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Group chat: How to keep friendships between parents and non-parents alive

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

For the last couple of weeks, as I've been scrolling through social media, there is one article that I keep seeing over and over again in friends' Instagram stories and Facebook posts. The article is from The Cut, and the headline reads "Adorable Little Detonators: Our Friendship Survived Bad Dates, Illness, Marriage, Fights. Why Can't It Survive Your Baby?" The fact of the matter is that as our lives change, so do our friendships. And whether you are the friend with kids or the only one without them, this can be a really challenging phase to navigate. There is just so much to unpack here, so we called up two people who have been thinking about this topic a lot. We're joined by Allison P. Davis. She is a features writer for New York magazine and The Cut, and she reported and wrote the article that spurred some new debate on this topic. Hi, Allison.

ALLISON P DAVIS: Hello. Thank you so much for having me.

SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. We are also joined by Claire Fallon, one of the authors behind the podcast and Substack "Rich Text." Alongside her co-host and collaborator Emma Gray, Claire has been writing about these kinds of issues for years. Hey, Claire.

CLAIRE FALLON: Hi. Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: Thanks to you as well. All right, Allison, I want to start with you. Can you just start by telling us a little bit about your article and what made you want to explore the subject of what happens when parenthood enters the chat and the dynamics around some friendships - well, they're changing?

DAVIS: Sure. I mean, part of it was casual conversation with my editor where I was explaining that I was at this weird inflection point where I'm 37 and, a couple years ago, my very close friends started getting pregnant. And it was sort of an en masse thing. Like, it wasn't just one or two. It was - at one point, the count got up to nine friends who were in various stages of pregnancy or family planning. When that conversation started, I started doing a little research in April and started doing some reporting and started speaking to people who - on both sides - both parents and non-child-having people - were sort of feeling the same thing and wanted to talk about it.

SUMMERS: And, Allison, there is this piece of data that was in that piece that really surprised me, even if maybe it shouldn't have. And I want to ask you about it. It's from the journal Demographic Research in the year 2017, and it's research that comes out of the Netherlands. And it actually puts some data and research behind how the age that parents have a child impacted their personal relationships. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

DAVIS: Sure. I found the study super-interesting only because it gave me some guidelines to a question that started feeling existential, which was, will I lose all of my friends, and will I ever get them back? And the study says that sort of after the age of 3, people sort of come out of this haze, and they come back to their social lives, and they come back to being able to manage things, and they're a little freer. And you can sort of resume your close friendships again. And so in some ways, that was hopeful, just thinking, like, OK, this is not a forever. It's just an adjustment period. And all friendships have - all relationships have ebbs and flows. And this is just one to ride out, and we can come out of it on the other side even better.

SUMMERS: Claire, I want to learn a little bit more from you about where - kind of the viewpoint from which you come into this conversation. I think I'm remembering correctly that you have two kids, right?

FALLON: Yes. I have a 3-year-old, and I have a newborn.

SUMMERS: What was that like for you, and how did it impact your friendships?

FALLON: Yeah. So I was pretty anxious about it. And, I mean, as it played out, the reality is that, yeah, you just don't have as much time, and you don't have the freedom. You know, I can't go out without my baby unless I hire a sitter or unless my husband is home alone - now with two kids, which - neither of us knows how to be home alone with our two kids right now. So that's the next bridge to cross.

But, you know, you're kind of tied to your home in this way that makes it very difficult to socialize the way that I did before. I rely a little bit more on various scheduled-well-in-advance dinner dates after bedtime. I rely more on, let's meet up in the park for a little picnic with the baby and text, you know? And that's just the way that my friendships look right now. But, you know, I think that I was more anxious than maybe I had to be because I think in reality, we all care about each other, and we understood that we're just sort of at different life stages right now. And we have to give each other, you know, some effort but also some grace for the ways that we don't fit into each other's lives perfectly anymore.

SUMMERS: Allison, one of the things I really loved about your piece is that you not only interrogated your own experience with this topic but you also talked to this incredible range of people, parents and nonparents alike. And in those conversations, did you learn anything that surprised you?

DAVIS: Well, the thing that really surprised me was sort of this - I heard it from more than one person, especially from the parent side of things - that it isn't just a given how you're going to show up, not only in their lives as a parent but also in their child's lives as a friend. I had one woman, Jessiline, who I spoke to. She's a mom in Los Angeles who is a Black woman in her 40s who adopted a child, and she has a very close friend. And she asked him to be not just, like, an uncle figure but also a godfather and to really be involved. And it spooked him at first because he had never really had a lot of exposure to children. I think at some point in our conversation, he mentioned that he hadn't even, like, really held a newborn, and it made him feel slightly uncomfortable. And he took a little bit of a step back.

And in sort of questioning whether or not he knew how to be there for Jessiline but also for Jessiline's son, he discovered that he really, really did want to be part of her son's life in a real way that I'm like, whew. How do you have time for that and a job, where he's, like, taking the child to taekwondo, hanging out with him in the park, just having little, like, solo playdates? And I found that really inspirational that all it took was sort of a conversation but an honest beat of introspection to navigate something that could have really ended a long-term friendship. And I found that aspect of it surprising - that I don't just need to talk to, like, my mom friend and say, like, how do you need me to show up for you? Is it just coming over with dinner? Is it helping with this? But it's also, how do you want me in your child's life, and can I do that?

SUMMERS: Before I let both of you go, one of the reasons that I wanted to have this conversation with the two of you together is because this feels like a topic to which there's not one answer. There aren't necessarily easy answers. I mean, at this point in my life - and we're all in the same age bracket, so we can probably relate - but I've got so many friends who have kids, so many who have decided to be childfree by choice and, I should also note, a lot of friends who really want to be parents and have struggled to do so or haven't had the opportunity. And we're just all at such different places on this journey. And I just wonder, from each of your perspectives, how do you think we can approach our friendships and this kind of shifting, changing phase of life in a way that honors and respects where each of us are along this road and the fact that these are relationships that matter to us? What do you guys think?

FALLON: Yeah, I think it's all about trying to have the love and care for your friends to think about what they need and what they're going through before they have to remind you. I'm always trying to somewhat, if I can, anticipate what my friends might be thinking or feeling or worried about with, you know, navigating this so that, you know, they don't feel the need to have to defend themselves for me, you know, to go into these situations trying to be mindful of where they are in life and trying to take that into account in how I talk to them and how I structure our time together and, you know, to not always be trying to treat them as combatants where I need to secure my territory because we're friends. We love each other. And so we should be looking out for each other in these interactions and not just ourselves.

SUMMERS: Claire Fallon is a writer and podcaster behind "Rich Text." Thank you, Claire.

FALLON: Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: And Allison P. Davis is a features writer for New York Magazine and The Cut. Thank you, Allison.

DAVIS: Thank you, guys. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Gurjit Kaur
Gurjit Kaur is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. A pop culture nerd, her work primarily focuses on television, film and music.
Tinbete Ermyas
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.