Childfree Friend asks:
My best friend just had a baby. I’m thrilled for her and (oddly, since I tend to avoid infants as much as humanly possibly) can’t wait to meet the kid. It’s actually surprised me how much I actually want to hold and cuddle the kid (and would if I weren’t 1,000 miles away at the moment), since I have NEVER felt any inclination to do the same for any other infants ever in my life. I guess that’s the biggest sign to me that I really truly am genuinely happy for her and love both her and the kid a ton.
The easy question (I think):
DH and I are childless, as are all of our siblings. None of that is likely to change, ever. So this tiny person is the closest thing we have to a niece/nephew and I’d like to treat the kid as such, but I don’t really know what that means, especially since we are long-distance. Ideas?
The harder question (which I’m asking both of you since one of you has kids and the other doesn’t):
A part of me is also nervous about what the kid is going to mean in terms of our friendship, since it’s the first time in almost fifteen years of friendship that our paths are really starting to diverge. The pregnancy has also marked the first times I’ve really had to take a backseat to family in her life and that didn’t feel great (but I’ve tried not to take it personally).
How did (or didn’t) your friendship change before/after the first kid entered the scene? What do you think you did (or didn’t do) to maintain or even deepen the friendship given the obvious giant shift in priorities after the birth of a kid to one of you.
#1 (sans kids):
Re Question 1: Send books. talk to your friend about what she wants. Send useful things — the relatives will send a thousand adorable outfits, but maybe you’re the only one sending them diapers or savings bonds or stuff like that. [#2 notes: this definitely depends] See what support your friend would like.
Re Question 2: I bet #2 felt this more than I did. But I didn’t perceive a huge change in our relationship, as it’s always been conducted mainly by IM. Perhaps it was harder for #2 to type while holding a baby (sling FTW!) [#2: I’m pretty good at typing one-handed, and slings were awesome with DC1 but not so much with DC2], but in general we kept talking. The topics of our conversation changed, as it does whenever one or both of us has stuff going on in our lives. We talk about what’s taking up a lot of brain space lately, whether that’s trying to get pregnant or grading papers. It also helps that I love babies and was excited when #2 had them, because BABIES! I would definitely listen to people talk about babies, and I will cuddle them, even though I don’t ever want to have my own.
It helps that IM is asynchronous and text-only; that means we didn’t have to ‘perform’ as much for each other. We didn’t have to put on pants to get together, we could do it at any time of day or night or tiredness level. There’s much less pressure on tone of voice. It’s perfect for blurting little thoughts, which the other person can respond to later if they want. We don’t necessarily have expectations that the other person will respond right away, although we often do respond pretty quickly. If we’re going to be out of email contact for a while (traveling, etc.) we usually let the other one know.
It’s my understanding that having a baby puts you in a brain state where hitting refresh on the internet and blurting random thoughts is much more appealing than getting up the energy to have an actual visit — therefore, IM was great for us. Sometimes we have deep meaningful conversations about feelings and decisions and problems on IM… but often we just send each other links to cat videos.
I think what I’m saying here is that our friendship kept chugging along through all our various life changes, including babies, because of how it has been structured throughout. #2, do you think this is true? The secret is low expectations, maybe? Also, we are both introverts who like to stay home with our families and enjoy interacting without seeing people in person, so we’re a good friendship fit that way.
[#2 notes: we wrote our answer paragraphs separately and it looks like we hit pretty much the same main points, see below… Though whenever we do see each other I think it is awesome, like when one of us has conference in a nearby city and the other drives in. I guess it is that and weddings.]
Also on IM it’s easier to take a second and think of a polite or helpful response. When you’re really tired and brain-dead and at risk of blurting out some crankiness, IM allows you to re-word it before you send it. This probably has helped our friendship many times. [#2 does not do this and wonders how much #1 has been biting her tongue. Whoops!] [Nah, don’t worry. I’m not editing out ‘you’re such a jerk’, I’m editing out that sounded ruder than I meant.]
#2 (with kids):
I actually spent more time rather than less time online after having babies. This was especially true during nursing and pumping times.
It is difficult to say how the friendship changed with the arrival of DC1 because so many other things were happening at the same time– DH and I got new jobs, bought a house, moved, started on the tenure track, while #1 was graduating, moving, job seeking, working as a visiting professor, and applying for tenure track jobs. We had a lot of different stuff going on!
I dunno, I’m a bit odd in that most of my close friends aren’t in the same parenting part of life that I am. Either they’re single, or childfree, or have much older children or are just having their first child now. Or maybe that’s normal.
Ways to keep the friendship alive: I think the important thing is to be ok with ebbs and flows of personal contact. Time moves differently when you’re sleep deprived or sick or crazy busy or faced with repetitive days at home. Don’t take things personally if you stop hearing from someone for a while. Be happy to see them when they re-emerge. New parents often don’t have time for demanding friends, but they do tend to have “time confetti” for internet conversations with long pauses between sentences.
Our friendship kept connected via ICQ early on (during college and grad school) and now GChat. It’s just so easy to say things a sentence at a time whenever you have a moment at the computer. Sort of like tweeting without the audience.
Also (re Question 1), ask to be on the baby picture mailing list. Normally I would just send pics to relatives, but #2 loves baby pics so she’s on the list too [#2 says: and I always write back and say how cute they are, and how #1 has clearly produced superior babies, which she has]. Your friend may just post pics on facebook, but many new parents have more adorable pictures than they feel people want to see on facebook, so they may send emails or have separate groups or keep baby pictures in a different place (like a baby-specific blog). There are a lot of people out there who complain about seeing too many pics of kids, but family don’t, so if you want to be like family, let it be known you would prefer more rather than fewer baby pics. Similarly, aunts and uncles request child artwork that only a relative could want for posting. [#2 says, I love when I get artwork from friends’ kids! It hangs in my office or on the refrigerator.]
Grumpy Nation, what advice do you have for Childfree Friend?