Friendship CPR: Staying Friends with Non-Moms After Baby
Written by Hilary Benson
It’s your first “girls’ night out” in ages — the first since your new baby arrived — and you’re game for some fun. But who are you kidding? Halfway into that first (nonalcoholic) drink, exhaustion hits you like a locomotive. Suddenly, 9 p.m. feels like last call.
Or worse, the need to nurse kicks in. Who wants to test the absorbency of nursing pads in the middle of a packed bar?
Maintaining cherished old friendships with a brand-new baby around is one of the many challenges facing tired moms. And while a pregnant woman will spend months reading about how her body is changing, and both parents might lose sleep over upcoming career adjustments, many people don’t stop to think about how even core friendships will be transformed after that new bundle arrives.
Jinnah Rose-McFadden, a Seattle mother of two who traded in her work as an attorney for caring for her children, believes the gulf between her former life and current one has been too much for many non-mom friends to bridge. “It’s hard to understand the others’ life. I don’t have anything ‘new’ to offer, and they don’t understand my choice to walk away … until you have your own child, it is hard to know what you will do.”
Feelings of isolation and loneliness are real and particularly intense for some new moms when layered on top of crazy hormones, sleep deprivation and the gamut of other lifestyle changes.
As a local program director for the Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS), Janelle Durham has addressed this issue for 16 years. She says that oftentimes a new parent has to be creative to stay connected with non-mom friends.
“Sometimes, in working out the logistics, we forget the big picture,” Durham says. “When someone calls to say, ‘Let’s go out to dinner,’ instead of thinking how hard it will be, think first, ‘Hey, this is my friend!’ Remember, you still want the connection; it just needs to change.”
Sarah Harris, a Renton mom with three boys under the age of 4, keeps one room of her house free of kids’ toys; it’s a place where she can enjoy a few minutes of adult conversation with non-mom friends. “I occasionally miss going out,” says Harris, “but this is the way I can get my reprieve and keep in touch with a couple of friends.”
Not all friendships will survive the transition, as bestselling author Heidi Murkoff writes in her classic book, What to Expect the First Year. “Friendships that are only job deep (or partying deep) often don’t have what it takes to survive change.” The trick, she writes, is to figure out which friendships fall into that category and which just need a little TLC to get over the initial discomfort. Stick to subjects you have in common, she advises, and don’t make the mistake of expecting too much understanding and empathy from non-parent friends.
In other words, stories of your baby boy peeing all over you during a diaper change, or the heartwarming recollection of your daughter breaking into her first non-gas-induced smile . . . those stories are best saved for friends who’ve been there. The ones who can nod, smile and say, “Right on!”
Support groups for new parents such as PEPS and Mothers & More abound, can be the source of great new friendships during this mind-blowing time of your life. An understanding new-mom friend or two can help take the pressure off old friendships that need a little space and time.
Phyllis Fletcher, a reporter at a local radio station and new mother, has one close friend who practically shut her out after her son’s birth last December. These days, they communicate solely on Facebook. “For now, I’ll take that,” says Fletcher, who hopes that eventually the friendship will rebound. “When you have a connection with someone, you never know when they might need you or you might need them again.”
Fletcher has also been pleasantly surprised by other non-mom friends’ reactions. Some who she never thought liked kids will offer to hold the baby — a good reminder for new moms. “Just because one friend has reacted in a certain way doesn’t mean that all will,” she says. “Everyone’s different.”
Repair and rebuild
Friendships with non-mom friends that have faded can be rekindled — with effort.
“It has felt like I’ve dropped off the planet for a while, and I have let relationships languish,” says Rose-McFadden. But now that her daughter is 2, the time feels right for reestablishing old friendships, she says.
When Durham’s daughter Izzy was a baby, Durham stayed connected with one childless friend by regularly picking her up from work around lunchtime and going through the drive-through so they could eat and talk while Izzy slept in her car seat. Izzy is now in her teens, and the longstanding non-mom friendship is as strong as ever. And Durham’s daughter is close to her substitute “aunt.”
The old camp song says it best: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” Don’t give up on those golden non-mom friendships. But understand they will need a little maintenance (or “polishing!”). Even if you only turn to them for special occasions, they are precious and classic, and will hold their value beautifully.
Hilary Benson is a Seattle-based writer. As the mother of three boys, she finds her social life mostly revolves around their activities!