You used to go on girls’ trips to Iceland. Now you have a baby. How to keep your old friendships going when your life changes.
It wasn’t that my friend didn’t like my kids, exactly. It was just that she didn’t want to hear about them.
This friend — let’s call her Nina — doesn’t have children and, once my first was born, I felt a wall slowly building between us. My daughter and, later, my son were the biggest headlines in my life, so it seemed impossible to avoid discussing them when Nina and I traded updates over dinner every few months. I’d watch Nina’s attention wander to her phone as I talked about the application process at my daughter’s preschool; she’d not-so-deftly change the subject when I mentioned my son’s newfound obsession with wearing his harmonica around his neck while he played the guitar. A baby Bob Dylan! How could anyone not want to watch videos of that?
Once you have kids, maintaining friendships with child-free pals can be tricky. Sometimes, like with Nina and me, there’s a sudden disconnect as to what constitutes interesting conversation. Then there are the scheduling issues. You want to meet after putting the kids to bed; your friend would rather not wait until 8:30 to eat. You don’t have child care, but your friend doesn’t want to come over and jockey with a 3-year-old for your attention. Or you simply don’t have time for the hour-long phone calls that your relationship once thrived on.
If you’re like me, you might also have to contend with some feelings of envy or, at the very least, inadequacy. Nina was going on a girls’ trip to Iceland and running a half-marathon in Hawaii. My plans, which included wiping bottoms and reading The Book with No Pictures for the 97th time, seemed embarrassing by comparison. I loved my kids — I had invited those dirty diapers and that hippo named Boo-Boo Butt into my life — but I loved Hawaii too. I wanted girls’ trips. I wanted freedom.
There’s a lot of emphasis, when you become a mother, on making new mom friends. You need fellow parents to hang with at the playground, or to confer with about sleep and feeding schedules. Much less attention is paid to keeping your non-mom friends, which is arguably more difficult and more important. “A friendship that used to be easy logistically, when you could meet up spontaneously on a Friday night, takes more effort in parenthood. But if there’s emotional connection and history, it would be a real tragedy to let it fade,” says Andrea Bonior, clinical psychologist and author of “The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up with Your Friends.” “You might not meet for a standing Friday night happy hour anymore, but this is an opportunity to let the friendship grow and take on a new form.”
The best thing you can do to preserve your relationships is to be honest and communicative from the get-go, says F. Diane Barth, psychotherapist and author of “I Know How You Feel: The Joy and Heartbreak of Friendship in Women’s Lives.” “You can say, ‘I miss you and I love you and I hate that I can’t see you more often. But I’m exhausted, and I don’t have a lot of time right now. I’d rather see you for half an hour than not at all,’” says Barth. “That’s much better than squirming around or making a date and then bailing on it.” And if you have geographic limitations — you can sneak away for an hour, but not for the two it would take to get across town to meet for brunch in your friend’s neighborhood — then say as much.
And while not all non-parents will be as baby-talk averse as Nina was, remember that your kids are not as interesting to anyone as they are to you. “A lot of women with young kids expect their friends will happily hang out with them and their kids,” Barth says. “Which can be fun — a little bit. But if you’re a single woman who wants to really talk to your friend, that’s probably not the best way to do it.”
Instead, think about what activities mattered to you before you had children, and consider focusing your friend-time on that. “Maybe you don’t want to give up your workouts, so you make a once-a-week gym date,” Bonior suggests. “Or maybe you take an hour a month to do volunteer work together. That way you get the double benefit of time with your friend and some personal enrichment.”
Once you find the time to get together, remember that you and your child-free friend probably have different priorities now, and that’s O.K.. “For new parents, a friend’s dating issues or work issues may seem trivial, but be careful not to be condescending,” Bonior says. “Remember that this stuff is still important to her, and it used to be very important to you. Make sure to be a partner in the conversation. You may not have time to listen to a 40-minute rundown of a bad date, but you can still value what she has to say.”
As for Nina and me, we still get together but, while I may mention my kids in passing, we never focus on them. Instead, we talk about the same things we talked about before my children came along, like the books we’re reading, the television shows we’re watching and our romantic relationships. Frankly, it’s refreshing — and a welcome reminder that I am more than just a wiper of butts.
By Rachel Bertsche