A good portion of my closest girlfriends became pregnant in 2020, and while the baby boom was a silver lining in the gloom of Covid, it did a number on my female friendships when life went back to normal. Once spontaneous wine nights are now planned well in advance, and in the increasingly common case I found myself in a group of all mom friends, I can feel like a circus attraction. Come one, come all and witness the 30-something childless wonder. (I should note that I live in Texas.)
It can feel like psychological warfare from all angles. Is she not calling me as much because she’s drowning in burp cloths and Bluey reruns, or does my cluelessness about nap schedules and pre-school waitlists make me an undesirable hangout? If it’s the former, am I being a bad friend for not reaching out more? If it’s the latter, maybe I’m reaching out too much.
Featured image by Michelle Nash.
Friendship After Kids: An Expert Shares How It’s Done
That being said, maybe those differences can be a good thing. A colleague who’s a mother told me she has a standing date she’ll never miss with a group of child-free friends—it’s often the highlight of her month. And the joy I get from being the “cool aunt figure” to my new tiny friends is genuinely priceless.
No matter how cherished the friendship, babies and kids tend to make it so that you’ll see your mom friends a little less—if only temporarily. It’s undeniably hard, but it doesn’t have to be a friendship ender.
For a little guidance on how to navigate our evolving friendships, I spoke with Dr. Melanie Ross Mills, relationship expert and author of The Friendship Bond.
I imagine it can be easy to make assumptions on both sides. Someone child-free might feel they’ve been left behind. A new mom might feel their child-free friends no longer think they’re fun. How can someone deal with or fight that urge to make that assumption?
It is only human to make these assumptions when we are feeling left out or left behind. When we have entered a new life phase as a new mom, we will experience having to adjust. It is possible that your child-free friends aren’t quite ready for you to go in at 9:00 pm to breastfeed, therefore they don’t view you as the “fun friend’ anymore. It is also possible that the child-free mom feels left out because she is not in the playgroup or able to bond over which car seats are safest.
Recognize that there will be some changes in schedules, priorities, mindsets, and approaches to life between the child-free and the new mom friendship. This will help you both step into this new phase of life as you seek to relate to one another in new ways and make an effort to maintain the old.
Prioritize one another. Continue to incorporate some of your old activities (fun dinners together), but also understand that there will be adjusting. Make time to be together with and without the baby—respecting one another’s desires as you make an effort to share life with one another.
Communication helps curb assumptions. Share in healthy ways what you’re experiencing and how you’re feeling. Let your child-free friend know if you’re sensing she is frustrated with your inability to dance until dawn. Share with your new mom friend that you miss your alone time with her and schedule a date.
What are some ways to foster relationships with new mom friends? How can someone without kids adapt to suit their needs?
A child-free relationship can adapt to suit the new mom’s needs by helping out, releasing expectations, inquiring about how she can show up in her life, extending support, and communicating her own needs as well.
On the other hand, how can a new mother ensure her friends without kids that she wants to maintain a strong friendship?
A new mom can choose to continue to make an effort with her child-free friends, reminding them that she’s still the same person she was previously and her love for them has not changed. Schedule your own “play dates” with your friends that have not experienced motherhood—center them around what they want to do. Be sensitive and try to empathize with where they’re coming from (especially the fear of the unknown).
What are some things to keep in mind when you’re the odd one out in a group (the one without kids, or the only one with)? What intentional actions can you take to maintain those bonds?
I’d start with releasing the mindset that you’re the odd man out in the group. Whether you have children or you don’t, you’re friends with one another for a reason. You’ve chosen to share life together. Each of you has something to offer the whole. That is why your presence is valuable, even if you do feel like the odd man out.
Whether you have children or you don’t, you’re friends with one another for a reason. You’ve chosen to share life together.
Children do not make us “less than,” or “more than.” It’s good to remind yourself that you’re still the awesome person you were created to be, with or without children. To maintain bonds, we must make an effort. Connecting doesn’t happen in isolation. Therefore, don’t get discouraged if you have an awkward experience as these changes are taking place. Don’t give up on your child-free and new mom friends. If you want them in your life, make an effort, make plans, and make memories.
Friendships do change as we get older—when do you feel it’s time to accept that a friendship hasn’t made the transition?
Friendships do change as we change. Some will be in your life for a lifetime while others will be seasonal. We never want to write anyone off, but we also want to be realistic if a friendship hasn’t made the transition. Most of the time, you’ll notice a disconnect between you two. This doesn’t mean your friend will never be in your life again, it just means you’re moving away for now.
It is time to accept that the friendship hasn’t made the transition when there’s no longer a reciprocation in play. Once a friend has reached out multiple times without the other responding, that’s usually a good indicator that it’s okay to open your heart and time toward other friendships. Or, you might be the one that’s not feeling prompted to reciprocate in ways that you have previously. That’s okay too. Life’s about growth and relationships teach us, expand us, challenge us, heal us, hurt us, and grow us. We want to be in reciprocated friendships—child-free and/or new mom candidates welcome.
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