Keeping friendship strong when children come along isn't always easy, but it's worth it!
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America’s fertility rate has reached an all-time low. The average age of first-time motherhood is climbing, and it’s now more common for women to have children in their 30s than in their 20s. This means that, particularly for young mothers, making “mom friends” is harder than ever. It also means that maintaining relationships with childless friends is an increasingly vital part of surviving parenthood.
I’ve learned that this can be tricky—but not impossible. I had two children before any of my friends had one and found that the sudden divergence in our circumstances presented some unexpected challenges. Here are a few tips for surviving parenthood when your friends don’t have children.
Don’t expect your friends to think like parents
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since having children, it’s that parenting looks a lot different from the outside than from within. Things like breastfeeding, nap times, and toddler tantrums are much more complicated when you’re the one taking care of the hungry, overtired child. But the reverse is also true: things that seem obvious from the trenches of parenthood aren’t necessarily clear to everyone else. In other words, it’s very difficult to think like a parent unless you actually are one. Expecting childless friends to do so is not only unfair—it’s a short route to bitterness and resentment.
Over-explain your needs
Rather than leaving it to my friends to figure out how life looks from the perspective of a parent, I found it beneficial to err on the side of over-explaining. For example, the last-minute, late-night plans that dominated my social life before I had children don’t often work when you’ve got a toddler—but that didn’t stop my friends from texting me at 4 p.m. to see if my husband and I wanted to meet them out for dinner at 8. At first, I usually politely said “Not tonight.” But it wasn’t until I started repeatedly specifying that our daughter’s bedtime was at 8 p.m. and that it’s not easy to find a babysitter last minute, that our friends figured out we needed at least a few days notice for a night out.
Be flexible where you can
Parenting can be extremely stressful. If you don’t feel you have the bandwidth to be “chill,” don’t force it. That said, finding manageable ways to compromise can go a long way to ensuring that you don’t lose touch with your friends. Can you push bedtime back by an hour to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July? Can your toddler do naptime in the stroller so that you can Christmas shop with friends? Once, when a close friend threw a 30th birthday party for her husband that began at 9 p.m., my husband and I brought our daughter’s pack-n-play to their house and she slept in the guest room for a few hours. Waking her up to go home was less than ideal, but worth it, because we got to be there for an important milestone in a friend’s life.
Ask for accommodation
Regardless of how flexible you are, it’s helpful if your friends are willing to make some compromises, too. Would they be willing to watch an evening football game at your house—rather than a crowded sports bar—so that you don’t have to leave before halftime to put the kids to bed? If they are eager to check out a particular new restaurant or brewery, would they be willing to go earlier in the day? We found that, more often than not, our friends were perfectly willing to accommodate these kinds of requests, which made socializing less stressful for us as new parents.
Find the most positive explanation for confusing behavior
The reality is that even after you explain your needs and ask for compromises, you and your childless friends won’t always be on the same page. Why did she pick a restaurant that doesn’t have high chairs? Why didn’t they at least invite me to happy hour, even though I probably couldn’t have gone? Why aren’t they allowing me to bring my kids to their wedding? In circumstances like these, I’ve learned it’s best to give your friends the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they’ve got more going on in their life than you realize and it slipped their minds. Maybe they didn’t want to rub it in my face that they were all going out without me. Maybe the venue has a strict upper limit on the number of guests they can accommodate. Seeking to understand, rather than criticize, frustrating behavior can help prevent resentment from festering.
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