August 18, 2013

Motherlode: Having kids determines woman's circle of friends

By KJ DELL'ANTONIA

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That's the perception Sandler found among some of the people she interviewed:

"It's toughest in your late 30s and early 40s," "Going Solo" author Eric Klinenberg says. That's when social isolation tends to peak among people without kids. "What people report everywhere is this experience of watching friends just peel off into their small domestic worlds. That's the real stress point," he says, not aging and dying alone, as people fear -- and strangers and family members alike tend to admonish -- but the loneliness between when friends have babies and when they become empty nesters.

Several of my friends and family members have skipped the child thing (at least for now -- although we talk about many things, I've long since chosen not to be among those who ask, "So, are you planning to have kids?"). We're as close as distant living situations allow us to be. I feel that things are the same between us as they ever were, and that we talk about much the same things as we ever did. But I suspect those bonds would be harder to form now than they were then, and while they may still feel strong to me, my friends and family may see it differently. Daily phone calls (to say nothing of frequent visits and travel together) are largely a thing of the past.

As a parent myself, I don't read my tendency to gravitate toward fellow mothers as judgment -- I read it as practical. Fellow parents are more likely to understand if I bail on dinner because of a sudden teacher conference, and their eyes are less likely to glaze over if my preoccupation at that dinner is more temper tantrums than, say, the right way to temper chocolate (which might once have held my interest for hours). In fact, I'd argue that it's win-win.

But, that said, when I look at my husband and the friendships he's formed since we had children, I suspect he's not making the same call. I may be cheating myself out of a broader social circle, not to mention far more opportunities to get out at night.

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at:

kj.dellantonia@nytimes.com

 

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