Can There Be Girl Talk and Baby Talk At The Same Time?

Last week I got an interesting email from a reader regarding mom/non-mom friendships. I wanted to share it on this blog because I think some of you might be able to speak to this conundrum better than I can. Having very few friends with kids, my experience in this department is so far pretty limited.

Reader writes:

“Having recently hung out (separately) with three mom pals, I noticed that I was getting frustrated because every time we were getting into a deeper level of conversation, the kid started screaming and it seemed like my friend’s head was in two places at once. She was trying to listen and talk to me, and, of course, pay attention to her child. In each instance, there wasn’t anything wrong with the child—he wasn’t hurt or hungry—he was just demanding attention, as toddlers are wont to do. I can only imagine that this was incredibly frustrating to my friends. However, I was surprised at how much it annoyed me. Of course I understand that children are your priority once you have them, but am I alone in feeling frustrated that I’m giving 100 percent attention to my friend and not getting it back? Obviously the solution is to hang out without the kids present, but it’s not reasonable or realistic to expect a friend to procure child care every time we want to get together.”

The timing of this email is interesting because I just got back from a weekend with my 20-month-old nephew. Since he is my nephew, and my only one, his screaming or demanding attention didn’t frustrate me, it amused me. But that is, again, because he is family, and because I hardly ever get to see him.

That said, this weekend did make me aware of exactly what this reader is talking about. Trying to have a conversation with someone who is simultaneously watching a toddler is difficult. It just is. A person’s attention can’t be in two places at once, as much as we wish it could. And a mother’s first priority when watching her child has to be her child.

So, as the friend, what do you do?

At the end of her email, this reader wrote: “I hope this doesn’t make me sound shallow or mean-spirited.” Not at all. It’s a legitimate frustration with no easy answer.

As the annoyed friend—and I imagine many of us have been there—the what-to-do is tricky. Do you, perhaps, suck it up, knowing that this phase in the child’s life will pass? And also knowing that one day you may have kids, and you may want friends to keep you company while you’re watching them? Or do you hold out for the times when you can get together at a restaurant or in some other kid-free zone, even though it will probably result in less frequent visits?

I think the best option is a combo platter. Still visit the mother and child—moms appreciate adult interaction when they are in baby-watching mode—but save the deep level conversation for those kid-free girls nights out. (This isn’t so easy, I know. But it would be my ideal.)

Moms and friends-of-moms, what do you think?

20 Comments

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20 responses to “Can There Be Girl Talk and Baby Talk At The Same Time?

  1. diana mack

    another trick is to go to a place where the child can be occupied…a park, chuckie cheese, libraries….even though you won’t be sitting down with your coffee and having really deep conversation you can still tackle some meaty topics…just because you’re chasing after a toddler doesn’t mean the conversation can’t be meaningful!!
    can the husband babysit at night so the 2 of you can hang out and chat? though i’ll warn you…moms of babies/toddlers don’t stay out late (like past 8)! because they get up so darn early in the am and never stop running !
    it’s not wrong to want the deep quiet conversation…it just may not be possible in this season of life!

  2. Ana

    I’m likely biased as I am one of those new moms that craves adult companionship, but I’ll give my take anyways. Having a young child IS a phase, one that will pass. And most of the women that do not have children now, will have them in the future (there are, of course, people who do not have children, but I will venture this is a minority of the population), so what goes around WILL come around to you!
    So…try to ride it out with your mom-friend. I agree that it is annoying when a toddler interrupts a conversation for attention. (don’t think its not annoying for the mother, too!), but if the friendship is important, try to make time to hang out together. Certainly you can plan a gathering without the kid(s), but for most mothers I know, these plans need to be made well in advance, and yes, usually end fairly early in the evening. [And, I know this is super-annoying, but the plans are also subject to last-minute dissolution for 103 fevers and even grosser ailments]
    In terms of those deep-level conversations, I have managed them with my kid in tow—going for a walk with kid in a stroller is the best way, as my son is safe, buckled in, and curiously watching the world, so I can focus on the conversation. Otherwise, my husband and I try to give each other time off whenever requested, because we realize that kid-free time (that’s not spent working) is invaluable to our mental health.

    • I love the idea of going for a walk. So obvious and yet I didn’t think of it (perhaps because of the Chicago winds). It’s a good everybody wins option..

  3. Suzannah

    I am going through a similar situation, my closest friend has a toddler, her other child is in Jr high, so we had both gotten accustomed to adult conversations….
    So this is a subject, I feel strongly about how to handle a difficult toddler interrupting….NO Matter how aggravating the child is behaving I want my friend to think, that I just enjoy being around the lil’ cutie!….saying” Girl! She is not bothering me….you know she is not a problem to me”….
    Because no matter how frustrating the child’s behaviour is to the guest, I guarantee the mother is 100x more disappointmented she was not able to have some adult conversation….her daily life right now is very challenging, she needs her friend to just embrace the situation, enjoy it for what it is …..
    So bottom line, the child will grow, and the mom will remember how you made her feel about the most precious thing in her life, her baby….be it understanding or annoyed….

    • Emily

      So well said, Suzannah!! I’m sure your friend appreciates you immensely, and the fact that you don’t make her feel badly about her child. As someone in your friend’s situation, I can say that people with your attitude are both rare and a blessing :).

  4. debbi

    This is an issue that not only affects young moms, but those of us who are have friends with grandchildren. I LOVE children but find it frustrating when grandparents ignore adults in a room when grandchildren are there-my sister and brother in law announced to my mother(at a family gathering)that they don’t talk to adults when their grandchildren are present-I find that obnoxious. Also, we have close friend we’ve been vacationing with for several years(1 week in the winter)who are expecting their 1st grandchild in April, and I heard through the grapevine that their daughter,son-in-law and baby will be joining them this year. I don’t think I can spend a week’s vacation like this, and am struggling with asking her directly if this is their plan, then deciding what to do without hurting our friendship. The drama never ends!

  5. When you are the child of a baby or toddler, you’ve lost all ability to have a complete thought. I am so thankful for my lovely friends, whose children are in grade school, who either pretended not to care or truly did not care that my youngest needed to be touching me constantly to feel safe when visitors came over or we went to their house. Just having my friends in the room for snippets of grown up conversation was such a lifesaver for me. It’s totally a phase (and now my little one can play without me for longer periods of time), but I sure love my friends even more for still meeting with me, trying to play with my little one and make a relationship with her, and making me another cup of coffee when it looked like I was going to flip my lid. However frustrating it is for the toddler-less friend, it is even more frustrating for the one who actually owns the toddler. So, stick it out. Your friend will definitely appreciate you waiting it out.

  6. I agree with Diana – going to a place where the child can be active and not need constant attention is great.

    A friend has an 18-month-old, and we had been meeting for lunch. (We live about an hour apart and meet somewhere in the middle.) Last time we got together, we went to a park that had playgrounds, a train, and a carosel. Some of the time was spent playing with the child (which I didn’t mind – she’s hilarious and adorable), but we definitely had more time to talk than usual, and we were able to be together for a longer period of time. I think at a restaurant we might make it an hour, but we were at the park for over two hours.

    With another friend, I’d just meet her at her house. Kid has plenty to do and mom was comfortable with him being fairly unsupervised.

  7. I’ll throw out another aspect of the mom/non-mom dynamic, and that is new moms who won’t stop talking about all manner of motherhood topics in front of non-moms.

    I eat lunch with three other women every day. Three of us are moms (my son is 2, another’s son is 11 months, and another’s daughter is 3 months), and one is not a mom and has no plans to have kids. I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the near-constant talk of pregnancy, labor/delivery, breastfeeding, daily iPhone photos/videos of coos, spit-up, and the like. AND I’M A MOM! I can only imagine how the non-mom in our group feels.

    She’s never asked us to change the subject and is forever patient and polite. But I know that if I’m sick of faking enchanted with other people’s babies she must be really sick of it. At any rate, I do try to change the subject when I feel like we’ve gone down the rabbit hole. But sometimes it’s an unwieldy ship to steer.

    The thing that frustrates me the most about it is, we are smart interesting women. We have much more intriguing things to talk about than mothering mishaps ad nauseum. But I don’t know how to get the conversation back into the adult world.

    • Well said Gale. I am a Mom and get tired of hearing the smathering about something related to pregnancy and children. Motherhood is great – I get it, but I don’t feel the need to talk about it all of the time.

    • jenn

      Thanks so much for posting this- I’ve struggled with the loss of close friendships because of babies (I do not have kids) and quite frankly, it’s because the friendship became so one-sided, my patience wore out. When these girls had infants and young babies, I understood that they had a lot to handle. So I would make the effort to go visit them, or do activities that were baby-friendly, and I would discuss their kids with them as much as they wanted. Fast forward a few years to when these babies became talking, walking, toddlers: I realized that a few years had gone by, and I was still the one listening to baby discussion and accommodating them and their kids, while they continually made zero effort to consider what I might enjoy, i.e. a girl’s lunch while their husband watched the kids, or even just talking to me about topics other than kids. I stopped calling and making plans with them when I realized I’d rather clean the kitchen than bother with the same mundane conversations!

  8. Liz

    Wait – it only gets better! My almost 11 yr old daughter is way worse when I am on the phone now than she ever was when she was smaller! LOL

    I agree with Gale – I have a child, and there are things that my friends who are moms do that drive me nuts!

    I have one (L) who is going through a divorce, and the guy she was seeing for 10 weeks(!) IMMEDIATELY after she separated decided he needed breathing room & told her in a very respectful way (because no matter how old you are, you still forward his emails/texts to your girlfriends to wring every possible nuance out of them). L has been obsessing over this for LONGER than the damn relationship, and constantly goes back & forth between “He’s an a*^%$#@!” to “Do you think there’s a chance for us – I love him so muuuuucchhh!” – all in front of her 5 yr old daughter! I can hear DD in the background “Mommy. Mommy. Mommy! Mommy! MOMMY!” and L just completely tunes her out.

    In this case, I have said “Why don’t you call me back when DD is in bed?” There’s nothing earthshattering that can’t wait and DD needs her attention more than I do.

    I am divorced, and I remember how emotionally draining that time is. And I navigated the dating waters as a single mom. However, my daughter was & continues to be my first priority, and it absolutely makes me insane when women put their “love me, validate me, sleep with me” needs in front of their child’s needs. Yes, your feelings & needs are important, but they will be there when your child is grown & you can’t undo the damage that was done while you were focusing on yourself instead of raising him/her. You only get one shot at raising your child – there are a million men out there, and there will be in a few years too.

    One of L’s friends N brought her son to a Tupperware party. He is not the most well-behaved child on the best day; this night? He was screaming his head off – and N completely ignored him! I was about 2 minutes from just leaving when someone finally said something to her. The upshot? N works for a daycare center and thinks she is the utmost expert in child rearing and has no qualms about telling you what you are doing wrong with your child while hers is scaling the drapes!

    Don’t I sound like a lot of fun to hang out with? LOL ;)

  9. So it makes sense to continue a friendship when your friend becomes a mom, but what about starting friendships with moms? Every married woman I meet has kids. Not sure if it’s worth the trouble.

    • Annie

      That’s exactly where I am! I just got married and moved into a new neighborhood. My old friends are far enough away that it’s difficult to get together, and I am not sure how to make new friends with all of the moms that are in my new neighborhood. If I invite them to my house or to do something does that automatically mean they will bring the kids and if so do I need to have something for the kids to do? And since I’m a newlywed my husband and I are also trying to navigate the couple friends situation.

      • Georgianne

        Annie, if you hosted a Girls’/Moms’ Night Out, they might LOVE you for it! Wine, chocolate, maybe even manis/pedis… Moms love to get out of the house and away from their kids–but not for too long, or too far. Girl time at a neighbor’s house might be perfect.

      • I don’t know the answer to this, but I think inviting women over sounds like a great idea, and I can’t imagien the moms would automatically bring their kids without at least checking with you first. Right?

  10. SAP

    I think it is important to note that the mom friend likely needs/wants to give her friend full attention as much as the non-mom friend wants it. So, the suggestions about meeting in locations where the kids can be self-entertained or having a girl’s night out with dad babysitting are important not only for non-mom friend but, perhaps even more, for the mom-friend. Not being able to be the friend she once was likely makes her feel less herself as much as it makes the non-mom friend feel slighted. So, both women win if the non-mom friend works to get them together in situations where the kid doesn’t come in the way of their girl talk.

  11. I say this as a mom: The frustration you feel about not having the conversation is most likely eclipsed by the frustration she feels. I can guarantee if she’s trying to find time to spend with you it’s because she wants to see you, engage with you, keep up that friendship. I say that Rachel’s suggestion, of the combo platter, is probably the best option. Know when you’re seeing her with the kids that you probably can’t do the same level of heartfelt conversations–but also know that she’s probably thrilled to have any connection with you!

  12. I have so many young moms as friends, and I can understand feeling frustrated! My own take is: this shall pass :) Also, I readily accept that in terms of priority, I am below the child’s. I guess it’s also thinking that if the mom in question is me, I’d want my friends to be a bit more understanding of the situation. It does make the spilling of secrets or catching up more challenging, but in the end, this shall pass :)

    One time my SIL and I were having a conversation and she was also trying to put my 10-month-old nephew to sleep. The little dude was so fussy, to the point where *I* volunteered to help lull him, haha :) It worked–in the course of soothing him to zzz’s, my SIL and I got to catch up :)

  13. Ahhh, the dilemma of having a baby and single and/or non-mommy friends. From my end, I divide my outings between a kid-friendly place for a casual meal and talk with friend while bouncing baby on my knee, and there are times when I go sans baby since I want both hands free to enjoy sushi while having a more involved discussion. If a friend wants to hang out without the baby, I don’t get offended. I understand that a baby can be distracting. But I also would like my friends to sacrifice being annoyed and hang out with me and the baby from time to time.

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