Just over a decade ago, my best friend lived around the block and we got together at least two or three times a week. Today nearly 100 miles separate us, and we’re lucky if we see each other in person more than twice a year.
Distance isn’t the only thing slowing us down, though. My friend has an eight-year-old, a five-year-old, and a three-year-old, and I don’t have kids. Our adult lives take place in different worlds, which has meant a shift in the level of closeness we once had. What used to be an effortless connection can now feel like work to maintain. I still love my friend, but there’s no question our relationship has changed.
What happens when your friends have kids and you don’t
It’s easiest to relate to people who are similar to us. But when friendships evolve, as they often do when one person has a child and the other doesn’t, new concerns can come up. Do any of these feelings sound familiar?
I’m worried we don’t have enough in common now. Nonparents may feel like their friend’s life now revolves around the kids, with little time for adult conversation. Parents may feel like nonparents don’t understand the demands of parenthood and the joys that come with it.
I’m frustrated we’re not spending enough time together. Nonparents may feel like their parent friends aren’t up for anything fun or spontaneous anymore, while parents may feel guilty about having less time for the friendship because of their new responsibilities.
I feel like I’m not being heard or understood. A nonparent may not get why a parent is so exhausted or doesn’t want to do certain things. And when a nonparent complains about problems at work, for instance, a parent may feel unable to relate because their main focus has shifted from building a career to raising their kids.
I feel guilty for leaving my kids. Parents may be concerned that taking time away from their children to hang out with friends is self-indulgent, particularly when their kids are very young.
I feel judged for not wanting kids. People who are child-free by choice might worry that others see their decision as a sign of selfishness or immaturity. Nonparents may also face pressure from loved ones (or total strangers) to start a family, even when they’ve been clear and open about their choice.
I’m a little jealous or even resentful. People who want children but are struggling with infertility may envy a friend’s family life or find their kids distressing to be around. Even if they’re child-free by choice, nonparents may feel like they’re missing out on something profound in the parent-child relationship. Parents, on the other hand, may covet the freedom that nonparents have.
Why lifelong friendships are worth the extra effort
These days, my best friend and I plan to get together weeks or even months in advance. It’s not as convenient as texting and meeting up 20 minutes later, but it’s what works for us now.
Friendships tend to change over time, especially when it comes to big life milestones like having children. Parents of young kids often struggle with loneliness and may find it more convenient to connect with neighbors than with friends who live farther away. But putting in the extra effort to maintain and nurture longstanding friendships has benefits for both sides. In addition to improving life satisfaction (whether you have children or not), your close friendships also serve as an important source of social support when times get tough.
Parents with strong social ties may also be in a better position to protect their mental health from the daily stress and loneliness of being a parent. Nonparents may face social stigma and pressure to start a family, but they also have more opportunities to develop and maintain friendships, especially if they take the initiative to reach out to their parent friends.
How parent and nonparent friends benefit each other
When it comes to making plans with my best friend, I tend to worry about suggesting anything that runs too late at night or interferes with the kids’ activities. It’s easy to spend time and energy trying to find common ground when our lives are so different. But that energy would be better spent on appreciating the benefits each of us brings to our relationship.
Nonparents can encourage parents to take a break from the everyday grind of raising kids, which parents may have a hard time admitting they need. On the flip side, parents can offer nonparents the chance to spend time with their children and build unique relationships with them, which their friends might not get to experience any other way.
The two sides can also use their differences to learn from each other: Parents can teach nonparents the joy and excitement of being around kids, while nonparents can remind parents to take space and get back to themselves. Ultimately, having diverse friendships makes our lives richer and more fulfilling.
Ways to stay connected
Keeping up with a friendship after one side has kids may feel challenging at first, but it gets easier with practice. These tips can help you maintain your bond:
Be honest about what you need and can give. Both friends should communicate openly about their needs, schedules, and expectations—while also respecting each other’s boundaries. This helps ensure that each of you feels supported and understood.
Prioritize spending time together in person. Technology makes it much easier to stay in touch, but it can’t replace being physically present with each other. When you meet up in person, you can share meaningful experiences that will strengthen your friendship.
Make time for each other, even if it has to be scheduled in advance. Whenever possible, try to plan ahead to work around busy schedules. This might include meeting for coffee after school drop-off or lunch on the weekend after dance class.
Get creative about how you spend time together. You don’t always have to make complicated plans—they can be simple but thoughtful. Parents can invite nonparents over for family dinner, for example, or nonparents can meet parents at the playground to catch up while the kids run around.
Be realistic about time. Parents need to set aside time to spend with nonparent friends, and nonparents need to be flexible and understand the limited availability many parents have.
Learn about each other’s lives. Take an interest in what your friend is experiencing, and make an effort to understand each other’s perspective. This can help bridge the gap between parents and nonparents by encouraging empathy, compassion, and mutual appreciation.
Embrace all kinds of conversations. Parenting can be hard, but it can also create special moments that deserve to be shared. Both friends should be able to talk openly about their successes and struggles—not necessarily to get advice, but to be heard and supported.
Be understanding if plans fall through. Sometimes life gets in the way, particularly when kids are involved. Don’t take it personally if a parent friend has to cancel or reschedule at the last minute. It’s not their first choice either, and a little understanding will go a long way.
Keep worthwhile friendships close to your heart
Connecting regularly with my best friend, other parent friends, and their children has enriched my life in many ways. These kinds of friendships teach us about ourselves and about others, and they help us grow as people.
So go ahead and text that friend you’re thinking about. Chances are they’re thinking about you, too, and will appreciate the chance to connect—even if takes a little work.