It is no surprise some friendships don’t survive the turbulent toddler years. But I didn’t know that back then. I was a first-timer.
I had done my best to keep in touch with friends, despite my capricious toddler’s ever-changing needs and the absence of grandparents available to babysit. Then one day I was politely uninvited from our traditional pre-Christmas girls’ lunch, with excuses like ‘must-be-difficult-for-you-to-get-here’ and ‘you-poor-thing-can’t-relax-anyway…better-off-at-home’, designed to make me think it was my idea in the first place not to visit any more.
After weighing up the possible reasons for what had occurred I concluded that a sure way to upset friendships must be to have children at the wrong time.
Why and how does our tolerance toward children and their mothers change?
Naturally, we consider our own situation at any given time the most desirable. Anything above and beyond takes us out of our comfort zone. That is why we attract friends who are in similar circumstances and hold similar values. But as we do not synchronise conception with each other, the birth of a child into a group of friends can upset the so delicately created equilibrium.
The parenting skills of a new mother cannot be assessed in advance, so we never know if we have made friends with the ‘right’ people. We also won’t know until then whether the new mother will still make time to do her share of organising the group’s social life, upgrade her wardrobe seasonally and maintain perfect fingernails, or turn into a tracksuit-wearing, cooing stranger.
My friends had children, too, but theirs already wore school uniforms, so they were, and always will be, a few steps ahead. On top of that, some mothers seem to have those little angels who sit on their laps and busy themselves in a socially acceptable way. I didn’t. My darling daughter demanded more patience.
At our last lunch she had turned away from the table, kicking her little boots against the next chair and printing the squiggly lines of her boot tread onto a friend’s winter white designer pants. She was trying to get away from the plate with the ‘grass’ (shredded lettuce). The experienced friend tried to demonstrate how it’s done. But neither my toddler nor anyone around could hear the beautifully crafted speech she delivered in an attempt to bring the challenging situation to an end and make the toddler perform to her standards, that is to sit still and eat her vegetables.
It seems that after a few years, motherhood amnesia sets in. Had they forgotten they had to buy yellow beans for Princess because even they couldn’t make the green ones go in, let alone down? Or the time when little Superman had climbed the backrest of my lounge to launch himself onto the tea trolley…well, okay, he was caught in mid-air and it didn’t happen. But it could’ve.
I wondered how Princess and Superman will soon perform on the teenage stage. But at least my friends no longer had size six boot prints on their pants or vegemite smudges all over their shirt collar. Now it would be so embarrassing to be seen with someone who has.
Well, I have learned my lesson. I now understand that mums of little tackers have to make adjustments. That means having great nights in, with dinner guests squirming in their chairs and leaving after the main course because they have an ‘early start tomorrow’; meeting with equals, other toddler tamers, during the day; and catching up with the friends from their former, more sophisticated life when the children are with a sitter.
Some friendships loosen, and that is only natural. Perhaps this would have been the right time to let go of the people I used to spend time with B.B. (Before Baby), and befriend equals again, the new-equals.
Now, four years later, after another round of letting go and starting over to make my social life run more smoothly, my darling daughter is at school and my three-year-old son at kindergarten. I can relax again and have café lunches with my new friend Tanya I met through a part-time job. Witnessing the chase around two tables in the corner recently, I squirmed in my chair and frowned at the two-year-old leader of the toddler gang.
‘I wish they’d control these children. This is our lunch break,’ I quipped.
Tanya smiled shyly and said, ‘Oh, I’ve been dying to tell you. You’ll have to teach me how to deal with all that soon. I’m twelve weeks-’
‘-oh. Congratulations…wow, that’s a nice surprise, you must be sooo…’
Here we go again…
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem