How to manage friendships as a parent

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How to manage friendships as a parent

When I ask friends and family for parenting topics that interest them, the theme of friendship comes up frequently.

I think a lot of us are surprised by the challenges of maintaining or finding friends when we become a parent. Having children is a major life event. Just like leaving for college or starting a new job, kids change our social circles, our priorities, and the amount of time and effort we’re able to invest in other people.

What are the chances that parenthood will change you and all of your friends in the exact same way? Or that all of your friends who don’t have kids will totally understand why you can’t make it (don’t want to come) to their birthday party that starts at 11 PM at Club Xanadu? Or that none of your friends will ever offer unsolicited parenting advice about how easy it is to get a kid to sleep because their kid was a super easy sleeper?

Chances are your friendships are going to experience a post-baby shake-up and you may not be prepared. Perhaps the problem is that there are no songs about the trials and tribulations of parenting friendships to guide us.

Here are nine lyrics that sum up how friendship is different after you have a kid so you can be aware of – and do your best to avoid – the common pitfalls.

1. I would walk 500 miles, if I didn’t have a kid

Near, far, wherever your friends are, let’s hope it’s within a 10 minute drive, or you’re probably never going to come see them with your kids. Why?

  • Your baby hates the car

  • Your toddler gets car sick

  • You’re potty training and can’t afford to get stuck in traffic

  • You’re afraid your kid will fall asleep for the 15 minute drive and you need him to stay awake so that he’ll nap later

  • You only have an hour window between Parent and Me Music class with the baby and picking up your other kid from preschool

There are many reasons that a long distance (more than 10 minute drive) friendship will be strained by parenthood.

2. Mr. Sandman bring me a friend

Nap schedules are the number one killer of friendships. Your kid naps from 10 to 12. Your friend’s kid naps from 1 to 4:00. Good luck finding a time to meet.

3. All that she wants is to have a baby… at the same time as her friend

Forgive me for the flippant title, because this topic really isn’t funny.

It would be so nice to have kids at the same time, but the chances that you and your friend will get pregnant in the same month or even the same quarter or even the same year may not be as great as you think. And it gets hard.

You’re happy and supportive of each other, of course, but going to a friend’s baby shower when you want to be pregnant and aren’t is hard.

4. Any friendship less than the best is a felony

Kids leave little room for mediocre friendships in your life. After kids, your tolerance for needy friends, drama, or people who don’t get it plummets. Only really good friends remain.

5. My endless love for you doesn’t necessarily translate to your child

Cross your fingers and hope with all your heart that you like your friend’s kids and that they like yours and that your kids get along.

One of my friends described the trifecta of both parents liking both parents, and all parents liking all kids, and all kids liking all kids as the equivalent of finding a unicorn. When families meld like that, that’s a really rare treasure.

6. Just the two of us – we can’t make it now that we both have kids

If you have a different parenting style from your friend, even if you both try hard to be supportive of each other, it can get uncomfortable. When your friend buys her six-year-old an iPhone for Christmas and your six-year-old doesn’t believe in Christmas because you’ve taught him that it’s a capitalist holiday that benefits big business, your parenting styles might start to be an issue in your relationship.

7. You only get one shot do not miss your chance to crawl first. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime

Parenting can get oddly competitive. You expect that to happen in sports or maybe dance classes, but it happens in milestones, too. You’re going to notice which kid crawls first, walks first, and talks first.

Really, it’s not even the competing kids that’s an issue. It’s the competing parents. One of your friends cooks gorgeous gourmet meals for his kids and they devour everything, while you cook mac and cheese four nights a week and your kids detest vegetables. As parents we are vulnerable creatures trying to prove to ourselves and the rest of the world that we know what we’re doing. Sometimes that comes out in a need to feel defensive, superior, or competitive.

One of my friends says that she especially values friends whose kids are much older than hers because they understand without feeling competitive.

8. Looking for love in all the wrong playgrounds

Our kids become our friendship matchmakers. You get busy with your child’s school and activities and you end up with a lot of friendships of convenience. You hang out the most with the parents of your kid’s classmates (whether they would be your first choice or not). You hang out with the parents of the kids your kids like (even if you don’t necessarily love those parents).

Your former parent friends (whose kids go to other schools or are different ages) can still be in the picture. It just takes a whole lot more effort to maintain those friendships.

9. P-Push it real good out of your parenting comfort zone

It’s great to meet friends through our kids, but if our only bond of friendship is our kids, we’re going to lose our sense of self (and be incredibly lonely when our kids turn 18).

It’s easy to let your social life lapse into the convenience of who you encounter as you take care of your kids. Push yourself to have relationships outside of parenting. Make an effort with those pre-baby friends. Try to talk about things that have nothing to do with your family.

Otherwise, when you’re alone in your room, sometimes staring at the wall, in the back of your mind you’ll hear your conscience call, telling you you need a friend who’s a sweet as dove. For the first time in your parenting life, you’ll see you need a friend’s love.