When you have a baby, it helps to have friends in the same boat, who are also coping with new parenting through the haze of sleep deprivation. Now that you are tending to the ever-present needs of a newborn, meeting people or keeping in touch may seem difficult. New parents say, however, that building a community helps them do their best parenting and juggle all the parts of their busy lives.
Kristen McLaughlin, a product planner for Microsoft and mother of a 6-month-old daughter, found it easy to meet other new parents. She studied prenatal yoga through the Seattle Holistic Center at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford, and saw many of the same women in a postnatal class. McLaughlin has a lot of friends with kids, but their ages vary. "I felt it was important to meet people who have babies within a few months (of mine) so I could ask relevant questions," she says.
Similarly, her PEPS group formed a strong bond and still meets on Fridays, a day McLaughlin is off from work. The first time McLaughlin went out alone with the baby was for a PEPS meeting; the families still socialize, and now they're looking after each other's kids.
For many new parents, the crunch of limited time can challenge how they focus on friendships. "We have 24 hours in a day, and now with a baby, you have 24 hours of your day taken up by the baby, and you still have everything you were doing before," says Connie Burk, mother of a 9-month-old boy and director of the Northwest Network, a domestic violence organization that supports the LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Trans) community. "We have a group of friends who have a commitment to being a support to each other," Burk says, and a handful of babies have been born this year. "That makes a big difference in not feeling isolated."
Amy Lavin's support system comes from local family and friends, but she also participated in PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) and Listening Mothers. "I initially enjoyed the friendships (from those groups) but was unable to continue nurturing them because I had to go back to work," she says. The mothers in her Microsoft division share tips on everything from approaches to dealing with kids and weekend time management, plus troubleshooting challenges when both parents work.
Chanel Reynolds, who works part-time at an Internet-based advertising agency, says having a child has created distance between her and friends who do not have children. "Now that I have a kid, there's a larger gap between what's relevant to me and relevant to them." Since Reynolds has a 6-month-old son and a 71/2-year old stepdaughter, "They joke that I'm a married woman; I drive a Subaru wagon with two car seats. I'm the least hip person alive."
Curtis Vredenburg, a writer and father of a 7-month-old son, tackles the scarce social time new parents face by hosting all-parent dinner parties, extending an open invitation to children. When he and his partner invite friends, they say, "We're so excited if you bring kids, and if they scream we don't care."
Parents of young kids are starved to do something social at nighttime, Vredenburg says, and they are equally hungry for support. "Logistics make the networking faster in people with kids," he has found.
Whether it's arranging a nanny share or brainstorming day-care options, new parents are eager to pitch in quickly. "We are not just friends, we are helping each other," he says. "You need that community of new parents to help."™
Michelle Feder writes about a wide range of subjects and has a 2-year-old son.