Thoughts on Action
"Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live." ~ Nicolas de Chamfort

Friends with Kids, Movies without Merit

As the world’s tardiest movie critic, I’d like to share with you my thoughts on a little film that came out over a year ago: Friends with Kids, starring Jennifer Westfeldt (who also wrote and directed it), Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolf, Adam Scott, and Kristen Wiig.

Friends with Kids

 

I watched this gem last night, and to sum up my thoughts, I present to you my exchange with my husband:

Me: “Was that really bad acting, really bad writing, or really bad directing?”

Drew: “All.”

I have to admit, I had high hopes for this movie. It originated from a screenplay that the Childfree Westfeldt wrote based on her real-life experience of her friends all but disappearing from her life (that she shares with fellow Childfree partner Jon Hamm) once they had kids. Sounds, no doubt, eerily familiar to many of you? But instead of touching on the subtle nuances of life as the last in your group to have babies (or the only ones to choose not to), they went only for over-the-top clichés: kindercrap blanketing the floor, watching your previously happily-married friends scream at each other about whose turn it is to feed the baby, the horrors of explosive diapers, threadbare dads getting wildly drunk at the dinner table after being criticized for not spending enough time with the kids, et cetera, et cetera.

I think the reason I’m most upset about this movie is that there was so much good material that never made it in there. What about trying to have a conversation with your first-time parent friends who can’t break eye contact with the baby for more than 5 seconds, which somehow leaves you feeling guilty for trying to switch to a non-baby topic? What about no one showing up to your birthday dinner, despite your attempt to plan it at a baby-friendly locale? What about a Girls Night Out where the moms who actually allowed their husbands to “babysit” spend most of the night on their phone, checking baby defecation stats? What about friends who used to post interesting and thoughtful updates on Facebook, or comment on the interesting/thoughtful updates of others, who now exclusively post photos of their baby laying next to the monthly marker sign? What about people you haven’t heard from in a year coming out of the woodwork to ask for babysitting help so they can go to a dinner you’re not even invited to?

Even as I write these things out, I know they’ll be perceived as trivial and (our favorite Childfree adjective!) selfish. Of course they only post about their baby on Facebook, it’s the most important thing in their lives right now! Of course they have to check their phone when they’re out, they’re a MOM now! Yes, yes. I know. I get it. But the point is that a million trivial little things add up to one big ball of, well, sadness for the way things used to be with your friendships. It’s not hit-you-over-the-head depressing; it’s a slow burn.

The movie isn’t much help because the two childless main characters decide to have a baby and join the malarkey. They no longer notice their friends aren’t around because now they’re not around. But what happens to the Childfree who don’t want to jump on the baby bandwagon? Maybe they form new friendships. But Childfree friends are few and far between and nothing can ever really replace the history you have with your oldest friends. Maybe they appoint themselves captains of maintaining friendships in the group and help organizing babysitting co-ops, etc., so people can still get together. But that sounds like a pretty tough job, and let’s face it, the pay is crap.  Maybe they start traveling around the world or developing enough hobbies so they no longer notice that no one’s around anymore. But if you’re tight on vacation funds and aren’t really a hobby person, where does that leave you? Alone with a good book, I suppose. Or if you’re lucky, a couple of cats and a partner.

Are you thoroughly depressed yet? That’s what I was hoping for out of Friends with Kids – some kind of emotional impact that I could relate to, that got to the heart of what it’s like to be the only ones in your friend group not to have kids. It just didn’t get there. I’m being unfair though –  they probably did only a cursory sweep of the Childfree woes because that wasn’t really the point of the story. It was, after all, a romance. I think I just expected more emphasis on the “before-baby” phase out of a Childfree writer, but maybe it started out that way and was drained of all its nuance by the Hollywood execs. And perhaps someone else needs to start writing the story that didn’t really get told…

31 Responses to Friends with Kids, Movies without Merit

  • Christie O'Rourke says:

    Ah I loved this movie and literally cried when Jon Hamm and Kristen Wigg broke up haha different strokes Liz

  • Meg says:

    Felt exactly the same way when I watched this. Very high hopes, very disappointed. I didn’t even think it was any good as a romcom.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      I hadn’t seen a romcom in so long, I figured this was par for the course – glad to hear it’s not!

  • Stephanie says:

    I haven’t seen this movie, but if your assessment is true, I would have been disappointed too. I didn’t realize the main characters choose to have kids at the end. That kind of defeats the purpose of the whole story – they just end up following the standard narrative.

    “But the point is that a million trivial little things add up to one big ball of, well, sadness for the way things used to be with your friendships. It’s not hit-you-over-the-head depressing; it’s a slow burn.” I loved this…so spot-on for what it’s like to slowly lose your friends. I, too, wonder what I will do once everyone has gone done this path except me. I hope to meet new childfree friends, but it’s not easy.

    Thanks again for such a thoughtful post!

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      At least it’s getting easy to connect Childfree people online – hopefully there’ll soon be something similar to a dating service for Childfree friends!

  • Diva says:

    I didn’t see this movie, but I can agree that the issues you present could be just as interesting and compelling as what this movie tried to do. Heck, even more so!

    I think about friends disappearing a lot — it happened when they got boyfriends, and now it’s happening with their kids. When I became involved with my boyfriend, I became less available and in some ways still am. So I’m more sympathetic as to how life can just make you less available. It does hurt my heart a bit — it’s hard to not exactly lose one’s friends, but not have the same access to them as we did before.

    I don’t know about your friends, but while my friends who have kids might talk about them a lot to each other, they tend to be starved for non-kid topics with their childfree friends. In fact, on our girls’ weekend, the moms were adamant that they didn’t want to talk about poop, school, day care or anything about their kids! While this vow broke down eventually, it was at the end of the weekend and I was heading to the airport. :) And also, when they did finally talk about their kids, my internal thought was “wow, thank goodness this is not my life.” So for me, hearing kid-talk can actually be helpful in reaffirming my own feelings.

    I wonder if there is some sort of balance — between working to keep your friendships intact with your parent friends, but also continuing to seek out and be around those without kids, who might have more availability. While a lot of my friends now have kids, I actually have a fair amount of friends who do not, so I am lucky in that I get to enjoy both.

    I do find that I have had to accept, often sadly, that for a while, my friends with kids are just not as available. During this time, I will take whatever time they can give. I do believe that eventually, they will come back. Maybe not in the same way as before, but they will still value your friendship, perhaps even more, as it will give them a chance to hear things outside of their child-centric world.

    This is a bit rambly, and not about the movie at all, but your post made me ponder a bit on friends and how having kids affects the relationship.

    Ciao!

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      I love that your friends enact the “no talking about kids” rule! I’ve had to enact something similar with old co-workers with “no talking about work drama” rules. It ensures your brain stays active and your friendships remain multi-dimensional.

  • Stacey says:

    I didn’t like it either. Like you, I watched the film hoping for even a semi-realistic or an almost-relatable depiction of what it’s like to be childfree when most of your friends start having babies. As someone who contemplates both paths, I hope the film would get at some of the nuances I don’t even understand yet. I should know better than to look to Hollywood for real-life perspective, but so much of the “norms” in our society are perpetuated by and sometimes even born in entertainment. June Cleaver comes to mind. To me, the film seemed to focus heavily on the stereotypically sucky things about parenting by making the friends with kids out to be horror shows.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Yup – unfortunately, I think most of the big Hollywood blockbusters in the comedy department just HAVE to be stereotypical to appeal to the widest audience. I guess old-fashioned books will still be the way to go!

  • Gail says:

    I haven’t seen the movie and doubt I will based on your review. Plus, romantic comedies are not my thing.

    Anyway, I can relate to your feelings of being the only childfree person among your friends. I have been feeling so lonely lately and would just love to get together with my friends and have a night out. But, we haven’t been out after “bedtime” for ages and I doubt we will for a long time to come. God forbid we interrupt the bedtime routine and get a babysitter. Although this situation has made my husband and me appreciate each other more and spend more time together (and improved our relationship), I am still lonely for the female friendships that I used to have, but have turned lukewarm or downright cool since they had their kids. And, the idea of finding a new female friend scare me because she might end up having a kid and leaving me behind, too.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      That’s a great silver lining attitude about your relationship with your husband, and I’ve found the same thing – I guess I just hadn’t put two and two together that it was due to the fact that we’re spending so many more nights in by ourselves. At least there’s one major positive!

  • Megan says:

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I totally know what you’re talking about with the friend who can’t take her eyes off her kid. My cousin was like that after her first. She couldn’t let him get more than 3 feet away from her, even if there were a dozen other people in the room who could make sure he didn’t eat any glass. She got a lot more laidback after having her second kid.

    And it’s not even just kids. My best friend lives several states away, so we only see each other a couple times a year. She got a dog about six months ago. She called me the other night and it was hard to get through an entire sentence without her interrupting to say something to the dog: “Come on, do your business.” “No, we’re not chewing on that.” “Please get down from there.” Or she’d just start laughing at something silly he was doing. It got pretty annoying after the first couple of interruptions. I had to get off the phone after 10 minutes because I couldn’t take it anymore. Oh well. He won’t be a puppy forever and I think she’ll calm down then. :-)

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      I think it’s totally a first-baby thing – everyone seems to mellow out with #2. Either because they’ve realized the kid probably won’t eat glass if they break eye contact, or they just don’t have time to pay that much attention to the next one.

      • Megan says:

        I work with a guy who now has 3 sons. He said that after the second one was born, he felt a lot more relaxed about the whole thing because now he had a spare. If something happened to one of them, they’d still have another one. Which is a really shocking way to put it, but I think he probably was just verbalizing what most people actually feel.

  • Kate says:

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I totally relate to everything you said. Luckily, I *do* have a lot of Childfree friends (most of my college friends are Childfree). But none of them live near me.

    Two of my friends who have kids are of the for the love of god can we have adult talk” type. Which is awesome. Tiny amounts of kid talk is inevitable, because that’s their life, so whatever. But they don’t live near me either.

    The friends that live near me are the ones who have let their role as a parent consume them. And they never get a sitter. So it’s all potty training talk or trying to have a conversation while a toddler throws a tantrum, and the mom always says “keep talking, I’m listening”. No, you’re not. You’re not even looking at me. And you can’t possibly hear me over your child’s wailing.

    My BFF since highschool and I used to talk on the phone for hours several times a week. Since her baby was born last May, we’ve spoken exactly once – the day after she came home from the hospital. I’ve actually called her out on being a bad friend, and she admits that she has assumed that since I don’t have kids, I couldn’t relate to anything she’s going through. (which is incorrect, since I’m surrounded by parents, and have inadvertantly gained quite a lot of knowledge). And it shouldn’t even matter, i’m her BFF, she should be able to at least TRY to talk to me, regardless of whether or not I’ve had the exact same experience. And my sister went from being a baby-hater to having 2 kids. I wish I knew what made her change her mind about having kids. We used to talk about everything, but clearly she didn’t feel like she could talk to me about THAT. And since she feels i’m a baby-hater, she hasn’t spoken to me in years. So I guess I’ll never know what prompted her to change sides.

    But honestly, i’m not sure which hurts more, being cut out completely, or being surrounded by people who THINK they can have adult-time while hanging out with their kids. When in the latter situation, the “you’re not one of US” factor just seems so much more in-your-face. It makes me think of middle school, where you would be physically hanging out with a group of kids, but you kind of knew that they didn’t really like you and they were just including you to be polite or whatever. If that makes any sense. (or maybe I’m the only one who wasn’t a popular kid).

    I think part of why I stay Childfree is because I’ve seen what happened to my BFF, sister, and other child-obsessed people. I’m absolutely terrified of becoming like them, of being okay with throwing away long-standing and important relationships.

    Sorry for the huge rant. This post was spot on, and brought up a lot of emotions. The slow and constant burn you mentioned gets me to sometimes.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      I feel like if someone has to keep telling you to keep talking, that they’re listening, it’s probably just best to reschedule the conversation for another time. That’s so terrible that your relationship fell apart with your friend and your sister – maybe as their kids get older, things will circle back around. Not much comfort now, I’m sure, but that seems to be what happens in these cases.

  • Kallie H. says:

    I saw the movie and thought it was sub-par as well. However, I didn’t go into it expecting it to be pro-childfree. I saw it as the two main characters deciding they wanted kids but hadn’t found a partner yet, so they chose to share that experience. The first part of the movie did well at depicting what Childfree people deal with in having “friends with kids” (I guess it was aptly named :) ).

    My best friend will call me up and beg for a kid-free day at the mall and lunch. She says getting away helps her appreciate the time with them more. I just enjoy getting to visit with her without them interrupting. Though I’ve gotten more patient with kids and know it’s impossible to expect them to sit quietly while their parent chats with me.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Yup, I think scheduling kid-free time with friends is key: the trick is getting them to break away from the kids. :)

  • Marie says:

    Being a parent has left me feeling more “damned if I do and damned if I don’t” than ever before. Let me share a story. After my daughter was born, it was still pretty easy for us to socialize with our friends. Most babies are very portable. But after she turned 1, started walking, became someone who actually prefers to sleep in a bed versus a carseat, it became more of a challenge. One night we were invited to dinner at a friend’s house. “Don’t worry! We’re kid friendly!” she says. Doesn’t matter how kid friendly you think you are, if you have a tablecloth, upholstered dining chairs, white furniture, and porcelain photo frames on your side table, then you cannot call yourself kid friendly.

    But we go anyways, not wanting to be “those people” who start declining invitations. (At the time were having a hard time finding a good babysitter plus our friend insisted we bring our daughter.) We enjoyed ourselves but we were “those people” – the people whose eyes are constantly darting about as our daughter toddled around. It was either that, or she would have been pulling the tablecloth down, or the frames, or putting her fingers in the guac on the coffee table. So either way I mostly likely would have been the subject of a comment later, either “omg she kept watching her preshus kid the whole night!” or “omg her kid licked her finger and put it in the guac!” Can’t win.

    The evening wound down and though our daughter is a trooper past her bedtime, we knew time was not on our side. We started to pack up to leave, end on a high note you know? But our group insisted that we stay for dessert. Not wanting to be “those people” who make excuses about their kids’ bedtime, we crossed our fingers and stayed. Well not 5 min later things just fell apart in a bad way and we hastily retreated with a screaming kid and everyone starting at us, mouths agape. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t. And faced with those alternatives, most people just start picking the one that is best for them – and for us that has become declining invitations to late night dinner parties. It’s just easier.

    Since having kids, I have lost touch with people – both people with and without children. I think my kids were a convenient excuse to let some friendships fade out that really needed to. But among my current circle, I count people with and without kids, people with three kids and people who have chosen to only have one child, and families where mom works and families where mom doesn’t work. Having one child versus more and whether mom works or not can be just as loaded as being a parent or not, so I’d like to think I have relationships with a diverse group.

    Reflecting on why some friendships are strong and others aren’t, I think the common theme among the strong friendships isn’t whether people’s lives resemble mine, it’s whether we are “rooting” for each other to be successful and happy. I have kids and my friend doesn’t, but I am “rooting” for her and her life to be great. And she doesn’t have kids, but she is rooting for me. When we get together, we share news of our lives, celebrate our successes, and worry about our woes. We listen, laugh together, sympathize, and reassure. Some of my friends are quite wealthy – both with and without kids. That could create resentment, but we are friends and root for each other. Another friend of mine only wants one child. I couldn’t care less. I want more than 2 and she thinks that’s fabulous. I’m rooting for her and she’s rooting for me.

    Other friendships feel competitive. My husband and I feel bad when we are around them. Like we aren’t good enough. Something just doesn’t seem right and we struggle to “root” for each other. These friendships will not last I think regardless of what we do, or do not, have in common.

    If you think about the friendships in your life where everyone is truly rooting for each other, regardless of the path their life takes them, those are the friendships that will transcend life events. Anything else will fall by the wayside.

    Perhaps the topic is better suited for an arthouse indie film?

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      This notion of competition in friendships is an interesting one to me – and I imagine the stakes are upped significantly when you have kids and start comparing their successes and failures. Takes it to a whole other level!

  • Diva says:

    I really liked what you said about you and your friends “rooting for each other” despite whatever paths your lives take. I think my friends and I are like that as well. So even if we’re not easily or directly available to each other due to life — babies, relocation, etc. — the good will is there. I think sometimes these kind of life events are helpful for paring down extraneous relationships that no longer serve us!

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      True – it’s sometimes difficult to “cut the fat” of our lives without a good reason. Not even necessarily with friends, but with other things like watching too much TV!

  • Serious about smoothies says:

    Thank you for writing about this movie. I excited about it because I really liked Bridesmaids, so I had high expectations–not necessarily about childfree friendly content, but mostly, that the movie would be funny. It wasn’t. Something I kind of appreciated (and did not see coming) was how weak or unstable relationships will not get strengthened by having a kid —and those who have a somewhat working partnership will be able to survive the chaos and the mess. It was almost like a continuum of sanity and disfunctionality: with Hamm/Wiig on one end, and the ridiculously perfect main characters, who were portrayed as the best parents.

    I also worry about this trend of films of panicking women who must resort to desperate measures to have a child (featuring actresses over 40 — Jennifer Aniston/Lopez): sperm donors, asking your best friend, etc. And finding true love in the way. I think they oversimplify and trivialize a very complex decision and struggle.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Wow, I hadn’t even noticed that trend until you pointed it out. But it completely makes sense why Hollywood leans in that direction – they think that’s every woman’s dream who’s of a certain age and unmarried.

  • Scott says:

    Hollywood movies really push parenthood, but they also give some mixed messages at the same time. Getting married and having kids appears to be an ideal goal in a lot of romantic movies, but at the same time:

    Married people and/or people with kids don’t have sex in Hollywood movies. Hot sex scenes are only for characters who are not married (or who are not married to each other), and are certainly not for any character who’s a mother.

    Hard to imagine a worse recommendation for parenthood than that.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      With one notable exception: Eyes Wide Shut. Married on the screen AND in real life at the time.

  • Movie Goer says:

    I think you have enough funny material to do your own screen play about being childfree in a kid-centric society. If Lena Dunham and Greta Gerwig can represent the “real-life” experiences of tweny-somethings, you can definitely be a voice for decided/undecided CF women in their thirties. From reading your site, I think your screenplay would be humorous, philosophical, and poignant.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Why thank you, Movie Goer! For now, I’d settle for at least getting a book out there, so cross your fingers my agent can help me sell it to the publishers!

  • M. (Spain) says:

    That’s the problem with 99% of the books/movie that tackle this issue. I approach them thinking I’m going to find characters that deal with the same issues I deal with but then it turns out that these books/movies are all about glorifying motherhood. What starts out as a “No, I don’t want kids” winds up being “I didn’t know true happiness until I held my baby in my arms”. They always end up changing their minds and discovering how empty and self-centered their lives were before they popped one out. I’m TIRED of this. Hollywood, don’t preach. The one book that tackles this issue and does so in a coherent way is Emily Giffin’s ‘Baby Proof’. And I must admit I was expecting/fearing the conventional crappy ending. You know… the childfree-to-the-bone woman who ends up changing her mind by the end of the book and finds herself living and enjoying a life à la Brady Bunch. But no.

    I can so understand what you mean when you say “But Childfree friends are few and far between and nothing can ever really replace the history you have with your oldest friends.” That’s the problem. I guess it’s not impossible to meet childfree people that you can become friends with but it’s certainly difficult (especially if you live in a city like the one I live in). But hey, let’s imagine it does happen. You don’t have a history with these people. Yes, you can like them. Yes, you can love them. Yes, you can find your other friendly half… but you haven’t shared what I think are the most shaping and defining moments of one’s life: childhood and adolescence. And let’s not forget that it’s not that easy to make new friends when you’re past your student years. People become… I don’t know, more standoffish in a way. If you’re coupled up, at least you’ve got someone to spend your time with. If you’re single… well, it’s hard.

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