I have noticed a small group of people on social media who tend to “like” my photos or comment on my posts more often than others, and it’s no surprise that many of these friends are stay-at-home or hands-on parents. We stay-at-home parents make up probably 50% off my Facebook newsfeed, interacting, commenting, and connecting with others with like-minded stories and similar situations, and I’m sure it becomes tiresome to my friends without kids. God! Doesn’t your day revolve around ANYTHING other than finger paint and trips to the library? I have no doubt that I am on social media immeasurably more often than my working counterparts, and that connecting to other people in any capacity helps make my day feel less routine, more adult, and more acknowledged. I know that, like most people, I share the blessings, challenges, and delights of my days, and that pretty much all of that stems from my children. I make a conscious effort not to air dirty laundry or complain on social media, unless it helps people feel less alone in a I’m-so-glad-someone-else-has-been-there! kind of way. It’s about connection in a life where I could barely interact with anyone over the age of five if I so chose, about remembering who I am beyond the confines of my home. Being a stay-at-home parent can be very isolating, and I know that those who are reaching out to me through social media, texts, or emails are just trying to feel like part of a community. And right now, whether it be by my choice or not, my community tends to be people with young kids.
Now that is a blatant generalization, and I know there are exceptions to both sides of that rule. I myself love nothing better than a good, long chat with a friend whose life is the complete opposite of mine. I’m fascinated by their stories of long-forgotten words like nightlife and spontaneity and live vicariously through them and their fast-tracked lives, so different from my own. I want to hear about their nights out in the city, about their adventures and their vacations somewhere besides Disney World. I want to continue to know them as people, about their families, their jobs, their goals. But what I’ve been trying to ignore, yet is becoming more obvious each year, is how some of my friends without kids, or friends who are leading a different lifestyle than my more domestic one, do not feel the same. Not all, but more than some.
As a stay-at-home mom, people assume I have little more to contribute to a conversation–let alone a friendship–than overblown accounts of my kids’ genius or TMI tales of what color the baby’s poop is today. I don’t understand why this part of my life raises such a barrier between me and people who once enjoyed my company; I am still the same person, after all. The assumption is that all my life is about are the mundane details of child-rearing. As if the grown-up aspects of who I am that feed my adult soul–this blog, writing for the newspaper, teaching classes, a burgeoning photography business–all that cannot be interesting or worthy of conversation because I am too knee-deep in child-worship to hold an adult conversation anymore. My life is interesting, if someone cared to ask, and would impress them if they took the time to listen. My days are not just about yoga pants and ponytails and diaper bags filled with goldfish crackers. Granted, the majority of my days ARE about those things, but this is how I choose to live my life and spend my days. Just because my business takes places at home and my partners are my family, doesn’t mean my work and life doesn’t have meaning. I am still valuable.
JDubbs says sometimes I don’t know when to let a friendship go; that I hold on too long when it is clear I am doing all the work. Maybe it’s because I stay home with my kids and have more time for a random phone call or email during the day than I would if I was at some busy office or between classes teaching high school. But I tend to think that even if I was working full time, with my kids and my husband getting a decent amount of my attention, I would still make time for my friends anyway. My friendships have always been a huge part in defining who I am. I am a good friend–it’s part of me–and my friends hold a spot in my life that no one, not even my kids, can fill.
I support my friends in grad school, my friends with high-flying careers, with lives (and wardrobes) unrecognizable next to mine. I cheer for their successes, listen to their stories, envy their expendable income and opportunities to travel. What’s missing is the reciprocation; the time to measure what I am worth, beyond three pregnancies and an obligatory baby shower gift. My life is fascinating, interesting, diverse. My relationships are dynamic and important to me. My marriage is still noteworthy seven years later. Just because I had kids doesn’t mean everything I was went away. How, in an age when everyone holds countless ways to check-in literally in the palm of their hands, could there be an excuse not to connect? Is it because people don’t think I have anything to say, or is it because they cannot be bothered to listen? I may be the one with three kids bellowing in the background, throwing food across the kitchen and demanding to be fed three different dinners at this very instant or else, but I am also the one up in the middle of the night to comfort a troubled sleeper, and could as easily respond to a text or like a photo at 3 a.m. as they could on the train ride home from work. The difference is the desire to not only remember who a person used to be, but to take the trouble to discover who they are now. And to remember that a stay-at-home mom is infinitely more than just that.