Friday 5 October 2018

Making Women Friends Later in Life When You Don't Have Kids

Reader Booklover has asked how to have Catholic female friendships after thirty when all the Catholic females around have kids and you don't.

That's a very good question. Booklover is lonely, and I am not surprised because I was super-lonely when I was the only woman over 25 and under 55 amongst my husband's Trad Catholic friends in Edinburgh. Not only weren't there any more childless married ladies my age, there weren't any ladies my age at all.  I would sit at the table at Men's Schola dinner parties and bear the brunt of their masculine humour, e.g. my supposed job on Salamander Street.  DON'T ASK.

"We'll have to find you some other wifies, hen," said the Salamander Street jester, and eventually some other expat gals did end up at our parish. I was initially suspicious of each and every one of them--goodness knows why--but then they all became my friends. A married Scottish lady with two daughters also started coming, and after a few years, we became friends, too. She now has hens, so I'm going to visit her and them tomorrow.

Of my fellow foreigners, one was recently married, and two started out Single. Then one married a Trad and one married an N.O. type from the Cathedral. The one who arrived married had babies, but the others haven't despite my fervent prayers for us all . The baby-haver now lives abroad, but when she comes back, she abandons her children with their grandparents and we go out for delicious cocktails.

Of course, our Trad parish is a bit weird in that it is very heavy on single, nulliparous people and relatively light on married couples with children. Married couples with children are a relatively recent phenomenon at our parish but a very welcome one. Somehow my mother and I got swept along by a giant crowd of them this summer to the Botanical Gardens. There I played "Red Rover, Red Rover" until someone got hurt.

I don't remember what I talked about at this picnic; I mostly remember eating delicious things with my mother and wondering how to stop the "Red Rover" game before someone got hurt.

My social life with women improved a bit when I volunteered to help the Traddy Girl Guide troop.  I enjoy talking to the Guides themselves, and if the mothers of the Guides talk about their daughters, it's a bit like gossiping at school only I tend to say things like "I think X and Y are so beau-oooo-tiful and smart" or "Z is really so clever at woodcraft."

The truth is I really wish I had clever, pretty daughters like so many women my age, and you really can't go wrong telling women how clever and pretty their daughters are. Actually, I don't mind listening to women talk about their children because I find the children interesting. What I don't like is when complete strangers ask me if I have any children because it always makes me sad to say "No."

I am not sure any of this is helpful. Oh dear.

With the exception of two Protestant friends, my life rotated in a very tiny circle around the Men's Schola and such Edinburgh or St Andrews Uni students (often Polish, usually male) considered clubbable enough for dinner parties until I started going to night school. Then I got to see a completely different sort of person once a week for years. At first it was awkward being around non-Catholics, but eventually I stopped being quite so paranoid.

After several years of night school, I developed a friendship with another childless woman, the daughter of a Polish WW 2 veteran, and we may even travel together to Poland together one day, which would be great fun. It takes awhile to develop friendships with actual Scots when you are a foreigner in Scotland, by the way, unless they are work colleagues or wives of your husband's university pals.

This is sounding too much like All About Me and not enough like Advice, so I will try a list of suggestions of what to do when all the women around are mothers and you are not.

1. Become a kind of helper to the mothers of older girls, like a Temporary Deputy Girl Guide Captain, which will give you something in common with them.

2. Try to cultivate friendships with mothers who have passed the stage of talking about nothing but their children, e.g. mothers of teenagers.

3. Try to cultivate friendships with mothers who lived for rock'n'roll before their children were born. Hint: this may be the woman who says "Sometimes I wish I could go back to being 22 for just a week, you know?"

4. Accept the fact that most women your age or older who do not have children are probably not good Catholics and make friendships with them based on shared interests, like foreign language class or love of books.

5. Also accept that fact that women are simply not going to play as big a role in your life right now as they did before you were married. Yes, this is rotten and, no, a husband does not make an adequate substitute. Keep a few women's phone numbers on hand for emergency wailing sessions.

6. Read books by splendid Catholic women you wish you could go out for cocktails with, like Rumer Godden or Anna Haycroft (Alice Thomas Ellis).

7. See your very best BFFs in the world, who are probably college pals, when you can. I have two. One is a non-Catholic with no children on Toronto's Queen Street West and one is Catholic with four children just off Toronto's Roncesvalles. I see them once a year. I go to their houses and sit on their sofas and sit calmly as the hurricanes of their daily lives roar around me.

8. Befriend older Catholic women as they appear in your lives.

9. Join a network of Catholics that is much bigger than your immediate Catholic world, for the chances of meeting other Catholic women without children will thus rise.

The women in (or who regularly come to) the UK I know well enough and like enough to have over for a cup of coffee range in age from 17 to 72. They are American, Australian, English, Scottish, French, Polish, Balkan, Bulgarian, Estonian and Italian. Some are Catholics, some are Protestants, and some are simply Communists, let's face it. Two are cloistered nuns so, in fact, they can never come for coffee. Of those with children, one is pregnant with her first, three have two children each, and nice new one has seven strikingly beautiful children under 13. Of those without, at least three are over 60.

Interestingly, only three of all these excellent women has had a cup of tea or coffee or hot buttered apple cider with rum in the new flat so far.  This, however, has a lot to do with the slow progress of our move, B.A.'s health, and my full-time job.


  1. At least in my experience, youth ministers or DREs (directors of religious education) are often childless women in their late 20s, 30s, or 40s. At least, that described two youth ministers in my parish growing up, one at a neighboring parish, and the current one. I bet if you volunteered with the youth group, especially doing any prep work alongside the youth minister before the official meetings, a natural friendship might emerge. (NB: I do also know that many lay employees of parishes prefer to attend other parishes for Mass and their own spiritual needs, otherwise it feels too much like going to work instead of going to church. So if you propose meeting for some event/outing with a potential youth minister friend, maybe don't pick something at the parish itself.)

  2. What about a book club? We have a few childless women in ours and though we have small demanding children who are easy to occupy our thoughts, the book gets us a shared topic. Or articles if books are too long for the mom's which they often seem to be for others...

  3. The Well-Read mom groups, despite sounding like you're not welcome, are all over the US and choose quality books, and the locations are on the website- place to start if you don't know where to find a book club!

    1. Although it sounds great for mothers, it doesn't sound great for childless ladies. I would never ever join a group called the "Well-Read Mom" (or "Mum", this being the UK). I would be dreading the inevitable moment someone said, "You're lucky you have so much time to read."

      There are two solitudes, I think this morning. There is the solitude of being a Catholic mum-of-many when much of society thinks having children is a bad thing, and some people (e.g. in the Green Party) would actually legislate to limit family size. But then there is the solitude of being a Catholic mum-of-none when defending and supporting families is so important for the Church.

  4. I'm sorry this has taken me so long to say, but thank you so much for this list, Auntie Seraphic!! It is very helpful!! I hadn't considered volunteering with older girls, but that's a brilliant idea. I will have to look and see if I can find anything like the Girl Guides here to volunteer with.

    And I know it sounds like that would be the case with the 'Well-Read Mom' group (I was worried about that myself), but I belong to one and it is really lovely! I wish they called it the 'Well Read Woman' instead, to make it more welcoming to single/childless women, because it really is a wonderful organization. I suppose it might depend on the particular group, but ours has several single ladies and a bunch of older women whose children have grown up, and the topic of children hardly ever comes up. I don't think most of them even realize I don't have children, much less think I have more time than they do. (Or that could be because I hardly ever finish the readings on time anyway, lol!)

    And that's also a lovely suggestion, Jessica! I've actually thought about that before, but youth groups tend to meet in the evenings and over the weekends, when my husband is home. :( Otherwise I would love to!

    1. Glad to hear that your well-read mom group is great! I was hesitant to suggest that- I'm not sure I'd join one myself if childless. I don't know why it's not the well-read woman. I think most catholic women know that other catholic women who are childless are not so by choice- but maybe not.

  5. I have a very close friend who is slightly younger than me. She's a stay-at-home mother with two tiny kids. She says she doesn't enjoy spending time with other Catholic mothers because of the competitive bloodsport known as modern mothering. She prefers to have single women around.