Things change when you have kids. You may want to be that friend who still stays in touch, still goes out and parties once in a while—you probably thought you would be. Then the reality of this thing called parenting set in.
Your whole life is suddenly wrapped up in these small people for whom you are wholly responsible. The weight of it is enormous and the time commitment can be overwhelming. (Read “To All My Friends Without Children” by author Jason Good for a good laugh/cry.)
From your friends’ perspectives, it’s no picnic, either. Suddenly you are rarely available, distracted, obsessed with talking about kid/baby stuff, less interested in things you used to have in common, and wearily eyeing the clock after 9 pm.
To your friends, you may seem selfish. To you, your friends may seem selfish for not recognizing that raising a child is completely selfless—everything you do is now about someone else.
What can parents do to hang onto childless friends?
1. Plan adults-only time. (It’s good for you!)
Remember what it was like to eat something at a leisurely pace and have an uninterrupted conversation? No? Then you need some adults-only time, stat. It doesn’t have to be an all-night rager. Even an child-free hour for coffee can keep a friendship going.
2. Talk about something other than your kids.
We get it: your children are the number-one thing occupying your mind and it would be false to avoid the topic completely. But try to also find some common ground, too. (Read: not cloth diapering or the best public schools.) You know that friend who talks nonstop about her oh-so-stressful job it’s enough already? Don’t be that friend.
3. Try to keep up with the world and things you (used to) care about.
This is so important, not just for your friendships, but for you. Whether it’s celebrity gossip or the latest Lana Del Ray album or political news, try to keep in touch with your interests so you have something to talk about with your friends, and you feel like a part of society at large. (One word: podcasts! The perfect multi-tasker way to stay informed.)
Even if you feel out of touch with current events, you can always ask questions about your friend’s life and interests and try to relate.
4. Know that your friends (probably) don’t hate your kids.
Some people without kids are cool with kids and babies and truly enjoy playing trains or drawing with glitter pens. Even friends who aren’t that comfortable with kids may be more than willing to put in the effort for your sake and maybe read your child a bedtime story while you clean up so y’all can get your wine on at 8:15 sharp.
As psychologist Ann Walker, PhD, author of Complete Without Kids: An Insider’s Guide to Childfree Living By Choice or By Chance says in a Psychology Today article, many child-free women want their friends to know that they don’t dislike children or families—they just want to spend time alone with you, too.
5. Accept that some child-free friends won’t be involved in your kids’ lives.
Some people just don’t love kids—or at least not when they’re little. And admittedly, toddlers and preschoolers can be exhausting, and we’ve heard more than one parent say once their own kids moved past those ages, they never wanted to go back.
First, give your friend some time. She or he may come around when your child is old enough to have a conversation or build with Lego. Second, if you want to remain friends, accept it. Plan adults-only time and move on. This will probably mean you see (much) less of that friend for a while, but if the relationship is important to you, this may be your only option.
6. Have patience.
It may happen: a friend will show annoyance at the general mayhem during dinner, will make a hasty exit after claiming they want to get to know your kids, or will complain that they never see you anymore.
Many of us have felt the same frustration before we had kids ourselves. We didn’t understand how hard it is to leave a sick child, function on almost no sleep, or find a decent, reasonably priced babysitter for a night out. And we thought we could do it better. (We were so naive!) Be patient with them, for they know not that their expectations are unreasonably high.
7. Make friends with other parents.
How does this help maintain existing friendships, you ask? Creating a “safe space” to talk about (lack of) sleep and potty training and tantrums and “oh, s/he did the cutest thing the other day!” gives you a much-needed outlet and takes the pressure off your childless friends having to hear about every parenting milestone that they won’t understand or, frankly, don’t care about.
8. Make “me” time a priority as early as possible.
It’s so hard to be away from your baby at first. But it’s important for you and them to spend some time apart. If you make it a regular thing, they’ll learn that you’re coming back, and it will probably deepen their bond with daddy or grandma or auntie, which is important, too.
Being comfortable spending some time apart from your child also means you can be more present with your friend while you’re together.
9. When all else fails, move on.
You don’t need to burn bridges, but maybe take a break for a while. Once your kids are older and you have more time (that happens, right?), maybe you can reconnect.
But if your friend is truly unwilling to accept that your life has changed, you may need to evaluate whether the friendship has run its course. It may be sad, but is it really worth the emotional anguish to hold on for old-time’s sake? Bottom line: When life throws curveballs, you—and your friendships—have to adapt or die.
1. Make a small effort with the kids. Talk to them for a few minutes, even if you’re not that into it. Remember when you had that boyfriend we all hated, but we still feigned interest in his super-awesome record collection? It’s like that.
2. Forget happy hour. For the sake of our partner’s sanity, we just cannot abandon them during the time we now know as the “witching hour”, when everyone is hungry, tired, and oh-so cranky. We woud really, really love to. But we just can’t.
3. Learn to love brunch. We want to see you. We want to get out of the house. We are so tired in the evening. Let’s do daytime dates for a while, okay?
4. Don’t bail. Going out takes monumental effort these days. Securing a babysitter or negotiating with the partner on nights out is not easy. Please don’t bail at the last minute!
5. Don’t hate us when we bail. So hypocritical! But sometimes life happens and a kid comes down with a bout of nonstop vomiting or we stop being coherent at a certain hour and we just have to go home. We are sorry. Really.
6. Give us a few years. When kids are older and slightly more self-sufficient we will probably come around. And then you can totally get on us about bailing.
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