Dr. Alyssa Berlin is a prenatal and postpartum clinical psychologist. Dr. Berlin works specifically with women and their partners on issues such as anxiety and emotional fluctuations during pregnancy, postpartum blues and depression, and the complex issues that can arise between and around new and expectant parents.
Relationships Amongst Friends
By Alyssa Berlin | PsyD
So much changes when you have a child, and I’m not just talking about your sleep schedule! You can also expect significant changes in your relationships with your partner, your parents and in-laws, and your friends. This installment of my series – part three of three – focuses on the changes you might experience within your circle of friends.
When you have a new baby, friends often seem to divide into two groups – those who aren’t parents, and those who are. Don’t be shocked if some of your friends without children distance themselves from you, especially in those first few intense months with a newborn. Some of your friends may never plan on having children and are happily living childfree – and they definitely don’t want to be roped into babysitting duty!
People who are childfree-by-choice often believe that you can’t possibly have a baby and still be the same fun, life-of-the-party person (or couple) you were before. Let’s be honest: haven’t we all met a new parent who can’t seem to talk about anything but their amazing newborn, complete with 5000 near-identical photos you just have to see? The good news is that if you want to, these friends are often easy to reconnect with once you emerge from your new-mom haze – you’ll just have to convince them you can still talk about things besides your baby!
Sometimes there’s a more serious reason why your friends without children drop you once you announce a pregnancy or have a baby. Perhaps a friend knows they can’t have children of their own and feels fresh grief whenever a friend has a child. Or another friend would like a child, but doesn’t have the agreement of her partner or is struggling to conceive and doesn’t want to be reminded of her ticking biological clock… although it will almost certainly hurt to be dropped by any of your old friends, keep in mind that there may be a reason for their actions that you’re not aware of, and try not to take it too personally.
But fear not – there’s always the second group: your friends with children, who will almost certainly be waiting with open arms (and perhaps an “I told you so...” or two) to initiate you into the club! I often speak about the “secret society of mothers.” When you announce your pregnancy, you earn a starter membership – but it’s when you’ve been through birth and have a child that you really hear the inside story on what it means to be a parent.
You can expect these friends to offer you support, advice, and acceptance as you navigate this new territory. They’ll understand if it takes you a few days to return phone calls, if you’d rather grab a nap while the baby is napping rather than update your Facebook page. They won’t be surprised if they call on you at 5pm, and you’re still wearing pajamas. They’ll know to keep their early visits short, that gifts of food are always appreciated, and that you’ve just been through a major life-changing experience and might want to talk about it with someone who’s been there and done that, too.
I wish I could say that everything will be as it was, but just as becoming a parent is a momentous transformation in your life, it can cause momentous transformations in your relationships. It’s normal to experience a mourning period if you feel like you’ve lost many of your old friends and your ‘old life,’ but hopefully it won’t be long before you see that your new life as a parent has many benefits as well.
Now that you have experienced birth and parenthood, life will likely take on new meaning for you. The choices that you find yourself making will also be different – it’s likely you’ll want to stay at home with your newborn at night instead of hitting the clubs until the wee hours. In all honesty, you probably won’t have the same patience you once had to discuss your friends’ hairstyles or wardrobe decisions for hours on end, and you might not have the time to listen to endless tales of dating drama. Your priorities have shifted – think of the natural changes in your friendships as Mother Nature’s way of naturally attracting you to like-minded people, who will be able to share in your joy at this stage in your life.
And you will find those people – when you’re out and about with your baby in your neighborhood, you’re likely to meet a new crop of friends who have children around the same age. Children who share the same interests and the same bedtime! Keep your eyes peeled, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation at the park or the grocery store checkout, and if you can join a ‘Mommy and Me’ group or another class for you and your baby, even better! Think of your baby as your new wingman or wingwoman, and don’t be afraid to use them as your ‘in’ to introduce yourself to other parents.
Of course, if any of your new (or old) friends make you feel bad – if they’re judgmental, tell you you’re “doing it wrong,” or adhere to a strict parenting method that isn’t for you, don’t be afraid to let them go, either! You want friends who support you 100%, will celebrate your triumphs, help out in a crisis, and always give you encouragement, not negativity.
There’s one more significant change that will happen as your social circle changes, and that’s the adjustment in your relationship with your partner. This can be very challenging for new parents, especially if one or both of you were formerly social butterflies and enjoyed a very active social life. If you have differing opinions on what your post-baby social life should look like, this will only compound the problems.
One of the most challenging collisions comes when a social butterfly says to a ‘Nester,’ “I understand you’re not up to going out tonight, but do you mind if I do? There’s no point in both of us missing out and staying home, right?”
Cue the fireworks! The key is to take a deep breath, and start talking – really talking – to each other. Perhaps you or your partner will agree to only go out once the baby is asleep and settled, and will promise to be home by a certain hour. Perhaps if your partner gets to meet a friend for a long lunch on Saturday while you care for the baby, you can arrange a reciprocal agreement for the next weekend, or a sleep-in for you on Sunday… something to square the arrangement and keep you working as a team.
Both of you should be actively working on your new identity as co-parents. That means spending time understanding your partner’s priorities, needs and desires, and making sure you communicate yours. Then work hard together to find a compromise, and the adjustment to parenthood may be much easier than you expected.