This article first appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Your Baby magazine.
Having a baby turns your world upside down in so many ways. But what you may not have anticipated is how it would affect your relationships with your friends, especially those friends who don’t (yet) have kids of their own. It’s unavoidable – and it can be challenging to keep those friendships going.
Accept that things will change
When a baby arrives your life will change, no matter what you promised yourself beforehand. You’re sleep deprived and your head space often doesn’t really allow the same room for your friends that it did BC (that’s Before Children).
You also have far less time for yourself than you did previously. “Once you have a child, your priorities shift and the way that you think about the world changes. You more than likely won’t think about your friends as much. What can become problematic is that the friend sometimes struggles to understand the shift in priorities and can find it hard to understand the lack of effort that’s being put into the friendship if they don’t have children themselves,” says clinical psychologist Jeanine Lamusse.
However hard it is to do when you’re tired, busy and preoccupied, it’s important to make space and time for your friendships, advises Jeanine. “Are you still taking care of yourself in other ways, that you have other life experiences so that you can still connect with your friends?
So often, with your priorities shifting, all you end up talking about is baby, baby, baby, but obviously your friend can’t relate to that,” she says. If you’re taking care of yourself in a multidimensional way as much as possible, particularly when you’re through those gruelling first few months of newborn parenting, that gives those friendships a lot more room to grow.
Talk about it
Even friends without children can understand the pure chaos of those first few weeks with a new baby, but when it turns into months without sustained or meaningful contact between you and them, your friendships can start to feel the strain.
“It’s important to communicate that ‘things have shifted, time is tight for me’, so that you create the room for your friends to understand what’s going on in your life,” says Jeanine.
Easier said than done when more often than not mommy brain means you forget to return a message, but at least reassure your friends that you are keeping them in mind in some way when you finally do manage to send it. “If you wrap your head around the idea that your life is changing, and you explain that to your friends, it makes that adjustment so much easier,” she adds.
Make a date
Friendships, like all relationships, need your time and effort in order to thrive. It’s easy to fall into the trap of promising to meet up sometime and then somehow just not getting around to it, but the support you get from friends is important.
Make a firm date, then programme a reminder into your phone, write a note on your fridge or add it to your diary – whatever it takes. “You need to make an active effort in your own life to include your friends,” says Jeanine.
“It’s not only for your sanity that you need to do that, but also because if you don’t make that active effort to take time out for ‘me’, to take care of yourself, you can become very lost in that baby bubble,” she warns.
Sometimes, it’s all about timing. What worked for you as child-free friends is often now the worst possible time of day – drinks after work has morphed into feed-bath-bed hour. Explaining why that time of day doesn’t work for you and then suggesting an alternative that fits better into your new schedule can go a long way.
Take it one step at a time and check in with yourself to see what you can manage. And if your friends aren’t the type to hang out at a child-friendly venue, getting a babysitter for the occasional evening out or afternoon away isn’t such a bad thing either.
“It’s okay to have a few separations here and there to go and see your friends and ground yourself, because if you are not taking care of yourself, you actually have less capacity to deal with a child,” says Jeanine.
Take a deep breath
It’s easier said than done, but if some of your friends don’t seem as taken with your baby as you are, try not to take it personally. It doesn’t mean that they dislike your baby, but for people without children their priority isn’t necessarily spending their time being with or talking about a tiny human and everything it does. Your friend may also go through personal hell, like infertility or a miscarriage, and find it hard to be around you and hear about your baby.
This is also a time that often reveals your insecurities about yourself and your parenting abilities, and with mommy hormones raging, you can be hypersensitive about any comments. A friend might think she’s being supportive by giving you space and not being in daily contact, while you might perceive that she’s disinterested in your life right now.
Without being open about how you feel, these misaligned perceptions can damage or even sink a friendship. “When things are so hormonal, we do project a lot, so if someone is giving you space to be a mom, it could be perceived as, ‘She doesn’t like my child’. We need to check those projections,” says Jeanine.
So if you’re not communicating clearly with that person you can easily get caught up in your own ball of internalised anxiety, while the reality might be quite different.
Not every friendship survives
When you meet a new friend it’s easy to assume that this will last forever, but the truth is that some friendships simply won’t weather the storm of motherhood. “The notion of priorities shifting is something that a friend needs to wrap their head around. Some people can get that, and some people can’t,” comments Jeanine.
“Sometimes friends can only support you in certain ways, so when you go through major transitions they struggle to adjust to that,” she says.
If you want your friendships to last and hold onto some sanity between the baby day-to-day stuff, you need to say to yourself in a very conscious way, “I am going to make it a priority to make time to see my friends.”
Although your baby will always be your first and most important priority, it’s important to care for yourself and actively engage with that process rather than allow yourself to be consumed totally by parenting.
Has keeping in touch with friends been a struggle for you since having a baby? Have you ever been in an awkward situation where you read a friend's reaction to your new life in the wrong way and felt guilty after? Tell us your story by emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org and we could publish your letter. Do let us know if you'd like to stay anonymous.
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