By Jillian Mackenzie My boyfriend and I don't know yet if we're going to have children -- but over the last few years, the majority of our friends have taken the plunge. During that time, I've learned a few things about how to keep friendships strong when you don't have parenthood in common. Here are 10 things not to say to your friends who don't have children.
1. "When will you finally have kids?" Once you have offspring, you want your friends to share the experience. But please don't loudly ask this question across the table at Thanksgiving dinner or at a baby shower. Although many people are happy to be childfree or waiting, the situation may be more complicated. A friend could be facing infertility, in the agonizing position of having a spouse who doesn't want children, or otherwise in a complex struggle over the issue. Bring it up privately with close friends, or wait for them to share with you.
2. "We always wanted to have a family." If you use the expression "have a family" to mean "have children," you inadvertently send a message that people without kids are... family-less. Family comes in many forms: significant others, parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, neighbors -- happily, the list goes on!
3. "I only invited other parents." Having children is the norm, and people who are childfree can sometimes feel isolated or excluded. So invite us to birthday parties! Sure, there are some people who just don't like kids and have no desire to spend an afternoon surrounded by them. They can decline the invitation, and the rest of us will cheer when the birthday boy takes his first bite of cupcake.
4. "Are you hung-over?" If you had kids when you were on the younger side, you may have transitioned abruptly from staying out bar-hopping to night feedings and Yo Gabba Gabba -- and years later, you may assume that we're still acting like our crazy twentysomething selves. But just because we don't have kids doesn't mean we aren't growing up.
5. "You're so lucky you get to sleep in/shop/travel." We understand that you give up a lot to be the amazing parent you are -- and we do appreciate our extra cash and free time, and god, yes, the sleep. But too many offhand comments like this make us feel like you assume the reason we don't have children is that we're lazy, selfish, or shallow. The decision is never that simple.
6. "This must be birth control for you." Parents often make this joke when their kid is being loud or persistent, and we understand it's because you're worried the situation is bugging the hell out of everyone around you. Don't stress -- a good friend understands that your kid is going to have a meltdown once in a while. We can take it. And, of course, a crying toddler is not actually a tipping point in our decision to have kids. We're not that shortsighted.
7. "Your dog/cat/parakeet is your baby." Pets are a huge part of many people's lives, whether or not those people have children. But it feels like a consolation prize when you put it like this. That said, ask about my cat; I'm happy to pull up my latest photo of her adorableness.
8. "I can't die; I'm a mom." During a recent brief terrorism scare in New York City, a friend said to me, "I have to get out -- I can't die; I'm a mom." We know you have someone depending on you in an unprecedented way, but there are people who love and depend on us, too.
9. "I'm sorry it's taken forever for me to call/email/text you back." Don't start every correspondence with an apology. Your life is insane and letting us know you want to make time for us is appreciated. But don't stress so much: My life is busy too, and more often than not, I didn't even notice a lag.
10. "You wouldn't understand." We know there are many things about parenting you will turn to your mom friends to talk about. And, honestly, with anyone other than a close friend, that's probably best -- I lose interest fast when someone I don't know well talks too much about their kids. But when we're real friends, don't let our relationship fade because you're afraid of boring us with parenting stuff. Just like we used to listen to you talk about your ex, we want to hear about what's important in your life now. And we hope you'll do the same for us.