PARENTS OFTEN SAY that having children neatly divides life in two: the Pre-Kid Era, and Everything After. If you’re lucky enough—or you’ve planned well enough—to have kids around the same time as your friends, you enter Era Two armed with a roster of potential playdates and a gaggle of people with whom to discuss all the changes parenthood invariably brings. But what happens when the kid that totally changes your life totally changes those friendships, too?
“It’s miserable and it’s heartbreaking,” Rachel says of her realization that parenting differences—read: Kelly’s bratty kid—were slowly chipping away at their once rock-solid relationship. But if you’ve watched any TV in recent years, or listened to the radio, or even glanced at a magazine (including this one), then almost no form of post-baby misery that Philly moms are talking about comes as much of a surprise. There’s been so much buzz about the effect our kids can have on our self-identities (they control them), our marriages (they deflate them, at least at first) and our sex lives (ditto) that the idea that kids might put strain on our friendships, too, well … it almost sounds like a given. But that doesn’t necessarily ease the sting when your lifelong BFF suddenly morphs into a BFUB (that’s Best Friend Until Baby).
It’s even possible that an increasing occurrence of BFUBs is the most obvious sign of the parenting times we live in.
“We’re so kid-centric now,” says Edd Conboy, a family therapist at Philadelphia’s Council for Relationships. “If you look at it generationally, I was born in 1950, when adults and children lived in relatively separate worlds, probably a little too separate. Baby boomer parents were lightly more intrusive into their kids’ worlds.” And now, after a well-documented progression from two distinct spheres into a meshed world in which kids have their own drink preferences at Starbucks, in which we schedule their playdates in our BlackBerrys, in which they aren’t expected to sit silently while the grown-ups talk Grown-up Stuff, there just seems to be more opportunity for kids to affect—or mess up—adult interactions.
But while it was true that Kelly’s kid had soured her dinner party, Rachel wasn’t ready to ditch the image of two happy families, or to let anything ruin her friendship. A few weeks later, she invited Kelly, John and Patrick back to her house, optimistic that it would be different this time; Rachel knew Kelly wouldn’t really raise a brat.
But round two saw Patrick saunter in, make a beeline for Rachel’s couch and promptly begin jumping up and down. Kelly and John didn’t bat an eye. Rachel seethed.
“I had to look like the bitch because I had to go in and say, ‘Patrick, please stop jumping on the couch. That’s disrespectful,’” Rachel says. And then the battle was on. John stared at her incredulously from across the room. “Honestly, Rach. What difference is that going to make? In 100 years, are you really going to care about that?”
There was a loaded silence. Even Patrick-the-Human-Lion-Jumping-Bean was still. Yes, thought Rachel. Yes, I will.
It was Kelly who finally broke the silence. “You’re never going to let us watch Ava by ourselves, are you?” she asked softly. And there it was—the line in the sand. Rachel looked at her friends, angry and embarrassed and sad.