Any childfree adult with a friend who’s become a parent knows how radically a friendship can change once kids arrive. If you visit their home, the child is nursing, being cuddled, or sleeping—with the exhausted new parent wondering how long the nap will last. Even toddlers need almost constant attention to keep them out of danger, fed, changed, and cleaned up after.
This is a whole new learning experience for your friend, and she’s trying to figure it out on limited sleep and often with limited training. Many new moms today go directly from being fulltime career women to fulltime parent.
It’s natural for a new parent’s thoughts to be dominated by the demands of this new 24-7 job caring for a tiny being who is totally dependent on her for every aspect of life. It might be tempting for someone who doesn’t have kids, and doesn’t plan to do so, to just walk away from the friendship. But, if this friendship is one you’d like to maintain, it’s doable if you remember some basics.
1. Be respectful of your friend’s position, just as you hope that she will support your choice to be childfree. We seem to do a good job of respecting one another’s choice of profession, so why not extend this to parenting choices as well? Some childfree folks offend parents by having exclusionary social groups. No Kids, No Worries is one such group in Australia. The parent friends of group founder Ben Mahoney were quite offended by his statement that childfree people don’t want to hear about diapers, babysitters, and sleep schedules. But let’s face it: When you’re a new parent, these issues are paramount and you need to talk about them. A new mom may prefer to mostly be around other new moms so that she can get support from others going through the same thing. So, if she does get out of the house, it may be to attend a mother’s group. Bottom line here is this: Don’t take it personally when your friend doesn’t have as much time for you as she did before baby showed up. In some cases it may be best to give your friend a break for a year or so. During that time, keep in touch by email, letters, or brief phone calls, but don’t take offense when she can’t get together with you or when your phone conversations are interrupted by parental duties.
2. Plan times to get together outside of your friend’s home, away from the baby. Even new mothers yearn for a break, so let your friend know that you support her getting out without her child for a while. She may not feel comfortable going out even long enough for a meal together but you might suggest coming by and taking a half-hour walk while her partner watches the baby. Give your friend a true break by directing the conversation to topics that are of mutual interest, things you had in common before the baby was born. A young mom who’s been at home with an infant for weeks might be out of touch, but that doesn’t mean she’s not eager to know what ‘s going on outside of her neighborhood. She’ll be happy to know that just because she’s become a mom, you’re not abandoning the friendship. In my book, Complete without Kids, I wrote about how my friendships were impacted by the arrival of children. Now, several years later, these children are growing up and my friends once again have uninterrupted time to spend with me.
3. Take time to get to know your friend’s child. If you want this friendship to endure the test of time, you’re going to have to accept this important new addition to your friend’s life. It’s a similar thing to what happens when a friend gets married; you’d better get to know her spouse. I loved M.J. Fine’s article about babysitting for her friend. Fine is clear that she doesn’t want to have kids of her own, but she is taking the step to get to know her friend’s children.
What other ideas do you have about sustaining friendships once children come along?