Can having babies really ruin friendships?
Published 14/01/2014 | 02:30
Lily Allen said she felt abandoned by her 'botoxed celebrity idiot' friends after she became pregnant. Two writers argue about whether you can hold onto friendships after baby.
Yes, says Edel Coffey
The television writer Marta Kauffman once said of her famous sitcom: "Friends was about that time in your life when your friends are your family and once you have a family, there's no need anymore."
It's a harsh judgment but one that has a harsh truth at its core. Motherhood very often sees the diminishment, if not the end, of friendships.
The comments by Lily Allen last week that she felt abandoned by her 'botoxed celebrity idiot' friends after she became pregnant will be a familiar experience for many women (hopefully without the botoxed-celebrity-idiot prefix).
But it cuts both ways. I've certainly felt a little bereft as my friends' new status as parents meant I saw them less and less. I understood, but I still missed them. I've even felt a little left out when they developed a whole new circle of 'mother friends'.
On a rational level, of course, I understand that having children makes it impossible for friendships to carry on unchanged and that those new circles of friends provide a support that I couldn't possibly offer.
I know nothing of child development or the difficulties of being a mother, but the sense of post-baby abandonment that Lily Allen spoke about can be felt on either side of a friendship.
There was a certain amount of Momzilla entitlement buried deep within Allen's comments. Yes, her friends did sound like 'idiots' but if her friendship with them was always based on a social footing, was it reasonable of her to expect the friendship to suddenly move into a cosy, domestic sphere, a sphere that she had chosen for herself? I'm sure Allen's real friends were delighted for her and have been there to support her throughout.
Having children does separate fleeting friends from real ones, not least because it makes seeing each other a little more difficult to organise. My friends' routines are about as flexible as Ian Paisley's political philosophy.
Gone are the days of easy get-togethers or spontaneous nights out.
If we go out, our meetings are scheduled between feeding times and in cafés that have been carefully selected for their ability to absorb a piercing cry, their capacious baby-changing facilities or how much space they allow between tables for buggy manoeuvrability.
It's easy to maintain friendships after parenthood if both sides accept that there will be some change. I don't expect those friends of mine who are parents to be free at the drop of a hat or to partake in nights out or weekends away. I know that's not compatible with being a busy parent. At the same time, my friends with children don't expect me to suddenly start living as if I had all of the constraints of parenthood upon me. We work around it and continue to enjoy each other's friendship.
Those of us who feel abandoned, on either side of the parenthood experience, should probably just suck it up, and introduce some new friends into our circle to complement our respective lifestyle choices.
Friendships will naturally change after babies come along.
If we want to make our friendships work, we accept that. . . And the fact that, from now on, they may take place in cafés instead of cocktail bars.
No, says Grainne Cunningham
Anyone who wonders if having babies ends friendship should take a walk in a park or along a beach or glance into any café. In fact anywhere where there are children, there are women and almost always in little groups, deep in conversation, laughing, advising and sharing in between tending to their offspring.
All over the world, women commune over their children, ensuring that the often demanding and monotonous task of child-rearing is lightened by the humour, empathy and support of other mothers.
Cliché or not, men tend to bond over work or sport while women bond over trauma -- mini traumas such as what the hairdresser just did to your hair or the discovery of cellulite on your thighs or major troubles such as unrequited love and bereavement. Sisterhood seems to function best when rescuing, consoling and sympathising.
And, bless their little cotton socks, those blue and pink bundles of joy have a knack of boosting the anxiety gauge off the scale. No sooner have they emerged into the world than you start fussing over their developmental milestones and agonising over your parenting shortcomings. And invariably, the place where you turn for reassurance and therapy are your girlfriends, especially those who have already had children.
In a way, becoming a mum is a bit like joining a club and suddenly you find yourself having a laugh with mothers of all ages about what breast feeding does to your cleavage and how, after childbirth, you may never feel safe on a trampoline again.
But what about the girlfriends, who for one reason or another, have not yet/never will become parents? Is it possible to preserve the essence of sassy sisterhood if one gal continues to be well-groomed and can chat away about theatre or the latest film, while the other smells vaguely of stale milk and spends her evenings watching half of some TV sitcom before falling asleep on the sofa?
There is no doubt that having children changes your life dramatically -- in particular, spare time, outside of work and home, becomes a rare commodity and time alone, rarer still.
Yes, having babies will probably change the dynamic of your friendships. There may be less time spent in bars or cafés and more chats over the phone, or, when you do meet, snatched conversations over little heads.
But the real friendships will survive because the friends who are worth keeping will share your joy, commiserate with your struggles and won't even mind when you snore through most of the chick flick you were supposed to watch together. Because that's what good friends do.
And if you're a friend worth keeping, you will minimise the time spent obsessing about your offspring and will show off the latest photos only when you are asked. Instead, girl talk is a great opportunity to take a break from being a mum and to remember who you were and how you were when you thought a night feed meant a batter burger after the disco.
Any savvy gal knows that motherhood, at least in its practical sense, is just a phase. Sure, you have embarked on a love story that will never end but the little blighters are not so consistent. Barely have they reached double figures when you become an embarrassment to be kept out of view when their friends are around and before long, they are only dropping by with an empty tum and the week's laundry.
You don't have to be mathematical genius to figure out that there are decades of 'empty nest' years to come and, girl, you are going to need the sisterhood then more than ever. So keep your friends close and your girlfriends closer still.