I am so thrilled to be writing for Zack today as and his wife navigate the turbulent waters of being new parents.
Now, my wife and I do not have kids. And although there are a lot of couples that are willingly childless, Cheri and I have been pursuing serious fertility treatment for a couple of years now. So when Zack asked me to do this, I jokingly said I’d write something about childless people trying to be happy for their new-parent friends.
Zack immediately wrote back, calling himself an “inconsiderate ass,” which I didn’t quite agree with on this occasion. Of course, I tried to clarify that I was sincerely happy for them, but of course the more sincere I tried to sound, the less convincing I sounded (much like single people trying to congratulate their newly engaged friends.)
Through conversations and message boards, it’s clear that there is a lot of misunderstanding, awkwardness, even tension between new parents and their childless friends.
I know that even bringing up this subject can be tense because it’s extremely personal and sensitive. But I’d like to offer what I hope is the beginning of a friendly truce.
The Isolation of Parenting…and Not Parenting
The thing about being a new parent is that it isolates people.
I have seen our friends suddenly plunge into a black hole of diapers and midnight breastfeeding. They emerge, months later, disheveled and disoriented. They squint their eyes in the daylight as if waking from a hazy stupor. Their voices crack as they try to remember how to have an adult conversation that does not revolve around bowel movements.
The thing about being childless is that it also isolates people.
Just like new parents get lost in baby-land, it is easy for childless people to get lost in non-baby land. Home life becomes dominated by baby talk, even though we sometimes can’t stand to see anyone else’s kids. Don’t worry, new parents, you aren’t the only ones whose love life is suffering. Actually trying to get pregnant is a great way to completely rid your relationship of romance.
A War of Words
Now, there are lots of things we say, perhaps to casually, which make our relationships with each other a bit tougher.
Childless friends, we could certainly refrain from referring to our pets as our “kids,” at least in front of our friends with human children. Let’s be honest. Our pets clean their own butts. We put them in cages. We don’t send them to college. Our friends don’t call their kids “pets,” and if they did, they would have Child Protective Services at their door. Let’s not minimize our friends’ children by comparing them to animals.
I just heard the parents cheering there. Parents, could you please refrain from ever saying to us, “You just won’t understand until you have kids.” It is true, we will not understand the intricacies of anything from poop to pumps the way you do. But we are intimately knowledgeable about many things which may not have occurred to you. You call your baby a “miracle.” We can tell you the myriad of infinitesimal variables that created your beautiful miracle. We understand just how miraculously unlikely it is that any of us are here today.
Also, if we ever do have kids, please do not say, “Remember, you wanted this!” as if to tauntingly say that we cannot complain about our kids the way you do. Just remember, we paid good money for our kids and the right to complain about them.
Don’t Pretend Your Life Sucks Just For Me
Now, I am not saying that parents and non-parents have to give each other the silent treatment.
In fact, I think you parents should not be afraid to share with us the good parts of being a parent. Don’t just share the bad stuff so we don’t think we’re missing out on anything good. We are you friends. Tell us about your victories and triumphs (hopefully they don’t all revolve around your kids).
And you know, I’m not going to be ashamed in front of you parents because I still have more freedom and more money and nice, un-barfy furniture because I don’t have kids. I’m not going to apologize because my wife and I can spontaneously skip town for a weekend.
People shouldn’t have to pretend their lives suck just to keep their friends from being jealous of them.
Sharing the Good and the Bad
I said that both childlessness and parenting isolates people. And isolation is hurtful. We don’t need isolation. We need empathy.
Empathy doesn’t mean that people actually know what you are going through from personal experience. It doesn’t mean your friend must know the exhaustion of midnight feedings or the pain of infertility treatments. Our pain is our own. We cannot isolate ourselves from everyone who hasn’t “been there” too, or we won’t have many friends left.
Empathy looks like Job’s friends, sitting in the dust together in our struggles.
Empathy is being genuinely happy for each other in the victories and triumphs.
Matt Appling is a teacher, writer and wannabe Dad. He is the author of Life After Art, released by Moody Publishers. Find Matt and his blog at MattAppling.com and make sure to follow him on Twitter.