Yes, You Can Have a Baby and Keep Your Friends Too
Everyone says that life completely changes when you have kids, but until that first child is in your arms, it’s all so abstract. Yes, you know you’ll get less sleep and might not get out as much, but there’s really nothing that can prepare you for the all-consuming emotional and physical tug that is simultaneously exhausting and invigorating. Even as the initial baby fog wears off, there is something that permanently shifts, a changing of priorities and perspective. Which is probably why it’s so common that friends can drift apart once one of them has kids. It’s such a topic of discussion that there’s even an acronym for friends without kids in mom circles: FWOK.
As you obsess over whether your sweet little ones have reflux, how much they’re sleeping and if they’re eating enough, your childless friends continue with their own lives and grown-up concerns. It’s not hard to see how a gulf could form between you and your non-mom friends.
And yet, as one of the first of my good friends to have kids, I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be this way. If anything, becoming a parent has the potential to make your ties stronger.
Three and a half years and two kids into this mom gig, I’ve learned a lot about balancing friendships and parenthood. I’ve also learned that my friendships keep me grounded and act as my lifeline to the non-parenting world. Of course, I was lucky to have had a relatively easy birth with a straightforward recovery; lucky that baby was fairly content rather than colicky; lucky that baby was healthy, and that I didn’t have to grapple with postpartum depression. Still even in the best of circumstances, it isn’t easy. But it’s worth it. Here are a few things that have helped me along the way:
Of course not every situation is appropriate for kids, but they can be pretty portable and adaptable, especially if you start them young. With a wrap carrier as my best friend (it kept baby cozy, but more importantly kept prying, germy hands away), we took our son everywhere. He went to his first restaurant at a few days old, was the ring bearer in my best friend’s wedding at five days old, and tagged along for our annual Labor Day getaway with childless friends at three months (and every subsequent year—this year we showed up with two kids!). Of course, make sure your buddies are cool with having kids around; some might find it to be a buzz kill.
This insistence on continuing to do the things we love with the people we care about has meant we haven’t missed out on all that much. Plus, my son knows and loves our friends, and is generally comfortable around adults. And, though there have been plenty of times that we’ve had to chase him around a restaurant, for the most part he knows how to behave when we’re out and about, and can entertain himself without a screen (pro tip: always have a few special small toys in the diaper bag—we have cars and trucks, a water drawing pad and some magnetic blocks we can strategically pull out).
At the same time, be realistic with your expectations. I’ve learned that it’s better to gracefully bow out than to make everyone else uncomfortable just because I had FOMO. If you know your kid is sensitive to loud noise, don’t bring him to a concert. If he’s a beast when he skips his nap, schedule around it. Don’t bring your kid to a fancy restaurant, period. We’ve had to miss weddings that were too logistically challenging with kids, or avoid events because of the time. It happens, and it’s better to be honest and upfront than to try to force things.
As kids get older and more active, there will be times when making them tag along does not equal quality time with friends. Sometimes hanging out at home can be less stressful. I love when friends come over for a (well-deserved!) post-bedtime glass of wine so we can catch up without the hassle of getting a babysitter. Though it’s not reasonable to expect friends to always come to you, it can be a great option from time to time. My husband and I also take turns staying home with the kids on occasion so that the other can go out solo with friends. Carving out kid-free quality time like this is as much an act of self-care as it is a surefire way to maintain relationships.
There’s a lot of talk about finding mom friends, and even apps to help you do it—all for good reason. It’s comforting to talk with someone who is also in the throes of dirty diapers and sleepless nights. I desperately need an outlet for all of my questions and gripes about parenthood, and for that I lean heavily on this tribe. They’ve gotten me through everything from illnesses to potty training—things that consume me but that, let’s be real, don’t particularly interest my friends without kids.
And why should they? Though my childless friends adore my kids, it’s not reasonable to expect that they would be interested in every boring detail of my baby’s bowel movements or ways I’ve found to help my toddler with transitions. By having a set of friends (or at least one!) with whom you can talk about these things, it relieves some of that pressure.
At the end of the day, remember that friendship is a two-way street. Sure, you might need some extra consideration as you adjust to life as a mom, but your friends don’t stop having heartbreaks and celebrations and life events. Even if I don’t always have time for a deep conversation, a quick but sincere text saying “I’m thinking of you” can go a long way.
Try to keep things in perspective; being a parent isn’t the be-all and end-all, and whatever your non-mom friends are going through is just as valid (even if months of sleep deprivation makes you feel otherwise). Also, be sensitive to where your friends are in their own parenthood journeys—whether they don’t want kids, are having trouble conceiving or just aren’t ready yet.
Of course, a huge amount of credit goes to our friends, who have been considerate and patient as we navigate this crazy parenting adventure. They have gone out of their way to hang out at our home, go to places convenient to us, tag along to playgrounds, schedule things around times that are good for the kids and generally go with the flow as our conversations are interrupted nineteen million times. They’ve been warm, generous aunties and uncles who, whether they want kids or not, have embraced ours in a way that makes us feel like we have an extended family that goes beyond blood.
Becoming a parent changes things, for sure. In many ways, I am a different person than I was a few years ago. But through it all, having friends who know me as Katherine—not just as Henry and Thomas’s mom—is a powerful link to myself, a reminder that I am more than diapers and playdates and boo-boos. In the end, that makes me a better mom.
Published October 2017