Some of my closest female friends are brilliant, intelligent, beautiful goddesses who do not have children. When we meet once a month for dinner or drinks — always in the afternoon now because I’m the friend who has to be up at the crack of dawn with two kids — they ask what new words my toddler has learned. They laugh at photos of my 5-year-old daughter constructing a robot and then putting a leash on it because we’ve deprived her of a family pet. They love my kids as much as we love one another — but their reaction when I ask for their parenting advice can only be described as pained.
I know I’m not a parent, but…
I’m not sure I have any right to say this… but…
I’m not saying I know how to be a mom, BUT…
And, believe me, getting as far as that “but” is like trying to extract a molar with dental floss.
We’ve managed to construct an indestructible wall between parents and adult friends, acquaintances or strangers who do not have kids. Whereas we used to laud the idea that “it takes a village” to raise children, many of us now want nothing more than to believe we’re doing everything the right way all of the time and if you have a cross word to say about how I’m feeding my kids too much sugar, well, I’ll just label that “parent-shaming,” cup my ears with my palms and hum loudly to myself until you go away.
The contempt many parents have for the advice police is understandable — because it’s a constant stream of criticism, much of which is static noise that takes away from meaningful discourse (if I have to read about another Duggar car seat scandal, my head might explode). Somewhere along the way, smart and savvy adult men and women — those same people who know kids, love kids, have a stake in the future of our society, understand conflict resolution and may possess more patience than I can ever dream of having — have been shut out of the parenting conversation because they haven’t given birth.
While I would probably leave questions about diaper rash or how to help my child deal with nightmares to parents who have been there, done that, a lot of parents might be surprised to find that friends without children offer fresh perspectives on parenting issues — with far less judgment.
When I called her in mid-freak-out because my toddler decided he was on a hunger strike, a friend who has never raised a toddler calmly asked me what I had fed him.
Her: Maybe he just doesn’t like squash and chicken.
Me: No. He has to eat what I make for him.
Her: OK… but he’ll eat other stuff that you aren’t feeding him?
Me: (Annoyed) Yes. But he has to eat what I make for him.
Her: (Pause) Aren’t you the same person who eats oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast and lunch?
Why, yes. Yes, I am.
My friends may not know what it’s like to stay up all night with flu-stricken child, but they are beacons of strength and patience who have talked me down from the ledge too many times to count. It helps that they don’t utter phrases like, “If I were a parent, I’d never let my kids do X, Y, Z.” And it helps that they don’t equate their dog to my kids because don’t even get me started on that. On the rare occasions I can pull advice out of them while they kick and scream to keep their thoughts to themselves, I know it is genuine and that they aren’t judging me. They aren’t secretly comparing our children’s tantrums or assuming they know it all because they’ve raised kids.
When given a voice, many child-free adults will use it to impart wisdom many parents may not have heard 100,000 times before. It would be a shame to keep trying to shut them out of the conversation.