Children and/or Friends

Here’s a disclaimer that will likely become obvious quite quickly : I don’t have children.

I hope to, someday, and I fully expect to look back at this, smile, shake my head, and smirk about how hopelessly clueless and naive I was.  Opinions are supposed to change as we grow and learn, after all, that’s kind of how the whole life thing works.  Knowing that your view might change, though, doesn’t invalidate today’s perspective.

From where I stand today, it appears that many people, when they become parents, embrace their new identity to such a great extent that they abandon much of their previous life, and the relationships they cultivated in it.  The role of Parent expands to consume so much time and energy that there is not much left for the role of Friend.

Parents, put down the pitchforks and hear me out on this.

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How many of you have parents with a close, supportive group of friends?  Or, do you have parents that are somewhat lonely, relying on solitary routines to pass time each day?  If it’s the latter, do you suppose they wish they had peers around to talk about getting older, share their fears, maybe support each other through the end of their journeys?

When we were younger, we had those people.  No matter what life path you chose, you had people to grab drinks with, and in between gossip and busting each other’s chops, you talked about your goals and fears; you got feedback and advice, whether you asked for it or not.  You fought at times, you disagreed, but you never felt alone.  They loved you for who you were, and you loved them for the same reason.

Why, then, do people always seem to drift apart?  Why do a group of ten friends who went through the best and worst times together before starting their families end up estranged and alone in ten different retirement homes?

Of course, raising a child, especially in the early years, requires a tremendous commitment that consumes much of what you have available.  Sleep is no longer a given, and the pressure of being responsible for another life, without a second of refuge, takes a considerable toll on your mind.

It is such an overwhelming, rewarding, and sometimes scary experience that new parents seem to subconsciously assume that anyone who isn’t a parent couldn’t relate to it.

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You would be right about that, they can’t  – but what they can still relate to, as they could for the years or decades previous, is you as a person.  Not your parent identity, but your personal identity.   For the reasons mentioned above, a parent might not even recognize or attend to their personal identity for several years, but it’s still there – you still have hopes and fears about your future, aside from those for your children; and just like they were before, your friends are there to support you through it.

Of course, it’s not easy, and wild nights at the bar no doubt must give way to civilized dinners with high chairs at the table.  Maybe all you can muster between childproofing the house and cleaning baby poop off the ceiling is a two-minute phone call to see how they’re doing.  When viewed as an investment though – in both your friends as people who were always there for you and still are, and for yourself in the form of maintaining relationships you might wish you had years later, it’s well worth it.

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