Within our group of friends, my husband and I were the first to get pregnant and have a kid. More than seven years later, I can now look back and see how much my friendships, particularly with my child-free friends, changed. I may not have realized it at the time, but in retrospect we experienced a few growing pains, so to speak.
When there’s any big life change — whether it’s marriage, a big move, or switch in jobs — friendships can be impacted. But there’s something about having kids that adds a little extra something to the equation. Sometimes it can be good, other times not so much. But what I’ve found to be true — both for myself and from talking to friends — is that most friendships post-baby tend to follow the same sort of pattern:
1. Pregnancy: When you’re pregnant with your first, it can all feel a bit surreal. You can’t drunk every weekend — but you make the best designated driver, so it’s all good. While you may be a bit preoccupied with what’s to come, there’s no actual baby to take care of yet, so there’s still plenty of time for friends and their lives.
2. Newborn: So much is involved in taking care of a newborn and it can quickly take over all aspects of your life. You might not realize how far down the baby k-hole you’ve fallen. Everything seems to be about the baby, mostly because it is. You’re up at all hours, doing what feels like a billion more loads of laundry, changing diapers, dealing with postpartum hormones, and marveling over this little creature that came out of your body. You’re exhausted and can’t muster up any will to go out. Or maybe you’re breastfeeding and pumping sucks, and it’s tricky to be away from your baby for too long. Soon, friends stop inviting you to things since you can’t make it anyway.
This period of parenting can be simultaneously wonderful and isolating as hell. Child-free friends don’t want to always talk about the baby (totally understandable!). But since he or she has been the focus of your recent life, it can be hard to think of anything else to discuss, especially on a sleep-deprived brain. This can be a tricky time as far as friendships go, but it doesn’t last forever. Once you’re back to catching some semblance of sleep and the newborn fog has lifted, you should be able to talk about more than just your baby. And your friends will appreciate you for it.
3. Special Snowflake: Your baby is something you created, so of course you’re proud when he or she does things you think is unique … despite the fact that every baby ever has done the exact same thing. (There’s a reason that STFU Parents exists). Sometimes marveling over your little one’s small but important milestones can put a strain on friendships; after all, not everyone will be so excited that she can now eat solid foods. Child-free friends may enjoy the occasional cute story, but let’s be honest, it can get a little boring. I know you’ve got some other interesting things to talk about! Additionally, if you’re friends with other parents, it can get annoying and frustrating feeling like you’re always in competition with your friends’ kids. “Oh, your little one walked at 1 year? Mine walked at 10 months.” Try not to let this drive you crazy.
4. Party Time: This is where I’m at now. I’m loving it and so are all my friends — both ones with children and the child-free ones. More than once, I’ve heard friends get excited over the “mini-vacations” they take when out with friends and not talking all thing motherhood. My son is now old enough to actually enjoy having babysitters, and while I love him with all my heart, my fun time away from him is usually not spent talking all about him. I talk about TV shows and work and my partner and the new clothes I bought. I also want to know what my friends are doing and make sure to pepper them with enough questions about what’s going on in their lives until we’re all caught up. Or, sometimes we just grab a drink and talk cute boys. It’s almost like we’re back to pre-kid times! We’ve found a new balance that works for everyone.
Some things to keep in mind: Friendships in general can be hard work (but oh, so worth it). When you add in kids, it can cause a few road bumps, but it doesn’t have to be the end of anything.
5. Parents: Be aware that your child-free friends don’t always want to talk about your kids. The awesome ones (and I’m lucky to have a bunch in my life) actually ask about my kid and are truly interested in how he’s doing/what he’s been up to. They’re the ones that comment on random Facebook pictures of him and send him birthday and holiday presents they know he’ll dig. But, don’t confuse their awesomeness for wanting to only talk about your kids — afterall, they are friends with you. Talk about other stuff going on in your life, and don’t forget to ask them about what’s happening in theirs. While hanging out with them with your kids in tow can be totally fun, try and find ways to have some kid-free, solo time with them as well. It does a friendship good!
6. Friends (in particular child-free ones): Just a gentle reminder that becoming a parent can be a total mind-fuck. I remember a time early on when I experienced a period where I really struggled with my identity: mother, wife, worker, friend, daughter, woman, and person who just needed a bit of space. I felt tugged in a whole lot of directions, and the compassion and understanding of a handful of friends really helped. I did my best to make up for any slackerness I fell prey to while in the throes of early motherhood and they did their best not to hold me too accountable.
And last but not least, a note: It should also be said that some people are, unfortunately, simply assholes. No amount of life changes can excuse that.
Avital Norman Nathman blogs at The Mamfesto. She is the editor of The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood To Fit Reality. Follow her on Twitter.
[Image of girl friends hanging out via Shutterstock]