put this so so beautifully. So deeply affirming. Thank you!!

      I have several friends who say they’re so thankful to not just talk about mom things with me and be themselves “the person” but also glad to know I care and will listen and that I love their children too. Being affirmed for that means so much and helps me feel valued instead of “less than” for not being married or having children.

      I also resonate with the joy of being around their children-it is so true that the wonder and play that emerges that gets so buried in adult life.

      Your Beautiful comment makes me think that it isn’t so much our life path differences that are hard, but the tenderness and vulnerability of a affirming each other in the big life changes and differences.

  135. Joanna Tsay says...

    Caroline, this was lovely and thought-provoking. I always look forward to your posts.

  136. Colleen says...

    I was delighted to find, after selling my business and retiring, that my “mom” friends, some of whom were semi-unavailable while raising kids, are now ready to be girl friends again. It’s like we have rediscovered each other, only now we have time and disposable income and just wanna have fun. And we’re really just the same old girls we used to be.

  137. NH observer says...

    Truly lovely — especially the final line about the bridge! As a mother of a young child, I have to say that different friends fulfill different functions for me. I really don’t need to talk to non-parents about the intricacies of toilet training — not because I think they’d be repelled or bored, but there’s something else that links us — and I also don’t assume that their lives are somehow lesser or smaller than mine, although I totally see that much of society, dismayingly, makes exactly that pernicious assumption. In fact, I think it’s incredibly freeing to realize that friends don’t have to be exactly like you and having a diversity of friends — including and especially friends who are much older than you much younger than you — simply affirms that we are all inhabiting this crazy, messy condition of humanity together.

    As a postscript: I’m sure this is just an oversight, but my browser renders all the toy babies in the picture a single (pink) color — perhaps it would be possible to change that, as I’m certain it wasn’t intended?

    • Kim says...

      Where I live people have made it clear to me that I would have to be exactly like them in order for them to be my friend. I don’t want kids and I would rather read instead of watch tv. Well since everyone here has kids/wants kids and all they care about is tv people here refuse to be my friend. They refuse to accept the fact that I don’t want kids and they also don’t want to hang out with me since they have nothing in common with me. So I won’t have friends until I move to another state later this year.

  138. A.M.A. says...

    You eloquently put my feelings into words. Thanks, Caroline.

  139. I have been on the receiving end of some hurtful (though unintended) comments from my friends who have children as well, primarily, “you really do not know what love is until you have a child.” I don’t know why, but that one stings so much.

    I love how thoughtful and personal this post is. Thank you.

    • kara says...

      Yes! “You don’t know what love is until you have a child.”

      OUCH.

    • Neela says...

      A colleague once said that to me, too, before I had kids. I can definitely say, from both sides of that divide: total BS. *and* I feel sorry for both him and his wife, if they only experienced love for the first time with their children.

  140. Kari says...

    As the childless friend in my circle, I’m so fortunate to have girlfriends that have always made an effort to include me in their new phase of life. My friend with whom I used to go for regular coffee dates with – we now take dog and stroller walks with a takeout coffee. My friend who used to cook for me and go for cocktails with me – she now invites me over for dinner with her family, I help with the baby’s bedtime routine and then we have a glass of wine on the couch after he’s gone to sleep. You’re right, Caroline, it all changes and I so often fear being left out or left behind, but I cherish seeing my girlfriends become mothers but also stay the same friend I’ve known for years.

    • annie says...

      +1 for this. same here, and thank goodness for these friendships! it’s so special to be included as part of it all.

    • Leah says...

      I think this is lovely! I am the childless friend in my circle and my friends (who know I do not want children) also think I don’t want to be a part of their lives now that they do have children. I would love to do dinner and bedtime routines – that sounds fun to help once in awhile and be a part of their now lives! It’s definitely hard to be one that is left out or behind, and I feel like often it is to the childless friend to cross those boundaries and always be the one making the effort.

    • E says...

      You sound like a great friend, too. It’s not always easy for a mother to transition from her former life and to become a “mom” (while also still being the same, right?!). I am sure they really appreciate your company!

  141. Thank you, Caroline. You have put into words something that is rarely, if ever, discussed publicly. The more I lean into a childfree life, the more I crave a place where I can celebrate it without seeming like I’m poo-pooing another person’s choices. And everytime a friend gets pregnant, while I am so happy for them, I begin to mourn the loss of our friendship as we know it so far. After all, some friendships bend and stretch better than others.

    • p. says...

      “some friendships bend and stretch better than others.” — This is something I’ve never actually put words to (thank you for doing so for me!). This has been one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned as a childfree person.

      And in my experience, I would also say, some families bend and stretch better than others, too.

  142. Anna Zimmerman says...

    This resonates so beautifully with me. I’m a mother, but most of my friends are not, and I’m the only person in my immediate family to be currently “parenting.” Maintaining friendships is possible, but yes. It does change. I was keenly aware of just how much it would. My husband? Not so much hah! The struggle was there for him. It is a LOT of work to emotionally be available the same way you were BEFORE the 24/hr 365/year job begins. Definitely sending this to some of my friends; it just confirms so well what we’ve already discovered. Great writing Caroline!

  143. Anna says...

    This is so lovely. Having a little cry at my desk.

  144. Agnès says...

    You are quite an amazing friend! I have felt a more decisive distance when a friend gets a new partner than a baby. I have to admit I have now a tribe of friends I feel comfortable to be with and mostly, they are childfree. I do have a child, but is it weird I feel closer to my friends who have chosen not to have children? Some friends change, because of life, and i feel it’s okay to let them go their way. Maybe having only one child, and late in life, is probably closer to child-free than to a more than one child family? I don’t know. I’ve never enjoyed all the parenting talk; I kind of keep my love for my child a secret.

    • Sandra says...

      This is how my best friend is. She has 3 kids and I have none, but for whatever reason, we are closer than we ever were. She says she craves adult time and her friendships and dreads going to kids’ birthday parties and play dates to hang out with people who aren’t her real friends. It helps that her kids are lovely and my husband and I also have relationships with them. She never makes me feel less than (I would love kids of my own, but probably can’t) and any time I comment on someone else making rude remarks to me, she’s fully supportive. I’m so lucky to have her and recognize this since most of my other girlfriends with kids have dropped off from my life. Even my sister makes the “must be nice” comments when my husband and I have a lazy day. Anyway, I’m sure your child-free friends really appreciate you!

  145. Melinda says...

    Great piece Caroline. I’m grateful that you wrote it. I’m 36, no kids as yet and I think the hardest chasm my friendships have ever had to bridge was the divide between those having kids and those not (or not yet).

    One thing to note for those whose friends are in the thick of parenting tiny kids — it does get better. Now that my friends’ oldest kids are turning 5ish, we are back on for movie dates, dinners out, conversations about things other than kid schedules. As a non-parent, if you do the things that are helpful for your parent friends (cook, babysit, show up at their place to just sit on the couch, be willing to have your coffee date at the playground), you’ll hopefully find this pays dividends in that your friendship will survive those tricky years when the kids are small. I try to remember that I want these friendships to be lifelong and the period where the kids are tiny is relatively short. Sending lots of love to all the mums and non-mums who are finding it harder to connect these days.

    • steph says...

      Amen to showing up at my place to just sit on the couch! I am so glad to see you, my childfree friends, and so grateful you are willing to navigate my lego-strewn wreck of a living room to just hang out. I still value our friendship as much as before, I just have less bandwidth to show it right now. But I, too, am looking forward to coming out the other side of the toddler years and having some more flexibility again.

  146. Nectar says...

    This article has been how I’ve been feeling the past few years. Thank you.

  147. I feel this so hard! Though I’m pregnant with my 3rd baby, when my first baby had severe colic I felt uncomfortable seeing friends for basically the entire first year of her life. Understandably, I stopped being invited to things because people assumed I was no longer interested in friendship when in fact I desperately was, I just felt too terrified to leave the house for a really, really long time.

    I like to think I take the time to ask about and celebrate my child-free friend’s career and personal accomplishments, albeit a little jealously (I love being a SAHM but damn, do I miss working!). But this article reminds me to check in with them a little more often… and encourage them to send that Christmas card highlighting whatever they wanna highlight :)

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Caroline!

    • Megan says...

      Jess,
      I really loved your comment, especially about checking in with your childless friends and celebrating their holiday card accomplishments. I would absolutely love that, as a childless friend.

      I was just having this conversation with my therapist about mourning the loss of my friendships once my friends get pregnant/have kids, and the weird loneliness of feeling left behind (even if you’re cool being childless), and she said “I have dozens of women say the same thing you just did, and dozens of new moms who are just as afraid of where their friendships will go after they have a baby. I tell every one of you to just talk to each other and it’ll be okay!” I laughed, but it’s so true. Thanks for highlighting how you felt, and I wish you had someone checking in, too. Congrats on your third!

  148. Hannah says...

    Love this x1000

    • Cinemdy (Cindy but too good to delete) says...

      So lovely. Thank you Caroline

  149. Angela says...

    This is so beautiful!! Thank you, Caroline.