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.
Friendship is reciprocal; it’s important your friends be there when you need them, and of course, the opposite is true, too. Parenthood, by contrast, is much more one-sided. Your kid is a dependent and will undoubtedly take up a huge amount of your time. This experience of caring for a vulnerable little person brings untold joy to many people, but it can take a toll on your friendship game.
Even with our best intentions, life often gets in the way of being the best friends and confidantes we can be. Sometimes a necessary work trip prevents you from attending a good pal’s 29th birthday bash, or the death of a relative might mean you miss an annual holiday party. Various commitments can prevent you from being a perfect friend, and sometimes those commitments are your kids.
If your kid has a virus, or is having a difficult time sleep training, there may be times when you’re not able to dance all night at a bachelorette party, and other times when you might have to skip out on a girls’ night entirely. This happens when you have a baby you’re responsible for, and the truth is, good friends should understand that. We all know babies can’t give themselves Tylenol or change their own diapers.
However, just because you have a free pass to bail on specific plans with your friends to take care of your child when they need you, this doesn’t mean you have a free pass to be completely neglectful pal. Just because life can get in the way of being a perfect friend, it is not an excuse not to be a total flake.
If you can’t be there for all the boozey nights at da club or trivia nights at the pub, you can still be a good friend in other ways. When someone close to you is going through a breakup, for example, the fact you can’t always run over to their house doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be as present as possible. Here’s where technology is an amazingly helpful tool: text, FaceTime, write on their Facebook walls, like their Instagram pictures, or play it old school and pick up the phone and actually call them. If you care about your friendships, try to make the time to show your friends you are thinking of them even if you can’t find/afford a babysitter.
In the end, it is okay to cancel on your friends if your tiny human needs you around to keep them alive and there’s no one else you can turn to in that moment to provide care. But just make sure bailing on your friends on occasion doesn’t turn into forgetting them entirely. After all, one day your kid could do something drastic, like grow up and move out. When that happens, you’ll probably want to hang out with people who care about you. So, my advice is to keep your babies close, but keep your friends close, too.
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.