Friday, October 10, 2014

Ambivalence, Identity, and Choices

Many people report a change in their friendships after they have children. Specifically, rifts tend to grow between people with children and their friends who've chosen not to have kids, or just didn't for whatever reason, (or who can't, which can complicate this dynamic even more profoundly). When Paige was eight weeks old, a relative said: "you don't know fear until you have children." Those words stuck with me, because of course she was right. Nothing makes you more vulnerable. Suddenly nothing matters more than seeing your children through to adulthood and being around for them as they grow up. You feel like you could survive anything if it means you get that chance. That's a function of biology, I think, as much as it is a social construct. In the midst of those visceral feelings, parents sometimes feel a loss of individuality. There's some guilt in mourning the loss of freedom and independence that comes with having kids: as though if you let yourself feel ambivalent about parenthood, that somehow means you love your children less. 

I think that's a bit reductive. I think it's possible to love your kids unconditionally while also recognizing that having them in your life means losing something too. And the thing that often falls to the wayside is our relationships with friends without children, who still retain the independence and flexibility of a child-free life. Part of the rift is logistical, but there's also a psychological component. I try to bridge those gaps because my life is greatly enriched by my child-free friends. Spending time alone with them reminds me of myself--as a person and an individual--not as only a mother. Not only that, these friends enrich my children's lives, because they have a special energy and enthusiasm for my kids that other parents don't necessarily have. People who choose not to have children are sometimes judged with a dismissive "you don't know what you're missing." And while that may be, the truth is that every decision in life is a decision not to do something else. So not knowing what you're missing doesn't necessarily mean you're missing out. Sometimes people without kids lose interest in friendship after their friends have children, and that's understandable. But I would feel a void without these friends in my life--without the benefit of their perspective, their availability, their groundedness, and their special connections with my own kids.

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