The Growing Differences Between How my Child-free Friends and Friends with Kids Think

Last May, about a month before I got knocked up with baby #2, I tried on the most stunning, black-and-floral-print, jaw-dropping Parker dress at Apricot Lane, a super-cute boutique in Fairfield, Conn., where I live. It was a lovely, sunny Sunday, and my dear husband had taken our baby son, Nathan, to his grandparents’ house, so I could have a few hours to myself.

When I saw my reflection in the mirror, I was stunned at how great I still looked, at 37, in a designer dress. It was a real confidence boost to a mom, let me tell you. Then I saw the price tag: $235!!!

Now, it’s not that I don’t have enough money to afford a $235 designer dress. I do. But with Nathan in daycare, and plans to buy a home on the horizon, I knew it had to be a truly special dress to drop that kind of cash spontaneously.

So I called my fashion-forward friend A. to ask her what I should do: Should I fork over the money and splurge on the dress? Should I pass?

“I’d wait, look around a bit, see what else you can find,” said A.

Fair enough. After all, A. always gives me great advice. Unfortunately, I forgot to take into account that she is child-free, and therefore, by default, experiences the world a bit differently than I do.

Long story short, I took her advice because it seemed like the “smart” thing to do — I figured later that week I’d find another great dress when I stopped by the mall during my downtime. But two hours of downtime and a trip to the mall never came. And then it was mid June. I desperately trolled the Internet, but the dress was sold out online. The one I had put on hold at Apricot Lane was long gone, too.

Almost a year later, and I’m still thinking about that dress — the Parker Lily dress.

When I recalled the experience, months later, to my friend Karina, who has a son, her response made me seethe even more for listening to my child-free friend: “Oh my god, you should have bought the dress,” she said. “Who has time to go shopping? You have a kid!”

The experience did, however, enlighten me to the reality that there’s a growing gap between how my friends with kids and my friends without kids think about everything.

Take sleep.

Shortly after the dress incident, I headed south for a planned girls getaway with two of my besties and another girl pal. The night before, me and bestie #1 got about four hours of sleep each — me because of the anxiety and insomnia over leaving my then-11-month-old for a beach jaunt, and her because of my uncomfortable air mattress.

En route to Dewey Beach, Bestie #1 marveled at my ability to pump breast milk while driving, and when we arrived at the beach, it was rainy so we decided to get pedicures. That’s when she hit a wall. “I have to take a nap!” she lamented. The mood had changed so quickly, and she was cranky. I pondered this in disbelief: Was she really that exhausted over four hours of sleep for one night? Did people between the ages of 16 and 50 get exhausted over one bad night?

The answer, apparently, is yes.

But as any parent knows, when you have a kid you learn to bank sleep: a good night is four straight hours, interrupted once, followed by two hours, which gives you about six total. A bad night is two hours, or half-hour sleep segments spaced out by infant grunting. Parents learn to survive at 50 percent sleep capacity — or four hours a night total (including interruptions) — for weeks on end.

Child-free friends of mine don’t understand these bootcamp-like conditions, so they convince themselves they “need” sleep because they are used to a high level of sleep (it’s similar to how those of us who grew up in the middle-class suburbs “needed” new clothes every few months).

It’s not that I fault my bestie for needing so much sleep, or for taking care of herself. I did the same thing before I got pregnant with my first son. But when you have a baby, your views on sleep change from that point forward: Sleep is a beautiful thing; it’s great when you can get it but if you can’t, you won’t die.

Here is how those of us with kids “think” in various situations (versus those of us without them):

#1: 10 p.m. on a Tuesday

Friends with Children: Bedtime!

Child-free friends: “Just finished dinner after a grueling spin session at the gym. Time to catch up on missed shows. Where’s the remote?”

#2: 10 p.m. on a Friday

Friends with Children: “Where’s the remote? Honey, can you pour me some wine?”

Child-free friends: “I’ll meet you at the bar after dinner. The band goes on at 11 — let’s try to get a spot up front.”

#3: Working out at 6 a.m. 

Friends with Children: “Not happening until he sleeps through the night.”

Child-free friends: (Posts to Facebook): “So proud of myself for waking up at the crack of dawn to get in a spin class. Yay to me!”

#4: Trip from D.C. to New York/NY to D.C.

Friends with Children: “Did I pump enough milk for Saturday and Sunday morning if the train gets stuck?”

Child-free friends: “Maybe I will go shopping when I get to the city. Or have brunch.”

#5: Going out with the girls

Friends with Children: “Holy moly, this night better be awesome now that I forked over $150 for a babysitter, bought new makeup/got my hair done because I won’t have another night like this for six months!”

Child-free friends: “I wonder what club we should go to when Marisa gets to town? Do we have to go out at all? I go out all the time. I kind of want a night in.”

Other thoughts?

9 thoughts on “The Growing Differences Between How my Child-free Friends and Friends with Kids Think

  1. I’m going to respond to this on here instead of Facebook! So, I’m not sure if I 100% agree with your “child” vs. “childless” friend. I am “Childless”. I mean, I have dogs who I spoil rotten, but I do not compare the experiences. I often work on 4 hours of sleep. I often work on multiple days of just 4 hours. I’m no longer 21 and want to “go to the clubs” as my source of socialization. In fact, I live in the city and in general the nights I do the most socializing are week nights. Weekends? Forget about it. 10pm on a Friday? That’s prime time for a bottle of wine, a couple of television shows and an opportunity to get a full night’s sleep. I find the biggest differences in my friends with kids vs. myself is the lack of spontaneity. I miss calling my best friend up and saying, “I haven’t had breakfast yet, you wanna go to brunch?” Or add any other activity into that. I think the Parents are the best time managers out there. When you are childless, you have the freedom to unschedule yourself from responsibilities or events at the drop of a hat.

    • Jenna, thanks so much for reading. You know, as soon as I hit “post” I realized that there should probably have been three categories: 1. friends with kids 2. Friends with no kids and no pets, and 3. Friends with pets (but no kids). I absolutely think that having pets influences the choices you make and how you think (in fact, I told my husband, who is dying for us to get a puppy, that we must have at least one kid out of diapers!). And I do think there are many non parents who can subsist on just four hours. I was specifically thinking of two of my closest friends (one is in her early 30s, and the other in her mid 40s). I do agree that lack of spontaneity is a huge, if not the biggest, difference between those who are child-free (or childless, whatever term one prefers) and those who have kids. And while I am happy with the choice I made, sometimes I envy my child-free friends because they can go to brunch on a whim (or a club!). Hell, they can cook dinner on a whim, or sleep until at least 10 a.m. on a Saturday without calling a babysitter!

      • OMG, your husband is insane. I would not consider getting a dog until the kids were old enough to understand how to treat a dog. And I’m not sensitive to the “Childfree” vs. “Childless” semantic debate. As long as you don’t mind me calling you “Breeder.” 🙂 Kids have there own special and awesome brand of happiness. I always think the first 8 years of kids’ life is pure hell for a parent on their sleep schedule and time. And the last 10 years is hell on their patience! Keep Rocking it, Mama!

  2. Spot on. Well done my friend. A friend of mine recently asked me out to a bar after the local parade for st. pattys day – which would have been nice but i was parenting solo and ethan had a crappy nap thanks to day light savings so no. Nope, I went home. Made my grocery list, and enjoyed the solace of his 2 hour nap. And who needs a nap on vacation, thats what caffeine is for 😉

  3. I giggled at your multitasking skills while driving. I thought I was crossing over into parent territory in the sleep department, since I can easily survive on 4-5 hours, but if that’s interrupted in the middle more than once or by anything more significant than a bathroom break, forget it. I also contemplate how the rare hangover might be handled with kids around–hopefully Mommy and Daddy take turns when it comes to their crazy nights out?

    • P.S. Here is my current sleep schedule:
      10-10:15: Feed baby dude
      10:20: Pass out
      Midnight: Baby wakes up; gets fed.
      12:15 a.m.: Baby is burped.
      12:30 a.m.: Baby grunts for 20 minutes, and husband starts complaining you aren’t burping him enough.
      12:45 a.m.: Everyone passes out again.
      2:30 a.m.: Baby wakes up; gets fed again, falls asleep at boob.
      3 a.m.: After changing poopy diaper, baby spits up on onesie and requires a second change. During this naked minute, baby pisses all over your night shirt.
      3:20 a.m.: Baby passes out and/or grunting commences but you sleep through it and can’t remember what happened.
      5:30 a.m.: Baby wakes up again, but mom feels amazingly refreshed because she had two uninterrupted hours of sleep.

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