Ask the grumpies: How to stay friends with a new parent when childfree

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?

20 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: How to stay friends with a new parent when childfree”

  1. CG Says:

    If you live close by, offer to come over and hang out. When you have just one baby, it is really easy to go about your regular social business (having dinner, dessert, hanging out) as long as you’re in your own house. If you don’t mind your friend taking breaks here and there to change diapers, get the baby to bed, etc., it works out very well. (Gets a littler harder when kids are older/there is more than one kid, but still doable.) I was always extremely grateful for friends who wanted to see us and were willing to just come and be with us while we did what we needed to do (and also paid lots of attention to the friends, of course). If you want to be over-the-top awesome, offer to bring the dinner. :)

    • First Gen American Says:

      Totally agree with this comment. It is so much easier to host someone than to go somewhere and pack everything up. Bringing over takeout is a great plan.

    • Rented life Says:

      Seconding this.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Some people don’t like the pressure to clean up, and may appreciate the suggestion of a public area (playgrounds and parks are good when the baby hits 3 mo+)

    • xykademiqz Says:

      Thirding (fourthing?) this. I have some childfree friends who insist that we trade visits, and it’s really tough for us. We have three kids, and we have to take the younger two with us when we go to visit (or get a babysitter, which is not a small expense). But there is nothing for the kids to do there (except for what we bring with us) other than get into trouble and mess with their nice furniture. So we spend the whole time chasing the kids and at least one of us is always missing from the conversation. When we are at our home, the kids go about their business (play with toys, each other, and yes, electronics) and we can have a leisurely evening with our friends. We told them innumerable times that it’s much more convenient for us if they come over to our place, but I guess they don’t care.

  2. First Gen American Says:

    I guess the biggest thing for me is not for non-kid friends to be jealous of less time spent. in my opinion, there is still time for everything, but less of it to go around.

    Some people disappear off the face of the earth and are unresponsive to communication after a move or a kid. Some of those people are bad communicators, but some are just not true friends. It’s important to understand the distinction.

    I also spent more time online when I had infants, so emails were nice. If you write a long email, make sure she knows that’s it’s okay if she doesn’t write a long email back. Even though the email is appreciated, Soemtimes there is pressure to write back and adds to stress level. When you just had a baby, coherent thoughts aren’t always possible.

    Get a gift for the mom, not just the baby. People forget about the mom sometimes.

    Good questions and you are a great friend for wanting to stay in her life. There are a lot of people who don’t bother once lifestyles start diverging. I am really thankful that my kidless friends still want to hang out with us and will gladly let them be part of the background parties. Arranging babysitters is complicated and expensive. I like most of them a lot better than the other parents in my children’s school. (It’s very clique-ey).

    • Jenny F. Scientist, PhD Says:

      My kiddos have some non-child-having long-distance aunties (= not genetic relations but we consider them part of the family and call them all “Auntie So-and-so”) who are great.

      A propos of what FGA says, if you are nursing and/or holding a baby it is f^@*ing impossible to write emails. Also, I’ll remind everyone it takes a really, really really long time to have free time, whether one is working or at home all the time. Babies are super high maintenance. So… keep trying if you can!

  3. Rented life Says:

    My best friend didn’t care if I didn’t respond to her texts right away, or some days not at all. She’s child free and I have 1. Knowing that she knew I read her emails and texts but couldn’t always respond has been huge for us. (Especially lately with hubby having a health emergency and I just ant always respond but I still wanted to know about her stuff.) she also send me things I will find funny from time to time (she has excellent timing for this) and that was great too. When we’d see each other it’s awesome to know I can just leave LO with her and she will read and play and I can be in the kitchen or whatever-like the grumpiest said, no performance. Just having someone still treat me normal if I didn’t want to rehash sleep, poop and breastfeeding, was nice.

  4. middle_class Says:

    I have two good child-free friends and both are very understanding about having less face-time and slower email response times. One is definitely more interested in my kids and will often visit me at home, which makes a BIG difference.

  5. chacha1 Says:

    We have only one close friend (my husband’s good friend from when he worked at the university, actually, she and I are friendly but not friends if you know what I mean) with a kid. She and her husband moved waaaaayyy out of town before they got pregnant (it took two rounds of IVF), so we weren’t seeing much of them anyway. He still sees her for birthday lunches, twice a year, but aside from that they’ve only once come to our place for a social thing (and yes they’ve been invited more than that!) and they have only invited us to *their* place maybe 5 times over ten years. 80% of which invitations were for kid birthdays. When that’s the only thing you’re invited for, you start to feel like it’s a shakedown. So I’m no help.

  6. Childfree Friend Says:

    Thanks for the thoughts, it definitely makes me feel better.

    So far, I sent a set of board books and a gift card “for diapers or whatever else you need”, which went over well. (Though she said the week old baby didn’t seem to appreciate the humor in my favorite childhood book quite yet.) Our friendship has moved over the past six months from mostly “phone dates” (we would do calendar invites to sync up blocks of time to catch up for long periods) to texting and not stressing if one of us disappears or doesn’t respond to a text immediately. Glad to know that’s pretty par for the course, at least for #1 and #2.

    Re-visiting/bringing food: We’re ~1,000 miles away, so “stopping by” isn’t an option. I guess I could have prepared food delivered, but severe dietary restrictions make that a dicey proposition. But I did tell her that I have vacay days reserved for her if she wants me to use them to visit since they’ve declared a self-imposed no-fly period for the first year. Said I’m happy to stay there and be an extra set of hands for a few days, or stay with other friends nearby if that’s easier, too. They’re anticipating family staying on/off for the first couple of months, but she said she knows the ball is in her court on that and just has to give me a couple of weeks notice to put in the request for time off.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The best baby gift we got with DC1 was a care package from Zingerman’s. Just sayin’… (Yes, it is pricey. ) [love = though not if someone is gluten free or allergic to chocolate]

      I definitely think flexibility with visiting is important. People do have different preferences about people staying and listening to what they want is definitely the way to go!

    • Happy Says:

      Once she survives the first few months, I would suggest Skyping. You guys can talk and you can gush over the adorable things the baby in her arms is doing. Once the baby gets a little older, you can get even more creative and build a relationship with the kiddo over Skype. My in-laws send a favorite book and keep a copy so they can read it to my son while he looks at the pictures. My dad has sent toy trucks and then played with a matching set on his side and other similar things since my son was a toddler. It’s really hard for kids to sit still and have a conversation but he has built a real relationship with his grandparents and other remote family this way. My mom insists of talking with him like they are on the phone. He has never gotten attached to her.

  7. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Part of a conversation:

    #1: Yeah, I would never drive to [your godforsaken hometown]. That’s why when I had that conference I made you drive to [nice conference city].
    #2: Oh, I thought it was whoever didn’t have the conference drove. That’s why when you were living in [suburb of city] you drove to see me in [conference area of city].
    #1: Yeaaaahh…. let’s go with that.

  8. Cloud Says:

    We have some really good friends who don’t have kids. It can definitely be done! I think the only thing I’d mention in addition to all the other ideas here is that for some women, the transition to motherhood is really, really hard. For others, it is easier. Different new moms need/want different things. It was over a year before I really wanted to organize evening or weekend outings with my non-mom friends. This wasn’t because I didn’t want to see them, but I just needed the space right then. We kept in touch via email and weekday lunches.

    As for question 1: if your friend is the type that likes nice shower gels, etc- now is a great time to send some. Showers are the only escape from a newborn….

    • omdg Says:

      Lol. We are 3.7 years in and I still don’t want to organize events with…. well, anyone. Gah! Too much work. I probably work too much.

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