Proper Way to Maintain a Friendship

Remember the time I talked about how mommies make bad friends? Here’s a perfect example:”Can Friendships Derail When Babies Come On Board?”

Basically, it is about “Joanne”(non-mom) and “Michelle” (mommy) and their friendship. Joanne doesn’t have kids but has a busy career instead. When her old college friends had their first babies, she sent them all gifts and cards and congratulated them, you know, everything you’re “supposed” to do. But these friends have gone on to have more babies since then, and she’s sort of tuned it all out like background noise, since it’s not all that exciting after the first one. Her excuse is that she wanted to do more, but she’s just been “too busy”, but my take is that after the first kid, the rest of us shouldn’t have to keep shelling out money to celebrate their life choices; it gets to be too much! (One might even argue that she went above and beyond by celebrating their first babies since they would never be doing the same for her!) As far as I’m concerned in the situation of subsequent babies, an email or card of congratulations is in order for subsequent kids, but that’s enough.

As the article explains, one of Joanne’s friends, Michelle, got her nose all out of joint about Joanne not fawning over the recent birth of her latest kid, and wrote an email to her saying: “Sorry to sound pathetic, but have I done something to offend you?” as well as updating her facebook status to additionally whine, “Is it still possible to remain friends with someone whom you have very little in common? I thought it was.” Clearly, Michelle is a game-player.

If she was truly interested in renewing the friendship she would have approached this in a completely different way. Basically, this situation could have been approached in a few different ways such as:

  1. “Hey! I haven’t heard from you in a while! I bet you’re really busy! How are you doing? I miss you and thought we should catch up. What’s going on in your life? How’s your husband? How’s your job? (asking about other details of Joanne’s life). This is what we’ve been up to, although it might not sound all that exciting to you! (details of Michelle’s life).”
  2. “Hey Joanne, maybe I’m being a baby about this, but I’m really hurt you didn’t send a gift or a card when MicKynzeee was born! It was a really big event in my life and I felt hurt that you didn’t acknowledge it. Is that lame? Miss you!”
  3. “Sorry to sound pathetic, but have I done something to offend you?”
  4. “Fuck you, bitch! I don’t want to be friends with you, either! Go to hell!”

I arranged these in order from most mature to least mature. You can see where Michelle falls on this list.

The first, the most mature response, acknowledges that we all get really busy in this life, and that it’s easy to see an email in your inbox, be too busy to reply just then, and forget about it later when it’s no longer highlighted as a “new” message. It also goes on to let the recipient know that you miss and value the friendship, as well express interest in the recipient’s life before delving into talking about your own. Even if you write ten paragraphs talking about your own life (and let’s face it, that’s mostly what you’ll have to talk about if you haven’t heard from them lately) it’s okay as long as you’ve expressed interest in their life. This mature response would not be coupled with a whining Facebook post. Hell, one doesn’t even need Psych 101 class to know this is the best way to handle such a situation!

The second one is pretty self-centered, but at least it is a clear attempt at communicating and letting the person know your feelings are hurt. This way, you’re not making the person guess about your feelings nor are you passive-aggressively hinting about your hurt feelings. Being upfront is a good thing.

The third approach is just game playing. She doesn’t even give the reader a clue as to what she’s talking about! Maybe Joanne had forgot that she forgot to acknowledge the latest kid’s birth. So now she’s left guessing what Michelle’s problem is. Parents today love to tell their kids to “use your words” but then you get parents like this who can’t even “use their words!” If you have something to say, Michelle, SAY IT. Is anyone else worried about people this immature and childish raising the next generation? They don’t have the maturity to handle adult relationships, so how can they possibly teach maturity to their kids? Answer: they can’t.

And the fourth is just, well, ridiculous, but I threw it in there to show there are even worse ways to handle the situation than Michelle did.

If I were Joanne, I don’t know that I’d want to retain a friendship with a gal like this! She clearly isn’t expressing interest in Joanne’s life. As far as I can tell, the only reason Michelle is mad is that she didn’t get a baby gift and she’s hoping to guilt Joanne into sending one belatedly. That’s true friendship right there. /sarcasm.

Listen people: Friendship is a two-way street. With any friendship, even if it was Joanne’s “turn” to hit reply and send a message, that doesn’t mean Michelle can’t go out-of-turn and email Joanne again! I email or call out-of-turn all the time! Some people might think I’m a pest, but more likely I think they are sure that their friendship means a lot to me, or I wouldn’t keep trying. (And usually the reason they haven’t called or emailed is just that they were busy or had nothing new to add, not that they were “mad” at me or intentionally ignoring me and hoping I’d get a clue and go away! I’m mature enough to realize that.)

As far as it goes with friendships with mothers, we childfree do have a difficult time knowing what to say. Here Joanne explains it best:

These conversations revolve around the pregnancy, the childbirth, the baby, the development of the kid – all milestones to get excited about! Though, in turn, I feel like I don’t have news that can compete with all this newness. More confusing to navigate are the tedious details surrounding these events. Nursing problems, stroller contraptions, applying to pre-schools, dealing with napping “schedules,” interviewing babysitters – there’s really no material for discussion there for me. Could we gab about Taylor Swift’s horrendous performance at the Grammys, boys, or our career angst instead? I have no doubt that my life – long work days, freelance projects, wine-fueled date nights out with my husband, concerts, weekend getaways – is equally foreign to them these days. To top it off, our schedules are at odds: they’re more available during the day while I’m freer late-night.

It’s very true. I don’t have much to contribute to potty-training stories and I don’t really want to hear them. I don’t really care about baby-sitter angst. I don’t even want to imagine what “nursing problems” someone could have. Luckily for parents, there are many, many people out there they can discuss those issues with. Just not me. That doesn’t make me a bad friend for not wanting to know every detail of their parenting life. I just have no frame of reference so I can’t relate to those issues. Likewise, I won’t bore you with stories about my cats if you’re not a cat person, books I’m reading if you’re not a reader, or PHP problems I’m having if you are not a web designer. Fair enough?

One of the commenters to that article had this to say about the difficulty of maintaining friendships with mommies:

In my experience, as a singleton, lots of marrieds either expect you to completely change your schedule to accomodate them/their kids (we live a hour’s drive apart, but I ALWAYS have to go out there to see you despite the fact that I have a F/T job, a P/T job, AND am in grad school…you can’t meet me half-way?) or they want to bring their kids EVERYWHERE (you have a hubby and in-laws who live two houses down, can’t they watch the kids for two hours while you get coffee w/ me and catch up?). Honestly, I gave up on all but two of my married friends who have kids simply b/c of the above. Now that most of their kids are in school, we’re reconnecting.

It’s depressing, but I pretty much write people off when they have kids. I try for a little bit, but if I don’t feel they’re trying in return, then I just let go of the friendship.

And that’s a lot of what I was talking about when I wrote that piece on mommies making bad friends six years ago. So many women, once having children, expect us to make all the effort and sacrifice and if we don’t, then we’re not being supportive enough of them! Remember this next time someone says that the childfree are the selfish ones.

I’ve found, and you probably have too, that friendships with mothers only work if I have some hobby or interest in common. One of my bestest friends from childhood and I are still friends, even though we live so far apart and have completely different lives. That’s because we are still both avid readers and love science documentaries and articles. So when we talk, we discuss books we’ve recently read or documentaries we’ve recently seen, or science magazines we’ve read. We don’t talk so much about her children or my childfreedom or our jobs which are very different and don’t make for interesting conversation. The thing I love most about her is that while the kids are a VERY big part of her life, she knows that I can’t relate and doesn’t even try to make it a big part of our conversation.

Friendships do grow and change and sometimes they grow apart. If you have nothing in common anymore, it’s probably best to let the friendship go. Meanwhile, if you ever get an email like the one Joanne did, that’s a clear indication of a friend you don’t want to hang on to. If your friendship feels entirely one-sided, don’t bother. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t let people get away with treating you shabbily. Don’t let people get away with using you for free baby gifts. You only live this life once, so make the most of it and surround yourself with people who care about you as much as you care about them and forget the rest.

Thank you to the person who pointed me to The Frisky. You’re my new best friend because there is so much material for me over there I’ll never run out!