Clinical psychologist and mom of two Dr Jó-Marié Bothma talks about how having a baby can affect your circle of friends, with both losses and gains, but hopefully also some valuable steadfast friendships.
Once you become a parent, you need your friends more than ever. But parenthood is time-consuming and preoccupying, and maintaining new and old friendships is challenging. Becoming a parent changes many aspects of life as you know it. It does not only change the way you view the world or your partner, but also the way you interact with those around you. And, let’s be honest, even the well-prepared are rarely prepared for the life-changing experience
Some stay, some go
The friendships you have before you have children will likely change after your little bundle of joy arrives, especially with friends who do not have children. It is not uncommon that mothers of young children will lose contact with one or more sets of friends. It is, however, also encouraging knowing that most mothers will also add to their friendship circle after having their child.
A change of friends is not unusual. As we go through life and have different experiences, our friendships evolve and adapt to suit our changing needs and priorities. Having a baby is just one of those times. New parents often feel that other parents are more in tune with their thinking and behaviour than their friends who do not have children, hence their friendship circle tends to increase with new sets of parents.
Making new friends, with babies
New mommies tend to end up making new friends since many of them will attempt to create a trustworthy support structure of other mothers. They are focused on meeting other mothers at places such as playgrounds and childcare facilities. One of the many reasons for this is that valuable tips are shared, referrals are possible, and mostly a feeling of belonging and understanding resonates amongst a group of mommies. It is generally not too difficult to make new friends with mommies.
My advice to moms-to-be is to try to familiarise yourself with the baby groups in your community while you are still pregnant. Make sure to enrol your baby timeously as these groups are usually very popular and class numbers are limited to ensure individual attention.
There are many early developmental stimulation programmes available that offer weekly group sessions where you not only meet up with likeminded mommies, but also spend valuable quality time bonding with this new little person in your life. Some of these other moms will only remain acquaintances, but others can become good friends, offering you support through this exciting journey of being a parent.
Maintaining healthy friendships with those without children
One reason why friendships fade, especially with those who do not have children, is that they cannot relate to the lifestyle change and the demands placed on new parents. It is a big adjustment once your best friend becomes a mommy and cannot meet you for your regular coffee date or night out once a week. A new mother is so preoccupied with taking care of her baby that she does not have time for her friends. The truth is, in those first few months new mothers rarely have time for themselves. If she does have an hour to spare, dressing up and meeting with friends is usually not high on the agenda.
However, moms, it is still very important to nurture these friendships to maintain equilibrium in your life. Spending time talking about the latest nail colour trends or hearing about your friends’ travel plans or exciting weekly cooking course might seem very unimportant during those early months after your baby is born. Yet, it also helps you to keep your balance, take a breather from your new parent role, keep your brain from only processing baby-related information, and reminds you that you have other interests that are important to your psychological well-being.
Actively nurturing friendships
Be careful not to bore your friend with an overload of details about your baby. You do not need to avoid the topic of baby completely, but just do not let baby talk monopolise the conversation. Talking about child-rearing trivia all the time and sharing every little detail about your baby’s latest milestone might bore your friend. Bad feelings can arise if the friendship feels unequal – when one party is making all the effort. So aim to make notes of the important things happening in your friend’s life and put a reminder on your phone to contact her a few days later to inquire about it (if you are sleep deprived it is difficult to remember everything not related to breastfeeding, nappies and tummy-time).
Be sensitive to those childless friends that want to have children, but struggle to fall pregnant or are going through fertility treatment. Too often you will make them feel sad and they will make you feel guilty and this can be a major threat to a friendship.
Communication is of vital importance in these relationships and treating your childless friend with respect will go a long way in keeping the friendship alive. Avoid pointing out how they are missing out on the greatest experience a woman can ever have or assuming that your friend has no idea about children. Most importantly, offer her some space away from your baby if that is what she needs and let someone look after your little one while the two of you go out for a coffee.
Sadly, some friendships may not survive the arrival of your baby. And those that do survive will probably change. But the good friendships will always be there, no matter what, and the chances are you will ultimately make more friends, thanks to your child’s influence in your life.