How to Babyproof Your Friendships

Words by Jennifer Sizeland. Photography by Kate Ames.

Your close relationships can help you to deal with and also experience tricky times that parenting can bring.

Becoming a first-time parent can be overwhelming. The frequent wake-ups throughout the night and a hungry mouth to feed are a fraction of the changes in routine that take place alongside the new and constant worry about whether you are doing the right thing as a parent.

I felt like I’d lost my “fun” personality for a while. It was hard to find time to be that as my breastfeeding problems and anxieties about taking my baby out into the world filled so much space for me. 

These complicated and likely new emotions can make putting time into friendships feel more challenging than before as you try to maintain a sense of your identity while worrying about the new distance from those close to you.

However, once you feel ready to introduce your newborn to loved ones, your friendships may feel different as you navigate your ‘new normal.’ Even if it seems hard to prioritize your relationships during this time, there are plenty of things you can do to maintain them. 

Caitlin Opland, a licensed clinical social worker at Thriveworks who specializes in depression, relationships, women’s issues and stress, explained that it is possible to babyproof your friendships and work through any challenges in the relationship that present themselves together.

Navigating busy days and lonely nights

One hurdle for parents can be loneliness or estrangement, especially as they can receive fewer event invites after birth. Opland said, this is where communication comes in as friends “likely don’t want to assume you’re healed or want to be away from your newborn” and parents may feel life is moving on without them. Negative reactions like resentment or jealousy that arise from feeling ‘left-out’ on either side could signify unprocessed emotions so Opland advises speaking to a therapist or partner to work these out. 

“Friends without children have a harder time relating to [parents] post-baby,” Jessica Alderson, relationship expert and co-founder of dating app So Syncd, said. However, she believes that in a strong friendship, they will be understanding and happy for you. “Sharing joy with a friend is one of the best ways to deepen your connection,” Alderson said.

“You simply don’t have the time, energy and often money to have wild nights,” Dan Flanagan, the founder of the fatherhood support group Dad La Soul, admits. Simply put, parenthood not only changes your lifestyle, it changes you, and growing within and out of your friendships will require some work.

Establishing baby-safe relationships

Opland recommends making a pre-baby date where you can express any of your concerns about the potential ways your friendship dynamic may change, such as a shift in time spent or having different priorities. This can be a good opportunity to remind yourselves “why you are important in each other’s lives” and “how you have supported each other over the years,” she says.

One of her tips for those blurry newborn days is to schedule a regular check-in, even if it’s just a message saying ‘I hope you are okay.’ Offering space is also essential as a moms adjust to a new life. “Reset your expectations of the friendship as it changes,” she advises. 

Serena Novelli, a body confidence coach, had her first child at 18 and now has five altogether. Upon recognizing her friends were unsure about how much space to give her back then, she made sure to tell them what she needed in order to keep her own identity. 

“I treat my friendships the same as I do my romantic relationship,” she said. In order to maintain them she would plan regular date nights, which could be anything from dancing in the kitchen to a spa day. For her, the ingredients of a happy friendship are “love, compassion, kindness and gratitude.” 

“My friends from university all started having children, and I saw how little time they had for keeping up our friendship. However, they still craved male bonding,” shared Scott Lieberman, the founder of the website Touchdown Money. He is childfree and his solution was to “be very flexible and focus on shared hobbies,” such as talking about their sports teams via group texts. “They all love having kids. It’s just a transition and requires a new balancing of life priorities,” he concluded.

Flanagan’s son is now 9, so he maintains his friendships by occasionally grabbing coffee with friends and — more importantly — picking up the phone to talk to them instead of relying on texts and social media. “You can pick up much more signals on how they might actually be doing,” he says,

I have a one-year-old myself and I’ve found the best strategy for keeping my years-long friendships is to do whatever I can to keep them simmering along until I am able to invest more time in them again. 

You can do this with big and small things like sending gifts, voice notes, quick meet-ups and respecting each other’s needs as well as crucially being kind and understanding during difficult moments. The biggest change is the availability of your time. Being able to respond or join in with last-minute plans just isn’t happening like before. Opland recommends friends plan well ahead of time so that parents can join in. 

Some friendships can still “thrive” after one of you has a baby. This was the case for Carla Watkins, a photographer who is decisively childfree when best friend Louise Allison, a babywear and bridal designer, had her first child.

“We had open discussions before she even got pregnant about how much we love each other and value our friendship,” Watkins explained. She believes their 25 years of friendship helped them.

Honesty about what they could or couldn’t do while keeping in touch via spontaneous texts with no reply necessary was their secret. They just had their first weekend away together since the baby was born but to her surprise, Watkins realized that she too missed her friend’s little girl. “I love her as well!”

“We’ve been each other’s biggest support and accountability buddies,” agrees Allison. After seeing friends struggle to juggle personal relationships with parenthood she wanted to avoid that herself. While Watkins did the traveling to her in those early days to make it easier, she agreed that their weekend trip was “just how it always has been!”

Compromise and communication are tools for change

“Parenting can totally take over, and spending time with friends can be tricky to fit in,” said Han-Son Lee of his experiences of parenting his 7-year-old led him to create his DaddiLife parenting website. He learnt to include your kids in activities with friends so that you don’t lose them. Lee believes that it is possible to find “new opportunities to do things together rather than defaulting to old locations.”

Opland pointed out that even if you do drift apart for a while, you can heal this rift by reaching out with a simple message or question to open the doors to sharing things about your lives again. Time apart doesn’t have to be the end of a friendship affirms. “If things seem awkward, call it or name it as it’s okay to be honest,” she said. 

In order to keep a friendship through any period of change, communication is key to recognizing a whole new reality of shifted priorities. This doesn’t mean anything that is wrong with the friendship, just might look different and take a different amount of work than it has in the past, at least for those first few years. Once children gain more independence, so do their parents and they have a greater capacity for their friendships again.

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