Welcome to ask a child-free person, the blog where I, a child-free person who studies motherhood for a living, negotiate common conflicts that arise between the parented and the child-free.
Whether you like children or not (and for the record, I do), when babies are born, they are little dictators with no concept of other people’s wants or needs. If they are hungry, the world must stop until they are fed. If their soother falls out of their mouth, just forget about enjoying peace and quiet until it is restored unto its place in the blessed child’s mouth.
For most individuals not privileged enough to have live-in help, infants can be pretty all-consuming for the first little while, because it takes approximately 22 hours of work a day to keep them the f-ck alive. With that in mind, let us ask the question: Is it okay to tell your friend she’s become a baby bore who only talks about diapers and sleep training? My answer is that, like open-heart surgery, this is a risky move that should be saved exclusively for dire situation.
Whether your friend allows a baby to exit their body by tearing through their genitals or abdomen, or becomes a parent by filling out a million pages of paper work to complete an adoption or surrogacy, entering parenthood is going to be a major event in their life. It’s an event so enormous, it commonly causes post-partum depression, PTSD, and anxiety in general. If your friend then chooses to breastfeed, not only have they become legally responsible for keeping a young human alive, they are also that human’s primary source of food.
I can, however, completely relate to the plight of the new parent. When I put more than 16 hours a day into a work project, I definitely want to discuss it with my friends. I want to gush about my hopes and dreams for that project, stress about how it is developing, and vent about how tired it makes me. I regularly feel consumed by my work, so as a non-parent, I get how the work of raising a baby can be all-consuming too. I get how it could transform some people who previously loved to talk about politics, pop culture and fine art into a fairly single-minded conversationalist for a period of time. Having said that, please don’t send me hate mail. I am not saying this happens to all parents. I’m just saying I can empathize with the parents who do talk nonstop about their babies. Talk about pressure!
So now that I’ve explained why it’s understandable many parents become so fixated on their young kiddies, this brings us back to the article’s primary question: Is it okay to tell a parent-friend off for rambling on about their babies? Should you confront your friend if they won’t stop talking about how little Kai has the cutest smile? Should you tell them to shut the f-ck up when they lament over how baby Atticus can’t poop on a regular schedule? Well, you can, but it may be insensitive.
Look, keeping a baby alive for the first couple of years is a massive project. It’s a project that often requires parents to take leaves from paid labour, cut back on social engagements, take an extended break from having sex while the stitches heal, and get behind on binging Netflix. So if your friend’s baby is their go-to topic for a time, it is probably because they a) love the baby it took so much effort to have, and b) have devoted so much time to said baby, it’s their primary source of new conversation because they don’t have time to do much else. If you think you can’t relate to their situation because you are a non-parent, before you get angry, think about it this way: when you’re working over-time to finish a project for your paid work for weeks at a time, do you have lots of new stories to share that aren’t about your job? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean your friends should stop asking you questions about your life, even if the answer is going to be, “I fell asleep at my desk while eating cold Thai food.” I know if my friend yelled at me for talking too much about work in such a context, I’d be hurt. Whether you’re a parent or not, sometimes one aspect of your life takes up so much energy, it’s literally all you have to talk about.
Listen, friendship is reciprocal. Even when you don’t find your friend’s life scintillating, you still need to listen and care. Different people find different stories entertaining. Some people would rather hear cute baby stories, and some people prefer tales about drunken escapades. Neither group is wrong. However, if you care about your friend, you should pay attention to them and support them no matter what sort of story is on offer. Simply put, if you want a friend to be there for you when all you can talk about for weeks on end is a major life event like a breakup or that master’s thesis you can’t quite finish, then you had better step up and be there for that friend when they go through their major life events. Becoming a parent, while not for everybody, is unmistakably one such major life event it’s okay to talk about for an extended period of time.
Of course, sometimes you will have to confront your friend about the baby obsession. Sometimes it gets out of hand, and 18 months later, they still can’t get through your latest hilarious Tinder dating story without interrupting to complain about their child’s colic. You can confront your friend about being a baby bore if they monopolize the conversation entirely for months on end. If they aren’t interested at all in your child-free life and the trials and tribulations of your career, your dating experiences, or your relationship with your mother, then frankly, they are being a bad friend. Just like you can confront a wedding-crazed friend who is so obsessed with their big day they forget your birthday, you are allowed to point out when your friend is so focused on being a parent that they’ve stopped asking you any meaningful questions about your life.
But how should you bring up the fact that your friend is being boring after baby? First off, please be nice. There is a distinct possibility your friend might not even realize they are exclusively talking about their baby person. I know I sometimes get so caught up in my love for a new job or a new partner that I don’t even realize I can’t shut up about that subject. So please, please don’t shame your friend about their baby obsession. I recommend broaching the topic like this: “Erin/Steve/Jaya, I love hearing stories about the baby, but I actually have this issue with my boss I’d really like to get your thoughts on.” Here, you aren’t accusing your friend of anything. You’re merely course-correcting the conversation. It’s a mild form of confrontation that addresses an issue without hostility. You are simply asserting the fact that yes, you do have needs in your friendship, but you are doing so without shaming your buddy. If they’re at all self-aware, they’ll get the hint.
Finally, If your friend still doesn’t get it that sometimes in your relationship things need to be about you, then maybe cut them a break for the first year of their baby’s life. This isn’t me saying to forget about your friend entirely. Just accept that right now, this particular friend is so involved in the project of raising a young human that you’ll have to turn to your other friends when you need emotional support. Having said this, if your friend never regains their perspective and remembers you have important things going on too, ask yourself, were they already a narcissist before they had their baby? Chances are they were, and that probably means it may be worth cutting your pal out of your life on a permanent basis.
Sarah Sahagian is a PhD candidate in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies at York U, where her academic specialty is motherhood. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, xoJane, & The Beaverton. When she’s not writing her dissertation, Sarah reads a lot of novels about other angsty young women, streams a lot of Netflix, and tweets about topics ranging from reproductive rights to who’s going to win The Bachelor.