April 19, 2024

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“If you want to know who your friends really are… have a baby”, says an old meme that from time to time goes viral on social networks. The latest platform to expand it has been TikTok, where a good handful of new mothers (never fathers, everything is said) have shared videos in which they appear cradling their newborns, to later look at the camera with an angry or bored gesture and reflect thus the lonely reality they face. Of course, the viral has had a response: “I’m not a mother, so I don’t know how this looks from the other side, but I’m a friend,” explains a user named Barbarah William, speaking directly to the camera; “And, I must say…the reality is that you change after having a baby and make us feel like we are out of place or that we don’t have anything interesting to tell anymore, with all those ‘I’m sorry, I’m busy with my family’ ‘, you know, so it’s not a one-way thing.”

William’s publication, with more than 725,000 views and 130,000 I like, has generated a wave of comments where many users have shared their point of view: “If one day you decide to have children, you will understand, it cannot be explained,” answers one. “Wow, so many of you make our lives seem meaningless by not having a baby. A friend once asked me how I could talk about stress if I don’t have children”, answers another. “Priorities change when you have a family,” she tries to settle a third, unsuccessfully. “Not to mention the number of mean comments some mothers make because you date, sleep with people, go on a trip or spend your money on whatever you want,” says another. The latest TikTok controversy serves to open a melon that is rarely talked about for fear of generating unnecessary conflicts: the distancing that occurs between friends with children and friends without children, a separation forced by the arrival of a new person with a whole series of needs that, indeed, is not unidirectional, but neither is it insurmountable.

“I remember being at a dinner where four couples got together; they all had children except my husband and me. The women sit on one side of the table and the men on the other. Throughout dinner I listened to talk about the children’s grades, the extracurricular activities they did, their birthday parties… At first I tried to participate in the conversation, but there came a time when I realized that I had nothing to do with it. contribute and, besides, I was getting bored a lot. I felt very frustrated. I kept my ear to the conversation that the boys were having and I realized that they were not talking about children”, the journalist and writer explained to EL PAÍS Maria Fernandez-Mirandaauthor of the essay Not mothers. Women without children against clichés (Plaza & Janes, 2017). Fernández-Miranda believes that there is a stage in life in which the difference between friends with children and friends without children becomes very clear: “The plans and schedules are totally different, as are the priorities and even the conversations”, Explain by exemplifying the previous situation. Although she admits: “As the children grow, in my opinion, that gap is diluted.”

“Although it sounds like a cliché, the needs and priorities of a person who has just had a child change radically,” explains Silvia Nanclares, writer, editor and cultural activist, author of the book who wants to be a mother (Alfaguara, 2017), “and it is that the centrality that a creature occupies, especially when it is very small, is absolute”. Routines and schedules change and, therefore, availability. The ways of understanding leisure and free time change, even the family economy and the way money is handled changes. “There is a relocation of all these issues,” she confirms. It is in the first years of a baby’s life that friendships tend to cool down, but most of the time this is not due to differences of opinion, but rather to incompatible lifestyles.

Example: a woman without children leaves work at six in the evening and at seven, she could meet for a beer, but a woman with a baby at that time is bathing her son and about to put him to bed: “This gap is generated because the needs and rhythms of a person change,” the perinatal psychologist Cristina Cruz explained to EL PAÍS by phone and added: “That is why we recommend new moms to look for parenting groups where there are other mothers with babies of the same age, so that they feel accompanied and have people with the same rhythm around them”. The specialist points out that it is not that other people have put friendship aside, but that the environment makes it difficult to reconcile work with life in general, whether or not they have children.

It’s not your friend, it’s the system

“Contemporary friendship is more focused on fun and hedonism than care,” says Nanclares. Furthermore, the centers of the cities, with a scarce offer of public spaces for leisure and recreation, are also closely linked to consumption and, inevitably, to bars. “During a period of our lives, between the ages of 30 and 50, approximately, and if you are lucky, you will live a moment in which you have time, you are healthy, if you work you also have money and a series of comforts, but this situation is an anomaly”. Nanclares paraphrases the Spanish archaeologist Almudena Hernando in her essay titled The fantasy of individuality (Katz, 2012), who argues that current societies are based on two widespread convictions and not for that reason true: that the individual is autonomous from the community and that reason is superior to emotion. “At the moment in which dependencies arise, sometimes chosen, such as the decision to have a baby, and sometimes forced, such as having a family member in charge, a distance is produced between the people who are close to each other. one side of life, that of independence, and those who are on another, that of dependency”, explains the writer.

“A clear and worrying gap is generated, but at a social level. Because the reality is that there is an unrecognized girl phobia that currently makes families unwelcome in many spaces,” Laura Baena, advertising creative and founder of the Club de Malasmadres, a community of women struggling to break with the myth of the perfect mother and reach a real reconciliation. Baena gives a series of examples: “They judge us and look at us suspiciously in stores, in restaurants and on public transport. If a boy or girl cries, has a tantrum or has a bad moment, the mother is judged. Spaces proliferate only adults, such as hotels or restaurants, which prohibit the entry of children”. And he laments that we live in an adult-centric society that “seems to forget that we were all boys and girls, that our childhood is the future and must be respected.”

“I had a boss who sent me to all the work dinners because she had children and I didn’t,” explains Fernández-Miranda, who also considers that it is often the system, and not the people who live within it, that that fosters this gap. “Now the politically correct thing is to tell women that they should not give up anything. I think it’s great that you don’t give up anything, but that it’s not at the expense of my time. It bothers me a lot that when talking about conciliation most people refer to being able to pick up the children at school and things like that”. The journalist and writer warns that we should all have the right to reconcile our professional life and our personal life, regardless of having formed a more traditional family model or not: “My yoga class is no less important than the end-of-year function of your son,” he says.

A group of friends with their children.
A group of friends with their children.Carlo Prearo (Getty Images/EyeEm)

“It would be desirable to be able to have the conditions, spaces and habits where we could meet, where we would not feel like intruders or out of place, some in the lives of others and others in the lives of some,” explains Nanclares, who blames this distancing between people with and without children to “this capitalism so compartmentalized and divided, which promotes isolation or a closure to different realities and social positions.” Nanclares exemplifies how this changes when we leave the big cities and focus on small towns or villages, where this compartmentalization is not plausible and people of all ages and from all realities are more connected, for For example, in parks and squares, generating greater social wealth: “This makes you be more in contact with the environment and be more aware of the fragility of life, as well as dependencies, because we can all have a mother charge, a newborn baby or we can break a leg tomorrow and care should not always go through outsourcing”.

There’s a solution?

When this gap begins to appear, perinatal psychologist Cristina Cruz recommends “balance and flexibility.” That is the secret of life, as she points out, for everything: “Talk to our friends about our own needs. Perhaps if you have just given birth you need your friends to have more flexibility to come to your area and adapt to your schedule, but later, perhaps you should be more flexible and your friends do not always have to accommodate you ” . According to the psychologist, it is important that mothers have spaces and groups where motherhood is the main theme of their lives: “Many mothers have a wrong perception of reality, in which they see themselves as having two lives: the from before, which is no longer there, and now”. Cruz warns that this rupture does not have to be so radical and that it is positive to have spaces and people that keep them linked to their previous role, that of a woman, rather than a mother.

Faced with all these factors, Laura Baena believes that we must stop and reflect. Putting empathy into practice and not falling into the traps of the system that manages to divide us based on the interests of the market: “The system tells us how we have to live if we want certain things and, furthermore, confronts us to make us feel that our way of life is the best and that we have freely chosen it”. And not. “If we accepted this reality, surely we would be more understanding with the rest and we would not view other people with suspicion, judging them based on whether or not they have children.”

Nanclares, for his part, considers that improving the relationship between people with children and people without children necessarily involves a structural change: “Appealing, fresh public spaces with entertainment for many ages, where not everything happens to consume, to create cities that are more where we can all meet”. Cities and feminist urbanism, pending vital needs. She also considers a “humanization of working hours” necessary, so that not everything goes through reconciliation with care, but with life.

“I think there should be more empathy on both sides,” says Fernández-Miranda, “I have a WhatsApp group that I am very proud of because the members are five friends with different circumstances: one is married with children, one is separated with children, one single without children and two married without children. If Susana, for example, shares a photo of her daughter’s basketball game, all the rest of us applaud, just as they applaud me when I tell them that I’m going to release a new book. I guess that’s true friendship.”



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