Baby doesn’t have to come between friends

Dr. Angela Carter at the Psychology Dept at the University of Shefield.
Dr. Angela Carter at the Psychology Dept at the University of Shefield.
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A BABY is supposed to be the greatest gift of life. But is it?

When a baby arrives it changes everything. Parents discover a new-found joy in life, grandparents rejoice but what about the childless pals?

For women, the advent of a friend’s first child is not always a welcome one. Having a child rearranges relationships with friends and – in some cases – can quickly create a chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

Websites such as Mumsnet don’t help either, they merely amplify this gap between mothers and non mothers by buttressing the idea that mothers are a breed of their own.

More and more women are opting out of or are unable to take part in motherhood yet more report feeling ostracised. As many as 20% of women are childless – a statistic that has doubled since the post-war years.

So if as many as one fifth of women in the UK are without children, why are the childless so ostracised? And why are the child-free and child-bearers drifting apart?

Dr Angela Carter, from the Institute of Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield, is well-read and researched on this issue.

“Some people see life as stages and once they have moved through one stage they end it. So women who have gone through university or school and go on to settle and have children ‘end’ that university/school period completely. These types of people are what we call ‘stage completers’ – they go through one stage and don’t look back.”

But on the other hand there are people who see friendship as a continuous thing, irrespective of stages, according to Angela.

“You have to tell your friends that you don’t want to be left in a particular box,” she says.

Retaining friendships when one friend has had a child and the other has not requires that each friend understands each other and makes sure they are giving as much as they are taking from the friendship.

It’s about making time for friendships, says Angela. “Most of us think we don’t have time to go out for a drink or go to a pal’s house yet we will be sat in front of the TV every night after 9pm. Most households can make time.”

Angela suggests that childless pals are made to feel involved and in return make the effort to take interest in the their friend’s children.

This issue of retaining friendships with childless pals after having children is such that Mumsnet ran a feature on the issue, offering advice to new parents such as “Remember some friendships hibernate and come back to life later. Maybe when your friend has her own baby” or that “You have gone on a great journey without your friends. They are just the same old slightly crap mates they have always been. But you are that same crap mate with added unavailability, mood swings and an obsessive interest in a very dull, red-faced, shouty thing. Sometimes they just need you to explain to them how things are different.”

Equally, Mumsnet suggests that childless pals may “fail to understand why you can’t check your breastfed newborn into a hotel so you can attend a hen weekend in Paris, gaze into the middle distance when you try to express your pressing anxiety as to whether your four-week-old can focus her eyes or be full of really pantstastic parenting advice”.

But it’s points like these that exaggerate the gap between parents and childless people, as if those without children are too stupid to realise that a breast-feeding baby requires its mother, when they’re not on Mumsnet. The issues surrounding strained relationships is to do with societal pressure.

“A lot of women feel a tremendous amount of pressure about children and whether to step off the treadmill,” she says. “But equally those women who don’t have children need to understand that having children is incredibly demanding and we don’t always know the history behind the besotted mother, perhaps it was difficult to conceive.” So, just because a women doesn’t have a child doesn’t mean she won’t understand the difficulties of parenthood and just because a mother is busy bringing up a baby doesn’t mean she isn’t interested in the world outside.”

Top tips to keep your friendships intact

PARENTS

Realise that your child’s sleeping regime and bowel movments are NOT remotely interesting to other people.

Learn to curb the baby voices.

Show an interest in the non baby world of your childless pals.

Remember that you are still a person.

Realise that it’s okay to leave your baby for two hours with your partner, parent or friend and treat yourself to a night with a friend.

NO KIDS

Show an interest in the child – this is showing interest in your friend.

Realise this is the most important thing that has ever happened to them.

Appreciate that it is significant that their baby has started to sit up on their own/started talking or walking.

Make an effort to show support such as babysitting.

Be aware that your pals can no longer join you for a night on the town at the drop of a hat.