Friendships between parents and their child-free friends can be tricky. The parent friend may feel guilt for frequently bowing out of get-togethers, while also really wishing their child-free friend could understand the new challenges in their lives: the sleepless nights, the temper tantrums, the ups and mostly downs of remote learning, if the kids are older.
In the other corner, the kid-free friend often feels left in the lurch, disappointed by cancelled plans and wondering, “What happened to my formerly vivacious, fun-loving friend? Are our wine nights over for good? Will ‘mum’ and ‘dad friends’ from the park inevitably replace me?”
This conflict often bubbles up because too many friends expect things to stay more or less the same post-baby, said Kurt Smith, a marriage and family therapist in Roseville, California.
“The personal lives of parents and non-parents often become dramatically different,” he told HuffPost. “A new baby is all-consuming, with the 24/7 care that is required.”
In therapy, some of his kid-free clients often make offhand, blanket statements about how their friends with kids have changed.
“I regularly hear things like, ‘She doesn’t have any friends.’ ‘She never leaves the house.’ ‘He brought his daughter to dinner with our couples friends,’” the therapist said.
While being kid-centric is to be expected if you’re caring for a newborn, Smith said most parents never quite achieve a healthy balance between parenting and their personal lives. Their interests and desires, their long-term friendships and sometimes their marriages take a back seat to their children’s needs.
Solange Francois, a marketing and communications consultant in Auckland, New Zealand, who has a 2-and-a-half-year-old and a 5-month-old, has been on both sides of the divide.
“Before I had kids, I simply didn’t understand what it was like becoming a parent ― the demands on time, money and energy,” she told HuffPost. “Now as a parent, I find it easier to connect with non-parent friends who are able to appreciate those same demands on me.”
“In my experience, one part of maintaining friendships is that you have to keep doing things that make you feel like yourself so you don’t become that mum who baby talks her friends.”
When she does find the time to meet up with friends, Francois doesn’t shy away from talking about her kids but she doesn’t let parenting become the focal point of the conversation, either.
“I always make sure I have more to talk about than nappies or toddler tantrums,” she said. “When I’m with non-parent friends, I make a point to ask them questions about their lives when we chat or meet up.”
What else can parents and non-parents do to bolster their friendships after baby? Below, therapists and people who’ve managed to stay close to friends after having kids share six tips.
If you’re the child-free friend, don’t be afraid to take the lead
Your new parent friend could probably use a little time away from the house. Continue to invite them to brunch and all the activities you used to ― they’ll appreciate you taking the lead! But be mindful that their hours aren’t as flexible as they used to be, said Sarah Spencer Northey, a marriage therapist in Washington, D.C.
“Most parent friends are just as fun as they always were, it’s just that their hours have changed to around 7am to 9pm,” she said. “They might not have the energy to do a concert that lasts till late, given they are going to be rudely awakened at dawn but they can still do lots of fun things in the afternoon or morning.”
In Northey’s own friend circle, one friend without kids has done a solid for the parents in the group: When the woman hosts parties, she has “parent hours” as a pre-party.
Smith, who works primarily with men in his therapy practice, also emphasised the need to recalibrate your usual get-togethers.
“It’s not all or nothing [with friendships],” he said. “Maybe there’s not going to be time anymore for 18 rounds of golf every weekend, or an all-boys trip to Vegas. This doesn’t have to mean it’s over, though; the relationship can change and become new.”
Maybe it becomes “breakfast together before work once a month or FaceTime every couple of weeks,” he said. Play the long game; eventually, your pals will have more free time. Given both of your busy schedules, small catch-ups should be enough to sustain your friendship for the time being.
If you’re the friend with kids, prioritise your friendships the way you prioritise your marriage or relationship
Jessica Tangitau has a 7-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. Before she was “mum,” though, she was just Jessica. For her own sake ― and the sake of her friendships ― she tries to never forget that.
“In my experience, one part of maintaining friendships is that you have to keep doing things that make you feel like yourself so you don’t become that mum who baby talks her friends,” she joked.
At the same time, she said, you have to work at your relationships with friends in ways not dissimilar to work you put into your marriage or relationship with your partner post-kids.
“Prioritise ‘friend time’ whenever you can and spend time doing the things that brought you together in the first place,” Tangitau said. “For my friend group, that’s travel, politics and Issa Rae.”
Though she’s usually crunched for time, Tangitau keeps those connection points alive.
“Before the pandemic, instead of doing the Disney World family vacation, we went to London,” which gave her more to talk about with friends],” she said. “I ‘live text’ with my friends while watching ‘Insecure.’ We’d meet periodically for ‘wine downs.’”
During the last national election, Tangitau and her friends all volunteered to be poll workers.
“Our interactions are more sporadic these days but they’re always meaningful,” she said.
Embrace the group chat (and maybe even just sending each other memes!)
If you have to rely on a group chat or occasional Zoom happy hours to stay close ― especially in the midst of Covid-19 ― so be it.
“Maybe this is coming from my Covid life, but I have stayed connected and even deepened friendships through the GroupMes, and WhatsApp chats,” Northey said. “Keeping the chat alive in these small groups tends to encourage continued in-person meet-ups later on.”
If your friend is dealing with infertility issues — or has in the past — be especially mindful of kid talk
It can be especially important to segue away from kid-centric conversations if one of your friends is struggling to get pregnant or is childless not by choice.
Andreia Trigo, a fertility nurse consultant and founder of the Enhanced Fertility Programme app, has known she couldn’t have children since she was 17 years old.
Her Facebook and Instagram feeds are full of babies and growing families since most of her friends already have one or two children.
“That alone can be so challenging, like a reminder of what you can’t have,” Trigo told HuffPost. “In conversations, it’s almost inevitable that I hear a lot about their children and experiences of parenthood.”
Most of the time, she’s happy to hear their stories, but her friends and co-workers also know that she can’t have children and are sensitive to that. There are no questions like, “When are you having children?” or triggering comments like “You don’t know true love until you become a mum.”
“For people who prefer not to share their experience of infertility with their friends, it can be harder to [maintain friendships with parents] because they face these comments so regularly,” Trigo said.
“If society in general was more aware of infertility and the triggers faced by women and men who can’t conceive, I think everyone would be more mindful of the way they talk to their friends and even strangers,” she added.
If you’re the friend who’s struggled with infertility, it’s OK to set new boundaries now that your friends have kids.
“If you are facing infertility, you may not want to attend a baby shower or a birthday party, for example,” Trigo said. “Be honest with your friend and explain why that situation is difficult.”
Prioritise kid-free weekend trips and dinners
Hannah Elizabeth Leach, the owner of Hawthorn House PR and Copywriting, has two daughters, ages 2 and 4. It’s a luxury to catch up with her old friends without the kids in tow, but she goes out of her way to make those get-togethers happen once a month. Often, she’s spearheading the plans, but her friends are worth the effort.
“Whether that’s a trip to the park, a girls’ night out or a weekend away, we plan for it,” Leach said. “Seeing your friends is so good for the soul. So even if you’re planning months ahead, it’s worth it.”
Don’t lose sight of who you were before kids
Inge Hunter, a digital marketing strategist and co-host of the podcast “Now I’m Worried,” has two kids, ages 8 and 2. She’s managed to keep up her pre-kid friendships almost exclusively because she maintains that being a mum is just one part of her identity.
“I really think parents lose their no-child friends when they lose their identity and get caught up in their children’s lives and being a mum or dad,” she said. “Let’s be honest, kids are boring to other people. I don’t enjoy hearing about other people’s kids so why would I assume that people like to hear about mine?”
Hunter still connects with friends over all the same interests that brought them together in the first place ― and while she sprinkles in stories about her kids here and there, they’re rarely the main point of interest when she catches up with friends.
“We are a loving and happy family,” she said. “But I don’t feel the need to make conversations about it.”