Discover more from The Things We Don't Talk About
A letter to my friends without kids
I miss us.
A few weeks ago, we asked members of the community to pitch their own stories for this newsletter, as we want to hear from more voices and broaden our own perspectives. Our second guest essay is by Annie Atherton, a journalist based in Seattle. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Seattle Magazine, among many other places.
Want to write for us? If you want to pitch a guest essay idea for the newsletter, read this guide and email our editor, Taylor Majewski, at email@example.com.
Though it was years ago now, I still remember a conversation I had with a friend where I complained about parents who complain about parenting. My exact words—and I remember them clearly—were: “They’re just solving a problem that they created themselves.”
Sure, I was half joking. While I hoped to eventually join their ranks, at that point I felt far away enough from having kids that I could criticize parents from a comfortable distance. Well, the joke is on me. I am that whining parent now, and I find myself wishing I could bridge the gap in understanding with people who are child-free.
Sometimes, when I talk to people who don’t have kids, I sense a sort of mutual bumbling. It’s like we’re both fearful of offending one another. They might ask me a clarifying question about kids. When do they sleep through the night? (I hear: Shouldn’t your kid be sleeping through the night by now?) They say: My friend took three kids under five to Cancun. (I hear: Why don’t you ever go anywhere?) To be fair, they’re probably just trying to make conversation. I think new parents are notoriously defensive (Can you blame us?! We’re worn down and trying to crash course a new job, the requirements of which change daily). I feel a reflexive urge to explain that children vary wildly in how well they sleep, how easy they are to care for, and so on. But then, for all I know, the child-free are defensive too. I ask: How’s work? They see my distracted eyes flitting toward my tottering child. They say: Lunch next week? I say: Any time except nap time, which is somewhere in the window of 11-3, so never.
All of this is superficial though. A little awkwardness doesn’t kill a friendship. What’s harder to articulate is that no matter how much I cling to the idea that I am essentially the same person now that I was before giving birth, on a cellular level, I am not. I sometimes feel like I’ve entered a parallel dimension in which the laws of gravity have changed, which is both wonderful and sad.
Having kids isn’t the only thing that can create a dimensional shift between people who care about one another. When it comes to childhood or college friends, all of adulthood could be viewed as an ever-widening chasm from the days in which we regularly shared chapstick and secrets. Moving apart, going down vastly different career paths, finding life partners…it all threatens a divide. Money is big too, and it’s hard to overstate the childcare affordability crisis ($100 has taken on an insane new meaning, for example). Regardless, knowing that someone does not–cannot–relate to the changes I’m going through is painful. Not because anyone did anything wrong, just because it is.
However incompatible the lives of parents and the child-free become, I do still believe they can intertwine. I want them to intertwine. And I hope that people’s lives can be richer when they include those who’ve made different lifestyle choices from their own. If I’m being honest, I do need help though. I don’t think there’s a new parent who exists who couldn’t use more of it. Not just cutesy baby hats (though thank you for those), but actual, get-your-hands-dirty help. I guess I’m referring to childcare again.
But also, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I don’t have a lot to give right now and that I’m often immersed in solving a problem that I created myself. I’m very, very sorry if you wanted children and life has not brought them for whatever reason. I’m also sorry if you’re content not to have kids, but feel judged about that by relatives and society at large. That is dumb and is especially harmful to women.
I’m not sorry we’re friends, though. I miss you. I miss us.
As always, we’d love to know what you think. If you have kids, do you sense a divide with your child-free friends? If you don’t have kids, is it hard to relate to your friends who are parents? No wrong answers. Join the conversation in Diem, here.
ICYMI! A better way to socially search is here! Test Diem AI with your own “taboo” questions or contribute to other Diemer’s conversations here.
PSA: Diem AI is available on web only, not in-app (yet!) and it’s best experienced on a desktop 🔥
What we’re reading…
It doesn’t matter how we behave (The Cut)
Is Therapy-Speak making us selfish? (Bustle)
What happens when a human falls in love with AI? (Fast Company)