Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Mommy vs. Non-Mommy Divide (Part 1: Does it exist?)

With news stories about the "no-kids-allowed" movement spreading across the country as restaurants and even airlines discuss banning children from their services, I'm personally torn over how I should feel about it.  As a single, working woman with no plan for kids in sight, I admit I occasionally cringe when my Mommy friends post comments to their Facebook/Twitter/blogs about "poopies", from the delivery room about centimeters dilated, detailed breastfeeding stories, etc...  but I still value their experience and expertise and have learned an incredible amount from them about the art of parenting.  I love my friends' kids, and while I don't think all babies are as cute/perfect/amazing as their parents do, I appreciate them for the tiny humans that they are... even though sometimes those tiny humans act like jerks.

What bothers me most is not the kids, but what happens to the relationships between Mommy and Non-Mommy friends... how friends who used to enjoy a girls' night out together turn into complete strangers, even frenemies, as we navigate this invisible Mommy vs. Non-Mommy Divide.

It's hard not to see it as an 'us vs. them' as we all have to share the same planet.

I want kids someday, whether on my own or via adoption.  I love my financial freedom and going to movies/vacations/nice restaurants!  I'm not ready to give up my sleep to clean up another person's poo!  I want to live my single Sex & the City life, not Sesame Street.  But I LOVE kids.  I've spent so much on baby gifts for friends that I've apparently been put on mailing lists for baby magazines and formula samples.  I babysit for free for my friends (including changing diapers!), just to give them a few hours of respite or time with their spouse.  I have to stop myself from purchasing a trousseau of baby clothing because I love its adorableness.

So what's a a girl to do, as I navigate this touchy issue?

I reached out to over a dozen of my girlfriends, women from all walks of life, Mommies and Non-Mommies, to ask some questions about all of this madness... here are some of the responses, and what I gleaned from them.  I changed all names for the privacy of the ladies; these comments are meant to spark dialogue, not offend!  I got more responses than I could use, but I think it's a good representation of different people, responding honestly and openly about their feelings.

Part 1:  Does it exist?

Is there a Mommy vs. Non-Mommy Divide?  I think there is, or at least many of us perceive one.  Once you become a mother, you are a part of this collective of womanhood, the Mommy Club, bringing a new life into the world like countless before you.  It really is remarkable... but what happens if that isn't your ambition, or if you have friends who don't share in your love of mothering?  Should you be shunned/pitied by the Mommies, or abandon your Non-Mommy friends?  I do think there's a divide, because there is such heated debate over the issue of children on planes/in restaurants, openly breastfeeding, vaccinations, etc.  When the parenting comes into the public domain, that's when things heat up.

There were a few ladies who didn't think there was a true divide...

Carrie (stay-at-home mommy, married): I don't think there's a "divide" per se, but while a mommy can see the non-mommy's perspective because we were once non-mommies, a non-mommy can't ever fully put herself in a mommy's shoe, which can lead to misconceptions and misunderstandings.

Melanie (working/grad student, divorced, mother):  Yes and no.  I think it's been manufactured as a straw-person argument in many respects.  It's not so much moms vs. non-moms as feminists vs. everyone.

Still, most felt there was a divide of some kind.

Jo (working, married, mother):  Yes.  I didn't used to think it would change things until my friends started having kids.  It was like all of a sudden they didn't return phone calls, didn't hang out anymore, didn't care about anything that was going on.  Then I had my own kids and guess what?  I'm terrible at returning phone calls, I rarely see my friends (especially Non-Mommy ones) and I have a hard time remembering things that happen outside of my daily circle.  Hell, I have a hard enough time remembering things that go on in my own life.

Gabi (stay-at-home mom/grad student, married, young baby):  Most people don't talk about it, but it's there, for sure.  As a mom, I just feel different than a non-mom.  We have different interests and priorities.

Kate (volunteer, married, two kids ages 8 & 10):  Yes, and also a mommy working vs. mommy homemaker divide too.

These are answers I expected... priorities do change, and having a kid to watch 24/7 can wear you out and keep you from making plans with friends.  I hadn't really considered that there could be further division amongst Mommies.  And it just makes sense, when you think about it... a working Mommy might feel like she doesn't get as much time with her kids and would love the luxury of staying home, while a stay-at-home Mommy might wish she could have adult conversations and a career.  In the end, the divide exists because we each have something different as a top priority in our lives.

Jenna (finance professional, engaged, doesn't want kids):  Yes, absolutely. When women become Mommies, their entire life changes. Through this transition the Non-Mommy friends are left in the past. Since I have never made this right of passage, I can only speculate. As a 33-year-old woman though, I can assure you this has happened every single time, with even my closest friends. I think a lot of it has to do with obligations. Mommy friends cannot drop things on a whim to hurry off to a dinner or a show. They certainly cannot seem to spend a weekend away with gal pals before their children are school age (even then many of them do not wish to be away from partners and children to have friend time). I also think that Mommies tend to have less disposable income (especially when the child is young) so they avoid the types of activities they did as a more selfish, non-Mommy.

Becca (web designer, married, plans for kids someday/proud doggie mom):  Yes! I certainly do. It's happened with my friends who've had children and we just don't hang out anymore. Though it doesn't seem that any specifically thing happened - we would make time for coffee dates in the beginning and they just got fewer and farther between.

Maura (PR consultant, married, plans for kids someday):  Yes, I do. I feel like people need to be more considerate of others on both sides of the fence. While having a child (birthing, or adopting) is a life-changing event, it changes your life – not society’s. I do think there is a divide as “mommies” seem to have a sense of entitlement that the world owes them something, and that we should all bend for them.

Kim (engaged, plans for kids someday):  I think those of us who aren't mothers feel a bit different than the mothers. We can't relate which would be the main cause.

I think that Jenna makes some good points about what has caused a divide... a difference in priorities.  I definitely think that disposable income is a factor as well.  I also relate a lot to what Maura said... I agree we have to live with children in the world, but I don't think I should have to kowtow to the Mommies/babies and change my life to accommodate them.

Perhaps the best example of someone who understands both sides and how things change is Ellie, who waited until age 36 to have a baby.  Going from being a full-time professional who admittedly used to "order a $100 bottle of Silver Oak at happy hour with my besties", she knew very well what it was like to be on the Non-Mommy side... until she fell in love, got married, and became a stay-at-home Mommy!

Ellie (stay-at-home mom, married, young baby):  "Having a small human in your life changes your life in a way that only fellow mommies truly understand.  Not to dis any friends that support you along the journey - but now I realize there is just no "getting it" until you're in it.  Just like anything in life that is all-consuming (war?  marriage?  divorce?)  Plain and simple.

It really wasn't until I was married myself that I could appreciate WANTING to choose to spend precious weekend time or evenings JUST with your mate.  How boring!!!  How isolating!!  Until you're there, and you know you need the time, want the time, long for the time together... It sounds harsh, but you become more selective with how you spend your time.  Why?  Because you are TIRED.  And in love.  These 2 factors combine and make you want to be at home and snuggle.

The other thing that changes is money.  Not just because I am a stay at home mom vs. a single working professional. But because first you enter into a relationship (marriage!) where you have to be less selfish with how you spend money.  So, I can still get the Silver Oak, the point is, I just have to be more thoughtful about it.  But I can never, ever, buy another pair of Dior shoes!  Now, as a mom, I think about the baby's college fund and how we should be saving more.  Choices are bigger when you have someone to take care of. It's a huge, wonderful responsibility.

Well said. I really understand the points of view of all of these women, and I'm already starting to sympathize with how everyone feels about this...   what do you think?

Stay tuned for Part 2:  Can Mommy and Non-Mommy be friends?

P.S.  Have you entered my free jewelry giveaway???


  1. Great start to the series! I'm already appreciating some of my mommy friends more after reading this, as I haven't lost all of them!

    Also wondering if we'll see a difference in answers to the next question when it comes to the different groups of Mommies (i.e. sahm and working moms) and Non-Mommies (those who want kids eventually and those who don't).

  2. Erin, I didn't think to ask about the different groups of Mommies, since I was writing from my own Non-Mommy perspective, but I'll definitely keep that in mind perhaps as a follow-on to this series!

    Right now it's looking like this will be a 6-part series, counting my conclusion. Wow! So much to process.

  3. I have been very excited for this series, as a 25 year old non-mommy whose friends and acquaintances have also all started having babies! I’ve been married for 3 years, and we’re just not at that point yet. I think that Carrie makes an interesting point about mommies being able to see things from the non-mommy perspective but not vice versa. I think this is true in some respects; however, I think that once a person becomes a mommy, it is hard for her to imagine not having this little child in her life. Sometimes, she tends to forget (because she has done a miraculous thing, after all) some of the reasons it was nice to be childless, and she can’t understand why her non-mommy friends don’t want to experience this wonderful life-changing event immediately.
    I am also interested in what is meant by the second comment, about it being less a mom vs. non-mom debate and more feminists vs. everyone. I don’t think that feminism has any bearing on this divide or non-divide, personally. To me, feminism is about what you believe about the state of women in the world. This is inevitably tied to how you act on that belief (if you believe one way and act another, which defines you more?) but I don’t think that having children or not makes a person more or less feminist. It could be argued that having children and raising them to believe the way you, as a feminist, do is one of the most important steps towards a world of equality…but this may be a debate for another day. BA in Women’s Studies here, it’s hard to turn it off sometimes! Anyway, excellent start to the series!

  4. @Aubrey, you might not even have to do a follow up - you have the basic info from the women who have shared their thoughts and it will be interesting to see if their opinions on ease of maintaining friendship seem to depend on their situation or not. For example: I would imagine it might be easier to maintain a friendship with a non-mommy if one is a sahm because the schedule could be more flexible and spending time with the kids isn't as rare, but also more difficult because the kids are always part of the picture.

    @K: I'm in the same situation myself - 26, married for 3+ years, not planning on having kids for a few more years at least - and I have over 25 friends/acquaintances who have had kids in the last 18 months or are currently pregnant! Luckily I haven't gotten *any* "why aren't you having a baby yet?!" comments from my mom friends - just my MIL, who has thankfully taken the hint.

  5. Great topic, Aubrey! Agree with many points on both sides as a working Mom...I have some very close friends who aren't married or don't have kids, and there's not a huge difference save for the times when I personally feel like our kids are imposing in some way by being too loud, smelly, talkative, etc. and that it may come across as annoying to a non-mom. Most are fine (or insist they are fine) but I definitely feel less stressed about my kids' behavior around other moms.

    As far as the working vs. SAHM, in my experience there's a greater divide there. There are only so many activities for kids/parents offered during non-work hours, which makes it both harder to meet other moms and even harder to relate to them. Our family/chore time is also limited to weekends because of work, so many times we have to forego invites from SAHMs or non-moms alike. Some SAHMs also have the misconceptions that working moms may have their priorities backwards in 'choosing work over kids'. This is especially untrue in my own case (since I'm under contract an had no choice to stay home) and it's hard not to resent this. But in contrast, we've found our kids to be a bridge to forming relationships with other moms and non-moms that we wouldn't have otherwise!


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